"American Christianity promises a life lived happily ever after to anyone who waits for sex until marriage, marries a religious person, and raises children in the church … that this scenario describes fewer and fewer of us with each passing day is of little account."

So writes Amy Frykholm (associate editor at The Christian Century and the author of Rapture Culture and Julian: A Contemplative Biography) in her new book, See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity (Beacon). Including Frykholm's own story, the book tells the stories of nine men and women who tried, and failed, to fit the ideal of pure Christian sexuality, struggling to live well in their bodies amid "thickets of pain" where rules made little sense.

"Christian mythology," writes Frykholm, "teaches that Christian sex protects us from heartache"—that if a believer keeps good boundaries and abstains from bad behavior, he or she will never get hurt. Frykholm acknowledges that rules "can guide people onto solid ground," but she worries that rules have become almost "the only way that American Christians know how to talk about religion and sex," despite the fact that, rules or no rules, True Love Waits participants delayed sexual intercourse by only 18 months compared with their secular counterparts; that more than half of the men at a Promise Keepers stadium event said they had used pornography within one week; a recent study showed that 80 percent of young evangelicals had premarital sex, choosing abortion in one-third of their unplanned pregnancies. "Many people are hungry to understand why they cannot place themselves on [the] map" of Christian sex.

The Christians whose stories Frykholm shares are all Protestants who "share the pain ...

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