Chains of the past

When we carry trauma into our marriages, we are likely to experience difficulty in the marriage bed.

This is the second of several posts about healing from sexual trauma. You can find the first post here. This post addresses feelings of shame and guilt. Other posts will discuss the decision to begin healing and how healing can happen.

I do not claim any expertise other than my heart. I am not a Biblical scholar, nor am I a counselor. I am speaking here as I would to a woman in my real life who came to me and said, “I had this awful thing happen to me, and I don’t know how to make things better now. My husband is suffering, and I’m miserable and scared. What can I do?”

 ~ ~ ~

 Scripture makes it very clear that sex is part of marriage.

A husband and wife are one flesh. David provided sexual comfort to Bathsheba as she mourned the death of their first child. The marriage bed is undefiled. A man should delight in the breasts of the wife of his youth. (See Genesis 2:24, 2 Samuel 12:24, Hebrews 13:4, and Proverbs 5:18-19.) And then there is the Song of Songs—an allegory, perhaps, but one that works only because we can understand the literal meaning of the sexual bounty in the marriage described there.

The gift of sex can look truly wondrous–but when we experience triggers, we may not feel that way.

Sexual abuse and assault might look like the same act as sex in marriage. However, there is a big difference. Sex in marriage is a gift from God. It connects and strengthens the relationship between a husband and wife in a way that nothing else can.

Because it can look the same as the abuse or assault, though, we may respond in the God-given marriage bed as though we are still experiencing the abuse or assault.

Our own sexual responses may be triggers that elicit feelings of shame developed in childhood. This may mean that we carry shame into the marriage bed with us rather than being naked and unashamed.

The God-given sexual hunger we see in a husband’s eyes may remind us of the sick and twisted leer we saw in an abuser’s eyes. We may feel burdened by a husband’s sexuality as well as our own.

Some husbands may tread all over our triggers, not understanding them or not having been told what they are. Other husbands might work so hard to avoid the triggers that they withhold themselves emotionally for fear of upsetting their wives, thereby denying their wives the opportunity to truly work on getting better.

Our bodies can recognize the experience of sexual response and react. We might attempt, even subconsciously, to exert control over our own sexual responsiveness.

We may take a sexual act off the menu in order to avoid the triggers. We might give voice to the “no” that was denied us in times before. We might punch our husbands. Our bodies react without thinking.

We may fight the feeling of shame that floods us as we feel flawed, unlovable, and unworthy of good love.

Then, while we are feeling all those feelings of shame from the triggers, the old memories, and the new memories of the hurt look on the face of a husband who did little more than express a God-given desire for his wife, we might begin to feel guilt on top of shame.

Some wives with past sexual trauma struggle a great deal with 1 Corinthians 7:

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:5

We may understand that this means that we are to have sex with our husbands, but when we carry trauma, the thought of this can be overwhelming. We might be tempted to look for ways around this verse.

Maybe we decide that as long as a husband is having any intercourse, ever, we are doing our duty in not depriving him. We might try to exert control over our own sexual response or try to limit our husbands’ sexuality by saying that only certain sexual acts are okay. After all, they’re still having sex, so they aren’t being deprived, right?

Wrong. Sex is not the same as sexual intimacy. Withholding our sexual selves from our husbands deprives them of this intimacy. It deprives us, too.

God designed sexual intimacy in marriage to do a wonderful thing, to be the mystery that makes us one flesh.

When our triggers and memories are allowed to have power over our lives today, we deprive our husbands, ourselves, and our marriages of the joy and pleasure God wants us to experience.

Wives with sexual trauma may feel flawed, broken, and incapable of being any different—but we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

Sex and sexuality are not the problem; the power of the trauma we experienced is the problem.

Do we allow ourselves to continue as victims, when we instead could be reaching out to grab the mantle of survivor?

We can choose to embrace the God-given gift of our sexuality and sexual response, enjoying our sexuality rather than letting it make us feel ashamed. We can learn to joyfully receive and celebrate God’s gift to us in marriage and shake loose the chains of the past.

 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

 Image courtesy of bigjom at

Other posts in this series

Trapped by Trauma
‘Tis the Season
Beautiful in Its Time

5 Thoughts on “Shame, Guilt, and the Gift of Sexuality

  1. Thank you for this post! I wanted to provide this resource as well:

  2. Amanda on June 30, 2016 at 8:16 am said:

    I really have a problem with saying that a traumatized abuse survivor is depriving her husband. In my opinion that just heaps more condemnation and shame and guilt on her than she already has to deal with. I do not think its helpful to blindly apply bible verses to every situation without any differenciation. What would Jesus do? If He stood next to a woman weeping over what was done to her, weeping over the fact that she cant trust her husband because of it. Weeping because the thought of sleeping with him makes her feel so afraid that she can barely breathe. Would He pull out the bible and say “Look my child. This is what my book says. What happened to you is terrible but, well you kinda have to snap out of it because my book says that you are not to deprive your husband. Let me dry your tears and then go and have sex with him, regardless of how you feel, your body isnt yours you know”. Well I certainly dont believe in a Jesus like that. The Jesus I believe in shielded the woman caught in adultary from those who wanted to condemn her by “the book”. The husband of a friend of mine had a car accident and is now paralyzed and in a wheelchair. They cant have sex because the lower half of his body doesnt function. Now would it be helpful to hold the verse from 1 Corinthians under his nose? He shouldnt deprive his wife, thats what the bible says. That would be silly wouldnt it? Because obviously he cant have sex. His body is broken. So why do we think we can do that to people whos soul is broken? Just because there is no visible reason for not being able to have sex, it doesnt mean that the reason isnt just as valid. Mental illness should not be treated differently than physical illness. And if we feel we need to apply bible verses then waht about Jesus command for husbands to love their wives like He loves the church? He certainly doesnt love us for what He can get out of it. He loves us inspite of us being “difficult” and full of flaws. Now which bible verse would be more appropriate in the case of a wife who is an abuse survivor and struggles with ptsd? The verse that heaps guilt and pressure on her or the verse that makes her feel safe and unconditionally loved? I know which one I would choose. Because a husband who really understands how sex makes her feel, would not want her to endure that if he loves her. Who would want their spouse to go through that kind of pain? I would never never never expect something of my husband that makes him feel like the most worthless piece of dirt ever. And just another thought: a person who has been sexually abused (especially long term abuse) has learned: “I am worth nothing. My body doesnt belong to me. Anyone can just do with me as they please. I have no say whatsoever”. That is ingrained on that persons soul and it can take ages to make it fade away. To then come with a bible verse that basically tells them that their body doesnt belong to them and they must not deprive their spouse is not only inappropriate, its absolutely harmful! I think its the most unloving and insensitive thing to do. How many girls have heard from their fathers, uncles, brothers etc “if you love me you will do this” or “you belong to me, I can do with you as I please”? And then someone comes along and says “well the bible says that if you love your husband you must do this. And well your body doesnt belong to you”. Now I dont believe that you want to hurt anyone. I really believe you are trying to help. But in my opinion, as an abuse survivor and in my case, this is harmful advice. It makes me feel more guilt and shame. And if I didnt know my heavenly Father the way I do, it might also push me away from God. I dont mean to offend you, I really dont, as I said, I really believe you mean well.

    • I am so sorry that this post leads you to feelings of guilt and shame. That certainly was not my intention. Guilt and shame were embedded in you by your abuser. The point of this post is that there is hope. You can work to rise above those feelings.

      A great deal of prayer was involved in figuring out how to deal with the word “deprive” here–for the very reasons you give. I also consulted with a survivor who has herself worked with other survivors. I used the word “deprive” because it is the word used in most English versions of the bible. It is a word that we must understand in dealing with a verse that can be very difficult. I tried to present it in a larger context of intimacy, not just sex. It can be a very hard verse to come to terms with, and it is one that is used in most sermons and articles about sex in a Christian marriage. Rather than pretend the verse isn’t in the bible, I addressed it directly.

      I didn’t say that your body is your husband’s to do with as he will. It is your body, and you have the right to say no to sex. That doesn’t mean that your marriage isn’t affected by this. Sexual intimacy is important in marriage; when it is lacking, the husband, wife, and marriage are all deprived of a precious gift from God.

      I don’t think Jesus would have said, “Go have sex with your husband because the bible says to.” I think Jesus would have held her while she cried through her pain and tears and then would have healed her heart so her past abuse would no longer have such a hold on her.

      My belief is that we should do our best to heal in order to feel whole and to bring our healthiest selves to our marriages. It isn’t wrong to not succeed, because some damage is too big and the human ability to treat does have its limits. What IS wrong is to not even try.

      Don’t let anyone’s word push you away from God. When someone’s words elicit feelings of guilt and shame, let that draw you closer to God in dealing with those feelings that the abuse carved into your soul.

      I am praying for your heart today.

      • Amanda on June 30, 2016 at 2:51 pm said:

        Thank you 🙂 I agree, trying is important. I have been in therapy for 1 year. But for some, healing takes a very long time. The first thing a therapist will tell an abuse survivor who suffers from ptsd is to not have sex (if it is damaging to the survivor). That creates a safe zone that helps to focus on healing instead of experiencing trauma again and again and having to start all over. I think its very important not to pressure a survivor into sex. They should take the time they need and should only do what they feel comfortable doing. I agree that healthy sexuality is a blessing to marriage and very important. But healthy means that both feel comfortable. If one of the two is dying inside then it is no blessing. And nobody can force you to enjoy sex. I have been praying for 3 years and have been in therapy for 1, and I have not been healed. I have grow much closer to God (the most important step to intimacy!) and my depression and anxiety are much better. I love to snuggle with my husband and I love being close to him but sexual touch scares me to death and makes me feel dirty. It makes me feel physically sick to my stomach and I just want to curl up im a ball to protect myself. I cant change it. I have tried. The worst thing in these 3 years has been the pressure though. Feeling that I am a horrible wife for not having sex with my husband. That I am a failure. I have been reading books and blogs and everything I could to find an answer to my problem. I envy the woman who can enjoy sex and I feel so inadequate compared to them. But I have started to realize that all this pressure and condemnation are leading nowhere. Its making it worse. I cant force myself to enjoy sex. I just cant. And so I am trying to embrace my situation and give myself grace. Thankfully my husband feels loved without sex and is ok with things as they are. He would never want to do something that causes me so much pain. Of course he wishes things were different but he loves me unconditionally and has told me over and over again to stop worrying about him. I am a very lucky woman! And I hope that one day I will know what healthy sex is like because I have no idea. I just know being used and feeling dirty and worthless after. And until then I want to accept that its just the way it is and I am not a bad person for taking this long to heal (still working on that!)

        • There is no timeline for healing. You’ve been in therapy for only a year, which means that until a year ago, all the wounds were festering unhealed inside you. Therapy can bring things to the light where you can deal with them–and it is painful. When you are through this, though, you can be a healed woman who can feel whole.

          I would like to suggest that you read some of what Mary Demuth has to offer. You can find an overview of her story here and her book about healing and hope after sexual abuse here.

          It sounds like you are doing exactly what you should be doing right now. You are a good wife who is trying to get better. You are not failing; you are pursuing sexual wholeness. It will take time, and I am so glad God has blessed you with a husband who is willing to let your healing happen without pressure from him.

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