Can I Ask You About Trauma and Sex?

by | Nov 28, 2019 | Abuse, Uncategorized | 124 comments

How Do We Talk about Trauma Well?
Merchandise is Here!

Writing about a complex problem in a healthy way is very tricky.

And I’m having that problem right now when it comes to trauma & sex.

Today’s Thanksgiving, so I’m quite aware that the majority of my American readers will be ignoring me today! That’s okay. That’s also why I’m not doing a podcast today. Sometimes we all need a day off to enjoy each other!

But for Americans who have time to be online, or for the rest of us Canadians and all of the Aussies and Kiwis and Brits and Kenyans and others who join me, I thought rather than write a post today I’d ask you all for some input.

Last week I tried to address a problem where a woman who has been sexually traumatized earlier in her life has turned off of sex for good. How can we give a healthy message to her? I’ve written before about the need to go to trauma-informed licensed counselors, not just biblical counselors, because people with trauma need to be treated, not just told they have a spiritual defect.

And so I tried to handle this well. My take was that the first step was some serious counseling, but then that also I would encourage her to try to see sex in a positive way, even if she doesn’t believe it or feel it right now. Get her head lined up with truth. You don’t have to be there yet; you don’t have to understand how you can get there. But at least make that your goal. So get treatment, but also have a healthy goal.

However, some commenters thought that was too much.

I just don’t know what to think. I’ve been through trauma of my own, though not as severe as this woman’s. And my concern is that I don’t want people trapped there. I know it’s horrendous, but I want to point to a way out.

But is that too much for some people? Does trauma so affect you that you can’t even try to think positive messages? And if we believed that, then is healing even possible?

I’ve been hearing so much about the book The Body Keeps the Score lately, and I really want to read it (it’s on my Amazon wish list!). (That link is there because my husband reads my blog *cough* *cough*). I really do want to understand how trauma works.

And so now I’d like to know from you all–was I too cavalier about recovery from sexual trauma? Is it wrong to ask trauma victims to try to see truth, even if it’s difficult? What is the right way to talk about this stuff? I really want to do it right, because I want to both:

  • Truly help and empathize with those who are hurting
  • Point them to a way out so they’re not stuck

And I don’t always know how to do both at the same time. Any thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

(And Happy Thanksgiving for my American friends!)

UPDATE: I’m getting some GREAT feedback in the comments section! I so appreciate it. I’ve copied and pasted a bunch into new blog post drafts. But one question I’m still stumped with, which I keep asking in the comments but it might help to ask here so everyone sees it, is what do you say to the SPOUSE in this scenario? Like let’s say you’re married to someone who has been through trauma, and doesn’t want to work on healing or get counseling and is content to live in a sexless marriage. In fact, even imagine that trauma survivor is male, not female, to take gender dynamics out of the equation (and also because I do get a lot of questions from women married to men in this situations). Does that spouse’s feelings matter? Obviously trauma takes precedence, but what can we do for that spouse? What if they’re really lonely and hurting, too? I’m not trying to put the spouse’s feelings as more important, but I get so many, many questions like this, and it’s hard. 

I get very, very few from people whose spouses are going to counseling. It’s the ones where the spouse just simply refuses to deal with the trauma. Then what? I’d really appreciate any help you all have!

 

Check out these posts on safe versus unsafe counselling practices: 

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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124 Comments

  1. Erin Kloskowski

    I have never been through sexual trauma. So take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

    But I have been through trauma of a different kind — severe depression and a mental breakdown. The fun thing about depression is how many lies it tells you about yourself.

    In my very worst moments (and they were pretty bad) hanging onto truth was the only thing that got me through. Even though I couldn’t feel any belief at all, I repeated to myself the things I knew were true, and why they were true. It didn’t make me feel any better, but it kept me from jumping under the nearest train.

    Again, I don’t want to act like I know all about someone else’s pain. But I believe that truth is sanity, health, peace, everything important, and there’s no better medicine for pain than love and truth. Trying to avoid the truth only coats the wound with a layer of lies, and it makes the problem worse in the long run.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Erin.

      Reply
      • Tresa

        I was sexually abused as a child by my father and put in numerous questionable circumstances by my mother. My family line has a long history of people who have either been sexually abused or allowed it to go on. A main component missing from healing, that I think the Church needs to better with: lament. The healing would have had a profound aspect to it if someone had been willing to stand with me in the “not knowing” phase of things. I think you have many victims, myself included, who have stood in the unknowing side of things long before sex as a pleasurable aspect is ever considered, and we’ve stood alone. The church, American society…are too caught up in things sounding or being positive. This hinders much healing. Especially considering we have an entire culture trying to cover up indiscretions. We have an entire book on lament, and yet we cannot fathom how to stand in the “not knowing” with someone without trying to fix it. Without trying to create healing that isn’t ours to create. I’ve been married for ten years. Dated him for three years before that. Those have been and continue to be incredibly hard conversations. The weight of that shame has been isolating, suffocating and embarrassing. There needs to be a time in which our brothers and sisters in Christ stand with us in that muck and lament that pain. And trust that God is working a healing in us. He has and is in me.

        A word too as a parent and children’s pastor: this lament for children who have been sexually abused are incredibly important. When we model being empathically present in the pain, not knowing, not fixing, we are shaping young minds and healing that will bring a fullness to generational hurt.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, isn’t that a great thought, Tresa? I’ve got to put that on my blog post brainstorming list. How do we lament for those who have had something stolen from them? Can we just lament, rather than pushing them towards something else? That’s so much what Job was about as well.

          I’ll have to make sure this makes its way into our next book, too. I’m going to copy your comment out and put it in my Google spreadsheet!

          Reply
          • Anne Michele

            Thank you. My experience with the church in my current journey to heal from trauma is that correction takes precedence over lament and being able to grieve what has happened to me. I can’t stay in the pain, but sometimes I just need someone to wrap their arms around me and weep with me. I find that I don’t receive encouragement until I “prove I’m taking the right steps.” The most helpful people are the ones who were already safe people.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thank you, Anne.

        • Teresa

          Intimacy and sex was given by God and that is beauty. When its taken and broken, defiled, weaponized…. It’s hard to see it, feel it, as anything other than wrong even when it’s put back into what is otherwise a loving relationship. But within marriage, to close yourself, ultimately choose to turn away from this gift without any openness to turning back to it, is to again reject the beauty and light God gave us. Time is understandable, boundaries, empathy, therapy, support, grace from and to your partner.
          There’s a journey, and it’s not a straight line, but to refuse to take the journey denies yourself and your partner God’s beauty and light. I continue to relearn this truth, working through my own journey. God is good. His gifts are good. Our journey to him is in living this.

          Reply
        • Kathy Haecker

          Very true. Encouraging lament before even discussing forgiveness is key.

          Reply
          • AspenP

            Good word: lament. I was thinking of a similar word: mourn. We can’t short-circuit mourning, but when we walk in grief alongside the Lord there builds trust and bonding there (from my own experience) it helped me come to a deeper and personal realization that God grieved what was done to me. He didn’t volunteer me for abuse like I used to consider from Job…”have you considered my servant Job?” He grieves with me. And in the fullness of my grief and allowing myself to feel all that I need to feel, I can then hear what God’s intention for me and for sex is and always was. God is not rushed in grieving and we don’t need to be either. Intentionally grieving can be so healing.

  2. L.

    As you pointed in your previous writing, setting goals (baby steps), being extremely patient (both the husband and the victim), and finding a good professional trauma therapist are a must. A good therapist is not a pastor even if that pastor is loving and supportive…seek a professional. About the therapist, I want to add that the patient has to click with the therapist so I the patient can be totally free to express herself, to move at her pace, and to receive helpful feedback/help. A therapist who is going to tell you, “Christ calls us to suffer and we should accept it and move on” (yep, true…and not useful). She might need to try several to find the right one. Also, EMDR can be extremely helpful in trauma. The therapist must be trained in EMDR and have experience/success in using it with his/her clients. EMDR has been extremely useful for me to deal with my past and my present.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true, L! Steer clear from therapists who tell you that your inability to get over trauma reveals a spiritual deficit.

      Reply
      • LILIAN NAKATTE

        THIS IS SOO AWESOME WOMAN of GOD

        Reply
  3. Chris

    Oh this is a tough one. Must think about it before i have one of my open mouth insert foot moments for which i am well known.

    Reply
  4. Laura

    I went through years of childhood sexual trauma. I was fortunate to go through counseling as a child and as a behavioral sciences major went through my own journey of recovery. There is healing! My husband Of 26 years and I have always enjoyed a healthy sex life, but he was patient and we talked about how certain things were uncomfortable for me due to my childhood abuse. They no longer are as healing continued over the years. Sexual healing is not an instantaneous event—or wasn’t for me. It took growth, spiritually and mentally. It took self exploration and working through my own self esteem issues.

    I hope and pray that all survivors of sexual trauma can allow themselves to heal and claim the beauty of sexual fulfillment in their marriages. Don’t let your abusers hold power over you for the rest of your life.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s lovely, Laura. Thank you. And THIS: “Don’t let your abusers hold power over you for the rest of your life.” I know that’s easier said than done, but that’s really my prayer for all survivors.

      Reply
  5. Mandy

    I think that it would depend on where they are in their healing. Counselling, of course. Seeing it as positive would eventually be a (very important) step that would need to be taken. Just not a first step. Maybe that’s why people reacted like that?

    Reply
    • Kay

      I think you are onto something here. Viewing sex positively is probably a much later step in the healing journey, so pressure to get there for those still at the beginning of the journey is actually more discouraging than encouraging, because it feels so far away as to be impossible, and then she wonders what is wrong with her that she can’t just “flip that switch” in her head to view it the way she is being told she should view it. It’s an oversimplification that might leave survivors feeling even more broken when it isn’t that simple for them.

      I highly recommend The Body Keeps the Score, and I am also reading Complex PTSD by Pete Walker that isn’t about sexual trauma exclusively but it is blowing my mind right now. It is indeed SO much more complex than we think.

      I forget where I read this, but I heard someone say that she feels that trauma is the most untapped mission field today. So maybe if you are looking for new topics to explore, Sheila, this is a HUGE one. Huge huge huge huge huge. Learning about trauma is literally changing my life right now and is what gave me the strength to say “no more” to the spiritual abuse.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Glad you liked that book, too, Kay! Did you mention it to me first? I know I’ve heard about it from a variety of sources lately, and I figured that must be God trying to tell me something because it kept coming up, so it’s on my list!

        I agree with you about trauma. I was pushing back with someone over the weekend who said that the best way to win millennials/Generation Z and those who have left the church is to give them a healthy picture of what marriage should be, rather than being overtly negative about what is harmful. But I kind of feel like I’m called to call out the bad, and that that act, in and of itself, can actually be very freeing to people.

        I’m actually excited to delve more into trauma. I think it is so misunderstood, and the church especially has gotten this wrong (especially the biblical counseling movement).

        Reply
        • Wild Honey

          As a millennial married to a Gen-Xer, YES! Please continue to call out the bad when you see it. At best, glossing over or ignoring the bad becomes hypocritical. At worst, it turns into spiritual/emotional abuse and gaslighting.

          Reply
      • Elizabeth

        “I forget where I read this, but I heard someone say that she feels that trauma is the most untapped mission field today.”

        That sounds like Dr. Diane Langberg. She is such a wise, compassionate and trauma-informed Christian. I’ve seen a few of her videos on YouTube.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Could be. Definitely. And I really didn’t think of it as a first step–I thought, see the counselor, see the pelvic floor physiotherapist, but then also start setting a goal. But I’m honestly not sure I was clear enough.

      Reply
  6. Ashley

    There isn’t one way to process trauma, and we can’t put a time limit on it(directly or indirectly). As someone who experienced sexual and emotional abuse in a relationship, here’s what I generally recommend:
    -Remove the word “should” from your vocabulary. I am often upset with myself on how long it’s taken me to recover, because I “should” be over it. I “should” have broken off the relationship sooner. Etc, etc. but I realized by thinking that way, I was telling myself that I believe that I got myself into the trauma, so I shouldn’t expect anyone to help me get out. By removing that word, I am forced to change the way I think/talk about it, which has helped shift blame from myself and to the abuser/sin itself.
    – If a counselor sounds too intimidating, try reading books instead (I love Rid of my Disgrace!). That way you can read what you’re ready to process at a pace you can swallow.
    – Don’t judge your growth by weeks, and sometimes even months. Look at years and decades instead if you must. We don’t expect kids to have their brains rewired to maturity in 6 months, so why do we expect that of ourselves?

    To answer Sheila’s question: yes, we must seek truth! But jumping in with both feet (going to a counselor whom you’re not even sure you can trust (or feel guilty trying one and then leaving after two appointments) may be too hard for victims who have a hard time getting out of the denial stage. Don’t stop recommending counseling, but, at least for me, that was a later step in my healing journey than the steps I recommended above.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Ashley. I totally agree about reading books, too. And now, with so many podcasts available, that’s likely also a good route. Maybe someone has some podcasts to recommend, too?

      Reply
      • Kathy Haecker

        I have been working on recovery from childhood sexual abuse for over 25 years. God has used many books and people to help me (including my very patient husband) and I am now a licensed professional counselor helping others. I have really been helped my Mending the Soul and the workbook and group that one can join. Since we lost our voice and all sense of control when being abused, I think those being restored are key.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          oh, thank you for that book recommendation. I’ll look into that!

          Reply
    • Taunya

      Sheila, I love your heart!

      Trauma is tricky. And what works for some will not work for others. One thing I can recommend you to tell yourself, “I will always upset someone.” In this issue, you are never going to say it right. Someone will get offended, think you are rude, etc. Dealing with a trauma victim is walking a minefield. Living with it is a minefield. That doesn’t mean you should avoid the field, just means be prepared.

      I agree with the poster to remove any “should” or “must” or even “can” from any topics. The last thing I wanted was more guilt and shame heaped on me.

      I caution those who want to help trauma victims to learn to be quiet and patient. Grow a thick skin. Love to the point of bleeding. Be consistent. Keep your boundaries in place. Never give up hope. Be willing to cry and lament. (I so loved Lamentations). It’s a balance. I personally think it’s a gift to be a healer. The person who helped me most was after most of the really hard healing work happened. She was brutal, but she taught me to take back my power.

      I describe it as getting a scared cat to love you. It takes time and consistency. One of our songs is Secret Garden by Springsteen. That is how my husband and I describe my journey. It took 21 years. I’m still working on little pieces.

      Thank you for all you do! I am thankful for you.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Thank you, Taunya!

        Reply
    • Tiffany

      Ashley,

      I agree! I’m seeing a counselor now but it took years of denial (it’s not THAT bad), or I can pray it away or it’s hopeless or any number of things before getting there. Books blogs and the Bible have gotten me to a place where I’m able to think outwardly (aka talk about it) versus digesting it all inwardly (a necessary and slow step for me key to a proper healthy mindset about the goodness of sexuality).

      Reply
  7. Mary aka LifeWithTeens

    I was one of the critical voices, so I just want to say that you did have the right idea. The problem I have is not so much the advice as the focus on a “goal” that is not simple individual healing. The goal that was implied is so that you can have “a healthy relationship with” (which reads to most survivors as “gratify his needs”,) your husband.

    Healing is not healing if it is focused upon another person. Healing first needs to be of the trauma, of the individual. In time, yes, she may be able to enjoy that relationship. That often comes out of healing and is something to be celebrated. It just can’t be the primary goal.

    I say this as a survivor who did counseling in order to be a better mom to my kids. I tried, so hard, and for a few years, I succeeded well enough to hopefully not have screwed my kids up completely.

    But now my kids are growing up and moving out…. and I have to start over, because the healing I did was focused on *them.* Being better for their sakes… and now that they don’t need me? I’m lost.

    My best advice would be to speak with survivors. Go out and speak with trauma counselors. Seek out voices who are not necessarily in the church or even who are critical of the (in general) church’s response to abuse. We, as Christians, have a LOT to reconsider, rebuild, and repent from, and that past colors the response to even the most well-meaning advice.

    Most of all, understand that trauma from abuse is prevalent. That it is the normal for the majority of women. Those who haven’t experienced it often push back and deny, but the truth is, most of us have experienced some kind of overt or subtle abuse and all have experienced mysogyny. Advice has to be worded for clarity.

    One voice I highly recommend is Ezer Rising, both on Twitter and Facebook.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Mary, that’s a really interesting point–that you did the healing for others, not yourself. So then the counseling and treatment was more out of obligation and guilt, right? I’m finding so much that the things that we do out of obligation rather than out of freedom seldom yield the best fruits. Even looking at that for our sex lives in general, when abuse isn’t a part of it, but how much more when abuse is a part of it! Thank you for chiming in here, too.

      Reply
      • Taunya

        I agree with Mary. Although my healing started for my kids. I didn’t get better until I wanted ME back.

        The church focuses on serving others, as it should, but it is horrific at recognizing the difference between service and slavery. Sex should not be an obligation. We all agree on that. For a victim of sexual abuse, we were forced into what should be ours to give.

        The victim has to take their power back to heal. That often gets hindered by well meaning language. We have to become selfish for a season. When my son was young he went through the “mine” stage. I wanted him to share and not be the mean kid.

        My mother in law wisely told me, “He can’t learn how to share until he learns he has something to share.” It works this way too. The victim has to learn they matter, they get a say, they can say no and it’s ok.

        A wife who refuses to have sex with her husband because she wants to control him is NOT the same thing as a woman recovering from abuse. The one needs a healthy dose of grow up, the other needs to be given the keys to her power back. Two different dynamics.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Completely agree. But what if you’re married to someone who isn’t interested in healing or addressing the issues? Or, as I said to another commenter, let’s reverse the genders and say that it’s the man who would rather forego sex because of trauma, and isn’t working on healing. Is there anything at all the wife can do?

          I get so many emails from heartbroken spouses whose partner is a trauma survivor, but no matter how much they love on that spouse, that spouse isn’t interested in counseling, healing, etc. Is there anything you’d all suggest then?

          I guess it’s just hard because I see it from both perspectives all the time–the trauma survivor, but also the other spouse. I agree with everything people have said so far; I’d just love some advice on what to say to the other spouse, too. Any thoughts, anybody?

          Reply
          • Taunya

            Honestly, and this isn’t popular, I would tell the spouse to do what is best for them. If the traumatized person doesn’t want to get help or won’t get help, staying with them may be enabling, especially if they are abusive towards the spouse.

            In some situations, it may be more loving to support the spouse leaving. There are people who just don’t or won’t heal. They are toxic. I have had to cut them out of my life, for my own safety and well being. Being a victim of trauma doesn’t give us a pass to victimize others.

            Even though my husband was patient, if I crossed his boundaries, he would take steps to remove himself from the situation, including sending me an intent to divorce. Which is the catalyst that pushed me forward.

            I have a piece of paper with my husbands thoughts on how he dealt with the sexual aspect of our relationship. It hurts to read.

            I know it’s hard to balance the needs of both. There may be a point where a separation is required. Especially if the relationship started on the unhealthy rescue dynamics.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s what I’m wondering, Taunya, but then I would think that would add to trauma, too. It’s just really hard. Thank you for your thoughts!

            So when your husband went to separate, that’s when you decided to get help?

          • MK

            I agree with Taunya. The scenario of a spouse refusing to seek healing is a two-fold problem. There’s the trauma and then there is the disagreement in the marriage. The abuse survivor is the only one who can choose to deal with their trauma, their spouse can support them, but they can’t force them or tell them what they should do or how they should be healing.

            So what I would suggest to the other spouse is deal with the problem they do have a say in: their marriage. They are hurt and unfulfilled in their marriage so they should seek martial counseling. They can say to their spouse, “I’m not ok with our marriage the way it is. We need help.” The licensed counselor may be able to help the spouse explain why intimacy is important. Or the abuse survivor may continue to refuse and it might come to separation or divorce.

            Will it add trauma to the abuse survivor? It might. But just because one has been hurt doesn’t mean it’s ok for them to hurt others. Think of it like any other mental health issue. If your spouse was an alcoholic who refused to get help, it would be completely reasonable to divorce them. And that might make them binge drink. But that’s their journey, not yours.

            If they don’t want to consider divorce, the non-trauma survivor should seek counseling for themselves. Either individual counseling or a support group for family of abuse survivors.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thank you, MK. This is kind of what I think, too (if enough time has passed. Like not a few weeks). I’m just also very uncomfortable with it at the same time.

    • Christy

      Thank you for this comment. I concur. For years I tried to heal for my husband, for the sake of sex, for our marriage, for our family kids——i realized it wasnt working—- it was only retraumatizing myself. I couldnt see it. Now, in the past year, the real healing has begun….

      Reply
  8. Healing from betrayal

    Thank you for asking this question. I am an abuse victim, separated from my husband who is a SA in recovery, and also someone who has abused myself. It is an extremely nuanced and complex thing that you are trying to address in just a few words.

    I have been greatly helped by some things that you have written. I have also felt hurt or anger at times by things you have written. But I think I see that your heart is in a good place.

    My feedback would be to not try to offer a practical list of steps to something that has such a deeply embedded and various issues. I imagine that you aren’t trying to that, but sometimes I hear that in what you write. It might be how my trauma filter hears your words. But if you could avoid anything that sounds like step 1, step 2- that might help. Rather than steps- think of a feast of ideas.

    My second offer of feedback would be to be more validating of the difficulty. I hear lots of validation in your replies to commenters in the comments but I don’t always hear that same validation in the post itself. Offer trigger warnings at the beginning or even within if you veer into a subject that may be challenging to trauma victims. You can’t hit everyone’s trigger- but stating when you do see that something might trigger a reader communicates that you care.

    Remember that you pushing against a large current- the current of the churches who wouldn’t even acknowledge the spouse who was abused has any right to take care of herself- so it’s easy to hear that message in places where it wasn’t intended.

    And thank you for asking the question- May God honor your humble heart in asking and give you grace to hear the replies and continue to equip you for the calling He has provided.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you for that prayer! I really appreciate it.

      And I hear you about offering more trigger warnings or more nuance.

      I likely should do that. On a practical level, my posts are always so DARN LONG already, I usually try to get to the point. But I think maybe I’m sacrificing too much. Yes, I really do enjoy the comments and getting to expand more on what I’m thinking, but not everyone reads them (especially those who read the blog through the daily emails and wouldn’t even see the comments normally), so that can’t be my “out”.

      Reply
  9. Michelle

    I think for a severe sexual trauma victim, their healing has to come in steps. It may not be time yet for her to think forward (viewing sex in a positive light, as something that can be part of her future). She has to first find a way to view herself as something other than her abusers victim. Because that is all she has deduced herself to. She could be a Nobel peace prize winner, but all she sees is “his victim” (or whatever her situation was). Nothing good ever seems to outweigh that negative. That has to be fixed first. Then she has to rediscover who she is outside her trauma. Sex may or may not be a part of that. When it comes to sex, she has to also redefine what that looks like going forward, on HER terms.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you. But–and I hope people see that I’m asking an honest question here–how would that play out in a decades-long marriage? Like, what if she’s unwilling to get counseling, she’s fine with where she is, and she just thinks that sex is the problem? Isn’t there some point where we’re allowed to say, “I know you’re traumatized, but this isn’t good?” Like, I can understand that she’s traumatized, and that that should take precedence. But at what point do we also acknowledge that living without sexual intimacy in a marriage relationship for decades on end also has terrible effects on the other spouse? Is that allowed to be mentioned?

      (I’m not really directing this question at Michelle, although I’d be very interested in her input. But I’d love an answer from others. How do we help those experiencing trauma to want to heal and grow (because isn’t wanting to heal and grow the first step?)

      Reply
      • Jordan

        I’m a sexual abuse survivor, newlywed, and diagnosed with C-PTSD.

        I love that you are reaching out and searching for answers, and the right way to address things. I am of the personal belief – and I say this in the most sincere and loving way – that doing more research before continuing to write about trauma would be the most beneficial. I think reading “The Body Keeps the Score,” “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” and other similar books should be required reading before giving any advice to people with trauma.

        I’ve seen you say in other comments that you don’t feel qualified to talk about “military marriages” and that you want to bring guests on who have experience with keeping sex & passion alive while one spouse is deployed.

        Might you do the same with trauma? Incorrect or poorly worded information – even if the intention is good – can be so incredibly damaging to people with trauma. Perhaps get a licensed therapist who specializes in trauma to guest write posts to address topics like this? Or perhaps someone who was/is diagnosed with PTSD and can share their own personal healing journey?

        Again, I say this with the best intention and merely offer a suggestion. 🙂 God bless!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I hear you Jordan, I do. And I will try to get more educated and talk to more people.

          The problem is that if I were only to write about the things that I know about, I would never write about high drive wives; pornography; recovery from affairs; etc. There is a point where reading the studies has to be enough, because no one person can know every situation from personal experience, and personal experience doesn’t necessarily equal the correct advice, anyway. I don’t think people would accuse me of treating porn too cavalierly, even though it’s never been a factor in my marriage, because I’ve read all about it, and I do keep up with the research. With military marriages, I’m just in this weird situation where my daughter is in one, and my right-hand employee is in one, and I don’t want to give any hard and fast advice for what to do in a deployment that might make them feel that I’m interfering in their lives. So it’s more of a personal issue that I’ve got there. I’d rather such advice came from someone who wasn’t me, especially because it’s my daughter.

          But please know that I’m listening, and I do plan to read more over the holidays.

          Reply
  10. Emily

    I experienced long-term sexual abuse as a child. I also took one of my abusers to court at the age of 23 and it turned into a national news story. So I know what it’s like to have your abuse become a much bigger issue in your life than you ever wanted.

    That said, counseling was the hardest but best decision I ever made in my life. So much so that I have dubbed the first day I went to counseling four years ago as my “Freedom Day”, and it’s now an annual day of celebration for me.

    Counseling has a way of forcing to you see the pain you’ve buried and then putting the choice to heal right in front of you. No, it’s not easy, but it is SO incredibly worth it.

    Healing comes in layers and occurs over years. You may think you’re doing great but then you suddenly get hit with a new trigger. It’s easy to assume maybe you’re not “healed” or maybe your prayer of forgiveness didn’t stick, but that’s not true! It simply means you’ve uncovered another layer and have found a new piece to bring to Jesus to heal.

    Full disclosure, I am not yet married and my soon to be husband and I are saving sex for marriage. But even then, engaging the forms of physical affection we have chosen are within our boundaries has been a difficult journey — and it’s become one of the most healing experiences yet. Yes, the triggers were there with even small things like a kiss on the neck or a hand on my back. Each act of affection has had to be a very gradual process. But I can now say that by using safe words and talking through the triggers, some of the things that were the most painful for me have now become my favorite things.

    It’s important to realize the physical intimacy is supposed to be a journey of learning and healing *together*. Recently I was crying in My Love’s arms and sharing with him some of my fears about our wedding night and he said, “Babe, it’s OK if you’re triggered on our wedding night. I won’t feel cheated. Life is messy and our wedding night will be messy (in more ways than one, LOL!)”. Realizing that my future husband is OK with walking along side me through the messy has been incredibly reassuring to me and has helped me to heal at my own pace. It’s because of his support and years of healing and counseling, I believe God will completely redeem physical intimacy for me. 💗

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Emily, that’s lovely! I wish you all the best for your marriage, too! Thank you for sharing your story.

      And, yes, healing does come in stages. And just because something triggers you again doesn’t mean you’re regressing; sometimes it means you’ve actually gotten healthy enough to handle even more being revealed, and God is now taking you deeper. So you get triggered when your child reaches the same age you were when the abuse occurred, or when your abuser dies, or when you marry, or when you pass another life stage. But again, it doesn’t mean you didn’t do the work. (That’s why I was really upset when the Duggars said that the girls had been healed and had forgiven Josh when some of them hadn’t even hit puberty yet, and so they were fine. They didn’t acknowledge this life-long process that often occurs).

      Thanks again for sharing!

      Reply
    • Anon

      Emily, this really struck home to me: “some of the things that were the most painful for me have now become my favorite things”. It’s also made me want to say that churches need to be more careful about setting rules for dating couples. My fiance and I are saving sex for marriage too, but I have found that my experience of physical affection (hugging, kissing, holding hands) has changed. I have had some Christians telling me that ‘good’ Christians always save the first kiss for the wedding etc, etc and that you’re some kind of immoral or second-class Christian if you don’t. But for me, it has been really important to experience how a hug or a kiss has gone from being something frightening to something I look forward to. It has given me the confidence to believe that while it may take a long time, we will ‘get there’ with sex too. There is NO WAY I would ever have felt confident enough to marry without seeing how I have changed in my feelings toward a kiss or a hug from him. I just wish Christians would be less condemnatory about those who don’t save the first hug/kiss/handhold for the wedding day – I have enough baggage to deal with, without that.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Anon, we’re actually talking about this in our next book, and I’m going to take your comment and save it! I think that’s so interesting–in the case of trauma, to go from 0-60 in one night might just be too much, really, wouldn’t it? And you wouldn’t want your first kiss to be in front of hundreds of people.

        Reply
        • Anon

          Definitely! I read a blog from a woman who’d made a decision with her fiance not to kiss until their wedding and she was like ‘it stops you going too far before marriage, and it won’t be awkward at all kissing in front of people for the first time because you love each other – we kissed for the first time during our wedding and had great sex on our wedding night & it was all wonderful’. Well, that’s great for her and I’m glad she didn’t have any issues, but it’s not going to work like that for everyone.

          Another well-meaning friend sent me a video of a Christian couple at their wedding and it made a big thing that the kiss after the vows was their first one. The whole congregation gathered round them chanting ‘kiss, kiss, kiss’ and cheered when they did. This was supposed to be the ‘ideal’ for a Christian couple. I was physically sick when I saw the video because of the way her groom just grabbed her and did the full ‘face-eating’ type kiss in front of 100+ cheering people and it felt like she was being kissed as a form of entertainment for them. (Not saying there was anything wrong with it for them if that’s what they both wanted; it’s just how it made me feel – and my friend was ‘wouldn’t you like to be like this at your wedding?’ !!!)

          Reply
          • Emily

            I was actually raised in a fundamentalist cult (Bill Gothard) We’re extreme purity culture was taught. I, too, made a vow at 15 to save my first kiss for the alter and save hand-holding for engagement. After I escaped the cult four years ago I prayed extensively over the vow because I no longer believed it was healthy. I finally heard God say, “Emily, you were coerced into making that vow by a cult leader. It was never my will. You have also since used it as a thing of pride and pompous and I hate that.” And with that Holy Spirit confirmation I broke my vow and had my first kiss in my kitchen at the age of 26. 💗 It was the best decision I could have ever made for my future sexual relationship and for my Christian walk.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I’m glad!

        • Emily

          Shelia, that’s wonderful about the new book!! 🙌

          Here’s a post I wrote a few months ago about my experience with purity culture.

          The purity movement broke me.

          “For the last twenty-four hours the shocking news has been rippling through the #evangelical and #exvangelical communities: Joshua Harris, the author who essentially birthed the modern-day purity and courtship movements, announced yesterday that he is separating from his wife.

          Harris’s first book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, which started a veritable tsunami of purity reform in the 21st century evangelical world, lay out one simple promise: courtship with strict purity standards, when practiced correctly, is guaranteed to produce a happy and fulfilling marriage, a stellar sex life, and will virtually fireproof yourself against divorce.

          Listen up, friends, this is a lie.

          Here’s what else purity culture taught me:

          Purity culture taught me that, as a future bride, my virginity was the only gift that I could offer my groom that was of any true worth and value.

          Purity culture taught me that while consensual sex prior to marriage is an unredeemable sin, non-consensual sex after marriage is a woman’s calling from the Lord — an act of silent, submissive martyrdom for Christ.

          Purity culture taught me to don’t dare even consider marrying a man who has seen pornography, for any past viewing of porn is guaranteed to cause unreconcilable division and heartache in a marriage.

          Purity culture taught me that, because of my history of sexual abuse, I should be considered unmarrigible. I am a rose petal that has been permanently bruised and marred by the stain of impurity; I am a used piece of goods.

          Purity culture taught me to believe the man I was courting when he told me that he didn’t think I was a suitable candidate for marriage because my childhood abuse was “too much baggage”. Who wants to deal with baggage anyway? Baggage is messy and hard work.

          You know what broke me? It wasn’t my imperfect past. No, it was the lie that because of my past, I was no longer valuable. THAT is what purity culture taught me, and that is what broke me.

          Fellow cult-survivor and friend of mine, Kristyn Cuevas, writes, “Purity culture is poison. It is saying that sex is a sin that is too big for the blood of Jesus to cover.”

          Purity culture focuses solely on sin and it’s life-long effects and tells you that living a sinless life is the only path to a God-honoring, fulfilling, and blissful marriage.

          I don’t think anyone will argue the fact that living a life contrary to God’s Word can result in pain and hardship, but is that the end of the story? What about grace? What about redemption? Wasn’t THAT the promise — *the hope* — that Jesus brought?

          Jesus didn’t bring a checklist or recipe card that says if you follow these steps you will experience complete happiness and fulfillment.

          He brought an invitation to all who are broken: bring your brokenness to me. Bring your shattered and scarred hearts. Bring your fears and insecurities. Bring your addictions. Bring your selfishness. Bring your sin. I will take on those burdens, place them on my own back, and in exchange I will make you WHOLE. I will make you redeemed. I will offer no condemnation. I will give you fulfillment, security, love, and joy abundant.

          Everyone is broken. Everyone has scars. Everyone has a past. While purity culture taught me that a man wouldn’t want to deal with my sexual past, grace taught me that true love will see my scars and see redemption and healing, not an ugly blemish.

          I do believe that keeping the marriage bed sacred is a God-honoring thing to do. I still wholeheartedly believe that sex should be kept within the bounds of marriage. But that still doesn’t make purity the magic potion to a happy marriage. Neither is family-inclusive courtship.

          Only one thing can produce wholeness in a marriage and that one thing is Jesus. “

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, wow, Emily. That’s beautiful but heart-wrenching at the same time! And so hopeful, too. We simply must get the focus back on Jesus. Thank you! I’m going to save this.

        • Lea

          “in the case of trauma, to go from 0-60 in one night might just be too much,”

          This sounds like too much for anyone to me, trauma or not! I don’t understand this mentality at all. Maybe other people are different but I would need time to warm up to things and that would be less than ideal to all occur on one day.

          Reply
          • unmowngrass

            Especially a day that has started early, on little-if-any sleep, spent endless, needless hours having people fuss at you with makeup brushes and hair curlers (quickest route to make myself want to punch someone, tbh, because it would feel like prison… ), has probably involved a verbal fight with your mother or another relative (again, for me), and tears, when you’ve hardly eaten anything, and, aside from the altar, have barely spent any time at all with hubby, either just chilling, or having him help to restore your emotional equilibrium on a difficult day (that’s why you’re marrying him, right??), and you’ve needed to have your game face on to talk to hundreds of people for hours and hours and hours amongst loud music and a late night*, and then there’s a whole lot of social pressure to have the ~best night of your life~, and then having to not only be up at a reasonable time for a another long day to travel, but the possibility (dear God, no!) of needing to eat breakfast with everyone and knowing that they’re all probably wondering about how it all went down the night before…! How about No?

            *my American ex-fiance really surprised me when he said the wedding is generally 6 hours from start to finish and then that’s it. British weddings go on until 1 in the morning whatever time they start, which is why most people want to get married in the afternoon, so it’s not as much and also cheaper and you don’t need to feed everybody twice. Not me. I want the wedding much earlier in the day — 10am at the latest. Even if I do have to grit my teeth through an extra 5-6hrs of game face time on the day.

  11. Ken

    I’m sorry Sheila as a survivor of horrible abuse as a child and having spent 4+ yrs in PTSD counseling. I think the best you can do isdirect them to Jesus, fellowship, and licensed professional counselors. Perhaps trying to do too much? We all have to be in our lane. Your truth speaking has been a part of my healing journey with Jesus!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Ken!

      Reply
  12. Kay

    I confess I didn’t read the original post until just now. And I do want to say that both the original post and the comments below are deeply problematic and do indeed show a lack of understanding of the trauma.

    One of the things that probably wasn’t intentional, but it sounds like she has to “get better *for* him.” This is a huge part of the problem. I am working on healing a variety of traumas right now including several sexual assaults as a teen, but I have finally admitted to myself that one of the BIGGEST traumas I need healing from is all of the ways that I put my husband’s pleasure ahead of my pain. This sounds harsh and I’m sure husbands will not like this, but the healing MUST not have anything to do with him. Healing for someone else does not work. It just doesn’t. And as long as she is trying to get better for him, she will not heal. It has to be for her and herself only. And I feel like this is something the church in particular is getting SO wrong about trauma, especially when they frame her “refusal to heal” as selfishness. It is actually the “selfLESSness” of getting better for someone else that will make healing impossible. Perhaps the first step of all is accepting that healing is FOR HER. Not him. Maybe she even needs to embrace that she is WORTHY of healing FOR HERSELF. Otherwise it still comes out as *him* deserving her healing. It is no longer about what he deserves. It just isn’t. And it cannot be. Christians can dislike that all they want, but that is not how God designed the brain to heal from trauma. “He deserves sex and it is your job to give it to him” is now part of a secondary trauma that needs to be healed and a huge way that the church retraumatizes victims every day.

    So yes. Research research research. The post missed a lot. The comments missed a lot. And both are frankly part of the problem.

    I recommend The Body Keeps the Score, all of Dan Allender’s stuff, but especially some not-faith-based stuff that you may not agree with all of it, but it can really help you think outside the Christian box that we sometimes are more trapped in than we realize. For example, the book Mating in Captivity. I can’t go as far as the author does in many ways, but this was nevertheless SO helpful for me in many ways. More and more I am finding Christian resources to be a part of the problem more than the solution, to be honest.

    Thank you for caring enough to dig deeper, Sheila. That is something I love and appreciate about you; you aren’t afraid of being open to the feedback you receive and changing course as a result. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is really good, Kay: “I put my husband’s pleasure ahead of my pain.”. I’ve been there in my marriage, too, especially with vaginismus. So true.

      And I agree–that is likely the only way to heal. But isn’t part of that also saying, “I believe that sex was made for me and was made to be good?” Isn’t seeing sex in a positive light part of doing that for you?

      And while we can’t heal for our husbands, and we shouldn’t put their pleasure ahead of our pain, in a marriage, don’t their feelings matter as well? This is what I can’t grapple with, and what I really have a hard time with.

      If a woman is getting counseling and is trying to move forward and is working on healing but isn’t there yet, then for pete’s sake the husband should be selfless and giving and patient. Absolutely.

      But what if she’s not? What if she’s content to not heal? What if she’s content to not work on anything? At that point, what do you say to the couple? Because what she is doing is hurting herself and it is hurting him, and I do think that that should matter. I’m not saying that his pleasure matters more than her pain; but at some point, can’t we say that it’s not right to refuse to work on your issues when you are in a marriage situation?

      That’s what I’m struggling with. I’d love to hear people’s takes on that. Like, if you’ve been married for decades and someone isn’t getting help–well, what is the husband to do then? Because I do get a lot of husbands asking me this as well. Does that make sense?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, I should say something else, too. If a husband is just insisting on sex, that’s something totally different. I’m not talking about selfish husbands here. I’m talking about really good men who want to help their wives and who want to be intimate with their wives in the best sense, but just can’t because of her trauma. How do we include them in the conversation, because they are there, and they are hurting. No, their hurt is not the same, but it is real nonetheless. Do they deserve any consideration? And how do we balance that? How do we talk about it well?

        Or if it’s hard to answer, try reversing the genders (because I get similar questions from women whose husbands have been sexually abused and who basically live in a sexless marriage). What would we tell those women?

        Reply
        • Nick

          Sheila. So grateful you are losing all these questions. They are the right questions. What you’ve written above and how you’ve articulated the issues is so spot on. I really don’t have anything to add…just looking forward to learning and reading.

          This is the boat I am in…just looking for a way forward…but 20 years of patterns, communication failures, and two broken people make it really hard to hit the reboot button well.

          How can I communicate to her my 100% genuine love and desire to be with her in this pain, care for her FIRST, seek healing (and have her believe me) yet at the same time move forward with a goal of healing, connection and intimacy for us both?

          So tough yet so desired.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thank you, Nick. And thank you for a heart that obviously loves your wife. I know it’s tough.

    • Anon

      Hi Kay, thanks so much for your post. Kudos to you. Finally someone speaks with some sense. My trauma was caused by my husband’s porn addiction so he is the perpetrator so to speak. After ten years of lying about it and accusing me of being ‘crazy in the head’ it finally all came trickling out.

      The church we were at at the time were extremely pro ‘Every Man’s Battle’ and so was the counsellor we saw. It was like I got put into the position of villain and he was the victim. I absolutely got pummeled with “if you don’t give him sex he’ll keep looking at porn”. And the message of “all guys lust and if they say they don’t they’re lying”. My husband himself told me if I have sex with him I would ‘lessen’ the temptation of other women.

      So in the end I gave up on sex. Does that make me guilty of what Sheila is accusing women of when they don’t ‘work on their marriage’? That’s ok. Guilty as charged. Some people don’t recover from things in this life. Sometimes there simply is no happy ending for all sorts of scenarios in life.

      In my country there has just been a guy found guilty of murdering a girl on a date by strangulation. His defence was that she had encouraged and requested the strangulation to enhance their sexual experience. He looked at porn after he’d killed her. I know this is a huge topic but my opinion of men and sex is not a very good one. I stay away from it because all the messages I receive about men and sex just are not good ones. It’s not something I want to be involved in.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m so sorry, Anon. So sorry.

        As an aside, I follow a really interesting Twitter account from Britain–“We Can’t Consent to This.” It highlights all the cases you’re talking about. Just horrific.

        Reply
        • Anon

          Yes Shelia well done for pointing out where I live. Nice one when my comment was anonymous and should have stayed that way.

          Reply
          • BJ

            Actually, Anon, YOU just outed where you live. The casual reader would not assume that just because a twitter account is British that every story including the one you mentioned would be from that country. And why bring up a searchable story and give details if you were that paranoid that someone here would discover the (gasp) country you live in?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Anon, I have no idea where you live. It’s not in your email address, and I have no way of knowing. I’m just saying that I’m following an interesting Twitter account from Britain, which I think everyone should follow. It’s covering British crimes, but I assume the same thing is happening the world over. I think some is coming from Australia as well. I didn’t mean any offense–I was simply pointing people to that great Twitter profile.

          • Anon

            BJ (interesting title by the way) no need to get nasty. Couldn’t help yourself chiming in. Wasn’t anything to do with you was it. Don’t see what relevance your comment is except to be nasty.

            No I didn’t actually assume that Sheila would Hone in on that part of my comment. It was a small part of what I wrote. And duh!!! No I don’t actually live in Britain so there you go! You were both wrong. I didn’t point it out because I never actually said where I live. Sheila quoted Britain and my comment was relative to that country but it’s not where I live.

            So forget being a keyboard troll and instead of having to make nasty digs just keep scrolling down in future.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Actually, Anon, I think what BJ did was to stand up for me when someone else was attacking me, which you were. I never intended to hurt you; I never realized that I had revealed something about you, and now apparently I haven’t, which means that your first rude comment was unfounded and unnecessary. If you don’t live in Britain, then there was no need to become angry at me. Part of being in community online is that people do come to others’ defences when they are accused of something unnecessarily, and that’s what BJ did.

            At this point, Anon, you are now attacking BJ and not just me, calling her names and insulting her, and so at this point no other comments will be let through on this thread because I can’t have you attacking other commenters.

            I understand that you are in a horrible marriage, and I am so, so sorry. When your husband has been using porn, the porn use needs to be dealt with FIRST before we even start talking about sex, and that means quitting the porn, getting filters on your devices, getting some accountability and counseling, and being honestly repentant and understanding. Wanting to withhold sex from a man who has hurt you is an entirely different situation than the one that I’m talking about here, where women aren’t able to have sex with their husbands because of past trauma, but their husbands are actually good guys.

            I’m so sorry for your pain, and I hope that your husband will keep working at restoring the marriage. I really do.

          • E

            I actually thought you might be from Australia, as there was a case recently that was really similar to what you just described! Seems like porn is creating similar problems everywhere!

            BTW, Anon, I don’t think that you are the one refusing to work on your trauma/marriage/whatever. Because your trauma was caused by your husbands use of porn (and especially the gaslighting and lying that went with that), it would be pretty well impossible to work on it without him fully repenting, of his own free will, not just admitting to stuff that comes ‘trickling out’.

            BUT, I think that is a very different circumstance to a wife who suffered abuse in childhood and refuses to get help and healing because it is too painful. I think in those circumstances, a husband who helps her stay comfortable but unhealed is something of an enabler. I think in these instances the husband is serving his wife by helping her help herself. HOWEVER, it is a very fine line, because it can be really hard to hear from your husband, as we (as a society, and individually) are so conditioned to view sex as for men, without hearing selfishness from him. This is where close girlfriends who speak truth are so necessary! And professional counselling. and books and blogs such as this one, calling out that staying in your brokenness might be comfortable, but it is hurting you, and YOU deserve better! God wants us to be free, and that freedom can be very painful to work towards, but it is worth it (I hope, because I’m not there yet!)

    • Christy

      Kay, thank you for your post! Best thing ive read yet! You hit the nail when you said you had to heal from the trauma of putting his needs ahead of your healing—- i needed to hear that. I am healing that too.

      Thank you for your thoughtful post.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I actually think that’s a big problem with EVERYTHING that we teach about sex, and I want to write more on this.

        But think about it this way: If sex is the ultimate “knowing” of each other, the ultimate intimate connection, then it has to be a joining of two people completely. If, instead, sex is used for only one person’s benefit, then that second person not only feels unimportant. They actually feel as if their personhood doesn’t matter, because they weren’t “known”. That doesn’t mean that someone can’t freely give a gift, or a quickie, etc. etc. But if someone is actively ignored during sex (like your pleasure is irrelevant) or if pain is ignored or if someone just wants very selfish things in bed, then it’s not ONLY selfish. It’s also an obliteration of that other person in the relationship. It’s a saying, “you’re not worth knowing; you’re only worth using.” And that’s the theology that is actually used about sex in books like Love & Respect. So I don’t think it’s only about trauma. I think that attitude is there about a whole host of things. More and more it’s striking me how this is the root of many sexual problems.

        The problem with trauma comes like this: while the abuse survivor is understandably rejecting sex, because they don’t want to be used again (and thus not “known”), when this goes on for long enough, then they’re also saying to the other spouse, “you’re not worth knowing.” That’s what I keep coming back to.

        I don’t know if there’s an answer, honestly, except to say that this is the perfect example of a truly broken world. It was never supposed to be like this. And maybe I’m looking for an answer that just isn’t there.

        Reply
  13. ELaura

    I think it is important to have a goal but at the same time realize there’s a place for grief and healing and that may be a very very long place. I’m a survivor and I’ve tried to rush healing and just try to have the mindset that “sex is good I’m just going to do it” I’ve had to down a bottle of wine and dissociate to get through and ended up with further hurt. An end goal and faith that you’ll get there is important yes, it’s horrible to be trapped and stuck. But patience is so important too and lots of it. On the part of the abused and the support people as well. Patience through trauma recovery work, therapy, healing, all the steps.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m so sorry about the wine and the dissociation! That’s so common–dissociation. That’s also why porn use and erotica use can become a stumbling block for trauma survivors trying to get through the trauma, because they have to dissociate to get aroused, and they turn to erotica instead. (Not saying you did this; just saying it’s a story I’ve heard repeatedly). And then it just contributes to the trauma. Yes, if you feel yourself dissociating, STOP! Intimacy matters. Sex is about intimacy, not just his pleasure. Intimacy means you must be there. If you can’t yet, that’s okay. Don’t rush it!

      Reply
  14. Chris

    Sheila, with reagrds to your curiosity about the husband (or wife in some cases) of a sexual abuse/trauma survivor: I think that the person who suffered the abuse needs to figure out if they are ready to be married in the first place. Marriage does involve an expectation of physical intimacy. So for the trauma survivor who isnt ready for that, maybe they should for go marriage for a time until healing can occur. And in the rare cases where the survivor is more comfortable not healing, then thats fine but they probably should not get married in the first place. As several commenters have said, your healing has to be for you. And if that is the case, which I am sure it is, then you should work on healing before getting hitched where now you may feel pressured to heal for someone else.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That sounds good, Chris, but the problem is that many trauma survivors don’t realize how marriage and sex will affect them until afterwards. I don’t think trauma survivors marry thinking, “I’m going to live a sexless marriage and shut my spouse out.” I think they honestly believe that they’ll be okay. So many people don’t realize the depth of the pain until later.

      It’s a different thing, but when I married I had vaginismus. No idea that I had it until I married (and I still think the root of it was the idea that sex was now an obligation, and not something freely chosen, which made me feel so scared). I didn’t deliberately have it; I had no idea I had it; and I couldn’t stop it without some work. But I had never known beforehand.

      Reply
      • Chris

        Sheila, point taken. But in response to your comment about people not going into marriage thinking it will be sexless, i think there are some who see it as an optional component. (This applies to both men and women but I think it’s something that effects some women more). But if I was a young man starting to date a young woman and she were to say to me, “i really care about you but I have some issues with sexual trauma in my past and while I am working on healing them, I am not ready for marriage where sex will be expected and deserved. And you as a man deserve to be in a loving sexual marriage and I don’t want to take that from you”. Wow. I would wait forever for her to heal.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s lovely, Chris.

          Reply
  15. Taunya

    I wrote about how we dealt with a flashback. This is after a lot of my healing happened. It has some of what he thought. Perhaps what needs to happen is some of us start being transparent to help others. I find I want to, but talking about sex with a purity background is difficult. Maybe this will give you some ideas?

    http://walkingwithshiloh.com/tag/he-speaks/

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow, Taunya, that’s a great post! For those who haven’t read it–please read this post about her flashback. Very illuminating, and very gut-punching. I’m so sorry.

      I’m really glad your husband understands now that you weren’t reacting to him. That truly is lovely.

      Reply
  16. Arwen

    Sheila, I agree with Taunya, no matter how you answer this question there will be someone who will be hurt by it. How i’m about to answer your question now might hurt someone but i mean no harm, just want to answer your question directly that many skipped over.

    The only way for Christians to have sex without sinning is in marriage. Sex is part of the marital package. If a spouse has chosen to liven in a sexless marriage for whatever reason including trauma, then i think there is grounds for divorce. Because you’re not holding your end of the agreement. If you don’t want to have sex there is another package you can choose, it’s called singleness. The God we worship doesn’t work like a buffet, you’re either all in or all out. And since marriage comes from Him and He created the conditions one must follow if one chooses to partake in it then either be all in or all out.

    That’s why i have mentioned many times on here that i went to therapy for 10 years! I didn’t want to make my future spouse suffer for something that i MYSELF wasn’t willing to tackle. Am i 100% healed, of course not. As long as we live in the flesh we will always suffer the consequences of the flesh till we receive our new bodies in heaven. But are you able to have at least 70%-90% healing? Absolutely! But if you’re looking for 100% healing and using that as an excuse to remain stagnant then don’t get married.

    And it doesn’t matter if a traumatized person goes into marriage thinking it will be a sexless marriage. What matters is what’s happening now (something you always say, Sheila). What is happening NOW in the marriage is that the traumatized person is REFUSING to seek help and at that point they’re actually punishing the other partner for what has happened to them. Victims are very much capable of becoming perpetrators themselves. Just look at history.

    So, I’ll try to work with my traumatized husband to the best of my abilities, i’ll exhaust every possible option and if he still remains stagnant, unwilling to allow the Holy Spirit to heal him, and forces me to live in a sexless marriage then i’ll divorce with a heavy heart. I didn’t pick the singleness package, i picked the marriage one and i was promised certain things in that package. You picked it too but if you think it’s a buffet table then you have the wrong package. And i’m not saying this cavalierly at all!

    Reply
  17. Anon

    If the person experiencing the trauma is single, then he or she should not marry until a) they feel they are sufficiently healed to be able to enter into a sexual relationship b) they have had a full and frank discussion with their intended spouse and c) they are absolutely committed to making the sexual side of the marriage work – deciding to stick with a sexless marriage because sex is harder than they expected it to be is not an option.

    If the person is already married when the trauma occurs, then it’s harder, because they are already in that relationship. But when you marry, you do make some fairly serious promises to your partner and to God. For that reason, I think you do have to at least try to get help.

    And on a personal note – thank you so much for your blog and your book. Both have been very emotionally healing for me.

    Reply
    • Worked for me

      EMDR can work wonders for PTSD of all kinds!

      Reply
    • Christy

      Please see my comments below. But it it is almost impossible for a sexually traumatized person to know the extent of the trauma before they are married. Often these things happen to us as children. We are not even made aware that we struggle with the trauma of sex until we are married. Often memories dont come back until you are in a sexual relationship and furthermore the brain has a way of forgetting the trauma all together so that one can deal with the trauma… what you are suggesting goes against the very nature of trauma.

      It is this type of thinking that further perpetuates the trauma and places further blame on the victim.

      Reply
    • BJ

      Anon:
      I see a lot of “should” in there and rules you’re making for other people’s lives.
      It reminds me of the messages I grew up my whole life with from the American Evangelical church: that if I can’t give my husband sex whenever or however he wants it, I’m pretty much useless and don’t even deserve to be married.
      Do you have anything to say about what the person supporting the victim “should” be doing or is there really nothing they should be responsible for if they’re not getting the sex they are owed?

      Reply
      • Anon

        BJ and Christy, I’m sorry if my comment upset you. I guess in a discussion like this, it’s inevitable that we talk from our own personal views & experience, and that is likely to clash when it comes up against the views & experience of others.

        My ‘should’ in my comment is aimed at myself. Of course those around have the responsibility to help all they can – but we also need to try to accept help ourselves. And no, I don’t know how I will cope with having sex with my husband – I have done a lot of healing and we have had some frank conversations and I know I’m in a much healthier place than I was several years back. But I’m also aware marriage may still be much harder than I’m expecting. But however hard it is, I believe I will still have a responsibility to try to heal for his sake, even if I myself decide I will be happy just with companionship. I don’t believe I will have the right to say I’m just not going to try to deal with it.

        I guess I’m thinking of a friend who experienced sexual trauma. She married still feeling bad about sex, but she wanted children. She tolerated the sex until she’d had the kids. Now she says she doesn’t ‘need’ to have sex any more because she has the children, so that’s it. Part of me feels for her (and she has been through a lot more than I ever have) and understands why she doesn’t want to try to heal because it is painful. But part of me also feels for her husband who is suddenly confronted with ‘right, I’ve got the kids I want so no more sex from now on’. So I guess that’s why I feel so strongly about it, because I don’t want to end up doing the same thing to my husband when we are married.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I think that’s very wise and insightful, Anon. That is so hard for that woman’s husband. It’s very, very hard and sad for the woman as well. But I think that even in these discussions, we still need some compassion for the spouse (whether wife or husband).

          Reply
  18. Christy

    As a survivor of sexual abuse, i think that it IS too much for someone who hasnt experienced, to really understand. I find that people often compare sexual trauma, to other types of trauma. I have experienced both and I can say that they are not the same. Sexual trauma makes you ONE with another person, in a way that other trauma’s do not.

    Sexual trauma isnt tidy. People want to simplify such trauma by placing the entire responsibility on the traumatized person “ to heal.” And Certainly, everyone has their own responsibility to heal, I am not discounting personal responsibility. But the ENTIRE design of marriage is for this purpose, to heal us, in our most deepest parts. To sanctify us and make us into the image of our creator.

    There is no way, that If I truly understood, how difficult it was going to be to be married with sexual trauma, that I would have choosen it and there is nothing you can do to adequately prepare you for the battle that will come. People do not go into marriage realizing that trauma’s like this will resurface.

    Sexual trauma is exacerbated when a person feels trapped in a sexual situation that is outside of their control. Before marriage, there is very few healthy opportunities to experience this, Especially if you are not sexual before marriage.Suddenly, married, you find yourself feel trapped in a sexual relationship that you cant avoid. Its a trigger. Had i know I was going to feel this way…. I would have NEVER gotten married. I didnt know.

    For me, every single time we have had sex, in the past 14 years, I black out. Cant stop it, cant control it, can NOT mind over matter it. It is PTSD, a body memory. Yes, i have tried counceling and no its not better.

    But, let me tell you what I am learning. I have learned that when you are with a man who loves you and loves God with ALL his heart…. that it is NOT only my responsibility to heal the trauma. It is also HIS responsibility to help me heal. He does this by loving me the way Christ does. Though this, we can both become sanctified and transformed into the image of Christ.

    I have had to let my husband love me enough to take sex off the table and let me heal. I have had to learn that my need to heal is equally as valuable as his need for sex.

    But the point i want to stress is that It is impossible for me to get through this trauma without him. If, as one commenter has suggested, I had asked the question, do i really want to be married? My answer would have been and is still sometimes, a resounding no. The retraumatization of sex over and over for 14 years was and often still is too much for me.

    But, now, i am starting to see Gods plan and the role marriage can serve in my healing. But noone could have taught me this. Timing is everything and reading inappropriate comments in a blog often poured viniger on deep wounds.

    Reply
    • Christy

      Cont….
      To be honest, I still black out during sex. I still struggle with resentment towards God and my husband. I struggle with the idea that God made something beautiful, promised it to me, so I followed through, trying to honor God with my life—- and I felt tricked. I felt set up for failure….. here is a God, that promises me this good thing, expects me to give something to my husband that makes me black out, but doesnt heal me, doesnt change it, even after all these years of my faithfulness. It is confusing.

      Well meaning Christians often make matters worse by telling the victim, they should try harder, put his needs first or that God was there through my pain.

      I dont know which is a more horrific thought… a God who abandoned me as a child in my trauma, or a God who is all powerful, who stood by and watched…..IF only, sexual trauma was merely about sex…. For me it is about trying to reconcile tgat an almighty and God, stood by and watched.

      This issue goes so much deeper than sex, it challenges my beliefs about the character of God and my worth to him.

      So back to the point, marriage, it is there to sanctify us and heal us, but healing will never come if all the responsibility is placed on the victim.

      My husband’s decision last year to actually place my healing above his own needs for sex has done more for my healing that any amount of councelling. Had I given up on my marriage, i would have removed the trigger, but my healing would not come. We need the closeness of marriage to trigger the trauma. Single, the trauma wasnt triggered, and without marriage, there is no reason to heal.

      It was through my husband’s willingness to lay down his life for me, as a friend that I was able to finally see that even though i do still struggle…. every day. That God HAS given me the tool I need to eventually heal, marriage.

      My husband is literally re-teaching me about the true character of God. It is through his willingness to sacrifice His needs for my healing ( so one day his needs can be met too) that I am learning that I am actually worth loving and that I am worth more than the sex that was taken from me for someone else’ s gratification.

      Yes, i still black out 100 percent of the times we have sex and yes, maybe I always will🤷‍♀️but through it all we are learning to love and look more like christ and I am learning to let God into the deepest parts of my pain. Without marriage, without my husbands willingness, what those men and boys took from me, has a hope for restoration.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Christy, this is very helpful. Thank you. I’m going to put this paragraph here in our spreadsheet of quotes for our next book:

        “My husband’s decision last year to actually place my healing above his own needs for sex has done more for my healing that any amount of councelling. Had I given up on my marriage, i would have removed the trigger, but my healing would not come. We need the closeness of marriage to trigger the trauma. Single, the trauma wasnt triggered, and without marriage, there is no reason to heal.”

        Reply
      • Doug

        Christy,

        First, I want to say I am sorry for what you endured, but I am so grateful that you posted. I have reached a point in counseling where I have gone thru a phase of just being angry with God. I have literally been going thru scriptures looking for things that indict his character.

        “I dont know which is a more horrific thought… a God who abandoned me as a child in my trauma, or a God who is all powerful, who stood by and watched…..IF only, sexual trauma was merely about sex…. For me it is about trying to reconcile tgat an almighty and God, stood by and watched.”

        It can be very hard to reconcile statements like that with a Good and Holy God, and yet, many who would counsel us would tell us that we are the problem. I visited with a Pastor last Sunday and described an incident where I had a suicidal episode a few months back, and he asked to bring in another Pastor as well. For my trouble, I was asked several times to surrender my handgun, and that I should read 1John every day for a month.

        I try to be honest with myself and others regarding my faith. It is an uneasy faith built on obedience rather than Love, and as much as I would like it to be different, so far I have not managed to make it so.

        A few years ago, I wrote something similar to what you wrote, but I took my site down. The analogy I used was that I didn’t care who started the fire, but that I have a serious issue with the Fireman who stood and watched it burn. I still haven’t managed to get past that, and it was actually a subject of my last counseling session.

        If you were wondering, I am not a sexual abuse survivor. I lost a child to an abortion that was hidden from me. 25 years later, and I am only beginning to heal from that.

        Reply
    • Lea

      “Sexual trauma is exacerbated when a person feels trapped in a sexual situation that is outside of their control. Before marriage, there is very few healthy opportunities to experience this, Especially if you are not sexual before marriage”

      Do you think having sex before marriage might be actively therapeutic here? I can’t help but think people experiencing this type of trauma and then waiting till they commit to forever to effectively deal with it might be a problem.

      Reply
      • Christy

        No, because I was sexually active before I was married, but whenever the trauma would arise, i would just find an excuse that things were not working or we were not compatable. I didnt realize it at the time, but I was actively avoiding the trauma. Once marries, I couldnt avoid it—- i felt trapped by a sexual relationship. Again, I think the purpose of marriage is to heal the deeper things that cannot be solved when you are not in this type of committed relationship. Some people find healing before being married, but I could almost guarentee, healing will go deeper and to a new level if one is in a good and healthy marriage.

        Reply
        • Lea

          Thank you Christy for the explanation, that’s very helpful.

          I have also heard of people being triggered having children, or when they reach a certain age, and so on, so I get that it’s complicated.

          Reply
      • Christy

        Also, it isnt that people are waiting to deal with it…. most people dint even know it is an issue until later…. i personally had no memory and my memories didnt start coming back until last year. And even those with vivid memories, often think they have dealt with it…. they go through councelling, find some healing, but marriage brings up a whole new level of pain that you might not be aware of beforehand.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          This is very true. Often having children triggers things, too, that you thought were not bothering you.

          Reply
          • Christy

            Oh yes, thats true too. Most of my major triggers happened when my kids reached the same age that I was abused…. i was totally blindsided… wasnt until my youngest reached that age last year that I realized what the heck was going on—— soooo many layers and it is messy… people want to put the healing in a nice/ neat and tidy organized box… but it never happens that way

      • Anon

        I never seriously contemplated having sex before marriage, because I believe it is not right for a Christian. But I did sometimes wish that my beliefs would let me ‘try it out’ before marriage. I thought I would never marry because of not being able to know what sex would be like with my partner until we were ‘stuck’ with each other.

        But when I met the man who is now my fiance, I had a change of mind. Now I am glad that I get to try sex with him for the first time after we have made a lifetime commitment to each other – if we were just ‘trying it out’, there would be so much pressure to be ‘ok’ with it or risk losing the relationship. But when we are married, as he says “we have the rest of our lives to work this out and it doesn’t matter how long it takes.” Also, the way in which he has been and is so patient, so caring and so self-disciplined not to push for sex before marriage gives me the confidence to believe that he will be patient, caring and self-disciplined after. So when he tells me that he won’t rush me to be ok with stuff, I trust that he actually has the character to follow through on that.

        Obviously, I don’t know at this point how it is going to work out for us – I have some physical issues as well as some emotional ones that could make things difficult. But I don’t think that having sex before we marry would have been the solution. And at the end of the day, it’s not something that God wants for us, and we both want to please God even more than we want to please each other. So it’s just never been an option for either of us.

        Perhaps some of it depends on mindset and expectation? If you feel marriage means you ‘have’ to have sex, then there is the pressure and the fear. If you feel that marriage means you get to be close to someone you can trust absolutely, to be intimate with someone you love and to work towards having sex when you are both ok with that, there is maybe less pressure and fear? We don’t talk much about sex – we do talk about looking forward to being close to each other, to being intimate with each other and growing in love with each other – and sex will hopefully be part of that, but by focusing on intimacy, not sex, it has really changed my view.

        Reply
  19. Kiwigirl

    Hi there, As a sexual abuse victim, it can take time to heal. I’m single and haven’t had sex, but was sexual abused. In my experience counseling can help, but it is much more helpful if you go because you are ready to work on specific issues. I found it more helpful when I went because I wanted to not because some one told me I should.

    In my case, I found time was a good healer and it helped me even when I wasn’t focused on healing.

    Talking to friends, family, pastor can be helpful, but it is important to have to talk to who have helpful ideas not unhelpful ideas ones. Eg. not someone is talking that going to court is not an option for Christians or that you must stay in a relationship with the abuser.

    It maybe hard to know as a single person who has some bad experiences with men how you cope with sex if you married. I think the sex abuse victims should heal as much as possible before marriage and that they should aim to marry someone have a strong, close, trusting and a positive relationship with. Just my thoughts.

    Reply
    • Anon

      Hi Kiwigirl, I just wanted to say that I never thought I would marry because of not knowing how I would cope with sex, and I couldn’t imagine ever finding anyone I would trust enough to find out. I’m in my mid 40s and engaged to be married. Obviously don’t know how I am going to cope with the actual sex because we’re waiting for marriage, but I feel such a peace about this relationship. And God has led us both so clearly (way too long a story to share here, but so many amazing incidents) Honestly, all the stuff I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with, would be too difficult, all the what ifs’…He’s made a way through it all. So just leave it with the Lord and trust that if marriage is the best thing for you, He will sort it in His timing xxx

      Reply
  20. Ess

    I have experienced some sexual trauma myself, although not as severely as many I have heard about. In my experience the ability to totally acknowledge what has happened verbally, even with tears pouring down your face or when sobbing too hard to speak, will open a door to the healing process, although not necessarily immediately.

    I know we are all unique individuals, and this may not be applicable to many, but if just one person were helped it would be worth it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Ess. I’m so sorry for what you went through. So sorry.

      Reply
  21. Jane Eyre

    A few thoughts:

    The goal of recovering from trauma isn’t to be a good sex partner to your spouse. It is to be sufficiently healed to be able to emote and act in a healthy manner.

    An unhealthy sex life is a very prominent and problematic side effect of unhealed sexual trauma, but is not the only side effect. It’s a symptom of a larger problem. Like many symptoms of illnesses, it may require its own treatment, but managing that symptom isn’t the goal. (It’s especially problematic when you are asked to fix yourself for someone else’s gratification, when the entire point of sexual trauma is that someone treated you like a defective object for their own gratification.)

    Where I’m going with this: if you are encouraging a trauma victim to go to counselling, it’s not so they can be happy little sex partners. It’s so that they heal from the trauma and are able to do everything from accept love from their spouse, to assert boundaries with strangers, to getting the albatross of pain off their backs.

    I want to heal from the trauma inflicted on me because I’m tired of living this way. I want to be a good mom to the son who is arriving in January. I want to be better able to identify abusers and be better at avoiding them and stopping their abuse in its tracks. I want to be a good wife to my husband. I want to learn to assert myself in a healthy manner. To paraphrase one of my friends, I want to live life looking through the windshield and not the rearview mirror.

    Yes, the problems with our sex life is also an issue I would like to solve, and sincerely hope that things improve there as a consequence of other healing, but if that were the focus, there would be so much that would be missed. And frankly, I don’t think I could tear open these wounds so my husband could have more orgasms (whatever those are).

    Reply
    • BJ

      Thank you, that is a great point and reading it has encouraged me when a lot of these other posts just made me feel more stuck and defective. I hope you’re able to heal and have a wonderful marriage and I’m sure you’ll be a wonderful mother!

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true, Jane. That’s why one of the things I’ve consistently told men whose wives are refusing sex for whatever reason that the issue needs to be confronted because she’s hurting HERSELF, too. To allow it to go on for years, or decades, is actually hurting her. When you run away from intimacy of any kind, you often end up running away from intimacy of all kinds. Not intentionally; and not to the same degree for each type of intimacy. But many trauma survivors have difficulty being vulnerable (which is very understandable). And that’s why this does need to be addressed. I’ve told men that it’s better to look at it that way than to go either of the two extremes: I won’t push for anything at all because I love her even if nothing at all ever changes; or she has to change because I need sex. Neither extreme is right, really. We tend to think the former one may be, but what I’m concerned about is that it’s not loving to see someone hurting and do nothing to encourage them to get help.

      Reply
    • bunkababy

      Bravo! My husband has NEVER asked me to heal up so he could have a better sex life. My lifetime of dealing with trauma has never been focused on sex, so he could get a relief!

      I find the notion of that so incredibly insufferably selfish. My husband married me for better or worse. Both of us have had huge disappointments in our marriage about some fault or trait or trauma and we both have to ride that out with each other no matter the cost.

      Has he been left hanging? Had he been disappointed? Yes. WE have discussed it. But he says he has learned a long time ago not to push anything sexual on me. He has been wonderful in that regard. He knows the depth of my trauma and he is very freaked out to shake things up….lol

      But we manage and we have good times, slow times or no times. LOVE conquers over it all. Selflessness is the key.

      Reply
  22. E

    My heart truly breaks for a woman who has gone through something so horrific that it leaves her in such pain that intimacy is traumatizing.

    I don’t pretend to understand fully what that is like for her, and others are more qualified to advise on how such a person can get help and experience healing on their own timetable, etc. I know only that HUGE compassion and patience is due to such a person during their healing process.

    Like Sheila, I also am concerned about the loving, unselfish spouse of a person who is so deeply wounded. I believe that when we marry, it would not be for selfish reasons…never to use another person, or just take from them, etc.

    I truly believe that if I was so wounded from a traumatic experience that I was unable at that point in my life to be truly intimate (emotionally, spiritually, physically) with a man, it would be the loving thing to do to not marry until the time that I WAS healed enough to truly be a good wife for a good man.

    I’m not saying trauma is the woman’s fault, or that she doesn’t have the right to her feelings, or that her feelings are something she just needs to “her over”. I’m just saying that marriage isn’t about any one person taking from another and then saying that because of our hurt it’s unreasonable for them to expect us to be there for them, too. That goes both ways for either gender, of course. And if a wounded person already IS married, I don’t think it’s right to make everything all about their pain and make the spouses’ needs unimportant because the wounded spouse was hurt more than them. That isn’t love. The needs of both are important. Both should be supporting each other. Both should be patient and considerate.

    I hope I haven’t hurt anyone’s feelings, and I acknowledge that I haven’t been traumatized sexually. But I just see a danger here or using pain as a reason to dismiss the feelings of a husband (or wife) and that isn’t fair. When you marry, you take on a responsibility of caring for another person.

    Reply
    • Christy

      As said above, most people who are traumatized, do not see how trauma will affect their marriage until after they are married. You cant know until you know.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, this is very, very true. And I’m worried about telling people, “You may think the trauma you’ve gone through isn’t affecting you now, but just wait until you’re married! Then it will erupt like a dragon and try to eat you.” I mean, some people honestly are okay, and I wouldn’t want to plant the idea that trauma will automatically cause horrendous marital issues and sexual issues, because it doesn’t always. I wouldn’t want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy and create problems that wouldn’t otherwise be there. So it’s very difficult to talk about this well beforehand. You just don’t know.

        I think the thing to talk about is that we do need to work on our issues, whatever they are, for our own sakes. And once we’re married, that’s even more important, because now we’re in close relationship with others, and we do affect them (and especially if you have children). And make that the norm–that you will work on your issues if they appear.

        Reply
  23. Christina

    I have experienced sexual abuse by two different men as a child. The key components to healing in my experience (and this was the chronological order it occurred in beginning my freshman yr. of college).
    1. Seeing a therapist (for about 2 years)-where I finally accepted the abuse was not my fault.
    1. Went to group therapy (at about the same time) where I was able to tell my story without shame & feel like I wasn’t alone. (I left this group after 6 mo. b/c I wanted to keep moving forward in my healing and something felt unhealthy to me—I learned later that it was because the members’ identity was wrapped up in their abuse).
    2. Helped the state prosecute my abuser after reporting the abuse (this was a two year process). He was sentenced to 20-40yrs.
    3. 2 years later—Began receiving biblical counseling at my local church (over a two year period) where 3 basic concepts changed me:my abuser was sinning against me (he took a beautiful thing created by God and corrupted it, harming me in the process—my only responsibility was not his sin, but my response to it now as an adult—holding him accountable and forgiving him); lament/grief are appropriate responses to such intimate harm, a necessary part of my healing; my identity is in Christ, as an image bearer of Christ, I am very valuable in God’s eyes, He delights in me—my identity is not my abuse, that is not who I am, but what was done to me.
    2. Somewhere in the middle of biblical counseling, I wanted to face my abuser and forgive him in person. My counselor arranged & accompanied me to a meeting in prison with my abuser & the prison therapist who worked with the men in the sexual offenders program. I was able to name the sins committed against me, tell how they had effected me and forgive him both in my heart and verbally. Both my counseling & the prison therapist, corrected all attempts by my abuser to minimize, deflect, blame shift, etc. either through therapeutic means or biblical passages. He was held accountable in his speech toward me & his past actions. This was very difficult for me, but extremely healing.
    3. My pastor’s wife lovingly discipled me, studying through passages on our thought life—I, understandably, didn’t trust others, specifically men and believed many lies about them and others. I needed to replace those lies with God’s truth.
    4. 3 years later-premarital counseling at our church-in which my husband to be & I talked through our family experiences & sexual experiences (including my abuse). Just knowing the hardships in each other’s pasts was helpful in knowing our personal struggles, how we would need to be sensitive, care for each other in these areas.
    5. In the beginning of our marriage—my husband’s gentleness, patience, selflessness in the physical realm of our marriage & my honest communication with him.
    6. From then until present—because grief comes in waves—reciting God’s truth from scripture or key therapeutic phrases to my heart from time to time when memories, fears are stirred up. This type of abuse stays with me, but it doesn’t get to be the boss of me!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Christina, thank you for sharing that! How wonderful that you did that much work before marriage, and that you were able to really piece together what was from God, what were lies told you by others, what was shame. That’s so great! And what an experience that must have been to be with your abuser and confront him and forgive. I can just imagine how validating it would have been for the others with you to stop him if he tried to deflect blame. That’s the way it should be done, and I’m glad that counseling experience was helpful for you.

      I love your last comment, too–“it doesn’t get to be the boss of me!” That’s what we’d all like, I’m sure. Whatever we go through, sorrow does come in waves sometimes, and you have to let it carry you in those times. But others we have to push back and reclaim ground. I’m glad you’re able to do that!

      Reply
  24. Bethany

    I typed out a novel about my own journey as the wife with trauma In the mirror. But it was too long got erased….. horrible!!!!
    But at the end I gave my suggestions to the husband’s of us. 1. Always remember, that we(i know that everyone is different in how they react, so I’m going to answer for myself and my friend) hate our body’s. I asked God many times why give us bodies if their just going to be hurt. So when you come and touch us, disassociation is very easily triggered and you have to convince us by the careful way you touch us, that you care about all of us. Body and spirit, at the beginning emphasize the spirit, Because we don’t really like our bodies. Feeling like everyone is out too mis use them constantly. 2. Consistency is the biggest way to help us feel safe. Ask questions and listen. Research and go to counseling. At the beginning of the journey I would say it would be a relief to know if the husband were taking care themselves sexually and had accountability to stay out porn temptations. That takes off pressure. I’m no longer worried or guilty about hurting him that badly. Now it’s just about the intimacy.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s very helpful, Bethany. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Doug

        Shelia,

        Overall, I think you do a good job of addressing the complexity of the issue. Ultimately, healing is an individual thing, and what advice works well for one will do nothing for another.

        I don’t have anything to offer specifically as it relates to sexual abuse, but I do have some general insights. One of the th ings that necame obvious to me when I started trying to regain my life, os how much damage I had done in my own pain. I didn’t know how to fix me, but I could own that and commit to not causing further damage to others and to do what I could to correct that already done. For a few years, that was pretty much all I focused on. I don’t know what it is like to be a sexual abuse survivor, but I do know what it is like to have something taken that can never be made right.

        Ine of the things that has been repeated a few times in the comments, is that you can’t heal for someone elses benefit, that it has to be for yourself. I’m not sure I believe that or if it is even a healthy way to look at things. A little over 2 months ago, I was standing in a closet with a loaded gun in my hand, and I could not think of a single reason not to pull that trigger, for myself. I wanted to, plain and simple. The reason I am able to tell you that now, is because other people mattered more to me than what I wanted for myself. I will be the first to admit that I resented that so I do understand the argument that it has to be for yourself and not others, but that argument is based on faulty reasoning. Thebvast majority of the unpleasant things we do are for someone else. Given our own preferences we tend to stay well inside our comfort zones.

        Yes there is an individual benefit to overcoming sexual trauma, but I wonder how many would be willing to do the work just for their own benefit.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Thanks, Doug. I appreciate that. And I’m very glad you got help when you needed it! I know when it comes to things like suicide and harming oneself, often the thing that stops people is, “I couldn’t do that to my kids/spouse/parents.” And often what helps people get better is, “I want to be strong for my kids/spouse/parents.” Especially kids, really.

          The problem with sex is the complexity of it. When you grow up feeling as if sex was used as a weapon against you, then to get better for someone else feels as if sex is still something that you owe someone else, which is part of the problem. I do get what those commenters are saying. But I also think you’re right–sometimes you need that push to have a good marriage that does make you work on things. It’s just a really complex issue–probably the hardest there is. I’m glad we’re talking more about trauma (and, yes, losing a child to abortion is also trauma). There’s so much of it, and it’s likely the cause of so much secondary trauma.

          Reply
          • Doug

            “There’s so much of it, and it’s likely the cause of so much secondary trauma.”

            I am glad to see you acknowledge that, but I wonder if you really know the extent. The statistics are horrifying. Roughly 56 Million women have been impacted, and roughly an equal number of men. Much of the damage is self inflicted, but there are literally millions who were either coerced into aborting, or like myself, had no say in the matter. The truth is that even those who chose that path deserve our compassion, because in the vast majority of cases, they believed a lie. There are so many lies about it.

            You are right about one thing. It is different than sexual assault or abuse. As reluctant as people are to talk about those things, many people find the courage to do so. Most who have endured the horror of abortion take the secret to their grave. I never said the word for more than 20 years. I tell you that because I know without a shadow of a doubt that many of your readers have an abortion in their past, and you have a unique position to speak life into them. I can tell you without reservation that it has sexual consequences, and relationship consequences. I am taking this opportunity to encourage you to try learn more, and maybe write a post for those who have been affected. You have a unique gift, and a unique platform to reach both men and women. It is an area where I know you can touch hearts.

  25. bunkababy

    I missed this. I don’t read your blog regularly.

    I have severe trauma. I am on disability because of the trauma. It affects every corner of my life.

    Dissociation, PTSD are big obstacles to overcome and healing is ongoing. Sexual trauma has affected every aspect your can imagine of my sexuality ,so the marriage bed if you will has been affected as well.

    A smell, a breath , being hot under the covers, visual memory, touch, location, fear, noise, safety, being pursued by my husband, cleanliness, what has happened prior in the day , the week, the month.

    What images I have seen on TV or any media, what conversations that have transpired , what topics relating to abuse, power , porn….brown hair, grey hair, pube hair…….

    Some weirdo on the street, a moustache seen on someone………my lists are endless. And these things only have to do with sex. Not all the other abuses that transpired that also affect who I am , what I am and my sexuality.

    The inner voice in my head that is my mother’s voice….you look like a slut with makeup. Brush your hair. You look like a tramp. Your just a sex pot.

    You dirty little girl nobody will want you. You dirty little girl (fill in the blank)

    FEAR. Fear . Fear of looking vulnerable. Fear of dirty men, eyeing you, whistling, cat calling……actually assault in public. Even in church!! I was 48.

    All of these things and more. ALL of these things can affect a sexual assault victim as she lays in bed trying to get in on with her husband.
    Never tell a woman who has been assaulted or raped to get over it. She is not working hard enough. She has to work at change .

    You never know the depth of the trauma and sometimes the woman herself has no idea. And you never know what she takes to the bedroom with her as her husband has sex with her. You never know how hard it is and how hard she is working internally just to let him have sex with her.

    MY GAWD the enormity of that thought pattern can shut a victim down in a second.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Bunkaby. That’s really helpfl and raw.

      Reply
  26. bunkababy

    Another book that is EXCELLENT is The Boy Who was raised as a Dog, by Dr, Bruce D Perry. He speaks about how our brains get wired for trauma in infancy and childhood. It has explained a lot of why I am the way I am. Not all of it entirely because the trauma I experienced was multi -faceted and not just sexual. And the fall out of that is enormous.

    My list is ongoing. When we were young and had no grey hair it was fine. My husband has gone grey and that is a huge trigger for me. I have never told him because what can he do about it. So much already freaks me out. I just have to push that waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in my brain.

    I have a completely wild story about God’s healing in this sexual thing, but I’m not going to share it because by golly heads will roll. But you can’t put God in a box. You don’t know what he will do and sometimes healing comes in ways and times you don’t expect. For me it isn’t complete healing but an aspect of my sexual healing.

    Reply
  27. bunkababy

    So about the person who is content with no sex. I would say this person is in a defensive posture.
    Not that this person is even could be aware or has any malicious intent at all. But something is not right in her world.

    She is pushing back. She is maintaining control. Why?

    What in her world is unsafe? What is causing fear. Is her partner a jerk? Does he pretend he is all nicey, nicey and claims to not know why she is rejecting sex?

    Maybe he is controlling. I know if someone pestered me all the time about counselling and it was the only power tool I had I would use it.

    Something is not right and I don’t think it is the lack of sex.

    Reply
    • Christy

      I agree with this comment. For a long time, in our marriage ( my husband agrees). He wanted me to get better, because it would benefit him. It wasnt truly about me or my pain. So for years, i was the one who tried so very hard. Trying to heal, trying to force myself through the pain/ the blackouts/ the disacociation—- all for him. Trying to be ‘normal.’ Taking all the blame and responsibility upon myself to heal. In the mean time, i was growing more and more hurt and retraumatizing myself. Sex wasnt just something I hated, it was mentally and emotionally retraumatizing me—- every time. I gradually started pushing him further away. This made him resent me because I hated sex with him.

      In the past few years he has come to a place where he wants me to heal ‘ for me.’ Even if his sexual needs arent a priority over my healing. For a long time, healing wasnt an option, because I didnt feel truly safe from his needs.

      I just got that book in the mail “ The body keeps the score.” It is really really good! One quote that stood out yesterday was this. “In order to recover, mind, body and brain need to be convinced that it is safe to let go.”

      It wasnt until my husband truly took sex off the table and desired me to heal for my own sake ( not just for him). When he actually truly started loving me more than himself and laid his needs down to meet mine… did I feel safe enough to start healing.

      We go in waves, but I finally feel like we are moving forward.

      Reply
      • bunkababy

        Christy
        Your comment is so true. I know my husband gave me all the control over our sex life because I could only truly do it when I was feeling safe.

        Any hint of sexual intent towards me meant danger was ahead. I have been wired for danger since I was 2 and it is a natural response for me to run away, and hate the whole thing.

        I am so glad to know you have found this compatible way to be together.

        “When he actually truly started loving me more than himself and laid his needs down to meet mine” This statement alone depicts he gets it. He lays down his life like Christ loved the church. This is beautiful. I am happy for you.

        Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, I love that quote! I really do need to read that book, don’t I? 🙂 Thank you, Christy. That’s really helpful.

        Reply

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