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Sexual Shame: An Urgent Call to Healing Paperback – February, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

From the Preface (pre-publication version):

The Many Faces of Sexual Shame

Perhaps you have picked up this book because you have experienced sexual shame. The feeling of shame underlies sexual dysfunction: impotence, lack of sexual drive, sexual compulsion, and incest. The experience of sexual shame underlies obesity in women and contributes to anorexia and bulimia. Shame in men may be experienced as impotence, depression, and addiction. Sexual identity shame is at the core of the hiding or “closets” that homosexuals and their families often live in. Sexual shame affects individuals, families, congregations, and communities.

Sexual shame erodes individual self-esteem, relational health, and congregational life. The parents of gay sons feel shame. People who don’t live up to their own ideals as perfect lovers feel shame. Christians who live in committed partnerships without the contract of marriage feel shame about, “living in sin” in the eyes of the church. Congregations that restrict conversation about sexuality or repress it with taboos and stigmatization remain shame-bound.

Within each community and congregation there are members who have been living in deep shame. Shame may be reinforced through preaching and teaching about immorality and sin. Shame may be underneath an individual’s hesitance to become active in a congregation. Shame may be the reason someone sneaks into the back row and sneaks out to the parking lot with a hope to not be noticed.

This book is offered as a resource for congregational discussion and for the personal liberation of those who have experienced shame in their families or in the church. I write it believing that we are all created in God’s image, male and female, and that we were intended from the time of creation to live without shame. When God created the first man and the first woman they were created in God’s perfect image. They were also “both naked, and [they] were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:25 NRSV).

Some of the stories you will find in this text may produce discomfort. The experience of shame is deep and can become overwhelming. I encouraged you to talk with someone about the reading of this book, to invite dialogue with others in a church study or meeting. If you experience repressed memories or painful feelings as you read these stories, you are encouraged to call your local church or mental health help-line and seek support.

A Few Stories of Personal Shame

Jenny, started running away from her family home when she was eight. Her stepfather often beat her. He wore big steel pointed cowboy boots and kicked her with them—on the legs, in the groin, in the face after she had fallen down. To get away she fled to her older cousin’s house. They lived a quieter life. The cousin would play games with her and wrestle with her. And when they wrestled, he’d start touching her. He’d ask her to sit on his lap when he had erections. That’s how it started. And it got worse. Jenny coped with it all by imagining herself to be a princess and him the prince. She imagined that someday he’d divorce his wife and marry her. When she grew up, he told her, she would be his forever. He wouldn’t beat her or hurt her like her stepfather had. They would live happily ever after.

Jenny goes to church on Sunday. She sings in the choir. And she goes home and struggles with depression and physical pain. No one knows this about her. There is no where in the church for her to begin her healing. She is ashamed that she had sex with a married man. She is ashamed that she doesn’t even have any sexual impulses as an adult. But somehow she experiences in church a little bit of God’s grace, a little bit of love. The congregation members look at her and just think to themselves, “she’s rather strange.” She doesn’t get invited to potlucks in people’s homes. She imagines that none of the others who go to church could be as “bad” as she is.

Bill wants to be a better father and husband, and he asks for a Christian therapist. He wants to know how to improve his relationship with his wife. He talks about his marriage, his work, and his low level of depression. With a sadness I haven’t seen in our first few sessions, he nervously says to me, “I think we need to have a little more romance.” Okay, I ask, what are some romantic things you’d like to do? We make a list, but he is still restless. My intuition tells me that he can go deeper. “Would you feel comfortable telling me what your sex life is like?” He shifts a bit in the chair. “Well, its, you know, umm, we don’t do it very often. Sometimes it’s just fast and like we just do it, because well, you know I need to.” He’s shaking his head side to side. “Not very satisfying?” I asked. He has cast his eyes downward. They are glued to the floor. He quietly says, “No.” As we explore this further I realize that he is ashamed of his own needs, ashamed of the way he uses his wife to release the tension, but doesn’t really exchange pleasure with her. He so obviously values sexual intimacy, but he hasn’t learned how to achieve it. His shame falls into the gap between the pleasurable mutual sexuality that he longs for and the fast release of physical tension that he engages in.

About the Author

Karen A. McClintock is a United Methodist pastor currently serving as a pastoral counselor at the Samaritan Counseling Center in Medford, Oregon. She is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, specializing in the areas of human sexuality, family systems, and shame.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 159 pages
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress Pub; First Edition edition (February 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0800632389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0800632380
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,271,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly A. Rapczak on July 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Karen McClintock has written a very timely book which addresses the crisis of shame in our churches. I have served in numerous Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches as a musician, adult educator and now as an ELCA seminarian preparing for ordination, and I know that sexuality is a verboten topic in mainline churches. Though I haven't consciously heard it from the pulpit, I know that the message communicated in church culture is: "Don't do it, and if you are doing it, pretend that you aren't." There are exceptional congregations where sexuality is discussed and embraced, but they are few and far between.
This book is an excellent resource for any clergy person or professional lay minister who is interested in helping people to heal. McClintock is well versed in theological, psychological and family systems approaches to the problem of sexual shame. It is NOT a self-help book, nor is it a method which will provide you with "Ten Easy Steps to a Less Uptight Congregation." In her book, McClintock DOES describe the problem, gives a vision for healing, and warns the reader of possible (and possibly even PROBABLE) pitfalls along the way as a pastor attempts to help her congregation deal with the difficult issue of sexuality.
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