How do you leave the guilt of your sexual past behind you? Can you escape the baggage from past lovers and move forward in freedom?
Today we’re looking at how to deal with misperceptions about sex. And let’s face it–a lot of those misperceptions come from our sexual baggage.
When I give my Girl Talk event, when I talk sex & marriage at churches, we have a Q&A period where people can write down anonymous questions. And invariably some of those questions revolve around sexual baggage. Recently, in the Niagara area where I was speaking, we had two different ones! Lots of women are dealing with sexual guilt.
When I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I conducted surveys of several thousand women. And one thing I found is that less than 40% of committed Christian women are virgins on their wedding night. Not just that, but more than 1/3 of the women who weren’t virgins expressed major regret over that. It’s really impacting their relationships now. (You’ll have to get the book to get the exact numbers!)
Here’s an email that was sent to me that’s quite typical of what women ask:
I had a great number of sexual partners before I met my husband, starting in my early teens. I had a horrible upbringing. My husband didn’t have as much experience, but he did have some bad habits. Our engagement was short, but filled with pre-marital sex almost from day one. Our entire dating and engagement period, even our wedding feels like one big shame to me. I can’t even look at pictures of us when we were dating because I feel so disgusted, knowing what we were doing. I don’t like looking at our wedding pictures either. Ever since the honeymoon sex has been strained. I feel that I can’t trust him. He was willing to take anything he could before we were married. True, I wasn’t stopping him, but that doesn’t help now. He once asked me why was the sex so great before we got married, as if to ask what he was doing right at that time. I told him we shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place, and I have no fond memories of our pre-marital sex, although I suppose it was compelling at the time. It just makes me feel like he doesn’t understand what happened. It’s very discouraging.
She goes on to say how she wants to initiate sex, and she wants to make her husband feel loved, but she just doesn’t enjoy sex with him very much because it still feels wrong. Here’s what I said to this woman, and here’s my message of hope for you who are in the same situation: Yes, what you did before your marriage was wrong–both with him and with other guys. Now, God didn’t say “no sex until marriage” just to be mean. He knows it’s for our best, because when we wait for marriage for sex, then we can work on emotional connection first, rather than forging what can be a false intimacy. It’s a better foundation for marriage.
But that is in the past, and when you married, you became one flesh–a different entity in God’s eyes.
He has already paid for all the things that you did. He has erased it; it’s time for you to allow it to be erased. Yes, you did something wrong. Yes, people seriously took advantage of you (and sounds like they hurt you in the process). But please do not let that become your identity. You are more than that. You are precious. You were bought at a price. If you keep feeling shame and keep feeling that anger at yourself, and at your husband, for what you’ve done, then you’re not giving that sin to Jesus to cover. You’re saying, “What Jesus did isn’t big enough for me.” You may always have regrets about your wedding night (I do, too, for different reasons.) But nonetheless, that is in the past, and you don’t want the past to impact your future. Your wedding was a letdown was NOT because God wanted to punish you or because God was angry with you then. On your wedding day, God was looking at two new people who were forging a new and holy union, and He was happy with you. It’s just that you weren’t happy with yourself.
Today you need a clean break, where you allow yourself to associate sex with something completely new.
When we have sex before we’re married it can get really confusing. Because there’s no commitment, sex isn’t really to say “I love you”; it’s more to say “I want to feel good”. And yet we know that’s shallow. So that whole idea of “feeling good” becomes associated with something shameful–even though, now that you’re married, feeling good and feeling intimate can all be part and parcel of the same thing! And what she is experiencing is very, very common: Many women had sex lives that seemed awesome before marriage, and then once marriage came along, sex seemed shameful and dirty. Sex may have been fun with past lovers, or even with our current husband, but now it’s not. Our libido is gone. And many husbands get jealous of their wife’s past lovers, or miss the hot, sexy girlfriends they once were.
So how do we rediscover sex and make it an expression of love?
Here are 5 steps to put the sexual past behind us, deal with sexual baggage, and embrace who we are today.
1. Forgive yourself and leave sexual guilt behind.
I’ve written more about this before–a letter to those who feel as if they’ve lost their sexual purity. God does not want you burdened by this. This one thing is not bigger than your relationship with God.
2. Forgive your husband–and pray for a touching of God’s hand in his life.
One of the hardest parts for this woman is that her husband doesn’t seem to share the guilt over what they did before marriage. That could be for one of two reasons: If it’s because he’s comfortable with the fact that you’re both forgiven, then celebrate! But if he’s trying to relive that period in your life, or if he doesn’t really think it’s wrong, then he may not know God that well. That’s when it’s time not to try to make your husband feel guilty but to simply pray that your husband will meet Jesus. Feeling guilty does nothing; knowing Jesus does everything. So don’t lambaste him over his lack of guilt. Just pray! And then be honest about what you need to forgive him for. Even say it out loud to him:
I know I was a willing participant in what we did before marriage, and I do want to apologize to you for that. But I also feel like you took from me something that you shouldn’t have taken. I want to forgive you for that, too, because I want us to have an awesome marriage and an awesome sex life, and I am working at moving forward. But I want you to know that it’s been hard for me, and if you could help acknowledge what we went through then, that would likely help me to move on now. Even if you don’t feel it was wrong, if you can see how it hurt me, that would help me so much.
3. Work on your emotional connection and your sexual connection at the same time–so the association between the two sticks.
Try to make sex into something that is new and beautiful. Take baths together and just touch each other. Lie naked together and talk and explore, just with your fingers. Cuddle naked and talk–about memories, about dreams. You can even read a psalm together! Make nakedness and intimacy something that is beautiful, rather than dirty. Try to spend some time, in bed, just kissing, rather than “getting to the main event”. You take the initiative rather than him, and focus on trying to kiss him to show him that you love him, rather than just to get him aroused (you’ll likely find this gets you far more in the mood, too). Practice touching him to say, “I love you”. Intimacy can actually be sexy!
4. Take practical steps to cherish your husband.
Here’s what often happens when we let sex interrupt our relationship before marriage: sex replaces the emotional intimacy we’re supposed to be growing, and so instead of working on feeling close emotionally, we feel a false sense of closeness because of sex. What’s the solution now? Grow your emotional closeness and grow to new levels of communication now! Get more vulnerable with each other. Talk together more. And go out of your way to show him love. Think everyday, how can I tell him “I love him” in a new way? Challenge yourself like this. Do it inside the bedroom and outside the bedroom. As you start focusing on your connection, you’ll find that your sex life takes a new turn. It’s not just about that physical rush; it’s about cementing a bond. Don’t focus so much on “I have to have sex with my husband” as much as you’re focusing on, “I want to find new ways to feel love for him and show him love!” This change won’t happen overnight. It takes work to retrain your brain to think of sex in a new way, especially when you have a lot of scars. But Jesus is big enough for your scars. Commit yourself to moving forward, and then make it into a game to find new ways to express how much you love your husband. Kiss him a bunch of different ways and ask him which one makes him feel the most loved. Ask him to do the same to you. Make it fun! And you just may find that your body reawakens!
5. Decide to stop dwelling on your sexual past.
Finally, the only way to stop dwelling on your sexual past is to stop dwelling on your sexual past. It’s like what I wrote in this post about overcoming jealousy of your husband’s sexual past: We’re told to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). When thoughts enter our heads, we have the choice to either entertain those thoughts, or to reject them and replace them with something else. If you start getting upset because your husband isn’t feeling guilty, you can say:
We are a new creation together that was bought at a price, and God wants us to have a great time together today!
If you see a group of teenagers and find yourself wishing that you had those years to do over again, you can say:
My story was not what I wanted it to be, but God has used it for good in my life, and it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come!
If you start becoming resentful of sex because it’s pulling you apart, you can say:
God made sex to be awesome in my marriage, and God doesn’t want anything to steal that from me. So I am not going to let my thoughts stand in the way!
Is it hard? Of course. But it is not impossible. Ultimately it is a choice only you can make. So with that, I want to leave you with this thought:
Don’t let memories of your past wreck your marriage today.
“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation”
2 Corinthians 5:17
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