Q&A with J: Surviving Childhood Rape & Building Sexual Intimacy

Whenever I hear or read stories of children sexually abused, I often tear up, sometimes cry, and now and then sob for the horrible wrongness of such an act. I can think of little that it is more evil than sexually violating the most vulnerable among us.

But these trauma survivors should know they are often the strongest among us. Because you went through hell and came out the other side. Now, the struggle is to put together the life God wants you to have, despite your terrible past. Here’s today’s reader question:

I am a childhood rape survivor. This caused many problems throughout my childhood and teenage years, and because I didn’t know what to do with that situation, I suppressed it. After almost 10 years of marriage, I confessed to my husband what had happened to me . . . He often wants to fondle me, or “just look” and I get annoyed by it. I feel it is very degrading and vulnerable. So then he often asks, how come in a world where so many live topless or it is socially acceptable to be topless — you struggle with me wanting to look at you or touch you — even if you know it will lead to nothing else. My response is sometimes — they are just boobs — get over it! So he responds with — well if i went to a Hooters and those same “boobs” were flaunted in front of my face, you would get upset at me for looking. So how come if you won’t let me look/touch yours, you would get upset if i looked or touched someone else’s. He has said the same thing about sex in the past. If you don’t want to have it as often as I do — then explain to me why you would have a problem with me getting it elsewhere! I feel numb and void and unable to process how this makes me feel as I am still working through my own issues around rape and how it made me feel. and to be quite honest — he often makes me feel like a victim with his comments and behaviors — even if he doesn’t mean to.

I simply don’t know how to explain my position to him! Can you help shed some light? Am I wrong? Do I just need to get over it and let him look/touch?Q&A with J: Surviving Childhood Rape and Building Sexual Intimacy w/teal ribbon for sexual assault awareness

We look at life through our own prisms. I can almost imagine sitting with each of these spouses in a room and hearing their stories. She would tell me how she’d been sexually assaulted, how she carried around such wounds and scars, how she’s still fearful at times, and how she needs her husband to give her compassion and even distance. He would tell me how he feels neglected and rejected, how he aches for her sexual touch and intimacy, how he would never do to his wife what some horrible man before did to her, and how he just wants things to be okay now.

Of course I don’t know exactly what they’d say, but what first hit me was how this wife and this husband struggle to get past their own lenses. And, in her case especially, that’s understandable.

Now I absolutely believe the husband needs to show more grace and generosity, given what she went through. However, I’m going to talk to the wife. Because she’s the one who wrote, and — as I hope you know by now — you can’t force your spouse to change. So let’s talk about where she can go from here.

First, you haven’t healed completely. What you went through was truly awful, and you have residual pain that you carried on your own for far too long. I urge you to seek help to work through the issues that remain. Children don’t go through sexual assault without adopting some coping mechanisms that may have served you well at the time, but don’t work well for adult life and in marriage. So you need to adjust your lens and learn healthier ways to view yourself and your sexuality.

Find a childhood survivor support group, a trauma counselor, a trusted pastor, and/or a fellow-survivor mentor. And while I still have yet to read this book, The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender has been recommended on this topic so many times by trusted friends and colleagues, I feel confident mentioning and recommending it here. Seek out resources that will help you finally and fully address what you went through and how you can move from surviving to thriving.

Second, you need to sit your husband down and talk about “triggers.” I looked up several definitions of trigger, but I like this one best: “A trigger in psychology is a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma” (from GoodTherapy.org). When your husband ogles or fondles you, particularly without warning or express consent, it can trigger the feelings you experienced during childhood sexual assault — loss of control, personal violation, objectification, and more.

Also, his statements about Hooters and getting it elsewhere come across like a man only interested in using you for sex. I don’t think that’s true about your husband — I think he’s just frustrated and lashing out — but it still triggers the tapes already running through your head that men can be sexual predators who want to use you. You have to tell your husband, calmly but firmly, “When you say X, it subconsciously triggers all these feelings. And I’m even less likely to feel safe enough to be sexually vulnerable with you.”

If and when he says or does something that’s a trigger for you, it’s perfectly reasonable to tell him in the moment. Something like: “I need you to stop, because that’s making me feel unsafe.” When you consistently and calmly set boundaries, you can establish new scripts between you. And you’ll feel more in control of the situation, and thus more likely to relax and consider following through on my next point.

Finally, God intended you two to have wonderful sexual intimacy in your marriage. That’s part of the deal of saying I do. It’s perfectly normal for a husband to want to enjoy the physical beauty, even nakedness, of his wife and to want to touch her. So that’s going to be a goal for you — figuring out how to get to the point that he can view and touch you without you being triggered. And, more importantly, you need to set as a goal learning to awaken your own sexual desire and pleasure, because God made sex for wives too.

Now notice what I said and didn’t say. I said learn and figuring out how, but I didn’t say get over it. Because this isn’t about you sucking it up, ignoring your pain, and letting him do whatever. By no means! Tell your husband that being sexually open and excited is a huge challenge for you, given your past, but that you want become more sexually engaged. It will take some time, it will take some effort, and it will take some trial-and-error. But you can do this.

From here, it’s really about baby steps. You need to figure out which of your husband’s touches feel good and which ones feel threatening, then ask for the former and discourage the latter. (Your husband might benefit from reading my post on wives being sexually harassed.) You need to be in more control of the sexual act than he is, for the time being, so that you can break the lingering association of sex with powerlessness. You need to take steps to awaken your sensuality, learning through trial-and-error with your husband what provides you physical pleasure.

Here are a couple other posts that might help:

Q&A with J: How Can I View Sex as “Hot and Holy”?
Sexual Mistreatment Should Have Never Happened to You!

It breaks my heart that someone would misuse you as a child, and I know it breaks God’s heart as well. I’m praying that you pursue a healthy and healed view of sexuality in your marriage. Not just for your husband, but absolutely for you. You deserve to know and experience what sexual intimacy truly is, and with patient persistence, I believe you can get there.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

READERS, DON’T FORGET MY NOVEMBER GIVEAWAY. CLICK THE BANNER BELOW, AND SCROLL DOWN THE POST TO FIND OUT WHAT’S HAPPENING!

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22 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Surviving Childhood Rape & Building Sexual Intimacy

  1. Michael

    “Am I wrong? Do I just need to get over it and let him look/touch?”

    No and No. That being said you might want to meditate on whether you owe it
    yourself and your husband to not ignore it or just leave it as it is.
    I was sexually abused when I was a young boy by my brother. For years I carried around guilt, handled things the wrong way, very wrong ways and never told anyone. That would include
    my wife. Once I decided to confront my guilt, anger shame and everything else that went with it
    I realized that the only way I would ever be able to deal with things would be with her help.
    Ecclesiastes tells us a 3 fold cord cannot be torn in two. It was after years of marriage and ignoring the other 2 cords ( God and my wife) that I woke up. It can be hard to talk about at first, and even years later, but it has to be talked about, prayed about.
    It is not just a matter of seeing boobs at Hooters as a solution, nor is it a matter of just getting over it as a solution. Patience, love and empathy will get you both to a point where this hopefully will not be the cause of pain and frustration it is right now.
    I wish you well…….

    Reply
  2. Nick Peters

    Hi, J. I’d like to speak here. This letter grips me and I have something for both parties. I also speak from experience. My wife experienced sexual abuse from some of her peers in high school and it can make intimacy with me hard today. Therefore, I can speak I think to the wife’s concerns as someone who has spent six years with someone concerned and to the husband’s words and actions, which frankly trouble me greatly. I’m going to go through piece by piece.

    Letter: He often wants to fondle me, or “just look” and I get annoyed by it. I feel it is very degrading and vulnerable.

    Reply: I want to see if the writer will pay attention to her usage of the word “just.” Just can be a word that downplays things. The husband here is treating it like a small thing. It isn’t. Now to be fair, it should be innocent enough, but it’s not a big deal. The President of the United States might want to just take a break and sit down in the Oval Office, but he’s the one who has earned that privilege. If he let any of us sit there, it would be odd for him to say “Why do you want a picture here? It’s just sitting in the Oval Office.”

    In the same way, your husband wants to see you because he just finds your body that beautiful. Do you like to see great works of art? Do you like to see wonders like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon? In the same way, your body is a wonder. I speak as a man here. There is nothing more beautiful in all of creation than the human female form.

    Now as to degrading and vulnerable, you are wrong on the first and right on the second. Looking is degrading if it is done wrongly. If he is ogling you and treating you like an object, that is wrong, but a good and honorable husband is not doing that. On the second, it is vulnerable, and that’s a beautiful thing. If I’m watching something on the screen and I see a woman is taking off her bra, I know that’s a sign of trust and she’s sharing something very intimate with the man she’s with. Of course, it’s sadly often done outside of marriage, but in marriage, that is a beautiful thing. Your vulnerability is telling him how much you trust him. Sadly, your lack of vulnerability will send the opposite message. If you can convince yourself you have nothing to fear from your husband, this should not be a problem then.

    Letter: So then he often asks, how come in a world where so many live topless or it is socially acceptable to be topless — you struggle with me wanting to look at you or touch you — even if you know it will lead to nothing else.

    Reply: Okay. This is where I start to get upset with the husband. It’s also a world where people degrade sex and treat the human body like just an object. I don’t take my cues from the rest of the world on how to behave. On the other hand, he is right that I think women should share even if it leads to nothing. If my wife shares her body with me even if it doesn’t lead to sex, my mood is changed for the whole day. Seriously women. You have that power.

    Letter: My response is sometimes — they are just boobs — get over it!

    Reply; This is where the woman is in the wrong I think. The word just is one big thing here. No. They are not just boobs. For a man, a woman’s breasts are some of the if not the most beautiful sights in all of creation. I would rather see my wife’s body than anything else in this world. Breasts are beautiful masterpieces and if Proverbs is right, a man is supposed to take delight in them. The woman is also downplaying herself. She’s saying there is nothing special about her body. She might be used to breasts since she has been with them most of her life, but he hasn’t been.

    And also, never tell him to get over it. You’re pretty much telling him to not be interested in you.

    Letter: So he responds with — well if i went to a Hooters and those same “boobs” were flaunted in front of my face, you would get upset at me for looking. So how come if you won’t let me look/touch yours, you would get upset if i looked or touched someone else’s.

    Reply: Yeah. The guy is being a jerk here really if he’s saying this. This should never even be hinted at or insinuated. There is never anyone else in the relationship. He could make the point along these lines still without insinuating. She needs to see why he’s so angry though. A lot of is a guy does feel rejected. Bluntly, sex is supposed to be part of the deal. He’s wanting his part of the deal.

    Letter: He has said the same thing about sex in the past. If you don’t want to have it as often as I do — then explain to me why you would have a problem with me getting it elsewhere!

    Reply: Same as above. The lady is taking this as a sign that she’s just a means of physical release or an object. Sorry dude, but you’re not helping your case. You’re not helping your wife to feel secure around you. Patience is the key.

    Letter: I feel numb and void and unable to process how this makes me feel as I am still working through my own issues around rape and how it made me feel. and to be quite honest — he often makes me feel like a victim with his comments and behaviors — even if he doesn’t mean to.

    Reply: She’s right, and they need to go to a counselor together. This isn’t just her issues. These are their issues. It is one flesh in all things.

    Just some of my thoughts.

    Reply
    1. sunny-dee

      Re the Hooters: it’s tacky, but I get it. Also remember, this guy had been married 10 years before the wife told him why she had issues. Ten years of rejecting contact, insulting him, and being distant sexually and emotionally. He should be compassionate and protective — but I get why he’s not.

      I have a similar experience with my husband. We very seldom have sex, and he has completely rejected me sexually and usually (6 days out of a week) is extremely distant emotionally. I wore a short skirt once on a sundress this summer, and he did not like it — he said no one should get to see the goods but him. I’d be all for that, if he ever, you know, looked at the goods. But he doesn’t. On paper, he has the right to feel that way, but in practice? He gave that up around the 1000th time he threw a fit that I asked for sex. What right does he have to complain if some other man looks at me?

      Reply
      1. sunny-dee

        BTW, I realized that could seem to blame the writer, and I so don’t mean that. I mean only that the husband has a decade of rejection that he was unable to put into context — and now he has the context but is still not applying it.

        He’s failing and failing big time. But I have a measure of pity because I’m sure he’s hurting, too. Not nearly to the same degree, but still hurting.

        Reply
      2. Nick Peters

        I get his rejection. He just needs to watch what he says. My wife struggles with self-image as well and she finds it hard to think she’s beautiful, but I love the goods. Even if we can’t have sex, if I could just get to see her sometimes, that’s enough to get me through the day. I honestly don’t understand husbands who don’t want to have sex. It makes no sense to me.

        Reply
  3. Iibl

    I decided to stop letting the boy who touched me wrong from ruining my relationship with my husband. My husband would do a “trigger touch” and I decided to take that touch away from the boy who did it to me and give it to its rightful place….my husband. It took a few self reminders, but now I fully enjoy that touch. Instead of triggering negative memories it triggers sexual enjoyment with my husband.

    Reply
  4. Allie

    To this reader, I am so, so sorry this happened to you. I too am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I know that no two situations are alike, so I won’t insult you by telling you I know how you feel, because I can’t and don’t. But a couple things. One, the Wounded Heart is a good book. It helped me a lot. It has a workbook that goes with it, if I remember right. Or, the edition I read had one. That helped to fill out as I read the book. Maybe think about checking it out if you haven’t? I can’t imagine how hard this is for you, and I know some of your husband’s comments are not ok, and are hurtful. My guess is, though, that he’s speaking as a man whose probably felt sexually (and thus emotionally) rejected for a long time, with (in his eyes) no real reason until recently. Maybe he’s hurt that it took 10 years of marriage for you to disclose your past trauma, but doesn’t know how to voice the hurt? That won’t heal overnight any more than your own pain will. I really agree with J’s suggestion of finding a pastor, a counselor, someone who you can trust but who also has enough objectivity to help you both deal with your own pain. My situation was a bit different, my husband new of my past abuse before we married, and he has been an integral part of helping me find healing in realms that only he could help with. I will be praying for both of you.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thanks for speaking from your own experience. I’m saddened by your experience as well, yet glad you sought help. Blessings!

      Reply
  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Great post.

    I was abused as a child by both parents (and their ‘friends’). At the age of 11 I used paper-route money to procure a .45 automatic, and nobody bugged me again. Something about looking at a half-inch pistol barrel in the hands of a kid who had nothing to loose, I guess.

    The people who did that are dead now; good riddance, and may the devil take their black souls. Forgiveness is for suckers.

    Reply
  6. AnonymousToday

    Oh dear, sweet, sister, I am so sorry for your pain and I will pray for you.
    I have to remain completely anonymous for this, because I’m going to share something only my husband knows. I don’t know that it would be considered sexual abuse, and I know it was kind of my own fault for allowing myself to end up in the situation, but it was still very painful.
    I wasn’t a child, I was 15 years old. So I guess I had a little easier time understanding, but it still left a lot of baggage to work through.
    I was really interested in an older guy who I thought liked me back. He was very handsome, and headed into the academy. I was young and naive, and I trusted him. That’s where I went wrong. We went somewhere and I knew and even hoped he would want to make out with me (neither one of us were Christians at the time). Well, we made out alright, but he decided it should go much farther. I wanted to stop, he didn’t. Needless to say, things went his way. I remember feeling scared and trapped, but I had gotten myself into the situation, so…
    Anyhow, it bothered me for a long time. I never told anyone. I was so afraid I’d get into trouble. I was terrified people would think so much less of me. I didn’t want to be seen as “that kind of girl.” It affected me for a very long time, and made me feel like I had lost any value I might have had.
    It’s amazing the reactions we can have to such trauma. The song that was on the radio at the time still makes me feel terrified. I was so surprised the first time that happened. My husband started singing it once, not knowing, and I was shocked at how strongly I reacted. He now knows and has never sung it again.
    The smell of a certain cologne gives me a visceral reaction. Thankfully not many people wear it anymore. In the beginning, the smell of it could make me throw up. My point is, these things can effect us on a very deep level.
    I did share what happened with my husband before we got married. He was super supportive (and a little angry – not at me, but for me) even though at the time we were young and I think he just didn’t know what to do. Honestly, I didn’t know either. But because we had talked about it, he had an understanding if something threw me off, and we worked through it. We’ve been married quite a while.
    It sounds to me, and I could be wrong because all I know is from the question you asked, that maybe your husband doesn’t understand the depths of what happened to you, or how deeply it affected you? I like Nick’s answer above.
    I also agree with everyone who is recommending counseling. My suggestion would be to go together. I think your husband needs to talk about his feelings in a healthier way (he sounds a little hurt and frustrated) – and he needs a better understanding of what you’ve been through. Perhaps a counselor can help you two communicate better about this very difficult issue.
    I will be praying for you!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thank you for sharing your story and your encouragement.

      I have to disagree with you on one point: “I know it was kind of my own fault.” No, my dear, it was not your fault at all. Let go of that baggage too. Blessings!

      Reply
    2. RS

      Dear AnonymousToday,
      It was only this past year, 20 years after I was raped by a man much, much older than me, that I finally was able to let go of “my end”. You see, I went along with my abuser, wanted to, in fact, and at the great age of 12 or 13, whichever I was, I knew what was right and wrong, and I knew that what I allowed to happen was wrong. I have always taken responsibility for “my part”, and then a friend recently told me:
      “the consensual aspect is what creates a lot of the internal conflict for people who have experienced abuse. There’s often enjoyment, even for younger children, along with the sense of being violated. It’s really hard for folks to make sense of…”
      That helped me to finally let it go. I still get twinges every once in a while of that guilt, but it’s not crouching close by to mess me up any more.
      Praying for healing for you.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        Thank you for this beautiful encouragement.

        And honestly, I think you should look around for 12/13-year-old in your midst and ask yourself whether you would ever blame that young girl for being abused by an older man. Of course not! The balance of power is all on the abuser’s side, not hers. Praying for that last iota of guilt to leave your heart.

        Reply
    3. Allie

      Anonymous Today, like others here, one thing stands out. What that man did to you was, not, NOT, your fault! Please try to hear that! I wrote childhood abuse in my post, which may not have been the right term. Teen sexual abuse maybe is the better word, because it started at age 14, and continued to increasing degrees till I was 17. For years I thought it was my fault, that I was old enough to have known better, to think I had a hand in it because a part of me had enjoyed being treated as an equal by an adult, until it escalated to a point when I could no longer miss what was really going on. But like others have said, that’s all lies of the Enemy! The balance of power was still on my abuser. He was the adult, the one who took advantage of my trust, my innocence and naiveté. Believe me when I say I’m a huge proponent of taking responsibility for my own actions and my own part in things, too. Like you, that’s what I told myself about the abuse being my fault: I had to take responsibility for my part. But what I learned is, that as a teenager, a minor, a girl who truly didn’t understand the dynamic that was playing out because my abuser was so careful about how he groomed me physically and mentally…I had no responsibility in that one. Did I have responsibility for my promiscuous behavior in my twenties? Absolutely yes, because I was an adult and a Christian by then, and knew better. Since you were a teenager under the manipulation of an older man, it still classifies as abuse. Don’t let the Enemy, or any person, especially not your abuser and his lies from the past, tell you that any portion of that was your fault! I will pray that you see God’s truth on this, and experience the freedom and healing it can bring.

      Reply
  7. X

    Childhood sexual abuse survivor here as well. I can’t say enough good things about The Wounded Heart and the workbook. Dan Allendar also runs recovery weekends and week long retreats. His work is a great resource for healing from sexual abuse. God bless you as you seek wisdom on your path to healing.

    Reply
  8. Lori

    Dan B. Allendar has also written Healing the Wounded Heart (for which there is a workbook). It’s the best book I know of that explains the dynamics of abuse and effect. Included is material written to the spouse of survivors. Amazing resource.

    Reply
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