I want to write to those of you who have a premarital sexual history. I have one, and I know some of you do as well.
Over the past week, I’ve had multiple occasions to reflect on my past. A Facebook group I’m part of posted a question about what we are unexpectedly grateful for. One of the things, I realized, was my past. The next day, a friend and I chatted about the long-term consequences of our respective premarital sexual experiences. A few nights ago, I was talking with Big Guy about the continuing revelations of sexual harassment scandals. It led into a conversation about my rape, and I said some things that I hadn’t said to him before. I revisited things I hadn’t thought about for a long time.
My past has been swirling around in my mind as I’ve pondered these conversations and my memories.
Just the other day, I was chatting with a friend about my past. I’d mentioned a particular experience, and my friend posed a question: “What led you down that path?” And it all came out.
I’ve frequently given an abbreviated version of my past that goes something like this: “I had low self-esteem and had a lot of sex in hopes that someone would come to love me” or “I was stupid and promiscuous” or “I slept around” or something similar. When I refer to my past, it is usually just to provide some background for what it is I am really trying to say.
This time, though, I told the whole story.
I talked about the actual facts. I explicated the sequence of events, the promiscuity, the specifics of a couple relationships, my rape, the fact that if he’d only asked I would have said yes because that’s the kind of girl I was, and so on.
I also talked about the emotions involved—low self-esteem, feeling unlovable, insecurity, desperation for love and affection, embarrassment. And guilt. And disgust. And shame. So. Much. Shame.
It’s been years since I’ve laid it all out as I recently did. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve even thought through the whole thing, starting with my first decision to have sex and following it through until I met Big Guy.
To say that it was difficult to share it all is an understatement.
It was heart-wrenching. As I talked through the emotions and the shame that I carried around for years, I remembered how it all felt.
My body ached—because my body remembered. As I talked about different emotions, I physically experienced them. (See this article about where we feel our emotions.) I didn’t experience them as severely as I did as a young woman at the time, but I physically felt the same things in the same places in my body.
The re-telling wore me out, and I had not expected that.
So many of us carry scars from the past.
I have accepted God’s forgiveness for my premarital sins. (You can read about that here.) I am free. I am forgiven.
Accepting forgiveness doesn’t erase scars, though, does it?
We carry memories. We can choose not to dwell on those memories, but we cannot erase them altogether. Maybe they are memories of men’s bodies, or of conversations, or of unusual locations of sexual activity. Perhaps they are memories of a first orgasm or the first time we engaged in a particular sex act.
We carry the remnants of emotions and brokenness. No matter how free I am in the cross, I still had the experience of deep shame and disgust at myself. I don’t feel that shame and disgust now, but I will always know how it feels. For many years, those emotions made me believe I didn’t deserve a happy marriage. I thought that anything I suffered in marriage was no less than I deserved for having done what I did. I thought God’s forgiveness was for others but not for slutty me.
We carry lessons about sex and sexuality. We think that what we experienced in our premarital past is all there is, even though we may intellectually understand that marital sexuality is so much more. Our lessons turn into beliefs that require intention and effort to unlearn.
We carry reactions we may be barely aware of. If we gave a boyfriend oral sex and we felt used by that boyfriend or that activity, the thought of oral sex now may still elicit a feeling of disgust. Because my rape happened while I was passed out, I had (still have, actually) very defensive reactions when my husband would attempt sexual activity in the middle of the night.
We may revisit the past in unexpected ways. For instance, if we felt coerced into sex, we may have unbidden thoughts of forced sex while making love with our husbands. Or perhaps we find that the only thoughts that help us achieve orgasm involve coercion or some other difficult aspect of those past relationships.
We carry physical reminders. Some of us may have experienced an unwanted pregnancy during our promiscuous days. We may have a child who is a blessing but doesn’t feel like she or he quite fits with the rest of the family. Some of us had abortions that may have made desired pregnancies difficult or impossible. We may have contracted an STI that will last our whole lives.
While we can conquer many of these scars so they no longer have a hold on us, we may never erase them entirely.
The scars are ours to bear—to learn from and to remind us of how much God has forgiven us.
One of the scars that I bear is that I have a body memory of the emotions.
Telling my story all at once—and the parts I didn’t say, I was still thinking—sent my body through the physical sensations of shame, low self-worth, feeling unlovable, and so on. It made me physically feel just like I did as a young woman when I allowed myself to think about what I was doing.
But it did something else, too.
When I lived through the experiences all those years ago, I felt a little hopeless. I thought I had ruined my life and myself.
Reliving that story now, all these years later, allowed me to feel hope rather than hopelessness. You see, this time around, I know how it all turns out.
What I didn’t know then is that God would use those scars for so much good. He used them to draw me closer to Him. He used them to give me a heart for women with sexual sadness. He used them to help me reach out and invite others into His healing.
I didn’t know then that God would forgive me. I didn’t know that the shackles of my sins would be erased in one fell swoop when I accepted God’s forgiveness.
My body ached as I re-experienced all those emotions. Then, I shared some of the ways I have grown in response to God’s forgiveness. I expressed some of the ways God has transformed those feelings and experiences into something new. I thought about that moment when I knew that God had truly forgiven me.
And this time, I experienced something else: sheer joy.
My scars will never completely go away—but they don’t hurt anymore. The scars could remind me of who I once was. Instead, they remind me of God’s amazing work in my heart and in my life. The worn-out feeling of telling my story was replaced by the exhilarating feeling of joy.
To my premaritally sinful sisters, I want to encourage you to spend some time telling your whole story—even if you are just thinking it to yourself. What led you down that path of premarital sin? What are the scars that you carry?
If you have not accepted God’s forgiveness, I want you to know that His forgiveness is for you, too. No matter what you did, or who you hurt, He forgives you. Reach out and cling to the cross, my dear sisters.
Once you’ve accepted God’s forgiveness for your past, tell your story again—and this time, sure to include the wonderful ending where your sins have been redeemed.
You don’t have to be weighed down by the scars you carry. Instead, let them remind you of God’s great transformative work in your life.
Let the scars remind you of the joy to be found with God.
Note: If you are a church leader or work in women’s ministry, I would like to point you to Helping Women Heal From Deep and Painful Secrets. My friend sent it to me while I was in the middle of writing this post about telling our stories. God’s timing, right?