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?