Yesterday Mary DeMuth talked about how childhood sexual abuse had really impacted her sex life with her husband. She just wasn’t able to be “that sexy wife” that we’re “supposed” to be.
Today Paula shares her own story, and some great advice, on how to get to a healthy sex life after sexual abuse, which happened in her teen years. So appreciate these women sharing their stories!
For years I wondered if I’d ever be able to have a healthy sex life with my husband. Even though he had nothing to do with the sexual abuse I endured in my teen years, being with him in bed would trigger thoughts, feelings and even flashbacks of those dark nights. It wasn’t him, it was most definitely me. I would feel broken, crying myself to sleep wishing that sex didn’t exist. I couldn’t imagine ever enjoying it, ever being happy in my sex life with my husband.
I couldn’t even bare hope that I would ever use the words “fun” and “sex” in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence.
It’s often a silent struggle. Statistics say that one in every five women has been a victim of sexual abuse at some point in her lifetime, and yet so often we feel alone. As if we are the only ones struggling.
I remember reading article after article about sex online, so many that express how to please your man, how to get in the mood, and why you need to be “doing it” more frequently, but none of these topics were able to provide any encouragement to some one who found intercourse terrifying, even with the man she loved and found oh-so-very attractive.
I’ve been married for several years now, and I am finally at the point where I consider sex fun, and even initiate it from time to time!
For those of you reading this post who have also experienced sexual abuse, let me tell you, there is hope.
I know your pain, and I know the struggle, but there is another side. It is possible to work through it.
Healing doesn’t come overnight, but there are several things that I learned along the way that truly helped me in this area. I searched long and hard for a post like this when I was in the midst of my struggle, and having not found it when I needed it, I decided to write the post myself, now that I am in a place of healing (and fun!).
This is not a “5 steps to be better tomorrow” list, it’s simply actions you can work through yourself and with your husband to help you progress.
Don’t expect things to be perfect immediately, but just keep moving forward, keep striving for healing and for fun! You will get there!
- Think about it early - I found that I needed lots of extra time to ‘get in the mood.’ I would start coaching myself in the morning and continue all throughout the day. Simple reminders like “This is my husband, he loves me and cares for me” and “my husband doesn’t want to harm me or overlook me, he cherishes me”. Positive reminders go a long way in training your mind that sex is safe, no longer something to be feared. Eventually, you will get to the place where being touched and caressed does not trigger the “fight or flight” response in your mind. Thinking about sex with your husband while reminding yourself how loving, caring and gentle he is is a huge help in this direction.
- Be strategic - If you had a difficult time the night before, spend some time the next morning figuring out what specific things triggered you. It could be a certain position, the way your husband said something, or even his tone of voice. Try to figure out if there are specific things that make sex more challenging for you and identify them clearly to yourself. For me, I hated being out of control. Positions that left me vulnerable and underneath my husband always triggered the “fight or flight” in my mind and frequently brought flashbacks of my past. Realizing this enabled me to take control a bit more and avoid sexual positions where I felt out of control. This helped me to avoid having those flashbacks and began giving me some completely positive memories of sex with my husband. Personally, I no longer have to worry about specific positions or triggers during sex, and eventually you probably won’t either. But this can be a helpful way of working through it with your husband, if you can identify your triggers and share them with him so that he can be mindful of them in the future. If talking about sex makes you nervous, write him a letter or text him. Anything to communicate your needs so that you can work through it together as a team!
- Communication - This one is huge. Talk with your husband about why you are struggling so that he’s able to help you. My husband had never endured abuse of any nature, but he was still able to respect my needs and he tried to understand as best he could. It was very helpful for him when I would clearly communicate things like “I’m sorry I turned you down last night, it’s not because I find you unattractive or I don’t care about you, you are the most handsome man I know!!! I’m dealing with some things from my past and couldn’t get where I needed to be right then”. While my husband knew I was still healing from abuse, it was helpful for him that I would verbalize that I was not rejecting him, I was working through my past.
- Be careful - Be cautious what you read on the internet, and even in magazines or books. It seems that every time I turn around there is another article being published that says you have to sleep with your husband more or he will stray. These types of stories are not helpful for you in any way. You cannot pressure yourself into enjoying sex. In fact, if you go into it stressed and fearful, you are more likely to trigger that fight or flight response and not be able to get through it (much less enjoy it!). Healing is a process that your husband will take with you. Keep the lines of communication open, like I stated above, and make sure your man knows you are doing everything you can to heal, not only for your sake but for his!
- Counseling - Find a Christian counselor in your area and talk to her. I spent several months in counseling myself and it was incredibly helpful. If you are not sure where to find a good Christian counselor, you might be able to ask at your church office for a recommendation. Many counselors take insurance, so that may be an option to help with payment as well. My husband and I are by no means rich, but we would have paid 10 times over for the help that our counselor was able to provide me with. Not just in our sex life, but in my every day life as well. A history of abuse can bleed into every area of life, and counseling can help to alleviate that strain and sew your heart back together in ways you never thought possible. This was personal counseling, my husband never came to a single session, but it helped our marriage in more ways than either of us could ever count!
- Books - I read several books during my healing process, but there are two that really stuck out to me as helping the most. The first, is Sheila’s Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. In reading that book, I was able to see sex as a positive for the first time ever in my life. Not some dirty, sinful deed. The second book was written specifically for survivors of sexual abuse and it is entitled Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. It would not be possible for me to fully express how this book helped and changed me. It was like talking to some one who understood for the very first time. The book shows specific places in scripture that talk about sexual abuse, and continually points the reader to Christ for hope and healing. This is not just a “think about Jesus and you’ll be better” type of book, it takes you on a journey of healing in every possible way, all while demonstrating that healing only fully comes in Christ. I can’t recommend this book enough to any survivor of sexual abuse. It was also helpful for me to be able to share with my husband. I asked him to read certain portions and it opened his eyes to what I was experiencing, as the book was able to articulate the feelings in my heart more clearly than my own broken words every could have.
Lastly, let me urge you to take heart. Have hope that you will one day have a happy sex life. It’s not an easy road, but it is so worth it. Your abuser has not stolen sex from you and your husband forever. You can work through it together, and come out stronger and happier than you ever imagined possible.
3 years ago, I never would have imagined sex could be this fun or marriage could be this good. But it is.
It is because God is wonderful, and faithful to complete healing in us.
Don’t give up my friend.
To read more about Paula’s road to healing, you can check out her blog Beauty Through Imperfection.