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?”
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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
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