Lately my prayer time has been mostly thanking God for the amazing joy and completeness I’ve been experiencing in my marriage bed. I have been thanking God not only for this fantastic outcome he’s given me, but also remembering and praising him for all the restoration he’s done in my heart and body that has brought me to this point. While many women struggle with their sexuality, being sexually abused as a child and adolescent made my struggle especially hard. I read many articles that discussed sexual abuse. They began with denial, described the counseling process, and ended with the survivor forgiving the perpetrator. But I always wondered what happens next? When does the survivor become a thriver? What does Biblically restored sexuality look like? Is true wholeness really possible? Can you really be both healed and hot?
I am not a professional counselor. That is neither my calling nor my professional training. Like the woman at the well, I have been loved by Jesus and transformed by the way he saw me. I echo the cry of the blind man Jesus healed who said, “All I can tell you is that once I was blind but now I can see.” I once was broken and fragmented and encased in shame. Now I am alive and whole and infinitely grateful that God made me a woman. I am not perfect, but I am whole and satisfied. I have walked the path of sexual recovery for fifteen years. This is my story.
To use a construction metaphor, before God could rebuild my heart and body, he had to tear down all the toxic ruins that were there before. The earlier part of my journey was dissecting and removing the bad sex that had so harmed my girlhood and adolescence and young adulthood. The latest part of my journey is all about learning and discovering the What and How and Why of good healthy sex. I like this part so much better. It’s so much more fun to build than to tear down. And the subject matter of healthy sex is as lovely as the subject matter of abusive sex is gross and nauseating. Who wouldn’t rather work in a gourmet kitchen than a municipal sewer? BUT I know that God and I would have never gotten to this bliss without first rooting up all the toxic “ugh” in my heart and getting rid of it. I worked hard to stay in the process and allow God to detox my heart and mind and body and God—the merciful powerful one—he did it!
And now I’m in the season of building, restoring and growing and there’s no fear or regret or sorrow or skeletons in the closet. No lumps of scary stuff in the foundation. Just solid, smooth bedrock. Unshakable. Hallelujah! Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich and he adds no sorrow with it”. Put me down as a witness, ladies. It’s the truth!
So I started to think back, and I asked myself, “What are some of the things God did in my life to bring me to this point of wholeness and joy?” So here they are, sisters.
In order to enjoy the fullness of my sexuality, God allowed me to:
1. Became convinced of God’s love for me
Come on, you didn’t think number one would be some secret sexual technique did ya? Now before you roll your eyes and think I’m over spiritualizing, just hear me out. Before I could receive, pursue and lay hold of any good gift from God, I had to know in my heart of hearts that he was FOR me and that he had made me WORTHY. When I experienced change, even positive change in such an intimate part of my life, I needed a constant, a true North, a “no matter what I know this is true”. I am convinced that God is for me and that he loves me without measure. This is my anchor.
2. Became convinced I have a beauty to offer
Sex is all about offering and discovery, giving and receiving. You can’t come to the party if you don’t have a gift to exchange! God began to show me that I have a unique beauty and strength and tenderness in my heart and body. Every woman does. Captivating describes this dynamic so well. Knowing this in my heart is what draws my husband to me. Believing that I have a beauty to offer allows me to embrace the joy of inviting my husband to share what I have to offer. “I am my Beloved’s and his desire is for me” Song of Solomon 7:10. Ask the Lord to show you what a healthy sexual experience looks like. Ask Jesus to allow you to see yourself as you truly are.
3. Became content in my unique blend of beauty and “fallen-ness”
While we are surely willing for the Lord to continue to change us and grow us up and give us victory in our struggle with the fallen human nature, we can be content where we are right now at this point in our journey. We can know, right at this moment—that we are lovely and perfectly acceptable to God RIGHT NOW. Not because of us, but because of Jesus. Romans 5:8 says “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Ephesians 2:13 remind us that “we who were far away have been made near by the blood of Christ”. This is not to make us complacent and unwilling to grow. This is to make us content and able to grow. There is a deep peace that only comes from embracing the fact that we are all sinners embraced and rescued by a gracious God. Receiving this grace and extending it to ourselves is key. Forgiveness is for everyone. Even me.
4. Developed a delight and admiration for my own body and how God made it.
This was not about whether my breasts are the right size. This was about looking at all the bones and joints and muscles in my body with the eye of an engineer and seeing how well I was designed. This was about looking at my eye color and skin color and hair color with the eye of an artist and seeing how I am made with such artistry and care. Once I began to learn how intricate and beautifully made my body is—including my genitals—I was astounded. I am just as beautiful as any other part of creation. Mountains are beautiful without trying. Oceans are beautiful without trying. A bird in flight is beautiful without trying. So am I. So are you.
5. Received a humbleness and humility to become willing to learn how to care for and enjoy the body God gave me.
So this is not the body I would have picked out on the showroom floor. Oh, well. It’s the only place I have to live this side of heaven. I told myself “Deal with it!’ I replaced the phrase “I don’t like this part of my body” with “what does it need?” This was the time for me to recognize and deal with any medical issues. Especially when it concerned my sexual health. Hormonal or endocrine imbalances were taking the fuel from my fire. God led me to an endocrinologist and we corrected the imbalance. Many gynecological issues like fibroids, prolapsed uterus or endometriosis can cause painful intercourse. I looked around to find an OB that would take me seriously and address my specific problem and address the specific cause. I can’t emphasize enough how important this was for me. It was really hard for me to experience physical and emotional oneness with my husband when I was wincing and squinting from pain during intercourse. Eliminating this pain changed our life! Many other health issues can affect how you experience your sexuality. Since I had a chronic health condition I had to learn to give myself the extra care I needed. I started thinking about myself as a well-tuned machine. I gave my car regular tune-ups, so I learned to give my own body scheduled maintenance. Which brings us to exercise. When I think about exercise, I no longer think “guilt” and “should” and “past failure”. Instead, I think “what muscles will I need to strengthen so I can participate in a sexual encounter long enough to reach climax?” I asked a physical therapist to recommend exercises that strengthened my back, my abs, and my pelvis. I had to think strategically. It took some nerve to consult a trainer or physical therapist to select exercises, but it was well worth it. For me, exercise is no longer about the punishing “Gimme 10” from junior high gym class. Instead exercise is preparation for great sex. Sounds more fun doesn’t it?
6. Developed a contentment and acceptance of my husband’s unique blend of strength and “fallen-ness”
I had already given myself permission to be both fallen and forgiven. Could I give my husband any less? He is mine after all. And what might this look like in practical behavior? I want to think of something that illustrates my point without tattling on my man. Okay, theoretically (not that this happened) but what if my hubby procrastinated on our family tax return and I noticed a nasty “you’re late” notice when I innocently walked out to the mailbox. I could have come unglued…and while I may or may not actually have cursed, I could have easily let fly some shaming response like “What the HELL is WRONG with YOU?!!” Instead I could choose to go out of the earshot of the children, look him in the eye and say quietly and with conviction, “Honey, you probably already know about this, but this letter says we have a serious problem. I’m scared. What is your plan and how can I help?” Even when my husband made a mistake that could potentially affect me, I learned to treat him with respect. I gave him permission to be both fallen and forgiven. Being both fallen and forgiven is just being human. This gave us the space to be human and accepted and helped me to eliminate resentment from my heart. Nothing kills arousal like resentment.
It is important to mention that if your husband’s “fallen-ness” is showing itself by sexually, physically, or verbally abusing you, you will not be loving him or honoring God by continuing to allow that to happen. Stop reading this article and make a plan to talk to a pastor or counselor face-to-face within the next 24 hours. Get some coaching and encouragement on how to invite your husband to look at these destructive behaviors and to move toward a healthy fulfilling relationship with you.
7. Recognized that my healthy sexuality is for me and my husband
Heart-stopping, joy-filled sex that makes us want to shout hallelujah happens between husbands and wives. I am talking about sex with my husband and with no one else. Does this mean that unmarried couples can’t experience some joy in lovemaking? No. of course they can. Sex is a beautiful thing and nearly everyone appreciates beauty when they see it. BUT, I’m not aiming to experience just a little bit of joy with a bitter guilty aftertaste. Remember, when the Lord blesses you, he doesn’t add any sorrow with it.
Girls, I came to the place where I began repeatedly asking God to show me the real deal, the whole enchilada, sex the way he designed it. Sex that offers maximum joy with no toxic fallout. I believe that this rare and precious flower only blooms in the greenhouse. Something this gorgeous and fragile and amazing only happens in its natural habitat—the sacred covenant of marriage.
8. Recognized that my healthy sexuality is cherished by God regardless of my marital status.
So much of my healing happened when I was single. If you are single today when you read this article, HOORAY! You are SO on the right track to make friends with your sexuality and pursue healing now. Today is the right time to start believing for all the good gifts that God has intended for you. You will be able to live a more free and healthy life as a single woman and take less toxic fallout into your marriage. Lisa Graham McMinn’s excellent book Sexuality and Holy Longing says that healthy sexuality is not only about the act of physical lovemaking but also about recognizing and cherishing your gender and celebrating how God made you now. She even goes so far as to say, "When self-pleasuring can be done so that it recognizes longing, celebrates sexual pleasure, and is neither explotative nor a substitute for relationship with others, then it can be a way to stretch toward authentic sexuality." I happen to agree with her. Another book that has a lot to say about cultivating a healthy sexuality while single is Soul Virgins. I wish this book had been written back when I was single!
9. By the grace of God, and in response to the man I married, I developed an unshakable conviction that my husband is for me and that he loves me without condition
By choosing to commit to each other while we navigated some rough circumstances, my husband and I began to build up a nest egg in our emotional bank account. There is much power in knowing without question that whatever life brings, your husband has your back and you have his—even if you happen to be temporarily pissed off at each other at the time. I’m talking about a holy alliance that says, “whatever happens Darlin’, when the shit hits the fan, you can count on me.” God gave the two of us a powerful spirit-mind-body alliance to each other. This is the love that says, “You’re my best friend, and I’m here for you, and I will always love you—whether or not I happen to like you at the moment.”
This dynamic was beautifully illustrated in Andrew Greeley’s book Golden Years. In the story, Rosemarie, a mother in her late forties tells her teenage daughter Mary Margaret how their marriage bloomed after Rosemarie’s husband Chuck planned an intervention so Rosemarie could receive treatment for alcoholism. “Father Packy says a marriage only becomes a sacrament when it survives a big crisis. Our marriage was a sacrament after that, and you, young woman, were the first fruit of our sacrament.” Glory to God!
10. Became willing for God to remove any toxic sexual messages or toxic sexual experiences from my heart
This was a 10 year season of recovery for my heart. Chuck Swindoll calls a season of emotional healing Killing Giants and Pulling Thorns. While Swindoll wasn’t talking about recovery from sexual abuse or sexual sin, the thorn metaphor fits here. My heart has been made good because of Jesus sacrifice. The thorns in my heart (sinful abusive sexual attitudes and behaviors) needed to be pulled out of my heart. Depending on how much toxic fallout is in your heart, this can take a while. Months or even years. But please believe me, after God brought me through this process, while the memory of the abuse and sin does remain in my mind, the toxicity and the paralyzing pain is really gone from my heart. Counseling, support groups, and other recovery resources were a part of this process. Some books that were special to me were Healing for Damaged Emotions by David Seamands Door of Hope by Jan Frank and Breaking Free by Beth Moore. I spent several weeks in each book in the company of women who loved me and were also seeking God for their own healing. Working with a counselor was a wonderful partnership between the counselor, me and God. The counselor helped me to identify the thorn of another’s abuse toward me, and the resulting tears in my heart. The counselor could encourage me while we invited Jesus to come into those tears one by one and heal them. This kind of “exploratory heart surgery” followed by healing prayer can be nothing short of miraculous. It changed me forever. Theophostic Prayer Ministries trains individuals to minister this kind of healing prayer.
11. I began to pray and ask God to remove fear from my heart
One of the most destructive effects of sexual abuse is how it caused me to fear my own heart and my own body instead of having a healthy fear of predators. My girlfriends have told me that in our world where rape and abuse sometimes happen, even women who haven’t been violated can become afraid of their own sexuality. Afraid if they look pretty they will be victimized. Losing this fear was absolutely crucial allowing me to enjoy my sexuality, because it doesn’t matter how much tenderness or skill my husband had if I was afraid to go there—receive it and enjoy it. When I could wear my Saturday night lingerie under my Tuesday morning dress, walk through a shopping center or office building, and notice an admiring glance or two (not a predatory leer), receive the unspoken compliment and smile to myself and whisper “Thank you Lord for making me beautiful and making me safe”—I knew I was there. Experiencing this for the first time felt like winning an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize at the same time.
Prayer is the key here. I had several precious girlfriends pray for me that God would remove this fear of looking attractive, fear of losing weight and fear to acknowledge that God made me a sexual being. These dear sisters prayed for months for this delicate issue. Day by day, I started to become aware that I was no longer paralyzed by this fear. God began to show me that I was at the same time “amazingly intricately beautifully made” (Psalm 139) and at the same time secure and safe from harm because I “dwell in the secret place of the Most High” (Psalm 91). This means we can be beautiful and possess a sexuality that is alive and at the same time be safe and protected by Almighty God. That, my dear sisters, is a powerful and joyful and fruitful place to be.
12. I became humble and teachable and asked God to teach me whatever I needed to learn about how to enjoy my body.
God helped me to develop a willingness to learn about lovemaking techniques balanced with a godly discernment. I can tell you from experience, if you go to an internet search engine page and type “sex education”, beware. Some of the links will be thinly veiled porn. Listen to your discerning heart as you learn.
My husband and I worked with a sex therapist and it was one of the most healing beautiful difficult fruitful things I have ever done. There were attitudes and behavior we needed to unlearn. And there were attitudes and behaviors we needed to learn. Our therapist coached us through big and small important life lessons as we learned how to be mature and playful lovers. The three books that meant the world to us during that season were A Celebration of Sex, Intimate Issues and Passionate Marriage. We learned that an intimate marriage plus mature lovers equals a fulfilling sex life. I was surprised but happy to learn that a deeply passionate relationship doesn’t just happen because you love each other. Our therapist taught us the good news that specific disciplines can be practiced over time that will help us create mature, exciting intimacy—and if we ask, God will teach us these disciplines. Over the course of a few months of regularly meeting with the sex therapist, God taught us these truths at a deep level. We are and are still learning to be unconditionally committed, confidently secure then wildly adventurous, emotionally passionate, mysteriously creative, sensuously celebrating, totally present, and erotically adored. Experiencing these disciplines and learning how to be this way with each other is the hottest, most freeing and beautiful redemptive thing I’ve ever experienced. It took everything in our heart crying out to God and being humble through the growth process. But we did it all for the glory of love. What an unfathomable bond to be classmates in the school of erotic maturity together! There is no other man I could or would go through this process with than my honey. He is my soulmate. And it was staggering to begin to see God as my coach and advocate. Once I began to see the disciplines it would take for me to experience erotic maturity, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. It was overwhelming what growth was required of me. And that led me to cry out to God and I was shocked to find Him my advocate and not my judge. God wanted me to learn these disciplines because God wanted me to experience erotic maturity joy and freedom. Dude! This shocked the hell out of me. To really believe on a soul deep level that God wanted me to experience joy and contentment and pleasure in our marriage bed. Oh yes. Yes he does.
In this relational context, learning about techniques and toys was fun and exciting. I’ve read lots and lots of books on sex and I learned to adopt a buffet mentality and take what I like and leave the rest. The same author who advocated threesomes (no thanks!) taught me a lot about the g-spot (yes please!). I learned what I needed to learn and left the rest. I am both eager and discerning and these attitudes have helped me learn a lot of really fun techniques.
Here are a few resources if you think you might benefit from working with a sex therapist. www.sexualwholeness.org is a great resource for referrals and information from the American Board of Christian Sex Therapists. I've talked about them here before. Many of the therapists there are in private practice. You may also want to check out passionatecommittment.com the website for Christian Sex Therapists Dr. Clifford and Joyce Penner. Their book Restoring the Pleasure is a wonderful roadmap to overcoming roadblocks on the road to wedded bedded bliss. I found a lot of advice and encouragement on themarriagebed.com a ministry that promotes education on sex and intimacy for married Christians. Their ladies’ website thegenerouswife was a wonderful place for me to learn and pray with other ladies who were also seeking healing in their marriages. God gave me tremendous encouragement that He desires body and soul restoration for all men and women when I attended a Created and Redeemed seminar. Other resources that may be a part of this process include: a therapist certified by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, educational books, educational videos recommended by a therapist or healthcare provider, and a visit to a physician who specialized in sexual health, such as the center for female sexuality or the center for women's sexual health. Since hormone imbalances can cause sexual dysfunction, an endocrinologist may be an important member of your healing team.
While talking to your current OB/GYN is a great place to start, it is important to mention that many OB/GYNs do not specialize in sexual health per se but in reproductive health. They are not the same thing. Sexual health is about having fun. Reproductive health is about having babies. You may want to consider telling your OB/GYN that you are ready to deal with sexual dysfunction and not necessarily pursue pregnancy and delivery. Ask them if they can help you with that. Keep in mind that while babies are beautiful and darling and they’re a wonderful addition to your family, you can get pregnant and deliver a healthy child while still experiencing sexual dissatisfaction and dysfunction. I know. I did it, and I’ve talked to many women who have too.
So there they are…twelve healing restorative wonderful things that God has done for me. As you can well imagine, my heart is full of thanksgiving. Here’s the best part: I’m no different than any other of God's daughters. He will do it for you too if you ask him. Remember, that the God who inspired the Song of Solomon also lovingly created every inch of your body. I believe he wants you to enjoy it. Really.
I’ll leave you with 2nd Samuel 23:5 that says.
"Is it not true my house is with God?
For He has established an everlasting covenant with me,
ordered and secured in every [detail].
Will He not bring about
my whole salvation and [my] every desire?"
Ladies, this is restoration. Ask God for it!