Writing this article feels a lot like diving into the deep end of a pool without really knowing how to swim. This will undoubtedly be the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever written, and that scares me. However, I wish I had read something like this when I was younger to let me know that I wasn’t alone. So, I ask for gentleness as I breach a topic that I know many of us deal with, which has been a source of much confusion in my life.
Jon was my first and only serious boyfriend. He was my first real kiss, my first “I love you” and he will be my last. When we got more serious and started to test our limits physically, we noticed something wasn’t right within me.
Each time we kissed or crossed a line physically, it wasn’t just conviction that I felt. A deep sense of shame would take over, and it would stay with me for weeks. Jon pointed out that this wasn’t a typical reaction, but I thought it was just my strong Christian beliefs about purity convicting me to do the right thing. He was right, something more was going on.
When we got engaged and started walking toward our wedding day, I decided to get some help. I could sense that if kissing him was triggering my feelings, that sex might push me over the edge and I wanted to know why.
Through a series of conversations with a wonderful Christian therapist, I discovered that I had some unusual and unintentional experiences in my upbringing that were causing this reaction. I never thought that my experience could wound me in the way that it did, and so I dismissed it for years. What we uncovered is that I grew up with very few boundaries around sexuality, and as a result, my view of sex and feelings about it were distorted; full of shame and disgust. I knew that I could only heal up to a certain point before walking down the aisle, and that the real nitty gritty healing would have to take place once Jon and I were married. I was correct, and it was rather painful.
We had an amazing wedding and boarded a flight to our honeymoon both ready to relax. We were sent off with all of our friends winking and nudging at us, rooting us on because we could finally dive into this new part of our relationship. I already felt like I was failing on some level because I wasn’t even excited; I was terrified.
Our week away was rough. It was really rough. Sex was emotionally traumatic for me, and the entire week I felt like I was disappointing all of the expectations of a “normal” honeymoon. It broke my heart thinking that Jon had saved himself all of these years for a woman as broken as I was. It tore me apart feeling like I was truly damaged, and I had no hope that things would ever be as we expected them to be.
I felt completely alone.
What made things more difficult for me was hearing from the other women in my life who had also waited, making it sound like the minute they were married they were having amazing sex. I had women telling me about how perfect their honeymoons were, asking “So, how was your honeymoon? Amazing right? We barely got out of bed on ours.” Each assumption and insensitive story made me feel more isolated in my pain. I felt like a freak, and I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, so I found myself in a lonely world.
I can’t fully express what my husband’s grace in that time means to me. He had to tell me what felt like hundreds of times that he wasn’t disappointed to marry me, and that he could wait as long as I needed. It took a real toll on us both, but by a month or two into marriage I started to see glimpses of a healed life. I remember one night breaking down in tears thanking God for the slivers of hope I started to experience, and for the first time feeling like a healthy intimate life could possibly be in our future.
Oftentimes, the difficulty in healing is compounded by what we define as “Normal”. This was absolutely true for me. I would say things like “I just wish I could be normal! I wish we had a normal honeymoon and a normal sex life!” These feelings would arise every time someone would share about their experience, or make suggestive comments to me about married life.
I no longer think that it’s in any way appropriate to assume that sex should be enjoyable for everyone, especially early on in their marriage. That myth was broken for me, which opened me up to the knowledge that its an incredibly sensitive experience and our conversations about it should be full of grace.
I am eternally grateful for a few friends in my life who had the courage to share with me their stories of difficulty surrounding intimacy. Whether it was their conservative Christian upbringing that taught them that sex was “bad”, a physical hindrance, an experience of sexual abuse as a child, haunting promiscuity or the wounds of their spouses, I learned that there is really no “normal”. Sex is one of, if not, the most vulnerable act that can occur between two people, and none of us come with a clean slate. Each of us has some degree of misconception, false expectation, or broken understanding of what sex will be like, and we need to be gentle in the way that we speak to one another about it both before and after marriage. This will allow for those who have wounds which affect their intimate lives to be more honest about them, and will drastically scale back the shame which keeps them oppressed.
The journey of my healing continues, and I still fight off the tendency to wish I had a different history. But, my sisters, I am not alone.
If you have experienced anything similar, you know how isolating this journey can be. There is great power in declaring that there is hope for a healed existence. When we can come together and let out a collective “me too”, something changes within us. We can exhale. I pray that for someone out there, this story can sing a chorus of the truth that you aren’t alone, and that you can experience real, life-giving hope.