The Sexual Abuse Questions Podcast: Pointing to Recovery

by | Oct 1, 2020 | Podcasts | 18 comments

Podcast: Sexual Abuse Questions--and sexual abuse recovery

Sexual abuse is one of the most damaging and traumatic things a person can go through.

Warning: This podcast and post may be disturbing to people with sex abuse in their past, but we didn’t go into great detail about anything specific . 
God designed sex to be an ultimate “knowing” of each other-and intimate joining of two people.
When sex is instead used to abuse, it’s not just an attack. It’s a deliberate unknowing, an erasure of who that person is. It says, “who you are doesn’t matter; I just want to use you.”
It can also be traumatic because you can blame yourself. Often perpetrators make it seem as if it’s your fault; and then there’s arousal non-concordance, where your body becomes aroused even though your brain is protesting in every way possible. Just because you’re aroused doesn’t mean you consented or that it was your fault, either.
Today we answered several questions that have come in about sexual abuse, so listen in!

And you can watch on YouTube as well:


We started with this question. I wanted to see if Rebecca had the same first reaction I did (she did!).

One thing I’d love to read about is how to be intimate when dealing with flashbacks of sexual abuse, especially when the abuser is someone in your family that you still have to see a few times per year.

We also talked more about flashbacks and healing:

I’m engaged to be married soon. We are both virgins, and have committed to save sex for marriage. I have a difficult past in that I was sexually abused by my father and a pastor for many years (though never penetrated) and I was raised in the purity movement. I’ve gone through extensive counseling concerning the abuse, and I really feel like I’ve emotionally healed from it. I’ve released my abusers to God, have make strict boundaries, and now have peace about the past. But a new issue has risen that I don’t know what to do with.
I’m sometimes getting triggered when my boyfriend and I kiss. I’m ok as long as I’m the one initiating/more dominant and if my body is upright (or I’m leaning over him) but anytime he becomes more passionate/dominant in the kissing or if his body pushes me backward even slightly, I panic because I have a flash back of the day my dad leaned over on top on me and kissed my neck and molested me. The trigger is so strong, I don’t like being on my back at all with *anybody* looking over me, such as a chiropractor. It makes me feel trapped, powerless, and exposed.
I feel incredibly safe with my boyfriend and he is a very gentle, tender hearted man — nothing like the abusers in my life. But these certain positions and moments of passion just feel so repulsive to me at times and remind of of how I felt used and completely out of control around my abusers.
My boyfriend has been extremely understanding and patient with me and we recently came up with a safe word that I can say to immediately stop physical contact, but I would *really* like to get over these triggers completely, especially the part of being on my back — I’ve got to get to that point before we’re married and try sex!! Help!!

My heart goes out to this young woman and to others like her. This is so difficult. We talked about how important it was to find a licensed counselor trained in trauma therapy who can help with evidence-based treatments (like EMDR) to reduce the intensity and frequency of flashbacks.
We also shared with her some wonderful, encouraging words Rachael Denhollander sent to us to use in our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue. Rachael generously wrote an awesome endorsement for us, but then she also wanted abuse survivors to know this:

Working through the abuse together can be a long road, but it is a beautiful, redemptive road. Eventually, associations will be reshaped into the positive memories and experiences, and a safe, secure, tender spouse walking the road to redemptive sexuality can bring a depth of healing that seems beyond possible.
Rachael Denhollander

And check out Rachael’s book What Is a Girl Worth, too!

We also tackled some other questions about female abusers and finding healing years later.

But this question was an important one, even though it doesn’t directly have to do with sexual abuse.

My husband was very abusive for years. I tried leaving several times but I honestly think it was God that would always stop me in my tracks. I think God saw something in him and knew things would change. Most of the abuse wasnt physical fyi, and even when it was, he never “injured” me. Now he is really trying to be nice. I mean, really trying. And I dont think its another back and forth to manipulate me. I think he wants to be better. But I cant forgive him. I feel like if I do, I am giving him back that power over me. But I want to serve Jesus and I want to save my marriage. How can i forgive him?

Asking how to save the marriage is the wrong question when abuse is involved.

The key here is to follow God and grow in Him, and then, if your husband proves repentant and trustworthy over a long period of time, perhaps the marriage can be rebuilt. But let’s not assume that our goal should be marriage restoration. It should instead be growth to look more like Jesus, and that means taking care of ourselves, too. (I’ve written more about abuse and divorce, too).

Are you a survivor of sexual abuse?

Join the FREE 30-Days of Courage Challenge for abuse survivors + advocates! October 1-30, inside a private Facebook Group. It’s an awesome roundup of speakers and experts to give you encouragement, tips, and expert knowledge.
Speakers include: Leah Remini, Johnathon Schaech, Lyvonne Briggs, Sarah Ann Masse, Ashley Easter, Jimmy Hinton and, Eboney Weathers!
Hosted by Courage 365.

Timeline of the Podcast

Timeline for Audio

0:20 A trigger warning for listeners
2:40 RQ: What if I have to see my abuser at family functions?
5:15 RQ: I’m experiencing flashbacks to my past abuse when I’m with my boyfriend
8:55 Encouragement for how your spouse can be a healing presence
10:20 RQ: After childhood rape, and marital rape, how do I move forward with healing so I can have a healthy second marriage down the road?
14:30 RQ: How do I forgive my abusive husband?
– A discussion on physical abuse, and what true repentance should look like
26:55 Shout-Out to the Courage Conference
28:15 Reader Story: One woman’s experience of how counselling, a loving spouse, and good resources helped her work through past trauma
32:00 A call for more Christians to pursue Licensed Counselling, as the church has not handled this topic well

Timeline for Video

0:20 A trigger warning for listeners
2:40 RQ: What if I have to see my abuser at family functions?
5:20 RQ: I’m experiencing flashbacks to my past abuse when I’m with my boyfriend
9:10 Encouragement for how your spouse can be a healing presence
10:35 RQ: After childhood rape, and marital rape, how do I move forward with healing so I can have a healthy second marriage down the road?
14:56 RQ: How do I forgive my abusive husband?
– A discussion on physical abuse, and what true repentance should look like
27:49 Shout-Out to the Courage Conference
29:10 Reader Story: One woman’s experience of how counselling, a loving spouse, and good resources helped her work through past trauma
33:00 A call for more Christians to pursue Licensed Counselling, as the church has not handled this topic well

Other things mentioned in this podcast

Have you found counseling helpful for sexual abuse? What has been the hardest part for you? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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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. Jane Eyre

    Haven’t yet listened to the podcast, but here’s my advice:
    Don’t see your molester. You really do not have to. You can decline to be at events where he is present. You can maintain relationships with other people. Anyone who demands that you hang out with your abuser on holidays, as a condition of having a relationship with them, isn’t worth having around.
    To the woman who feels like she has to get over her trigger before marriage: if the deadline motivates you to go to therapy and implementing therapy techniques, that’s great. But if it adds another level of pressure, consider that you do not need to have sex on your wedding night.
    In fact, my recommendation is to not do so. When you get married, you and your husband are now family. Since “family” is who hurt you, it can be really, really hard to have “family” hurt you again.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great advice on both counts, Jane! (Although I totally think therapy before the wedding is also a really, really important).
      But you and Rebecca and I all had the same first reaction to that question–she doesn’t have to go to family reunions!

    • AJ

      As a man who was sexually abused at the age of 10, I believe Rebecca was spot on when she said that the rate of abuse among boys is really unknown b/c men are less likely to talk about it. I think it’s also important to realize that sexual abuse does not even require that someone touch you. When I 10 years old, I was sexually abused by a young man in his early 20s who preyed on my emotions and desire to be accepted. He made me view pornography and coerced me into masturbating as he watched. I was 40 years old before I ever told anyone about it. I believe it “cheapened” my overall view of sex and stole a part of me I can never fully recover. For many years I questioned whether I was really abused. I remember actually finding the situation a bit exciting and pleasurable but at the same time I felt shameful, fearful and wanted to leave but he (my abuser) locked the door and made threats of embarrassing me if I tried to leave. I am blessed beyond measure to be married to the most amazing woman in the whole world and she is only person I have ever felt safe enough with to share my experience.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, AJ, I’m so sorry. Yes, that is DEFINITELY abuse (I know you know that, but I wanted to make it clear). I’m so glad you were able to open up with your wife. That’s wonderful, and I hope it’s been healing, too.

  2. Andrea

    It’s probably a typo (“w” instead of “t”), but I hope the last line of your audio/video timeline is prophetic: “A call for more Christians to pursue Licensed Counselling, as the church has now handled this topic well.” Someday hopefully we will all be able to say this: The church has now handled this topic well. It has not in the past, but now it has. It has fixed a grievous mistake.

    • Andrea

      P.S. Harvest Bible Chapel is the same one that finally fired James MacDonald after yeeeaaars of people complaining of his abusive leadership style. It now makes more sense that such a place would send around a pamphlet on 98 ways a wife can sin against her husband.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, the “Soul Care” program at Harvest Bible is highly problematic, and much of the homework that they sent is highly problematic. My prayer is that churches will start funding licensed counselors, or at least acknowledging that they are not qualified to handle abuse or depression or many forms of mental illness.

    • Boone

      Here where I live there are a lot of small fundamental Baptist churches. Their approach is that all of your problems are your fault because you’re not right with God. Such things as depression and PTSD don’t really exist and if you’ll just get right with God everything will be OK. Couple that with the position that a woman’s main activity is tempting men to lust and you’ve got a mess.
      A few years ago I started out handling a divorce for a woman that was a member of one of these churches. Her husband had been caught in severe dalliance with a 17 yr old girl on their washing machine. This girl was from the church youth group. Apparently, the underaged sex had been going on for a few months. The church dealt with it by hauling both of them before the congregation on a Sunday morning and making them both confess and ask for forgiveness. They did and the husband was restored to fellowship as if nothing ever happened. The girl attempted suicide. I tried to get the DA to prosecute but he threw up his hands and said that the girls father refused to cooperate. Eventually, the preacher got to my client and she dropped the divorce and went back to him. About two years later the husband got caught again. This girl was a bit older. Wife called me about a divorce. I told her to call somebody else. I think the same scenario played out again.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s heartbreaking, Boone. And that poor 17-year-old girl! She grew up hearing that you have to obey men, and that if a man is attracted to you, it’s your fault because you tempted him. She was obviously in a bad place herself. How awful. And many men like this one hang out in churches like that because it’s easy pickings. With women and girls being taught that they can’t say no to men, it’s easy to abuse. That’s why abusers are attracted to authoritarian churches. So sad.

        • Boone

          Oh, it gets better. The second girl was about 19. She had a father and two brothers that were not members of the church. Now, these three all had iron clad alibis. Several people swore up and down that they were somewhere else when the unfortunate event occurred. Some hikers found the husband was found tied to a tree in the remote area of the park. He had a pillow case tied over his head. He was also suffering from several broken ribs, a concussion, facial fractures and numerous contusions and cuts. He had been left for bear bait. No one was ever prosecuted and the cheating husband and his wife moved away shortly thereafter.

  3. KB

    When I was 12 I had a disagreement with my mother. She was an addict and living in her house was chaotic at times. So I went for a walk. On that walk I thought nothing of it when an old lady pulled up aside me in her car with her adult son in the back seat. I saw them as a grandma and father to me at that age. Her son was 40 so in fact he was older than my own dad. She said why don’t you stay with us for a few hours? I got in the car and we drove for a very long time. When we got to this dingy apartment she walked everyone upstairs and then said to me and her son “I’m going to the store.” She engaged the dead bolt behind her.
    He did whatever he wanted to me at that moment and I was held hostage there for months. Up to that dead bolt sound I was extremely naive to just how depraved and evil humans can be. Other people don’t understand what happens to someone who’s having to endure long term on going sexual abuse like that. I developed stockholdrem syndrome where I thought I was in love with my abusers but I also felt there was no way out and trapped.
    I was eventually rescued by police. Those police went to the trial every single day without fail. My abuser was found guilty on all charges but I still dealt with an incredible amount of judgment and blame that took decades of therapy to get passed.
    I cannot stand really aggressive men. This is where my dear husband I’m sure has had to curb a lot of his manly tendencies in the bedroom. He’s had to sit through my ptsd episodes. Even after all my unstableness he will still say I’m the most resilient strongest woman he knows. I believe marriage sex can restore sexual abuse victims and provide healing when the other spouse has empathy towards what they’ve gone through. These abusers take a lot from their victims and it’s incredibly unfair to allow them to ruin a Godly marriage bed.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow, KB! That’s just heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing your story. How horrifying.
      I’m so glad that you’re in a good marriage with your husband, and that he’s such a gift to you. I love your last line, too, and how you fight to keep what is good! Thank you.

  4. Meghan

    Paused the podcast at 8 minutes in to type this comment: YES to EMDR therapy for trauma! Of any kind! I went through it for birth trauma and it made a huge difference. Now instead of having a panic attack any time I’m reminded of my daughter’s birth, the memory is more like a story in a book; it makes me sad because of what should have been, but it doesn’t devastate me any more. Her birthdays are now awesome and wistful rather than triggering. Cannot speak highly enough of EMDR.

    • Doug

      Meghan, If you don’t mind, can you describe EMDR therapy. Th process and how it works? It has been recommended to me on a few occasions, and I have to admit I am skeptical. It only took me 25 years to see a therapist of any sort. It has been tremendously helpful, but because I tend to shut down when things get really difficult, I am sure it has had limits. Usually my counselor ends up crying instead of me.

  5. Anon

    Totally agree that if you have been abused by a family member, you should not have to see them at family events. But something that I don’t think was covered by your podcast (sorry if it was and I missed it) is that abusers rarely stop abusing. So if you continue to meet with that family member once you have kids, there is a really high chance that the abuser will turn his/her attention to them instead. Don’t just avoid them to prevent flashbacks – avoid them to protect the next generation from having to go through the same pain. And don’t think that your past abuse will make you able to spot it happening to someone else – abusers are skilled at hiding their abuse and will find a way of getting to your child if they want to.


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