The Naked Church Experiment

I grew up in a traditional Asian household where attitudes towards our bodies were ones of modesty and propriety. To top it off, I was a conservative Christian…and a pastor’s kid. Needless to say, I rarely left the house revealing anything between my chin and knees.

When I had a family of my own and both my boys were done nursing, I simply did what I had grown up doing all my life:

I concealed my body.

I shooed my sons out when they walked in on me showering, locked the door when I changed, and generally covered myself up so there was no evidence of my female anatomy.  Because that is what good Christian moms do to teach their sons about modesty and purity, right?

The Hypothesis

Then it slowly dawned on me that my puritanical views about nudity and modesty actually serve to oversexualize women’s bodies instead of normalize them.

Translation?

Keeping my body hidden actually perpetuates the idea that nudity is inherently sexual and shameful.  Instead of seeing my body as something astonishing and honorable, I hide away certain parts for fear of the sexual arousal it might cause someone else.

America is a place where an exposed side boob of a breastfeeding mom is deemed inappropriate. But the East Asian culture I live in thinks nothing of mothers nursing their babies uncovered in the middle of a busy train station.

In America, a plunging neckline or a bared midriff are seen as invitations to ogle. But in many indigenous cultures where nakedness is the norm, people can freely go about their business without the constant need to take cold showers.

Why is this?

Perhaps this ridiculous sexual reductionism in American culture is due partly to overexposure to sexualized and exploitative images.

But I think it’s also partly due to not enough exposure to normal, everyday nudity.

     Nudity that reveals normal bodies, not just airbrushed ones.            

     Nudity that is seen doing normal things, not just performing sexual acts.

     Nudity that humanizes instead of objectifies.

In order to compete with the steady diet of oversexualized images that will be fed to my sons throughout their lives, maybe what I need to do is provide them with more opportunities to practice noticing the whole person instead of just the body.

Instead of telling my sons to look away, maybe I needed to teach them,

     Look a few inches higher, into her eyes.

     Look closer, at her story.

     Look deeper, at her heart.

The Experiment

Armed with this newfound conviction that more healthy exposure to nudity was good for my boys, I now had to decide what to do. After years of averting my boys’ eyes from pictures of mermaids and nude artwork, I knew something drastic had to be done so they would not end up becoming cat-calling, porn-addicted sexual aggressors. And after decades of covering myself up, I knew I needed something a little more contrived to help me get over my own prudish tendencies.

Desperate times called for desperate measures.

That’s how I came up with the ingenious idea of having Naked Church.

At home.

Just our family.

In our underwear.

(This is as risque as it gets for me. I am, after all, an Asian Christian whose dad is a pastor.)

It was an experiment of sorts. To see what would happen when my boys were exposed to a woman’s bare body in a nonsexual way. To normalize the female form and teach honor and dignity. To associate the body with the person.

We announced the idea to our boys and they were surprisingly game, my youngest even making a “Naked Church” sign.  Thankfully, without any pictures.

We all stripped down to our underwear and giggled at each other. The boys were used to running around in the nude at home, but they were not used to seeing me in all my fleshy glory. I wasn’t used to it either, and self-consciously covered myself up with a sofa cushion.

Then I remembered the whole point of this experiment: To have them see the reality of a normal woman’s body.

So I laid the cushion aside and tried to resist the temptation to suck in my generous gut.

As my husband strummed away on the guitar in his boxer briefs, I noticed one of my sons sneaking a peek at my teal panties, wondering if he would see anything interesting.

In the middle of our last song, both boys came over to me and started drumming on my breasts like they were a set of bongos, keeping time to the beat.

Didn’t they know I was trying to teach them about respecting women’s bodies instead of using them simply for their own amusement or pleasure?!

Sigh.

The Conclusion

All in all, I thought it turned out to be a successful experiment.

It helped me get past some of my own awkwardness and self-consciousness, becoming more comfortable with revealing my body.

It also revealed how my boys’ unfamiliarity with female nudity actually seemed to lead to more fascination and objectification. Naked Church was a first step in remedying this by normalizing our bodies in a nonsexual context.

An unexpected opportunity also presented itself when they began pounding on my chest. What started out as playful innocence became a teachable moment for them to learn about consent and boundaries. I firmly told them to stop and removed their hands when they didn’t.

Hopefully, with continued healthy exposure and more training, they will gain the understanding that another person’s body is not something to be crudely used or exploited for their own desires, but a sacred dwelling of a person who deserves dignity and respect.

The Follow-up

Since the Naked Church Experiment, I’ve started to purposely keep the door open when I undress. I try not to freak out or cover up when the boys see me in the shower. I talk more candidly about our bodies and sexuality.

It’s a good start. But there’s still a long way to go.

Next up…

Family Strip Poker Night!

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8 thoughts on “The Naked Church Experiment

  1. You are so brave, Iris! I love your thoughts on this, especially the part about teaching your boys to look at a girl’s eyes, heart and story. Beautifully written and thought provoking.

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    1. I did this in the privacy of my own home, so not sure how brave it actually is. I think you ladies who wear bikinis in public are more brave. 🙂

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  2. Just wanted to say I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, and I encourage you to keep it up! I also think it’s great that you’ve taken the brave step in freeing your family in terms of being comfortable with healthy, non-sexual nudity. I also come from a background in which nudity was shamed, and now I’m trying to process through that and change my mindset. American culture (especially American Christian culture) is so anti-nudity that it actually causes a lot of problems, as you alluded to, with shame, pornography, sex addiction, and unhealthy views of the body (especially the female body). It’s shocking to see the number of English-speaking Christians (including famous Christian pastors) who think nudity, even non-sexual nudity within the family, is immoral, immodest, and sinful. I’m glad you’re speaking out about this and taking steps to bring about a healthy view of the human body. Blessings!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Rob! Yes, the modesty movement tries to superficially deal with the problem while creating a whole host of other issues. I’m hoping more open dialogue and normalization of our bodies and sexuality will lead to less shame and suppression.

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  3. Interesting. My conservative Christian parents were pretty nonchalant about letting us (two daughters and two sons) see them in various states of undress, but usually not total nudity. When my sister and I were teens, my dad did not respect our boundaries and would walk in on us in the bathroom or bedroom without knocking. He would also reveal himself to us inappropriately. This led to other behaviors that I won’t describe here. But the point is that just revealing parts of the body is not necessarily healthy without discussion. So I’m glad that you talked about boundaries with your boys.
    I personally would have started with a book or age-appropriate workbook about the body to start the discussion (instead of a naked church). I am married, but don’t have children so I can’t really speak from experience. However, my husband has introduced me to the normal aspects of male sexuality – in that once the testosterone is fully coursing through their blood (starting at puberty) – guys will automatically have a sexual reaction when they see a naked woman. It’s largely physiological, not simply psychological. Check out the book The Sexual Man. I read that shortly after I was married 20 years ago because I was really naive about male sexuality.
    I’d be interested in more discussion on this, perhaps in a private email.
    P.S. We knew you when we lived in TJ.

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    1. Absolutely agree that exposure to everyday nudity goes hand in hand with healthy discussion. And we have not done naked church since that one little experiment. 🙂 It’s more about normal exposure to the body doing normal things (taking a shower, getting changed, nursing) rather than blatant displays, which are inappropriate. Boundaries are definitely needed too, and in your example, your father should have respected yours. As for the sexuality of men, I think some of it is physiological, but a lot of it is in the mind. Men from cultures where nudity is the norm probably do not get turned on simply by seeing a woman’s breasts. Male OB/GYN doctors who often see the female form hopefully do not sexualize all their patients. I think it’s very unhealthy that the only exposure to nudity we get within our culture (for the most part) is sexualized, and I think the result is that we automatically sexualize any nudity. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

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