The title of this post may sound corny, but do you remember that verse about awakening love in Song of Solomon?
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.
Many of us have never had our “love” truly awakened.
I think what this verse was trying to say is that desire is a potent force, and we should not awaken it or nurture it or flame it until we’re in a place that it can find its object. Let’s not awaken desire too early, often because when we do that, we actually pour water onto desire.
For some of us “love” was awakened too early, or too abruptly, and so it didn’t truly awake at all.
This week, as 31 Days to Great Sex launches, I’ve been focusing on sex questions that newlyweds often ask. But this is a problem that often extends beyond the newlywed years: what if desire seems dead, like you were cut off at the knees, and you’ve got some big missing gaping hole in your sexuality that you can’t seem to figure out?
For many of us, that big gaping hole is desire. It’s like it was short circuited, and we can’t seem to get it back.
Several routes to this disastrous awakening exist.
Maybe you were sexually active at a young age, but you felt little pleasure
The first is quite commonplace: you may have been sexually active at a young age, and never really felt desire. Many teenage girls who are sexually active (even if it’s just petting) don’t necessarily experience arousal, orgasm, or even much at all. The guys aren’t really into giving the girls pleasure; they’re too young and immature. And often the girls are doing things to keep the relationship or so they can feel grown up and loved, rather than just feel pleasure. So your body doesn’t necessarily learn how to become aroused, and sex isn’t that exciting.
Please know: I’m not saying that you developed “soul ties” with these guys that make it impossible to feel connected to your spouse today. I’m just saying that when we’re sexual with someone and the pleasure isn’t there, we can cement the idea that sex isn’t really for us; that our bodies don’t really respond. And that can hurt us in the long run.
Maybe you were sexually active at a young age, but DID feel pleasure–and now it seems to have gone
The Christian view of sex is that it is designed for marriage, and so sex outside of a committed, marriage relationship should not be pursued.
Sometimes, though, I fear that in our quest to help young people wait for marriage for sex, we mistakenly give the impression that all sex after marriage is acrobatic, passionate, and amazing, while all sex before marriage is a major dud.
I don’t think we should have to bribe young people to do the right thing, and I think we’d be far better off if we told the truth: A wedding ring is not the secret to orgasm. God wants us to wait for marriage for sex not so that sex will be better (although studies, including my own, do show that it’s marginally better if you wait), but because He wants to protect us from a variety of things, including heartache, pregnancy when we’re not ready, or even abandonment. Saving sex for marriage encourages a community based on commitment, which is better for everyone.
And saving sex for marriage also makes commitment and love the basis for sex, rather than simply desire or pleasure.
So what happens when you did have sex before you were married, and it WAS awesome, and it was orgasmic? Sometimes sex after marriage seems ho-hum. Because orgasm was paired with risk, or with a focus on “newness” or pleasure, then when it’s no longer new, when it’s no longer risky, when it’s about love and commitment and the same guy always, it can seem like it just doesn’t turn you on anymore.
When we have sex, we do release a hormone called oxytocin, which is the bonding hormone. God made our bodies so that, in sex, we’d actually feel bonded and closer to our spouses. It’s a chemical reaction. But when that reaction was with someone with whom there wasn’t commitment, then it’s as if bonding and desire are no longer paired.
Not everyone who is promiscuous before marriage experiences this (though we’re warned about it always!), but for some people, this does affect desire. Again, desire was awakened too early.
Maybe you were trained to repress desire rather than to awaken desire
You knew that you shouldn’t go too far when you’re making out, but you’re also taught that your boyfriend won’t be able to stop. Boys don’t want to stop and can’t stop, so the girl has to be the gatekeeper. He’s the accelerator; you’re the brakes!
We had an interesting talk on the blog a few months ago about this “gatekeeper” phenomenon and how it affects women once we’re married. We’re taught that we are responsible both for our own purity and for his, and so we can’t relax while we’re making out.
His hands are moving everywhere, he’s getting excited, but what you’re thinking is, “Should I stop this now? How excited is he getting? How close to the line are we getting? Should I stop now? Now? Now?”
Meanwhile, he’s able to let himself go and enjoy himself, often because he knows that you will be the one to stop. So he doesn’t need to hold back.
(Note: some guys were gatekeepers, too, but we did find that this was a common scenario among women that we interviewed recently).
What’s happened? You’ve taught yourself to be outside of yourself when you’re being sexual. You’re “spectatoring”, as one of our focus group members called it. Instead of feeling, you’re judging what’s going on. And that’s very hard to get out of. You’ve trained your body to push desire down and repress desire, rather than let it flow.
You may also enjoy:
- How Did Being a Sexual Gatekeeper Affect You?
- Why gatekeeping stops women from listening to their bodies
Maybe you were exposed to sexually stimulating content before you were ready for it
You saw the Playboy magazines in your uncle’s garage when you were 11, and it made you feel funny, and now you can’t get those images out of your head.
You read that adult romance novel when you were 12, and it fuelled a desire for more.
You got sucked into porn at a young age, and even though you don’t watch it today, those images are still there. You can only get turned on by thinking about really graphic things you’d never want to do in real life.
For most millennial and Generation Z adults, the first time they were truly aroused was not when they were in a committed, safe relationship, but instead when they were exposed to pornography or erotica.
It was porn that awakened love, and that perverts desire. It makes it really difficult to become aroused with your spouse. Desire is often paired with things that you would never want to do, but that’s what your body equates with sexual arousal and response.
Maybe desire was awakened in an ugly way
Then there’s the most heartbreaking one. Maybe you were sexually abused and assaulted, and that has marred desire.
For some sexual abuse survivors, the abuse led to a real aversion to sexual activity.
For others, there’s an additional layer of shame, because their body actually reacted. It’s called arousal nonconcordance: your body becomes aroused even when your mind doesn’t want to, and when you don’t want to. Even if you’re petrified, grossed out, and scared.
Yet because you became physically aroused, you think that at some level you wanted it.
Arousal nonconcordance is very widespread. It’s why some rape victims reach orgasm, even when they’re petrified and scared. Some researchers even think that the fight, flight, or freeze response that kicks in when we’re terrified or threatened can trigger sexual response, because certain emotions and hormones are so heightened.
Whether you experienced nonconcordance or not, sexual abuse exposes children and teens to sexuality when they didn’t want it. It makes sexuality into something that is something threatening that is done to you, rather than something where you willingly express what you’re feeling.
If you are a sexual assault survivor, please see a licensed counselor who is trained in evidence-based trauma therapies. You can move forward, but counseling that is not trauma-informed can actually set you back. Please seek out someone qualified, and have them help you find the healing God wants for you.
What happens when “love” was awakened too early–when desire was awakened too early–in the wrong context?
You never truly “awakened” love. You may have learned about sexuality (even if in an ugly context). You may have experienced arousal, or you may have paired sexual activity with deliberate NON-arousal. In whatever case, the relationship between arousal, desire, and married sex was somehow marred.
Many women are in this situation. They just don’t see what all the fuss with sex is about. It seems like everyone is lying to them. The whole culture is trying to con women into thinking it’s something great, so that you’ll want to make love all the time, but the truth is it’s not that great at all. You feel like it was designed for men, and it’s all a big rip off.
Your love was awakened too early, and in the wrong way.
And chances are you’ve become a little bitter about sex. It’s just something else on your to-do list. And then you read on blogs like this one and others that Christian women are supposed to understand how much their husbands need sex, and you’re supposed to put out. Oh, great. That’s really fun now, isn’t it?
And I understand. Believe me, I do. But I also think that there’s a way past this.
Maybe what you need to do is to awaken love again–for real this time.
Maybe it means taking a sexual hiatus for a few weeks, where you just simply touch each other and find what feels good. When you do that, the pressure is off. You’re not working towards a goal. You’re just taking time to explore. Lie naked together and just touch each other. Let him touch you and figure out what actually feels good. Have baths together.
That’s what 31 Days to Great Sex can help you with. You can talk through some of your earliest memories of sex, and understand how you may have equated desire with something ugly. And then you can start awakening in a safe, healthy way without pressure. You’ll explore and learn what does feel good. He’ll learn how to take his time. He’ll learn that your arousal and desire are multi-faceted, and depend on you feeling safe in the relationship. He’ll learn that he needs to take his time!
Please know, even if love was awakened too early, you can still re-awaken it.
I think that’s what God loves to do–restore that which was broken. All of creation is broken, but Jesus is always working towards wholeness. You’re meant to experience real passion, and you can get there. And I hope that the exercises in 31 Days to Great Sex can help you get there!
What do you think? Was “love” ever awakened too early for you? Share your story in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
Talking about sex with your husband can be super awkward. But if you want sex to be good, you're...
How can you tell if your husband has anger management issues, or if he's actually abusive? I'm...
Vaginismus is the main culprit when women experience painful sex. But it isn't the ONLY reason for...
What happens when you develop vaginismus LATER--after you've already started having sex? How is...
Why do some women develop vaginismus? In the month of June, I'm concentrating on pelvic floor...
We're about to embark in June on a series on the pelvic floor! When I first started writing about...
Sometimes the way that Christian resources talk about sexual coercion and abuse makes me want to...
I see advice all the time in both Christian and secular realms telling married couples to...