In the last blog, we looked at some obstacles to sexual enjoyment. Sexual assault, abuse, or violation is one of the most significant barriers to building a flourishing sex life in marriage. For some of us, our first sexual experiences were unwanted, unchosen. And maybe we’re married to safe, godly people today, but we’re still haunted by memories of past violation.*
Sexual abuse is an immensely complex topic. This blog is only a conversation starter. If you’re interested in learning more, consider the list of extra resources at the end.
*Note: any references to sexual abuse are assumed to be before/outside marriage, and not perpetrated within the marriage by your spouse. If your spouse is using sex to coerce, manipulate, shame, or harm you, please get professional help immediately.
For women to fully enjoy sex, we must be safe, honored, wholeheartedly consenting, and present to the moment. If these elements aren’t there, we’re usually unable to relax into enjoyable intimacy. Sexual abuse robs a woman of every one of these factors:
- Instead of experiencing safety, we’re under threat
- Instead of being treated with honor, our bodies are treated like objects
- Instead of giving wholehearted consent, we said “no” (or, frozen, said nothing); but our voice was disregarded, didn’t matter
- Instead of being present to feel and experience sensations, our minds were forced to dissociate
I’ve spent several years counseling women who have survived sexual abuse, but sexual abuse is also a story I know from the inside. Six years before I got married, an older co-worker drew me into his trust. I was new to the area, new to the job, and appreciated his efforts to make me feel like I belonged. What began like an innocent friendship soon devolved into grooming behaviors, red flags of discomfort and deceit. He preyed on my vulnerabilities, lied to me and isolated me, and finally raped me. For the next six months, I was trapped in a holistically abusive “relationship.” I was confused and felt helpless—was it my fault? Did I somehow cause this to happen? What would happen to me if I said no? Who could I tell who would believe me? He was esteemed in the community, I was new and less known. Would people blame me? Should I be blamed?
The next years brought a dizzying whirlwind of traumatic aftermath: nightmares, rage, depression, eating disorders, hypervigilance, medical complications, inexplicable body pain, and deep shame. These years also included miraculous hope and divine aid: soul care, trauma counseling, safe friendships, slow healing, movement toward embodied freedom and wellness, a deepened connection with a Suffering Christ—Someone Who had been humiliated and hated, and knew torture (Isa. 53; the Gospels).
I planned to stay single forever—marriage and sex felt too scary. But God surprised me with a profoundly honest, humble, healthy, and godly man. He learned my story and he wasn’t afraid to pursue me. He was willing to do whatever it took for us to grow deeper into Christ together.
Together, we’ve enjoyed almost four years of marriage and one year of parenthood. It’s been challenging, it’s been beautiful. Sexual intimacy is not a place of unbroken triumph. It’s an ongoing place of learning and growth and frustration and sadness and unwanted memories and unchosen reactions. It’s a place where I need God’s help and grace. Marriage to a safe and godly man didn’t “cure” me of my past sexual abuse. In some ways, I will always have scars. I may always struggle a little bit more than I would have had this never happened to me.
But it did happen. God was there, and He is redeeming every heartbreak to press me deeper into His kingdom, into His heart. He is patiently remaking me, my marriage, my family. And my sexual abuse is a part of that story. He is slowly providing deeper communion with my husband and my community through my encounters with trauma and overwhelming pain. It’s not wasted, it’s not my whole story, and God is making it all new. Not unwriting it, but reclaiming it.
I’m not an expert, and I’m not a guide. But here are a few things I’m learning as I walk this road of sexual flourishing after abuse:
- God embraces me with compassion and is weeping with me
- Christ knows what it is to be humiliated and shamed
- The Holy Spirit is actively transforming me, using every scrap of evil committed against me for my good and His glory
- Sexual reclamation takes time, but “fractures well cured make us more strong”
- On top of every painful, traumatic memory with an abuser, I’m building new, empowered, healthy ones with a safe person
- I cannot complete this quest alone: I need the full support of my husband, a wise trauma therapist, my community, and most importantly, Christ.
- God forever overshadows me with “a love that runs after [me], pulls [me] out of the pit, casts aside chains and places [me] in the freedom of divine and now even human love.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar)
Resources for you
- Help! Our Sex Life is Impacted by Past Sexual Abuse by Nate Brooks and Anna Mondal
- What is a Girl Worth? By Rachael Denhollander
- Suffering and the Heart of God by Diane Langberg
- Healing the Wounds of Sexual Abuse by Diane Langberg
- Is It Abuse? By Darby Strickland
About the author
Anna Mondal is a soul care practitioner living in San Diego, California, with her husband and son. Anna participated in the TS apprenticeship program in 2013. She has a MABC and is currently pursuing global trauma recovery certification. Anna is the co-author of Help! Our Sex Life is Troubled by Past Abuse.
1) National Domestic Violence hotline: 800.799.7233.
2) Dissociation describes a state where our brains “split off” and fixate on another space or time, rather than being fully present to the situation. This is a survival mechanism. God beautifully designed our brain to shield us from overwhelming events (like sexual violation) by “splitting off” and going somewhere else to survive the unthinkable.
3) George Herbert, “Repentance,” https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/george-herbert-100-poems/repentance/C2692CD4CCCC3FAA1AABA89C6E591D68 (1633).
4) As quoted in Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013), 22.