Tag Archives: moving past sexual baggage

Q&A with J: Getting Over Your Baggage

I feel like I’ve been answering a high percentage of questions lately from newlyweds. But I’m happy to do it, and I’m sure today’s question applies to plenty of wives in various stages of their marriage. Read on:

I’ve so enjoyed your blog thus far and am grateful for your spiritual guidance. I am a newlywed and want desperately to have a deep sexual relationship with my husband. I’ve found it so difficult to be in the mood though for a number of reasons: 1. My body image is a mess. This is the worst I’ve felt about my body in a long time and I hate being aware of it. How can I be naked and let someone touch me when I hate my body so much? 2. I had an abusive ex that still haunts me and creeps into my thoughts. 3. I was raised really devout Catholic and I still feel guilty for the “dirty” parts of sex. For some reason I can’t get out of this juvenile mind set.

All of this combines to make me not in the mood. Like ever.

I love my husband so much and I want our marriage to be a successful one. Any advice to work through my baggage I would very much appreciate. And so would he.

Other wives, did you see yourself in there somewhere? This reader did a great job of separating out the topics, so I’m going to deal with them in that order.

Q&A with J: Getting Over Your BaggageMy body image is a mess. This is the question so many wives ask themselves: “How can I be naked and let someone touch me when I hate my body so much?” I’ve tried to answer this question in so many ways and enlisted other wise wives to help:

Don’t Touch Me: I’m Ugly!
Facts and Figures
3 Practical Tips for a Sexier You
Husbands, Help Us Feel & Be Beautiful
Feeling Beautiful: A Wife’s Goal for 2015
Feeling Beautiful: From His Perspective
Feel Beautiful in 2015: Fight The Frump!
Feel Beautiful: Dust Off Your Exercise Shoes!
Feeling Beautiful: 8 Things I Learned While Shopping
How Do You Feel Beautiful? with Sheila Wray Gregoire
Put Your Body to Work to Help You Feel Beautiful with Gaye Groover Christmus
Feeling Beautiful Beneath the Sheets with Julie Sibert
Feeling Beautiful Starts in the Mind with Keelie Reason
Permission to Feel Beautiful with Bonny Logsdon Burns
4 Ways to Feel Beautiful When You’re Not Really Feeling It with Jolene Engle

I also deal with this issue several times in my devotional book, Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriagewith scriptures and focused prayer.

But today as I leaned back in my office chair wondering if there was anything else I could add, I paused to listen to the background music coming through my earphones. Was it a coincidence that Casting Crowns’ “Voice of Truth” was playing? Maybe, maybe not. But here’s the conclusion of the chorus:

Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe
The voice of truth

I encourage you to go through those posts and my book, which include wisdom and tips about feeling beautiful. But Casting Crowns is right: It’s ultimately about training our minds to agree with God’s perspective of us. It won’t happen overnight. But we can choose to listen, we can choose to believe, we can choose to rehearse the truth in our heads: You are “remarkably and wonderfully made“! (Psalm 139:14 HCSB).

I had an abusive ex. I’m not clear on what type of abuse this entailed: verbal, physical, or sexual. Or even all three. But I’ve seen the damage that domestic abuse causes, the open wounds it leaves in the victims, the pain they have to heal from. Domestic abuse can be caused by a woman or a man, but statistically it is more often the male — and I believe this is Satan at work. As usual, the accuser creates nothing, only twists what God created.

Overall, God made men biologically better equipped to be a physical protector. Man’s physical strength should be used to keep others safe, but Satan turns that on its head and convinces some men to use their might to abuse others instead. It’s a horrible thing, and if you’re being abused, you need to get out and get out now. Your situation is extremely unlikely to change, and will likely get worse, unless and until you break the cycle by pulling away.

Thankfully, this reader is out of that situation and now in a marriage where abuse is not occurring. God be praised! So what about the baggage left over from that awful experience? Once again, it’s about retraining. That was then, this is now. So here are some straightforward tips on getting past the bad memories:

  • Remind yourself that your husband is not that guy. Over and over and over. As many times as you need to. To protect ourselves, our bodies learn which stimuli signal danger and react accordingly. For abuse victims, this can mean that male hand touching you can cause you to tense up, even if it’s a different hand than the one that struck you. You’ll need to do some self-talk to distinguish this stimulus from that one. It will take some time to decouple the stimulus-response, but you can make it happen.
  • Let your husband know what triggers your fear. Communicate clearly which activities cause the bad memories to leap to the forefront of your mind. Explain how he can best touch and arouse you in ways that won’t cause you emotional pain. And look, if there are certain things that need to be off-limits, at least for the time being, tell him. For example, if a young girl was forced to give a man oral sex, she can take that off the sexual menu with her husband, because it’s just too close to the original event. Over time, her comfort in the marriage bed could improve enough that they can revisit that topic, but it’s not reasonable to push optional activities that send you reeling.
  • Have the agreement that you can pause and regroup as needed. If you’re in the middle of lovemaking, and something happens that evokes your fear response, you can call for a momentary break. Just say something like, “Hold on, I need to breathe for a moment.” Then take deep breaths, do your self-talk, and guide your husband on what you need, whether it’s slowing down, touching you elsewhere, or reminding you how much he loves you and will protect you.

Don’t stop being intimate. Because what eventually happens with bad baggage versus our marriage bed experiences is the scales tip. If you put baggage on one side, and your marriage on the other, you can eventually get so many positive experiences of sexual intimacy with your husband that you reach a tipping point. And then sex truly feels like a positive thing. Not that you don’t remember what happened to you, but it no longer defines your view of yourself, men, relationships, and sexuality like it did before.

I still feel guilty for the “dirty” parts of sex. I’m not sure what the “dirty parts” are, but it sounds like maybe it’s the whole kit-and-caboodle. Church tradition really did a number on our perspective of God’s gift of sex. It’s a shame really, but I do see many Christian voices — both in the Protestant and Catholic communities — now trying to correct the fallacies.

I keep coming back to Satan, but really I think that’s where this thing comes from: the effort of Evil to convince us that bad things are good and good things are bad. But read Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.

Sexual immorality is evil. Sexual intimacy in marriage is good. Let’s not confuse the two.

Sexual immorality is evil. Sexual intimacy in marriage is good. Let's not confuse the two. Click To Tweet

Much of what I said earlier about self-talk, listening to the voice of truth, and tipping the scales applies here. But I’d also suggest that you do an exercise of listing what you believe about sex, then searching for the biblical truth about that subject and the real conclusion. For instance, you might write:

Good girls don’t have sex. Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love. Song of Songs 2:3-4 Good wives delight in sex with their husbands.
Good girls don’t initiate sex. Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. Song of Songs 4:16 Good wives invite their husbands to have sex.

Once again, Intimacy Revealed is an excellent resource for helping you view sex the way God designed it to be — as an intimate expression of love between husband and wife.

But if you don’t know what’s okay and what’s not, talk that out with each other, remembering the consent that matters most is your Heavenly Father’s. And He smiles on husband and wife sharing the intimacy and pleasure He gifted to marriage.

You have a process to go through, but your mind and your experience can be turned around. Take one small step today, another tomorrow, and so on and so on. Together, you can grow your marriage bed into a beautiful place you both anticipate with delight!

Entering Marriage with Sexual Baggage

My last post on What Should a Groom Know about His Wedding Night? received a very interesting comment. Here’s part of it:

“… I think the title needs to be changed. It should be, ‘What Should a Christian Virgin Groom Know about His Wedding Night?’ For many, this experience has already taken place with the one they are going to marry. And, for many this experience has taken place with someone they are not going to marry.”

I did indeed write that post with a virgin groom in mind, actually in response to a request for such information. But the commenter brings out a great point: Most spouses do not enter marriage as virgins. Even many lifelong Christians were sexually active before the I-Do’s — with their own spouse or with others in their past.

Luggage

(photo credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art)

So what do those of us with sexual baggage need to know as we enter marriage?

First, come clean. Explain your sexual history to your spouse. Your spouse should know what they’re getting into so that they can help you through it. If you’ve had multiple sexual partners, own up to any residual consequences and offer to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. If your fiancé has questions, answer them directly, not withholding what they need to hear (“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” Proverbs 24:26).

You don’t need to share every detail. An overall accounting is reasonable, but providing specifics can cause your mate unnecessary hurt. Your beloved doesn’t need to have heart-rending images planted in his/her head that won’t go away. They need to know enough to be able to walk beside you as you forge a new life together, one with healthy sexual intimacy.

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” Proverbs 10:9

Seek healing. Address and resolve lingering pain and misconceptions. Don’t simply expect the wedding vows to erase the wounds of the past.

If sex has been a negatively charged experience, you need to intentionally change your view to appreciate sex as a gift from God to marriage. If you’ve developed harmful patterns of behavior, you need to intentionally replace those with new approaches. If you have memories of past sexual experiences, you need to intentionally move past them so you can build a fresh, better intimacy with your beloved.

Your sexual past has impacted your current thinking. Understand your history and deal with the brokenness before it unintentionally becomes a wedge in your marital intimacy. Decide whether you need to talk with a friend, a mentor, a pastor, or a counselor. Find books, websites, or blogs which address your circumstances. Attend classes, conferences, or support groups as needed. Seek the healing you need to enter your marriage with a godly understanding of sex and a fresh start for your sexual intimacy.

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

Focus on your spouse. Whatever happened before, however someone else behaved or hurt you or enjoyed something, this is a new moment. You have both the challenge and the opportunity to create a beautiful, sexually intimate life with your spouse. Focus on this person you married, figuring out on what they like.

Sure, a few things translate to your new situation — like Tab A still fits into Slot B — but your spouse is a unique person with their own experiences, desires, and preferences. Your spouse may have a lower or higher drive than prior partners. Your spouse may like to be touched in different places and with different intensity. Your spouse may be less or more willing to do certain sexual activities. Your spouse may have sexual baggage of their own. Learn how to navigate sexual intimacy with the person you married.

If people hurt you sexually in your past, remember that they are not your spouse. Yes, you may find sexual moments that trigger bad memories, but immediately return your mind to your spouse and the encounter at hand. Focus your energy on this one person — the mate you chose and have a lifetime with. Over time, you two can build a sexual relationship that is unique to the two of you and satisfying for both.

“I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” Song of Solomon 7:10

Take time. Allow yourselves time to move past your sexual baggage and build healthy sexual intimacy instead. If your sexual past rears its ugly head, whether in your first year of marriage or down the road, take a deep breath and handle it. Don’t assume that your sexual baggage will weigh you down forever. You can break free and create something beautiful.

Remember that you are in this for the long haul, a lifetime of love. You have time to let go of the past and build a better future. Each step in the right direction leads you to the destination you desire — satisfying sexual intimacy in your marriage. Celebrate the small successes and work through the gaps. Invite God in and let Him edge you forward to where He wants you to be.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

I definitely entered my own marriage with sexual baggage. Sure, I wish I’d been a virgin when I married, but my story didn’t end after those chapters. God had more to write. I sought God’s forgiveness, forgave myself, and forged a beautiful, God-honoring sexual relationship with my husband. It can be done.

Our God is a God of second chances. Take Him at His word that He can restore and renew your life, even in the area of sexual intimacy.

I welcome you to share your own story of brokenness to healing below; it may inspire others.

Or share where you are struggling with sexual baggage from your past, in hopes that I or others will have wise advice to heal your marriage.