I sat in the audience, taking notes, my heart sinking deeper into itself. Failure hollered so loudly I wondered if others could hear it. Women laughed, turned redfaced, then laughed some more. I sat quiet, alone with my condemnation.
The woman at the front of the conference talked about sex, about being a hottie for your honey. She spoke of livening up the marriage bed, that God made sex to be amazing, fulfilling. That it was our duty to make it a joy, to lavish our husbands with our sexuality. Maybe he could eat strawberries from our bellies, or we could sneak little hot notes to him.
I looked around the room, wondering if I was the only one who felt unable to do any of these acts. I felt like a skinny girl sitting in on a sumo wrestling seminar, wholly incapable of carrying out the tips and tricks offered.
I remembered the statistics, that most likely a large swath of these laughing women had been sexually assaulted at one point in their lives. That as I listened to the speaker share her story, fifteen people had experienced unwanted sexual touch (one every two minutes).
And then I got mad. It was one of the first times I’d ever considered interrupting a speaker. But of course, there were hundreds of women, and they were laughing, listening, making sexy lists, and engaging.
If I’d had the gumption, this is what I would’ve said: “Could you please address those of us who find this impossible? Please don’t place yet another yoke upon us. We’re just trying to work through the past, barely able to understand sex as ‘beautiful.’ To many of us, it’s dirty, and it serves as a constant reminder that we were violated against our will.”
Have you ever felt this way? Am I the lone voice calling out to adventurous spouses who don’t at all struggle with this? When my husband and I wrote an article for Marriage Partnership about the marriage bed and past sexual abuse, the response was overwhelming, so I’m guessing I’m not writing to an empty internet here.
When I speak one on one with people who have been sexually abused, a great majority of them have a difficult time with sex. They either border on addiction or have sworn off sex entirely (even in marriage). Some divorce because they simply cannot have sex with their spouse. It’s a real problem, but so few talk about it.
My own story and journey of healing is chronicled in my memoir Thin Places. I was molested at five years old during my kindergarten career by neighborhood bullies, who eventually brought their friends in on the violation. I told my babysitter. She said she’d tell my mom (but never did), and the boys continued to violate me, which led me to believe that not one adult on earth would protect me. I grew a fierce determination to protect myself, so I feigned sleep to get out of the attacks. Providentially, we moved at the end of that year, far enough away from those boys that I didn’t have to endure their violation any more.
But boy did they stay with me. They haunted my dreams. They obscured my view of sex. They made me think that my sole purpose in this life was to be used and violated.
I don’t know how I was able to walk the aisle of marriage a virgin–it’s truly God’s grace. Technically, of course, I wasn’t. All those violations from the past ensured that. But when it became my choice, I found the strength to say no.
Truth be told, I walked a strange line between yearning and utter terror. As a fatherless girl, I wanted nothing more than to have a boyfriend fill up all the empty spaces of me, but when my love interest became interested, I ran one thousand miles away, completely terrified. I worried they’d try to make me do things I didn’t ever want to do.
When I got engaged, I worried a lot about sex. My wedding night was not something I anticipated with joy or expectation. The terror refrained inside me. I felt five again.
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I shared those fears with my husband, and we made it through. And I’m frankly quite surprised (it is the gift of God) that I can enjoy sex.
But it’s taken many years over the past twenty two to get to a healthy place. I still disconnect. I can’t seem to engage my emotions or my whole self. If I enjoy sex, I still have the feeling that I’m legitimizing the abuse. I’ve come to a place of acceptance, too, that I may never be the sexy wife who is “all that” for her husband. My growth has been tremendous, but I still have scars.
We’ve learned to talk about it, not an easy thing to do. My husband knows I’m trying, that I’m not giving up. I’ve been able to communicate my triggers to him, which has helped a lot.
And through it all, I honestly have to cry out to Jesus to give me a healthy view of sex. It absolutely does not come naturally to me. My fallback is revulsion.
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All this stinks. It’s not fair what those boys stole the most precious part of me. It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to my husband. They violated, and I’m left to navigate the minefield of memories and feelings.
I walk with a giant limp in the sexy wife arena. I still feel outright rage when I read that for the sake of my husband, I’m supposed to be adventurous and wild, that to be this way represents true spousal godliness. Because honestly? Those words just make me feel less than. Those are a set of guidelines I’ll probably never meet.
I haven’t given up. I press on to be whole. But I also know my limitations. And I know that many of you are reading this and saying, yes, yes. Mind if I offer you grace?
It’s okay to struggle in this area. It’s normal. I give you permission to say it’s frightening and bewildering. I pray you’ll find the words to communicate with your spouse how you feel, how this is hard for you. I hope for an understanding spouse who loves you utterly for who you are, not how you perform. I want to tell you that it does get better, but that you won’t improve by simply trying to on sexy clothes or offering your body as a fruit plate. True sexual liberation comes from the inside out, where Jesus walks into those terrible memories and mourns alongside you. I don’t have the answers. I still can’t reconcile my own sexual exploitation with a loving God, other than to say He has used those awful events to make me more empathetic to those who have walked similar paths. And the thrill that comes when I’m able to offer words of encouragement and truth salves the wound a bit. Whether you’re a man or a woman, hear this: You are beautiful. You are worthy of being cherished. You are worth healing. Stay on the course. Holler your anger if you have to. But keep asking Jesus for healing. And keep offering grace to fellow strugglers.
I’m considering writing a book on this topic. Let me know what you think about that. But mostly I want to hear from you. What’s your story? How have you healed from the past? What are your struggles?