If you’re like me, today’s question will make your heart crack a little and/or bring moisture to your eyes:
I am a trauma counselor who works with children who have been sexually abused. I hear so many awful stories about abuse and the images are so vivid, I carry them with me and can’t seem to get them out of my head… especially when I am being intimate with my husband. I can’t get excited about sex and I have a hard time viewing sex as “hot and holy.” Never mind the fact that I am already very self conscious about my body, and I know my husband struggles with pornography. I can’t seem to shake my thoughts when trying to “get in the mood” for sex. I have discussed my concerns with my husband, but I’m not sure what he can do, if anything, to help. What do you suggest?
Just that phrase — children who have been sexually abused — presses down on my chest and makes me weep for these precious, innocent victims. It also makes me want to rail against the evil in this world that would do such a thing to those among us who most need our protection.
And this wife hears these stories, in detail, day-in and day-out. That must take its toll. Yet, I’m grateful for trauma counselors who help these children come out of the shadows and find healing on the other side. May God bless their efforts over and over again.
Let me walk through the three issues here: the trauma she hears, the self-consciousness she feels, and the pornography struggle her husband experiences. Each is an obstacle to sexual intimacy in marriage.
Sexual trauma stories. As clearly as I can possibly say it: What those children experienced was not the sex God created. We almost need another word that indicates how it’s sexual in nature, but not at all the same thing as sex itself. It’s abuse, plain and simple. And in the most heinous way — preying upon the vulnerable in the most vulnerable parts of their body.
That “sex” is absolutely not hot or holy. It’s opposed to anything and everything sexual intimacy in marriage was intended to be. I pray that all victims, and those who work with them, hear what I’m saying — that sexual abuse wasn’t in any way the victim’s fault and it doesn’t resemble in any way what God created sex to be.
This may be something that you have to rehearse your head again and again: that is not sex, that is not sex, that is not sex. It could be that the wording makes a huge difference to you for distinguishing the two. So that you even get rid of the word sex when referring to what happens in the marriage bed, and call it marital or physical intimacy. Because that’s what God intends for marriage — a deep relational connection that is voluntarily expressed in a physical way.
Right now, I think the scales are so tipped toward sex being attached to the abuse stories that it’s hard to tease that out. Besides making a clear-cut, black-and-white distinction between sexual abuse and marital intimacy, you also need some experiences that reflect the better side of sexual touch and activity. That’s one of the reasons I believe healthy marital intimacy can combat some of the bad messaging kicking around in our heads: It readjusts the balance so that we identify with a new script that involves God’s design for sex in marriage.
Self-consciousness. I don’t know any woman who isn’t at some time self-conscious about her body. Maybe those women exist, but I don’t know them. We may be more confident or less confident, but body image continues to be a struggle for many wives. It’s why I launched my Feel Beautiful goal last year with the hope and prayer that we ladies would learn to embrace our inner and outer beauty.
I highly suggest you read the myriad of posts from myself and other Christian wives about how to feel beautiful. But ultimately, my confidence in the marital bedroom to bare my body is simply about courage. And, being a Texan, I like this definition of courage from western actor John Wayne: “Courage is being scared…but saddling up anyway.” Funny thing is, once you “saddle up” and go for it with your husband, you often end up feeling better about your body. Because your body is a truly remarkable masterpiece.
Your softness and curves, your sensitive places and pleasure spots, your ability to affect his body — it’s all rather amazing. And none of that is changed by sporting a few extra pounds or not having the breast size you want or wondering if your thunder thighs should be registered as a lethal weapon. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and if your husband wants to see you naked, it’s because he likes to see you naked. He recognizes that your feminine form is exciting. Talk yourself into owning that, with a dose of courage that you can reveal the beauty that is you.
Pornography struggle. That said, having your hubby looking at porn is not helping your body image. And it’s certainly hurting his view of sex and your marriage as a whole. He’s unlikely to white-knuckle his way out of this habit, so take steps to fight against the temptation of pornography. Be his supporter and his advocate, but yes, be his boundary too, if needed.
You should make clear that you don’t want pornography coloring your marital intimacy. It needs to stop. Rather, you two need to foster the kind of physical intimacy God wants you to exclusively have in the proper bounds of covenant marriage.
The sex displayed in pornography is at the least unrealistic and quite often abusive of women on the screen. So it’s no wonder wives often object to that representation of sexual contact. I recently read a well-researched description of the adult video industry (in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by journalist Chris Hedges), and the amount of physical abuse displayed and perpetrated against porn actresses is staggering. It utterly breaks my heart.
But regardless of how tame some porn might be in comparison to the hardest core stuff, it all objectifies people and focuses purely on the physical. Yet again, this is so far from the gift that God bestowed on marriages when He created sexual intimacy. It’s incredibly important that your husband move away from this depiction of sex, and that you both embrace the far better version of sexuality God described in His Word.
When someone asks what that looks like, I often refer them to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Of course we don’t perfectly measure up to this ideal, but if the intimacy in your marriage doesn’t look like that description at all, it’s not what God wants you to have.
It will take intentionality and time on your part to adjust how you’ve seen sex up to now. I encourage you to read up on God’s plan for physical intimacy. My own book, Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design covers both attitudes and tips for creating that “hot and holy” experience in your marriage bed. I also encourage you both to read Pursuit of Passion: Discovering True Intimacy in Your Marriage by Julie Sibert and Jeffrey Murphy, which is a great overall treatment of physical intimacy for husbands and wives.
Read quality marriage blogs. Study what God’s Word has to say about sex; for example, the Song of Songs. Communicate with your husband about your concerns and your hopes. Pray for your heart to heal and your mind to focus on what God wants for your marriage. But you can get there. And I pray that God blesses your marriage with intimacy that truly is hot and holy.
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