Wifey Wednesday: Reconciling Your Sexual Past with your Marriage

Christian Marriage Advice
It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Today I want to talk about something rather personal. What do you do when you have quite the sexual past, but you want to have a pure marriage, with a great sex life? Can you rid yourself of the baggage from everything you’ve already done?

Here’s a letter that I received recently:

I am single, in my late twenties. In my earlier twenties, I did not live a Christian lifestyle. I had sex with two men. The first was a great friend, and we had fun. I really enjoyed it. The next guy, I was engaged to, and I HATED sex with him. I found ways to make myself unattractive or unavailable to him…. I have dedicated my life to God, and have been single for 3 years now. I have decided not have sex again until marriage… This is going to seem pretty childish to ask… But,… how do you bring this up with an adult? How many grown men are going to be okay with this? How much of my past do I tell?… .and then, what if I do meet someone, and we decide to get married? I have a fear of not enjoying sex with… How do make sure that doesn’t happen? Also, how do you learn how to connect sex and love together? Because of my past, I learned the two separately, and cannot seem to make the connection… I know this sounds crazy.. But, any advise on anything you can give would be greatly appreciated.

First, I don’t think that does sound crazy. I think it sounds quite normal.

But let me relay another story to you that may help how we think about this. When I was in Kenya recently, my husband and I were asked to speak to the teens about adolescence. And one night a boy put up with his hand with a question. He asked, “Is there a disadvantage to being a virgin when you’re married?” After beating around the bush and trying to figure out what he was really getting at, I finally asked, “Do you mean will sex be bad if you don’t have practice first?” Everybody laughed, including that boy, because that is what he meant. And so Keith and I went on to answer him.

No, you don’t need practice first, because sex once you’re married is very different from before you are married. When writing my book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I conducted a “wedding night” survey, asking women about their honeymoons. one woman wrote about how sex was very emotionally different afterwards. She and her fiance had already slept together before the wedding, but it was different. And she so wished that she had waited.

Here’s the thing about sex once you’re married: you have a lifetime to get it right. It doesn’t have to be perfect right off the bat (and it rarely is). But when you love someone, and you’re committed to someone, you’ve got a lifetime to figure out how to make it good for both of you. There’s no hurry. And for women, our sex drives are very closely related to how loved we feel. When we feel cherished and loved in a relationship, we’re more likely to feel rather energetic sexually, if you know what I mean. So just because sex was bad with other men before you were married has very little bearing on whether or not sex will be good once you are married.

The more thorny issue, I think, is how to use sex as a way to say “I love you” when it’s only ever been a way to say “I want you”. If you’ve had sex before you were married, it had primarily physical meaning, because the commitment wasn’t there. Once you’re married, other dimensions come in to it. You truly are becoming one flesh. You’re declaring your commitment to one another. And so it IS different, whether or not we think of it that way.

Many married women, though, have this problem. How do I think of sex differently? How do I turn it into something really beautiful, when it’s only ever been something hurried, a little guilt-inducing, and focused only on the physical. I’d suggest that you just spend a lot of time with your husband. Have a bath naked together. Touch each other while you’re naked. Spend time talking. Make it romantic. The more you love each other with words and with your eyes, the more you’ll be able to love each other with other body parts.

Unfortunately, most women, even Christian women, do have sex before they’re married, and when we do that, we rewire our brains so that our brains associate certain things with certain sexual feelings. And we stop associating love with that feeling. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t rebuild that again. This is the man you love. If you completely and utterly love him, sex can definitely be good because it’s in the right context once you’re married. So talk about how much you love him. Show him love. Show him how to show you love. And then the physical parts of sex, which can be very stupendous, too, will follow in a different context. And that’s what really makes this beautiful.

I’m sorry I can’t explain this much more because I’m really running late today, and have to prepare for a conference I’m teaching at this week. But I’d love to know your thoughts. How do you feel love through sex? How do you turn it into something beautiful? Or do you have other advice for us?


  1. Tina Hollenbeck says:

    >I won't be able to write a whole post now, but I do want to say that there is another population to consider on this topic: those of us – such as myself – who survived childhood incest and/or rape at any time before a marriage. God's provided much healing for me on the matter, but my brain was "wired" to view sex in very particular ways because of those experiences – and that transfers to married sex, too (with sometimes devastating – and often consciously unknown – effects). A husband's reaction to having a wife in that situation (because, often, we don't reveal it while dating/courting…because we might think, "That's in the past. It won't affect me now.") makes a difference, too.

    Thanks for starting the topic.

  2. >Excellent point, Tina! But I think that's a HUGE topic, and one that I'll devote a different column to one day. I think the issues that sexual abuse survivors have with sex are far more complicated that these ones, and I didn't mean to diminish what these women go through at all. I think their brains have been rewired even MORE, and so the solution is not as straightforward or simple. But if others want to post in or chime in from this standpoint, feel free!

  3. Tina Hollenbeck says:

    >Oh, no offense taken. I just wanted to point out that other population that – sadly – exists (and is way too large!)…in case others who read you have been in that position, too. And, you're right, it's a very complicated issue. I've been married for over 20 years and just when I feel I've been able to straighten out every crossed wire, something else gets twisted up about the topic in my mind and heart!

  4. Mindy Lu says:

    >WOW- Great subject! I came to my marriage with a past. I shared this with my husband 6 months into our dating, thinking it may scare him away, but wanting to be honest before we went further. He respected me still, and we remained pure with each other until we married 9 months later. After marriage, the past came back to haunt my memories and caused me to be more inhibited with my husband. During a night of tearful prayer, God revealed that I married my husband as a new creature in Christ, and that I was trying to bring all my baggage and experience from my past into our marriage bed. I finally understood, that coming to the marriage "pure" in God's eyes, means to enjoy each other as if it is the first time, explore each other and get to know each other intimatly. Sheila's point about having a lifetime to learn is RIGHT ON! When I am unable to feel desire for my husband, when I know he does, I pray to see him through Jesus' eyes, and look for the thing I enjoy, like, respect and/or desire about it, and focus on them. And when an undesirable memory pops in, I offer it to the Lord, pray for forgiveness and ask for it to be tossed away "as far as the east is from the west". That has help me immensly. Bless you Sheila for your honesty. – Mindy Lu

    • Mindy Lu,
      I was wondering about how you said that you will pray to God if/when a bad thought pops up. I am assuming you mean that these thoughts pop up in the middle of while you are having sex with your husband. Do you just say a silent prayer in your head and carry on like nothing happened? I’ve tried this but I find I can’t hold on to being in the present moment and when these thoughts plague me I often just want to hide away and cry- not sit there and finish the deed with my husband. I’ve thought about perhaps trying to stop and pray about it, hoping that maybe if I did that the interruptions would be less frequent, but I fear that to suddenly stop because my mind is plagued by horrible thoughts will only make my husband feel rejected and resent me. As such, I find myself begging God to take the thoughts away and give me desire for my husband, and please don’t let my husband see my pain and fear, while I grit my teeth and hope that he hurries up- which only leads to me resenting my husband instead…
      Anyway- I’ve often heard advice of “just pray to God if you’re not in the mood, or if bad thoughts pop up, but my question is if you stop and focus on praying to God or not and also- did this work for you right away? What if you pray a bunch and nothing changes?

  5. >I'm in the boat with Tina – after years of childhood sexual abuse and being raped at 13 I went over the edge and had sex with anyone that would have it with me (even when I was in my first marriage)…ugh – It's been ROUGH trying to overcome – and to remain faithful and committed to one person this second time around. Thankfully the negative thoughts or rape issues that come up when we're in the middle of having sex I am able to pray away…seriously there is nothing more that I can do besides give those moments to the Lord and ask him to help get me through whatever I'm dealing with in my mind at the time. We've been married almost 10 years and I am SO thankful for my husband and how loving and caring that he is with all of this baggage that I have! God is SO good to redeem!!!

  6. I am in the same boat as Kelly. What do you do when these thoughts come in the middle of the act and you can’t pray them away? It’s a horrible feeling to not be able to get rid of these thoughts and also not stop the act for fear of disappointing/hurting your husband.

  7. I had sex with several men in the year before I met the man who would become my husband. It was all very enjoyable. I then ended up have sex with my fiancee. It was great (but guilt-ridden) too. Then literally, on my wedding night, I felt this huge reluctance to have sex with him and I have struggled with this feeling ever since. It has hurt him badly and I fell ripped off. I think I got addicted to the adrenalin rush that goes along with committing sin. We’ve been married 20 years and it’s still going on. Will it ever end?

  8. Hello! I can see that this was posted several years ago, but it hit on exactly what i am going through right now. It’s the first time I’ve found these answers so plainly. I had sexual partners in the past, but my fiance and i have decided to remain pure in our relationship. My question is how to begin reconciling the thought of sex in my mind from purely physical and unloving, to something loving– while I’m engaged and have physical boundaries still, for the next 7 months. I want to begin to heal my view of sex and understand that it is far more than to say “I want you” but instead “I love you”. How can i start trying my body/brain now, when we can’t yet have sex?

    • Danielle, I’m not sure that you can do it really before you’re married. It’s probably better not to think too much about the really intimate aspects of sex too much before, because it will just make it harder to wait! Instead, what I’d really do is work on your spiritual intimacy with your fiance–pray with him, read the Bible with him, find hobbies to do together (hiking, biking, etc.). The closer you feel to him, the more sex, once you are married, will reflect that. Oh, and of course, check out The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, because I have a ton of info in there, including stuff about how to make your honeymoon something really special even if you’ve had a sexual past.

  9. Thank you!

  10. Anonymousssss says:

    I am engaged to be married to a wonderful man next month. We have been together for a little over 5 years. We met in high school when we were 15 and 17.. And even being in church we still had sex. It actually caused a break up, but we got back together 2 and a half years ago and have been struggling not to mess up ever since. When we got back together however, bc there was no sex, he turned to porn. He was actually using porn while we were not together and it’s spilled over into our getting back together.. He has stopped with the grace of God.. It took a whole year and my almost leaving again, but he did finally hear God speaking. Since then all has been forgiven. Scars are left though.. And I feel they will always be.. We still have a struggle to not have sex though.. So when we do mess up we feel so much ugly guilt and anguish.. We feel so ashamed because of what we’ve done knowing it’s wrong in Gods eyes. He wants to be a spiritual leader and I want us to be centered in Christ. Now that our wedding is next month I am so afraid that we will not be able to enjoy our wedding night or the beginning of our marriage. We’ve spent so much time associating bad feelings with it to stop us… How do we make that sudden change? And how do I stop myself from feeling the same “not good enough” feelings I felt when he was watching porn? Though these feelings aren’t as strong as they were a year and a half ago they still linger. He has done many things to prove himself to me as well.. After we say “I do” we will be a new creation. We will finally be made one together in Christ. How do I make sure all of this stays here rather than moving forward with me into my marriage?

  11. My husbands older brother exposed him to porn at a young age and it really messed him up when it comes to sex. The first 4 years of our marriage we were able to have a pretty decent sex life even though he was dealing with ED. We went through some hard trials, my mom moved in, we moved to another state, and he is also dealing with cancer. (cancer is stable now, thank the Lord) We haven’t had any kind of sexual activity in the past 2 1/2 years. He says he is not interested very much any more but is willing to try again. My problem is he also stopped being attentive and never hardly shows any affection to me, hardly looks at me. He says he doesn’t know why but is trying to change. So how can we have any kind of sex life when I feel so unwanted?
    We are not getting any younger, he’s 62, I’m 58. I am having this sinking feeling that his past porn use is the main problem. I asked him how long it had been since he viewed porn and he was a bit evasive, but did say it was around 10 years ago, he was divorced from his first wife during that time. We’re both christian’s but he was not very spiritually mature when we first go married. i know it is the last thing in the world he wants to talk about but I have to find out if it was his past porn use that has caused him to withdraw from me. I have had several dreams recently about me trying to talk to him or get his attention and he keeps walking away,totally avoiding me. They are very painful dreams! I long for the closeness we had. We were so happy and did everything together. How do approach him about my suspicions without making things worse by bringing up something he would rather leave i the past?

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  1. […] if they want to be together. They start hanging out to see if they really click. In other words, the sex comes first. The relationship is built on […]

  2. […] First, if you didn’t make it until your wedding, and you did have sex first, you need to let the guilt go. Jesus died for that, and to carry around the guilt only hurts you, your marriage, and your sex life. To carry around the guilt is to say that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough for you, and that’s just adding to the problem! So let it go. […]

  3. […] explore this further, I’ve written a much longer post on how to Reconcile Your Sexual Past with Your Marriage, which may prove helpful to many of […]

  4. […] that fight, the results are so sad. I have written at length on this blog about the dangers that sexual baggage can bring to a marriage. I have written about why God knew what He was doing when He said, “wait until […]

  5. […] Most Christian women did. Fewer than 40% of Christian women were virgins when they were married (according to the surveys I did). Yes, you didn’t live up to God’s plan. But that’s what Jesus died for. And now you and your husband are one flesh, new creations in God’s sight. Don’t let your past rob you of your present. […]

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