Lessons from Sexual Harassment


Have experiences with sexual harassment affected your marriage bed?

Women have been sharing their stories of sexual harassment in articles that are making the rounds on social media lately. (If you’re a man reading this, start here.)

Like many of you, these articles have gotten me thinking about my own experiences.

As an early developer, I got inappropriate sexual attention even back in grade school—and it just kept going:

  • I had my bra strap snapped and my shirt lifted up by boys on the playground.
  • I was trapped in a closet and the neighbor boy wouldn’t let me out until I showed him my budding bosom and looked at his penis.
  • In middle school, I started to be uncomfortable walking past men because sometimes they would comment on my curves or my walk.
  • In junior high, a boy on the bus poked a pin into my breast because he thought I must be stuffing with a balloon and he wanted to pop it. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents why I had blood on my shirt.
  • I experienced the cat calls, the uninvited groping, the stares at my rear end, the attempts to look down my shirt, the announcement from a strange guy telling me he wanted to have sex with me (using very graphic language), and the “smile, sweetie” comments when I would try to walk past the men whose eyes were on my body.

You have your own stories, too. We all do.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Look at what Boaz said to Ruth in Ruth 2:9: “Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. . . ”

“I have told the men not to lay a hand on you.” Even then, women had to be concerned about unwanted sexual attention from men.

The Lessons We Learned

We all have learned what to do. We avoid situations where we might attract unwanted sexual attention. We deflect comments in an attempt to lead a guy away from sexual conversation. We mollify and soothe when men don’t like our responses. We attempt to control the situation in order to feel sexually safe.

I was never taught to do these things. I learned it mostly by trial and error. When I said or did things that effectively redirected the attention away from sexual harassment, I stored it in my toolbox of lessons for the future. I learned to avoid the attention of men and stick with my girlfriends.

Reading other women’s stories of sexual harassment makes it clear that I am not the only one who learned these lessons.

Unfortunately, figuring out how to deal with sexual harassment isn’t the only lesson we learned.

We also learned lessons about sexuality that can have a negative effect on our marriages.

We learned that . . .

  • Male sexual attention is unsafe.
  • It is easier to avoid unwanted sexual situations than have to respond after encountering one.
  • Our bodies are what appeal to men, not our whole selves
  • Sexuality (his and ours) should be suppressed and controlled.
  • Sexuality has dangerous consequences.

Rebuffing a man’s sexual advances becomes second nature. We condition ourselves to minimize any sexuality without even being aware of it.

After internalizing these lessons, is it any surprise that so many of us struggle to feel sexually free and enjoy sexual interest from our husbands?

Teaching Ourselves New Lessons

The lessons we learned help us deal with sexual harassment—but they constrain us when we try to apply them in the marriage bed.

When we fear, avoid, and control sex because of those lessons, we reject God’s wonderful gift of sexual intimacy.

In the marriage bed, . . .

  • Instead of fearing sex and sexuality, we should enjoy sex and sexuality.
  • Instead of avoiding sex, we should be embracing and inviting sex.
  • Instead of controlling sex, we should be mutually sharing sex.

There is good news: We can learn new lessons.

We can teach ourselves to enjoy sex and sexuality, embrace and invite sex, and mutually share sex with our husbands.

Several things have helped me enjoy a marriage bed that is no longer chained to the old lessons.

Prayer: I asked God to align my thoughts and beliefs with his design for my marriage.

Awareness: Paying attention to my thoughts and beliefs helped me begin to see when I was applying lessons that didn’t belong in my marriage.

Renewal of the mind: Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I taught myself new lessons by renewing my mind. When a wrong thought or belief came into my mind, I intentionally replaced it with words telling me that my husband was safe, that sexual desire is part of God’s design for marriage, that sexuality in marriage is good, and that sex with my husband could be a source of great joy.

A desire for sex: So many of the lessons I’d learned in dealing with sexual harassment were about avoiding unwanted and uninvited sexual attention. So what would happen if I worked on wanting and inviting that attention from my husband? I began to think about sex differently. I was intentional about keeping my sexual engine warmed up. I started to invite my husband to the bedroom rather than wait to be asked. I nurtured my own desire rather than just waiting for it to show up on its own.

At some point, the sexual harassment I used to experience on a regular basis faded away from much of my life—but the lessons it had taught me clung to my marriage bed for far too long.

Teaching myself new lessons allowed me to fully accept God’s gift of sexual intimacy. Our marriage bed is no longer constrained. Where fear, avoidance, and control once reigned, freedom, pleasure, and connection now thrive.

What has helped you shed old lessons in order to fully enjoy your marriage bed?

Have experiences with sexual harassment affected your marriage bed?

Image credit|  https://tagul.com

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8 Comments on “Lessons from Sexual Harassment”

  1. It would be far easier on both the husband and the wife if the wife never had to learn her sexual self preservation lessons in the first place.

    More often than not, it’s the good husband who ends up dealing with the fallout from the behavior of his fellow gender.

    For some reason, our society tends to tolerate such behavior from boys and men.
    So, we all pay the price.

    Sadly, it took me a lot of TIME to unlearn ingrained conditioned responses.
    My mantra has been, “he is not one of them.”
    I also had to stay in my comfort zone a long time to really start to feel safe sexually.

    All of these things could be completely avoided if…….

    1. We do all pay a price. There are many good men out there, and I have appreciated that some are coming forward to talk to other men about the importance of calling out creepy behavior in their peers. It shouldn’t be tolerated, and it is a good thing for us to all have a conversation about.

      You taught yourself well–even though you shouldn’t have had anything to unlearn.

  2. In my opinion the thought that sexual harassment solely lies at the door of men is rather outdated. My son who is 19-years old complains bitterly about the sexual harassment he receives from women of his generation to the point where he feels men are actively discriminated against when it comes to sex. He feels that if he were to behave towards a woman in the same way he would very likely face charges of assault. Another example comes from a friend of mine in her late 30’s who works in a large department store alongside young women who constantly boast about the sexual conquests and exploits they actively go looking for when going out socially.

    Also, to further prove a point, some 35-years ago whilst in high-school I was sexually harassed by a girl in class. I did not ask or want the attention she gave me and felt very awkward about it at the time although it didn’t do any lasting damage to my thoughts on sex.

    One final point I’d like to raise, I have always been very respectful of women and have always supressed/controlled my sexual desire not wishing to offend or insult. I married without having any other sexual partners and now, 26-years into married life, I have not had sex for 5-years and barely any sex for the 8-years preceding that and I promise you this is not for the want of trying. Meanwhile, male friends and colleagues over the years who have treated women as sexual objects, always making very clear their sexual desire both physically and verbally have had no such issues……..Please explain

    1. I have no explanation for any of that. I am sorry for all that you have experienced. It isn’t right to treat another person as an object of consumption, and it isn’t okay to talk about sexual exploits. And it isn’t right that you are not experiencing sexual intimacy in your marriage.

      1. At first read, especially after reading the linked article first, I was inclined not to comment, since it was proposed that we as men could never understand. Upon reading Phil’s comment, and thinking about it however it seems to me this may be a lie in order to create division between the sexes. I have had similar if not as extreme experiences as Phil, even though I am not a refused husband.I was extremely shy in high school. My wife was the first woman I met who dated me just because she liked me, which is why I married her. I was teased because of my apparent awkwardness with women by both men and women. Scripture says that there’s nothing new under the sun, so this has most likely been the case throughout history. I think the difference is that it is considered unmanly to Not welcome female advances, so it’s never discussed. And yes most of the guys, who were not respectful of women were the ones who always had a girlfriend, and were always “getting lucky”. I don’t think the concept of it only being at the door of of men is outdated, rather I think it may have come in with the feminist movement. A sore topic with most women I know. Both men and women should be treated respectfully with regards to sex, but in today’s society, in fact probably throughout history, if a man complains or gets an attitude about unwanted female attention something is wrong with him. So we learn to act as if is welcome, even though it’s not how we really feel inside.
        Bottom line I think this is not a male/female issue, but a sin issue.

  3. Thanks for the reminder, Chris, of the connection between behaviors most learned (even unconsciously) and the difficulties many women struggle with in marriage.

Leave a Reply!