Has My Sexual Past Doomed My Marriage?

by | Jul 17, 2020 | Uncategorized | 8 comments

Has My Sexual Past Doomed My Marriage?
Merchandise is Here!

If you’ve been promiscuous in the past, is your future marriage doomed?

We’re in the middle of our Sex Questions You Can’t Ask Your Pastor series this month, and this week we’ve been focusing on newlywed sex questions–including our newlywed sex question podcast!

I was promiscuous as a teen for a few years. Sometimes it haunts me more than others. I also think I have a sexual problem that makes me overly attracted to men too quickly. I fear that I’m wasting my life being absorbed in thinking about sex and men vs. really becoming someone I want to be…I also fear I won’t meet someone one day who can both look past my mistakes, and who I can feel like I love completely in a way that is fully satisfying for both of us. I am afraid my past sexual experiences will overshadow the one I have in marriage, if I ever get married.

What a sad question!

I want to comment on two things quickly, and then I want to turn it over to you all.

First, I do see some alarm bells in how she says that she tends to get overly attracted and involved with men too quickly. That could be a sign of attachment issues and trauma in her background, and I would strongly recommend that she see a licensed counselor to talk through those things. I’m worried that without seeing a counselor first, she opens herself up to making bad decisions about who to marry, and that’s a big thing to have to overcome.

The second is a bigger issue that’s really what I want to talk about today.

Just because you have a sexual past does not mean that  you can’t have great sex in marriage.

Let me reiterate again: I do believe that God wants us to save sex for marriage, and I think there are very good reasons for this. If you think about it, in ancient societies, what promoted stability? What helped protect children and women? It was marriage. If people had to get married to have sex, then two things would happen: babies would only be born in marriage, and men would have to care for women their whole lives, not just when they were bearing or nursing their babies. So it promoted stability.

But it also allowed love to flourish, and built a community based around love and commitment and not temporary pleasures where we would use each other.

I think we often forget those big picture societal reasons because we live in such a different world today, but they are important. Saving sex for marriage encourages commitment and love.

And then what about sex itself? When you save sex for marriage, then sex becomes about far more than just the physical. Sex becomes a deep “knowing”, because it is paired with commitment, which allowed trust. And trust allows vulnerability, which is really the key to women’s sexual response.

There are other reasons, of course, but those are the big picture ones.

Now here’s the thing: I don’t believe that saving sex for marriage guarantees you a remarkably better PHYSICAL experience when making love.

As I said on Monday, in our post about newlywed sex questions, the key to sexual pleasure is not a wedding ring; it’s figuring out arousal.

In our focus groups for our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue, and in many comments that I’ve had on the blog over the years, it’s quite clear to me that women’s experiences physically are all over the map. Some have orgasmic sex before marriage and then have trouble afterwards; some have sex before marriage that isn’t pleasurable, and then it still isn’t pleasurable afterwards. Some find that getting married actually improves sex. And some wait for marriage and have a great time right off the bat, and some wait for marriage and struggle for years.

In my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I did find that those who waited for marriage had marginally better sex lives–they rated them about 10% better on a scale of 1-10. 

But 10% is not like 80%. Or 70%. Or even 25%. It’s only 10%.

And that means that the effect size is not huge.

What usually determines how much you enjoy sex is your relationship with your spouse, your feelings about sex, and a whole host of other factors.

One of those factors,  yes, is our sexual history. But it is not the main one.

But I’ll tell you what a big one is: GUILT. When we feel guilty about what we’ve done, or ashamed for what we’ve done, or when we feel like we have lost “a precious treasure that we can never get back”, which is how purity culture talked about virginity, then, yes, it’s hardly surprising if sex after your marriage isn’t that great.

I understand wishing that your past could be different, but I also believe Romans 8:1: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

And I also believe that when we marry, we become one flesh. That means that God sees as a new relationship, and we don’t need to take all of this baggage in with us. It’s okay to start fresh. (And 31 Days to Great Sex is a great way to do that! And it’s available again!)

I don’t have time to write a super long post today because we have some podcasts to record and we have some big edits on The Great Sex Rescue we have to finish today, so I’m hoping that you will all finish this conversation in the comments for me.

What would you say to a woman (or a man) who asks: “Have we ruined our married sex lives by having a sexual past?” How can we have a healthier discussion around this? Let’s talk!


Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of 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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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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  1. M

    I can’t speak as eloquently as Sheila, so I just want to reiterate what she said: I think finding a good counselor you can really talk to would be greatly beneficial. I had to go to several people before clicking with someone, but it allowed so much healing to take place.
    And I understand feeling damaged, or like you’ve given up a part of you. My now-husband and I actually met through a mutual friend, when we had both been with other people even having grown up in the purity culture. We got to know each other as friends, having no desire to date at all, but we had experiences we shared that we would have never dared talk about in the church.
    God used our past mistakes to bring us together in ways I will never fully understand, and I can’t imagine being with anyone else. And I’ve found that I can speak to people in our women’s ministry where other people struggle, because I’ve been there too. God doesn’t give up on us, he has a plan for you, even if you deviated a bit in the past.

  2. Rich

    This is a sad question indeed. I share the sadness. I am a 45 yo man who brought a sexual past to my marriage. That sexual past was only with myself. I shamed myself for desires. Shamed myself for self pleasure. Shamed myself for having sexual thoughts.
    I brought that sexual past to my marriage and continued the guilt and shame for a decade. I allowed that shame and guilt to separate me from my spouse. This prevented our sexual life together from the growth and experience that was available to us both.
    10 years in, I saw a counselor. Wise man. And I began the process of flushing the shame and guilt for my past and turning instead to the present. Through this work I was able to begin growing. I for the first time shared with my wife my past and my shame and my guilt. Now I realize my past and your past are not the same. But…. We *all* have a sexual past
    What happened when I shared and began to grow? I saw that a have a wonderful sexual life ahead of me.
    My spouse offered empathy and grace that I did not expect or feel like I deserved. And isn’t that the beauty of grace? I then began affording myself that same grace by seeing how God offers that grace to all of us.
    This took time. And work. And tears.
    My sexual past is a part of me.
    But so is my sexual present.
    And so is my sexual future.
    It sounds like you desire to have the beautiful, wonderful, (fun!!) sometimes challenging, sometimes funny, sometimes misses the mark, sometimes is otherworldly sexual present and future that God intends for us.
    Please. Continue to seek this out. Talk sex. With your counselor. With your partner. It does take time and work and energy and love and grace and curiosity.
    All of these are investments in your present and future. Your past will always be a part of you. True. Some days that may make you sad. Or mad. But others you may choose to see how every part of you leads to the now and the possibility of a wonderful sexual life today.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love how honesty and openness led to such complete freedom. Thank you, Rich!

  3. Jaime

    It absolutely does not HAVE to affect your marriage. Like Sheila said, first make sure you get healthy with the way you relate to men and relationships, but God really does make all things new, if we let Him. I have a past that I both participated in and was sometimes a victim of, and my husband and I are closing in on 20 years together with a very healthy and happy physical relationship. I don’t even think about past experiences anymore. There’s just him. God can make anything good. He would like us to wait until marriage, because that’s His best for us, but there’s also nothing He can’t redeem. It does take some work on yourself and as a couple, though. But I promise it can be SO good!

  4. unmowngrass

    Oh, sister, I’ve been there! Jamie’s comment above about God making everything new is so, so true; go back and read it twice.
    But having been there and come out the other side (and yes, there IS another side), the only lingering effect that I’ve seen is that sexual desire, in general, does linger. It doesn’t go away to how it was before it was awoken. Even if you don’t actively think about it, even if it’s been years and years since you did. Of course, getting older through one’s twenties and into mid-thirties like I am now is likely to have some effect on one’s sexuality anyway, if one is not married, but of course I can’t speak to that. And obviously if you read Sheila’s blog you know that plenty of people do have problems. But generally speaking, a healthy sexuality wants to keep having sex once it’s gotten started, and that’s the way it’s designed. So yes, living with that is an additional challenge.
    But, it’s only an additional challenge. It’s only one of many challenges we face in a day anyway. (That made it sound like it’s a challenge every day, and I didn’t mean that, because in my experience it is not; just that every day has challenges and ~sometimes~ this is one of them.) If you get an STD then that can give you an additional challenge health wise, of course, and if you get pregnant then yes, that’s maybe a different life but you also get a wonderful child. Do you hear my point here? It might bring an additional challenge, but it does not change who you are. Because who you are, is Loved By God. And as Sheila said in the most recent video, your purity does not depend upon what you do with your body, but on what Jesus did with His. Which is die for you. So that’s sorted, you’re pure. Through and through. And whether you have extra challenges or not (and you might not), it’s nothing that is too big for God to help you handle. It’s rare it’s even the biggest challenge of the day, on the days it even appears. So if God is carrying all of these other, bigger, more frequent challenges with you too, then He absolutely can help you handle this/these too. You are NOT beyond hope. But let Him carry the burden of it. Because whom the Son sets free, is free indeed. God bless x

  5. glory

    Wow! Wow! Wow! I just had a mystery unveiled to me this morning.
    Let me start by giving a little background. I used to be a lady who just wouldn’t think lightly of someone’s sexual past. You can call me the typical ‘Jew’ by bible standards. I seriously believed in soul ties. Like seriously. Coupled with the fact that I knew a bit about the cuddle hormone- Oxytocin.
    So when Sheila wrote something about not taking the soul ties message too seriously, I had my reservations. So I didn’t comment on that particular post (I am writing this here because I can’t find the post right now).
    So what’s the epiphany? Well I was reading the book titled “Experiencing God’s power” by Derek Prince. The section on “marriage covenant” and my eyes was opened to a truth. That in the original Hebrew translations, each time the bible referred to intercourse between a married couple, the word “knew” was used. Example, “Adam knew Eve”. But each time sexual relations outside the marriage covenant was referred to, the “lay” was used. Example, “And he lay with her”. So there is a ‘knowing’ that is there in married sex that is not there in fornication or adultery.
    This might be why some people report feelings of shame and low self-esteem after premarital or extramarital sex. The intimacy that is supposed to be there is lacking even though there was pleasure and all that.
    So really, you might have been one with the person during the act, but there really is no intimacy.


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