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The Naked Truth: The Untold Story of Sex in Canada

by Chris Gudgeon

No topic elicits a broader array of responses than that of sex. From prim-lipped silence to raunchy histrionics, perhaps no nation embodies these differing attitudes more than Canada. Or at least that is the tack taken by Victoria author and humorist Chris Gudgeon in this interesting exploration of what he deems our national “neurotica.”

Most chapters consist of historical narrative peppered with primary source excerpts, statistics, anecdotes, lists, and a handful of painfully unfunny mock Cosmo-style quizzes, the total effect suggesting an irreverent high-school textbook. Although the humour is usually too self-conscious to warrant more than a groan, Gudgeon’s fluid prose and deft structuring impart the book with enough intelligence to surmount its hokey title.

Though working within a familiar framework – acknowledging that Canadians perceive themselves as boring, then attempting to prove that we’re more vibrant and virile than we know – Gudgeon shows himself to be a deft thinker. Particularly thought-provoking is his distinction between the U.S. and Canada – the former born of the happiness-pursuing Enlightenment, the other of the outwardly chaste but inwardly perverse Victorian age. Gudgeon argues that the hypocrisy that so often attends Canadian discussions of sexuality is due in part to our Victorian inability to reconcile the public and private spheres.

The second half of the book focuses too much on the legislating of sexual attitudes in Canada. The book becomes less the untold story of sex and more the well-known story of prejudiced and dishonest legislators. Sex lends itself to the philosophical, but Gudgeon seems content giving dry recountings of legal cases. Tellingly, the connection (if any) between sex and love is not addressed, nor is sex granted any meaning to contemporary society beyond a pleasurable right. Although Gudgeon’s stance is refreshingly open-minded, his account of sex in Canada suffers from being just what it is: an inherently paradoxical attempt to adequately account for a nation’s intimacies.