Saying No When You Want to Say Yes
I never imagined I'd be writing about sex. If someone had told me even a few years ago that I'd be writing, speaking, and leading a ministry on sexual healing, I'd have had a good laugh. You see, I didn't enjoy sex very much, even as a young wife. It ranked right up there with doing dishes and changing diapers.
I thought I was the only one who felt this way, and I never talked about it with anyone. After all, Eric and I were the perfect Christian couple with the ideal family. The kind others might envy. We practically lived at church, and we attended a small group with other couples our age, learning and praying together. We served in our church, our community, and our children's school. We were great parents, great friends,
great Christians, and great partners.
My husband was faithful, a good provider, a wonderful father. He helped around the house, came home after work, and didn't squander our money at the casino or bars. He went to church with me, shopped with me, and cuddled in bed with me. He loved me, and I loved him.
So what was my problem?
I wanted more. Our marriage was okay, maybe even good, but it wasn't great. Certainly not what I'd dreamed it would be or hoped it could be. Sounds selfish, I know. Many women, particularly those who are single or in violent, loveless, or faithless marriages, might have little sympathy for me. Some might have a few words to say to
me. And I'd probably agree. In the museum of marriage, ours looked perfect. But as the saying goes, looks can be deceiving. In our case they were.
The struggle started early, within the first year, and twenty years and four kids later, it wasn't any better. Naively, wishfully, we would slam the bedroom door on our struggle each morning, hoping it would stay out of sight. Out of mind. But with our glances and glares, with our barely there kisses, and with the words we did and didn't say, we erected an invisible wall of wounds between us. No one knew we had a problem. Not even us.
It was easy for me to overlook this segment of our relationship when everything else appeared to be okay. But what I didn't realize was that the wall I was raising in our physical intimacy was blocking our emotional intimacy as well. And although I tried, I couldn't keep this part of our marriage isolated from the rest. It seeped into every part of our relationship, stealing our joy.
We didn't fight often, but when we did, it was always about sex. The fights always started the same way.
"Why don't you like sex?" my husband would ask.
"I don't know," I'd respond. I wanted to like it, wanted to want it, but no matter how many times I promised to try, it never got better. I loved my husband, but I didn't love making
love. So the fights usually ended up on my side of the bed. It was my problem, after all. I didn't like sex and avoided it with premeditated skill. When I couldn't evade it any longer, I was often unresponsive, longing for it to be over. If I never had sex again as long as I lived, I'd be so
happy. And since my husband seemed to want sex all the time, I couldn't stand him much either at times.
I didn't understand why until God led us to fast from sex for a month. During that time Eric and I talked, especially about our struggles with sex. God began to show me how my past choices were limiting my ability to enjoy sex and feel emotionally close to my husband.
This revelation changed my life and put me on the road to healing. DAMAGE FROM UNMARRIED SEX
You see, I lost my virginity when I was eighteen to the first boy I loved. I told myself it didn't matter because we planned to get married.
For the first ten months of our relationship, we made out a lot but didn't go all the way. As our emotional and physical intimacy grew, I began to trust him more. I felt I could depend on him to take care of me and put my well-being ahead of his own. After all, I wanted to spend my life with him, have children with him. I wanted him to be my protector and provider.
Then one day it happened. He might have planned it ahead; I don't know. We were alone in a park, and he decided that we'd been making out long enough. It was time to finish the deal. It took me by surprise, and somehow I couldn't say no. Plus, I loved him and trusted him. He wouldn't hurt me right?
Too late. He was finished. And I would never be the same.
I learned something about sex and men that day. It stayed with me, impacting my life and marriage until recently, when God healed my wounded heart. I internalized that sex is just for men's pleasure and that they'll use women to get sex. I decided that men don't care how we feel as long as they get what they want. He loved me—so I thought. And yet what he did didn't feel like love. If this is how a man treats me when he loves me, then men cannot be trusted,
my heart whispered. Especially when it comes to sex.
Feeling humiliated, vulnerable, and used, I subconsciously erected a guard around my heart that day, telling myself that I would never let anyone hurt me again this way. At the time I denied my feelings because I loved him and we were getting married. We were young, and we eloped without my parents' blessing, unaware that the sex we'd had before marriage had sentenced our relationship to a rocky start.
When our marriage ended after two shaky years, my life began to crumble. By the time I was twenty-one, I had experienced marriage, divorce, promiscuity, pregnancy, and abortion. Not what I, a pastor's daughter, had envisioned for my life.
Then I met Eric. He was my do-over. My second chance. I determined that things would be different this time, but once again we had sex before marriage. But it was no big deal, I reasoned. After all, sex is just sex. Right? And getting married would clean the slate, make all the wrongs right. Right?
It sounded good. But it didn't work. The sexual experiences I'd had with my first husband and with men after my divorce caused me to associate sex with something unpleasant. Whenever Eric and I had sex, I couldn't shake the old feelings of being used, humiliated, and vulnerable. And the shame, condemnation, and regret I felt because I'd had premarital sex with Eric, and others before him, caused me to shut down emotionally and physically. Not only did the wall keep me in,
it also kept him out
. I'd brought these negative associations into our marriage and into our marriage bed. It inhibited my desire, enjoyment, and response to sex with my husband.
Can you relate? Is your marriage good, except for the sex?
As I speak on this topic, I hear similar stories over and over, all with this common thread: having sex before or outside marriage. Does that surprise you? With all the sexual pressures on us today, being a Christian doesn't guarantee virginity. It didn't for me, and I loved God and wanted to serve Him. A recent survey found that 95 percent of people will have sex before they get married, Christian or not.1
Of course, sex before marriage isn't the only cause of marital sexual struggles. You can have problems with sex even if you were a virgin on your wedding night. After all, sex is a complex, changing dynamic in marriage, and many things can contribute to its challenges. Male and female differences in sexual need and desire, outside pressures, hormones, pregnancy, unmet emotional needs, and parenting can all play a role in fluctuating desire and enjoyment of sex. Emotional and sexual intimacy will also be impaired if one or both spouses have been unfaithful or have an addiction, whether it be to pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling, or something else.
However, after talking with numerous virgin and nonvirgin couples, I've discovered that the struggles for the nonvirgin greatly exceed that of the virgin. I often hear things like
• "Why was it a struggle to resist sex before I was married, but now that I am married, resisting it is all I do?"
• "Why could my husband turn me on before marriage, but now he turns me off ?"
• "What happened to the great sex?"
• "What's happened to me?"
Can you relate to these women who love their husbands but don't enjoy sex? Your body is there, but your mind is elsewhere. Lying stiff and unresponsive, you long for it to end.
Whether your past is mild or traumatic, whether you've had multiple partners or one or two—and even if the only person you've had sex with is your spouse—sex from your past can haunt you in the present, impacting you and your marriage in a negative way. If in the past you had unmarried sex, in the present, sex has you. JUST SEX? HARDLY
Sex is a big deal. Our culture has told us that it is just a physical act, that we can have sex and then move on without consequence to the next partner, repeating the cycle until we get married. However, sex doesn't work that way.
Arlene started having sex when she was twelve. Unbelievable, I know. Who knows anything about sex at that young age? She didn't, but the fifteen-year-old boy from her church youth group did. While luring her with romance, he stole her innocence and childhood with sex. For several years they carried on a secret sexual relationship, one she
despised and enjoyed at the same time. She knew it was wrong, yet she felt trapped. Still, she felt special, loved, and desired by someone older and more experienced than she. Although the relationship ended, Arlene's sexual activity was just beginning. With her view of herself now wounded and twisted by this experience, she went on to experiment with alcohol and more sex throughout her teen and college years.
When she was in her thirties and married with two children, she came to me seeking help. "I want to love Sam with my whole heart, but it feels like I have a black rubber band around my heart, constricting me," she said. I knew exactly what she meant. The black rubber band was the sexual wounding she'd experienced, not only as a child of twelve, but also in her adolescent and college years. All that sex—all those partners.
No big deal, the world says. It's just sex. Hardly.
The lies about sex are rampant, and the worst lie is that sex before marriage won't ruin sex in marriage. Not true. Many of the sexual struggles in marriage today are a consequence of the sexual past of one or both of the partners. The damage brought about by unmarried sex is immeasurable—to our bodies, souls, and spirits.
Having learned as single women to guard our hearts from being hurt with sex, we can shut down emotionally and sexually in marriage. We may withdraw and become passive, or we may become dominant and controlling. Rather than feeling sexy, we clothe ourselves in shame, pain, regret. The power, the games, and the self-protection we learned in single sex become patterns in married sex. Purposely or inadvertently, we use sex as a means to manipulate, control, or exert our own way. To reward and punish. To show our love or to withhold it. Even if we were once the initiator, we now hold back, waiting for our husband to pursue, yet willing him not to.
God designed sex to unite the souls and bodies of two people. Sex outside God's plan affects us below the surface, in our souls and spirits. When we've created these sexual bonds outside marriage, we rob our partners and ourselves of the lifetime commitment our union was designed to seal. When we break up and move on, we leave behind parts of ourselves and bring with us parts of every partner we've ever had.
The wounds caused by these invisible soul bonds leave deep scars, which lead us to rely on destructive tactics to protect ourselves. They keep us guarded, untrusting, and closed off. If we don't trust our spouses, we may resent their desire for sex and lash out in anger. We may lose our desire for our spouses and fantasize about past lovers, or we may need pornography or alcohol to "get in the mood." We may even engage in addictive sexual behavior.
Yet seldom do we connect our present struggles with our sexual pasts.Instead we think: There's something wrong with me. I married the wrong person. I should have married
________________ [fill in the blank]. Most of us don't seek help because we fail to recognize that yesterday's sex is revisiting us today. Marriage is not the giant eraser we wish it were—magically wiping all the past away. Saying "I do" at the altar doesn't erase all the times our body said "I do" in the past. Every time we have sex with someone, we're creating the "one flesh" bond God talks about in Genesis 2:24. Although we'd like to believe that the bond is cemented with "I do" in the presence of witnesses, the truth is that God created sex to be the "I do" that bonds us together for life. (I'll explain this in more detail in the next chapter.)
No wonder breakups involving sex are so painful, so wounding, so life changing. According to God and our bodies, every time we've had consensual sex with someone, we've married that person, and each breakup is a divorce. Breakups tear apart two who have literally become one.
It's a hard reality to grasp, especially if we've had sex with many people. We try to minimize its impact, to declare it's no big deal. But our souls tell a different story: with each break up they absorb yet another blow as we limp on to our next pseudomarriage, repeating the cycle over and over. A VIRGIN…OR NOT?
Some of you reading this may be thinking, None of this applies to my situation because I was a virgin when I got married.
Many Christians have fallen for this deception—that sex only happens at intercourse, and that everything leading up to it is not sex.
That's what Beth thought. She convinced herself that she'd been a good girl by saving sex for marriage. But the only thing she'd saved was intercourse. Fifteen years later she was discovering how her sexual past was hurting her marriage. Although the news saddened her, she had hope—hope that through God's forgiveness and grace He could erase the past and heal the present.
For those of you proclaiming virginity on your wedding night, just how virgin were you? It's a seductive deception—this idea that sex only happens at intercourse. In reality, bonding occurs during sexual arousal and release, regardless of how it happens—intercourse or otherwise. Sadly, many of us were having sex long before our wedding night.
If this is you, let me say how sorry I am. But don't despair. I have good news. GOOD NEWS
What God has done for me, He'll do for you. Not only can He break the invisible bonds you've created outside marriage, He can also heal the wounds they've caused. Even the wounds you know nothing about.
Tell me, when was the last time you had sex with your husband? Honestly. For some it's been weeks, months, even years. For others it was just last night—but you were present in body only. Though you long for something more, you don't know how to get there. Until then, you're not looking forward to the next time or the one after that.
Do you find yourself exclaiming, "Finally, someone who feels like me"? Or, "Someone's finally asking the questions I've always been afraid to ask"? If so, I'm excited for you, because God has the answers to all your questions, including why you say no to sex now and how you can say yes again.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Joel 2:25, which says, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten." In other words, God wants to pay us back, to restore to us all that's been stolen from us or destroyed. He's a master at taking the messes we make of our lives and turning them into messages of hope and healing. That's my story. It can be your story too. Just ask Arlene.
Arlene, whom you read about earlier, went through the sexual healing Bible study, and God healed her constricted, wounded heart. When asked to share what God has done in her life and marriage recently, she wrote:
My feelings of guilt, shame, and regret are gone. My past is now
just that, in the past. The sexual bonds I made outside my marriage
are broken, and I feel bonded solely to Sam, the way God
designed. That black rubber band around my heart has snapped,
and I can now give my husband my whole heart.
I couldn't say it better. What God has done for Arlene, me, and countless others, He wants to do for you. I don't know what your story is or the extent of your marital strife. But God does. What you've come to accept as status quo in your marriage doesn't have to be. Although your secret struggles seem to have no end in sight, God tells you not to
despair. He can restore you and your marriage to wholeness. He can take the mess of your life, your past, and turn it into a blessing, a message of hope and joy.
Excerpted from Kiss Me Again by Barbara Wilson. Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.