Reader Question: What About Sex after Sexual Abuse?

by | Apr 29, 2019 | Uncategorized | 24 comments

Sexual Abuse Survivors and Sex
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Today I want to tackle a difficult subject: how can you enjoy sex after sexual abuse in your past? 

Your whole outlook on sex has often been poisoned, so that it’s something icky, destructive, manipulative, and even evil. And now you’re married to a man you love, and your husband wants to make love, and you find yourself resenting him, resenting God for even creating sex, and truly struggling.

What do you do?

I had a comment from a woman named Carol that I want to share with you, and then give my thoughts for why there is hope. Here’s what Carol said:

I have had many problems in this area for our WHOLE marriage of 20 years. I wanted to offer some advice to those of you who suffer from a sexual abuse background. When I met my husband he told me that he was not interested in sex and I thought to myself YAY!!! Finally I found a guy who doesn’t want to jump in the sack with me every moment of every day…I was thrilled, beings I had been abused and had a toddler, my mind just was not into that at all!!! We were 20 and 21 when we met.

Well, turns out that he was interested in sex he just didn’t know it because he hadn’t had it the way I had. Turned into a whole lot of problems and arguments and crying. He didn’t really know how to help me with the abuse factor and in turn made it worse so it just took a little longer to deal with. A few years ago he gave me the greatest gift a man could ever give his wife, he gave me full control of the sex life. He still initiated but if I didn’t want to, there was no pouting, no asking why not? or making me feel guilty and unsafe.

Last year on Mother’s Day I broke down and even though he had done this great thing for me the guilt was still there, every time he wanted to and I didn’t I felt guilty (not his fault at all). That guilt was coming from inside me. I cried and cried and screamed at God for letting this happen to me and why did he do this to me, I got angry. My husband said he had never seen me cry like that before and I really don’t remember ever crying loud and angry like that before either. Something happened in that moment…I let that little girl that I had been shoving away for so long and telling her to shut up, I let her let it out and then in my minds eye I hugged her and told her it was ok and that I can handle it now from here on out and whenever she needs me to let me know and I will take care of her.

See, I had been pushing her away because she was ruining my marriage I thought all these years if I could just ignore her she would go away…Nope that didn’t happen, I needed to pay attention to her and give her comfort and let her know that it is all ok now and I can do this without her screaming at me that it is unsafe. She was stuck in that abuse and I was moving on, it was like having a split in the core of my being and now we are one. I hope this helps another abuse survivor to not have to go through 20 years of torment and guilt or if you are going through it for a long time already to understand why and maybe this will help. God Bless!!!

Isn’t that beautiful? She truly was able to put it in the past, with God’s help. Let’s look at how you can do the same thing.

Sexual Abuse Survivors and Sex in Marriage: How to put the abuse behind you and enjoy your marriage

1. Realize that the Abuse was the Problem

This may sound strange, but try to get angry at the abuse, and not at sex. What often happens is that people transfer their anger onto God for making sex this way, because it seems impossible to believe that sex could be anything other than painful or awkward. And so we get mad at God. They figure the rest of the world is lying to them or mocking them when they say that sex is great, because they don’t see how that can be the case.

You may not be able to see a way out now, but pray and release it to God, and say something like, “I know you created sex to be beautiful. I know that you created sex for my enjoyment. I know that you created sex to help me show love to my husband (and for him to show love to me.” Say the things you know are true, even if you don’t feel them. Because they are true! It is not that sex was made wrong; it is that someone poisoned it for you in the past.

2. Realize that God is Angry That You Were Sexually Abused

Just like Carol had to, you need to grieve for that little girl and what she lost. God was angry when the little girl inside you was hurt. He was livid. Matthew 18:6 says:

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

God is angry at the abuse. He will fight for you. You may not see it, but there is justice. But God will take care of it. You don’t need to. You don’t need to stay angry because God is going to fight on your behalf. You can let it go. And if you let go of your anger, then you’ll find it much easier to move forward.

3. Seek out a Counselor

Letting go of your anger, though, is something that’s much easier to do with a trained person to help you.

When you’ve been a victim of childhood trauma, you’ve been wounded. Those wounds may be invisible, but they’re still there and they need to be treated. Licensed counselors have different therapies that have been shown to work with sexual abuse survivors, including EMDR. Seek out a licensed therapist and really get some help. (Not all therapists are created equal; if your church offers only biblical counseling, please be aware of these issues and ask these 10 questions first). Yes, it will be painful, because you’ll have to dredge up a lot of stuff. But if you don’t do it, then that stuff will still be controlling you. Don’t give someone who stole your childhood the power to steal your marriage, too.

4. Reframe How You See Sex

Now let’s get to the sex part.

Past sexual abuse has likely warped sex in your mind, so it’s going to take a while to make it seem beautiful again. Take things extremely slowly with your husband. You need to believe that your body has a healthy sex drive, that it can respond to touch, that you can relax and trust, and none of that can be rushed.

Your husband may have a hard time taking it slowly, but let him know why, and what it is you’re aiming for. Let him know that you want a great sex life, but you have to find a way to reawaken your body first.

And then here’s what you do:

Get used to being naked

Learn to enjoy your body. Lie naked and just your husband touch you. Sometimes that’s easier in a bathtub, but ask him what he likes about your body, what parts he enjoys, and really listen. Listen to what your husband thinks about your body. That is truth.

Get used to his body

Then take some time and turn the tables and just touch him. Explore him, with the lights on. Have him talk while you do this so that you can hear his voice and keep remembering “this is my husband’s body”.

Let him arouse you

Like I said last Friday, sometimes the goal needs to be arousal, not sex (or a particular sex act). Now your body may feel as if it can’t get turned on, but it can. You just need to be very relaxed and have some time. So one night, with the heat turned up in the bedroom so you’re not shivering, let him just touch you slowly. Even set the timer for 15 minutes, and don’t let him stop during that time. Don’t do this with the goal to have sex, because that can add stress for you. Just do it with the goal to become aroused, so that you can see that your body can respond.

And if there are certain parts of your body that have really negative connotations to you, because of what was done to you, have your husband concentrate on other parts first. It’s okay to leave that until after more counseling. Even start with something innocuous, like sucking on fingers and massaging the backs of your knees.

Talk

Finally, when you do make love, keep talking. Keep hearing his voice. Ask him to say “I love you” a lot, so that you remember what this is about. And whenever you make love, don’t rush it, at least for the first few months when you’re trying to retrain your body. You need confidence that your body can respond, and so you don’t want to slip back into bad patterns.

Listen, ladies. If you’ve been sexually abused, something was stolen from you as a child.

But you’re an adult now, and it’s up to you whether or not you want to let that abuser keep stealing from you, or whether you’re going to pursue wholeness again. Please pursue wholeness. I know it may seem impossible to believe, but you can achieve it. God can fight for you. He can bring justice. You can let go. And you can have that full life that should have been yours to begin with. You can win the victory here, with God. But that will only happen if you decide to deal with it.

Your marriage was meant to be wonderful--don't let someone who hurt you in the past keep hurting you today.

Don’t believe the lie that sex was created for everyone but you. It wasn’t. You were created to enjoy sex, and no matter what happened to you, you can enjoy sex. I will pray that everyone reading this will one day experience that.

I’d love to know–if you have abuse in your past, what helped you? Or how is it affecting you today? Let’s talk!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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24 Comments

  1. ANON

    It sounds like simple steps but they are super hard. I’d just like to add that these steps can take a very long time. There is a tremendous amount of work in them. And especially number three can take a long long time. It is definitely easier with strong support as you walk through the pain. Spouses need to see that this is part of the sickness and health part and not be focused on their own needs. THink of it as spiritual or emotional surgery- there is a long very time. Walking through trauma takes time and a ton of energy. I would often sleep for over two hours in the middle of the day after an emdr therapy session because it was so exhausting. Also finding someone who knows your trauma and encourages and validates you is so important. Hopefully that will be your spouse, but in my case it wasn’t. But God provided wonderful ladies who walked through with me as sisters. I will also say that although we can process the trauma, it won’t ever go away. It will always be part of our story and new levels of processing may be needed throughout our lives. A good understanding of trauma helps us not be surprised when God reveals that it’s time to put peel back another layer and go deeper in our healing journey. But each new layer that is processed brings greater depth with God and that alone makes it worth it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that point about this being part of “in sickness and in health”. That’s so true! Trauma actually does wound you. It has physical repercussions on the brain, and it needs to be dealt with appropriately (which is why I want people to see licensed therapists, not just biblical counselors who may not be trained in proper techniques).

      Thanks for sharing your story!

      Reply
  2. Anon2

    I loved this story. But what if the sexual abuse happened within your marriage, so your husband *isn’t* a safe person? And every sexual touch is confusing because of the simultaneous arousal and terror? And hearing, “I love you” should be comforting, but instead makes you feel trapped and manipulated? How do you come back from that?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, dear, that’s awful! That’s something that is MUCH harder to get over, and I think you need to make sure that the person is safe. And I think seeing a licensed therapist first is essential to make sure that there aren’t red flags. I’m not sure how to come back from that. I have heard stories of women who felt raped on their wedding night, because the husband thought he was just supposed to proceed when she wasn’t ready, and that’s one thing. I think you can get over something like that, because it wasn’t necessarily intentional on his part. But I’m not sure how to get over other kinds of sexual abuse, so I would just say to talk to a counselor and make sure the husband is safe. Sexual abuse isn’t something to be taken lightly, and if a man sexually abuses his wife, I don’t know how safe that marriage is going forward, even if he says he’s repented.

      Reply
    • Anon

      Therapy and lots of it. I had abuse before marriage and some episodes in marriage too. I’m so sorry. And your feelings are valid. Please seek help and true support and please be sure you are safe to continue working towards a healthy sexual life with him. Your safety absolutely matters. Please find safety and support.

      Reply
  3. Nicole

    As an abuse survivor myself, I would add: Be honest about your triggers! One night, my husband set off a trigger unintentionally and I freaked out. He didn’t know that particular scenario was not doable for me, so I had to bring awareness. He was very understanding, but he wouldn’t have known had I not said anything, and then it would’ve kept happening, likely causing me to shut down in the future. I am still going to counseling, and I am still healing even though it’s been 17 years since the last time it happened. But I am thankful that the abuse doesn’t have to define my life unless I let it. Just know that if you’ve been sexually abused you aren’t alone, there is help available, and that healing WILL come, but it’s not an overnight process. It takes a lot of time to deal with trauma, so please don’t be discouraged if you think the process is taking too long!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Such a great point, Nicole!

      Reply
  4. Bethany

    I told him about the abuse very early on, immediately after he said he loved me. I told him how it affected my daily life and how it would like affect any future life together. Dating him brought out the reactions i have to stress, so he saw first-hand how i behaved when something made my ptsd flare up. He promised that we didn’t have to have sex right away, but eventually. He stayed consistent in asking permission before adding a new form of touch. We discussed the wedding night in detail and set a time for the 1st kiss and it was such an easy transition to the sexual part. I couldn’t tell you if or when we had sex, but we took our time adjusting and learning how to communicate and i googled everything i could. I started googling anything sexual i didn’t understand right away and we talked about it. I still like to read these articles and discuss it with him. I guess the years of reading the many different marriage books helped me to figure out how to set up a good foundation. I also had the benefit of seeing a newly married wife who waited til the honeymoon to reveal her abuse. Her father (abusive monster)threatened her into hiding it until then. I saw how it affected the relationship and it only confirmed, its a vital piece of history.

    Reply
  5. Cham

    Oh my goodness, thank you so much for sharing and being so honest! As a someone who is currently working through her sexual abuse (including going to therapy), one of the things I find hard to talk about is being comfortable with my own sexuality. I’ve been looking for a Christian voice talking about this. I’m not married yet, but I truly believe sexuality is something God created to be beautiful and meaningful. So my friends see me advocating for conversations about healthy sexuality in the church (because we definitely do not talk about it enough), but underneath it I am scared of how the abuse that happened will affect my sex life with my husband. I struggle with so much as giving the guys in my life a hug sometimes without feeling self-conscious of the moment. And I hate that!
    Any tips on feeling comfortable with one’s sexuality for single Christians? I mean, I know some of that probably won’t be completely worked before marriage, but what are certain things I can do now? What I have found to be helpful so far is to start understanding a doctrine of sexuality that goes beyond “don’t until you’re married” and actually explores the meaning, purpose, and symbolism behind sexuality. This has helped me to regain a healthy sense of excited anticipation instead of fear. But again, I know that talking about healthy sexuality has not erased the damage done by the trauma I’ve already sustained.

    Reply
  6. K

    Would you pray for me? I need help.
    I need strength, will, and time to come together. I need the courage to reach out, as I’ve spent my entire life in distrust of adults, and now I’m considered one of them. My husband abused/coerced or ignored me for most of our lengthy engagement, and since getting married has ignored my existence more often than not. Yet he’s sweet otherwise, and maybe other things would have been easily moved past if we skipped right from dating to married. Most of the red flags that would have shown up in dating weren’t there, and the ones that were I had no idea what they meant. I feel dumb for not running when he proposed. All I’ve got are broken flashbacks.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, K. I have said a prayer. Is there a licensed counselor that you can reach out to? It sounds like you really need someone to talk to and some help navigating this. Again, I’m sorry.

      Reply
      • K

        I don’t know. I’m struggling with being terrified of stepping outside my front door, and being completely inept when it comes to managing the health care system in the us. I want to reach out to a mentor I had in another state, but can’t remember enough to feel like I’m not just gossiping or wasting their time, so I’ve been trying to write.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, K, it’s not gossiping to talk about something that happened to you that is hurting you! It really isn’t. And if someone tells you that it is, then that person is wrong. You matter to God, and if God has put that person on your mind, it’s likely because they’d be a big help to you. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

          Reply
  7. Deb

    Good advice Sheila 🙂 Having been sexually abused from 6 – 16, by 7 male family members, 2 attempted rapes, and sexually assaulted by my pastor at 13 I had a lot of issues. To make a long story short, I counselled a lot, had major authority issues. After I married, I would think of the abuse during intimacy and I would no longer be in the mood. Secular counseling left me angry and seeking revenge, NOT where I wanted to be. Sometimes counselling makes you relive everything over and over, that isn’t good. Deal with things, and try and move on as soon as you can. Focus on the good. When I was born again, I was told to give ALL my cares to Jesus and he would heal my broken heart. Boy did that sound good! I gave him ALL my pain (lots more than the abuse) I believed, I trusted, and I thanked him for my healing. In return, God gave me forgiveness, and peace, and if I did think about the abuse during intimacy it didn’t bother me anymore. There is freedom in healing! Don’t let the actions of someone who is probably hurting somehow themselves keep you in bondage. Enjoy the love and intimacy God gave us. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Angela

    Thank you for this article. You have no idea how much it touched me or how much I could relate. I think I’m church things like this are very hard to talk about and I can’t express how much this helps to hear these words.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad, Angela!

      Reply
      • Faith

        What if the abuse you suffered was marital abuse? Do women ever get over that? There was a period last year where my husband was drinking and doing drugs and started treating me really bad.
        Calling me horrible names and doing some things that cross the line into sexual abuse. I’ve never felt comfortable with oral sex so we never did that and he basically forced me. I told him no and he grabbed my head and shoved it down and pushed himself against my mouth and wouldn’t let me leave until I complied. That’s just one example, but the one that stands out the most. I was about 7 months pregnant too.
        Since then things seemed to have calmed down and he is not drinking and doing drugs like he was and has not been treating me this way. It was like he was a different person last year.
        We’ve had intercourse since then , but it is not the same and I find myself having a hard time.
        I’ve tried to shove that event off to the side and tell myself it was nothing, but when I think about it I get anxiety and cry and feel depressed. Sex is not the same and it’s like my body and mind hold back trying to protect myself.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Faith, I’m so sorry! that was definitely marital rape. That can be very hard to get over and to trust him again. I really recommend that you see a licensed counselor together, and that you put up firm boundaries about drinking and drugs to protect yourself and your children. And I think you need to be blunt with him and tell him, “when you were high, you raped me.” Put words to it. Let him know. You can’t move on from this until it’s acknowledged, and you may need a counselor to help you do that.

          I am so, so sorry.

          Reply
  9. Anon

    All your ideas are really good and I love that taking time to respond is stressed too. I was raped by a violent ex-husband and later on by a former fiance when I broke up our engagement. It was only God’s grace and love that helped me through it and later on when I remarried, it took time to feel safe with my man in an intimate situation. God definitely helped me overcome my fear of men and I believe He chose my husband because of his gentle ways and understanding. Trust in the LORD and take Your time. With the right man and God, it is possible to overcome the abuse.

    Reply
  10. Christy

    Yes, easier said than done. I seem to be processing the trauma now. For a long time, the trauma was neatly packaged. My trigger was sex and so I naturally avoided it and everything seemed to just continue.

    But a few months ago, seemingly overnight, the trauma seemed to be trying to get out. It started in April and now it is July.

    It is like I can not turn it off. I cant seem to ignore it now, but yet I cant see my way through it either? Sex is no longer the only trigger, i just live from one fight or flight reaction to the next.

    It is literally insane. Today I have reprieve, but most days I dont. I was expecting it to be hard, but this is not just difficult, i am having a complete crisis of faith. Like im not sure what is real anymore.

    I feel tricked by God into marriage, thinking it was good. Marriage seems like a hoax and now i feel trapped in a sexual relationship and constantly reliving trauma…..

    I cant seem to put God and sex together or it changes my entire image of who God is. I like/ love him and if I see him this way, I will lose him. He will become someone unpredictable and scary and someone I cant trust.

    If i put HIM together with sex, somehow everything I have ever thought i believed is unstable beneath my feet and everything is falling through a seive. Suddenly I have no bearings.

    I feel so utterly lost and terrified. I went from functioning in every way 3 months ago, to terrified and hiding in my room—— i just cant do this anymore…. please tell me it will eventually end.

    I cant mind over matter it all. I cant just speak truth, when I dont believe it. I can say “ God created sex as good” but 100 percent of the time that i have sex, I black out. Cant stop it, cant change it, cant pray it, cant mind over matter it and now, i cant even ignore it. How can I ever see this as good? Seriously, if i didnt have kids, I would just beg for death because this is all too much for me.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I’m so sorry, Christy. That is so hard.

      I’m not going to offer any advice personally since I do not feel qualified to do so, but I do want to urge you to seek out a licensed therapist or psychologist with experience or specialization in trauma counselling. You don’t have to go through this alone, many people go through this kind of torment, and there are treatments out there to help you be able to enjoy life again.

      Your family doctor may know of some mental health professionals with specialization in trauma counselling, or you can also google for trauma counselling in your area. But I would make sure that the person is a fully licensed counsellor with a degree from a university (or college if you’re in the states).

      Again, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. And I hope that you’re able to find peace and healing.

      Reply
      • Christy

        Thanks. Yes, ive tried a few councellors etc. Nothing is a good fit😉But thanks for the message:) nothing lasts forever right?

        Reply
  11. Old Man Winter

    I enjoyed reading this, however as a man who has been abused, some of this just doesn’t seem that relevant to me. I was sexually abused as a child my my mothers boyfriend. Would you do a post on this topic for the men who have been abused? I know my biggest issue is to not feel like i am forcing my wife to do anything sexually, to the point i sometimes cannot even ask for or initiate sex. thus leaving me frustrated, my wife wondering if i am interested in her, and a lack of intimacy. we do discuss my issue, but i cant seem to break through it. any ideas?

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      I second wanting more info about how to navigate a husband’s past of being the victim of sexual abuse. I can’t hardly find anything to help our situation. My husband only recently revealed his past abuse and sex brings him a lot of shame. I don’t know how to be helpful to him and am afraid to ask for anything now knowing this. As one can imagine, it’s been a strain on him, myself always feeling rejected and on the marriage as a whole. He’s going to start counseling soon with an EDMR therapist.

      Reply

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