We werenâ€™t haunted by the ghosts of prior sexual experiences or battling with regrets. We desired to be together free and unashamed, but we were plagued by our inability to stop feeling guilty about fulfilling sexual desires we had trained ourselves to view as wrong and dangerous. While we intellectually believed that sex was a good thing that was intended for enjoyment in marriage, we had spent years conditioning ourselves to respond to sexual feelings with fear, guilt and shame.
In the space of a few hours, something we had treated as forbidden, dangerous and private became something we were meant to enjoy and celebrate with each other. No amount of intellectual knowledge could take those deeply ingrained feelings towards our sexuality and magically change them the moment we slipped on those rings or later when we slipped off our wedding clothes. It isnâ€™t really strange that this transition didnâ€™t happen instantaneously, what was stranger was that we expected it to.
We arenâ€™t the only couple who has experienced this. When I first started writing about this topic, I received messages from hundreds of people who said, â€œMe, too! I followed all the rules and no one told me this could happen. What can we do about it?â€?
There is no magic formula for overcoming feelings of guilt and shame in your sexual relationship. This is not a checklist to follow that will guarantee the results you want. People are complex and every marriage is unique. But these are some principles that helped in my personal situation and I hope they can be encouraging to you.
The tag line of the above linked is, “Even those who save sex for marriage have to deal with feelings of guilt.” (Frankly, it’s only worth reading as an example of how to completely miss the point…)
The article starts with that thought — and then proceeds to lay out a series of steps to finally overcome purity-culture-imbedded shame in a married sex life via pearls of wisdom focused around identifying and talking about lies, reciting Scripture and spending years trying to finally have enough positive sex to block out the voices from your past.
They won’t work — our offices are filled with people who already tried that formula… The majority of them are close to or are now agnostic or even atheist…
It’s not fixing the real problem.
This article is not hosted by some Fundamentalist Independent Baptist Church — it’s on Relevant Mag. This is now mainstream Evangelical thought and what’s most stunning about the article is really what it doesn’t ask.
While the author does close with a vague wish:
I wish I had been taught to honor marital sex without being ashamed of my sexuality. I wish I had understood that my sexuality had value outside of my virginity.
Nowhere in it is present the intellectual ability to ask, “Is this tsunami of guilt, shame and fear really the message of the Gospel?” “Can you possibly fix that level of condemnation for a full third of person-hood by just adding a few affirmations about sexuality she already knew anyway?” “Is something that rarely worked at preventing premarital sex and now is so widely destroying marital sex is really the right path to be on in first place?”
Weirdly, the author is clinging on — at least for now. But, she’s a complete outlier and it is going to end.
This is not minor damage. Sexuality is the core of a person. Once a person has come out of a culture that simultaneously floods him or her with judgment for having a sexuality while reducing his or her value as a sexual being down to a one-time-use commodity (which s/he better choose to spend well or risk never being able to purchase a worthwhile partner with such), the wounding is so deep the cheap band-aids offered by that culture don’t have a prayer of ever working.
Either that person grasps what grace, freedom and conversational intimacy with God looks like and walks free of the unholy trinity of guilt/shame/fear itself — or the pain will continue. Usually, at an intolerable level.
At that point, the person either leaves Christianity entirely and stops inflicting this on the next generation, or they find real grace and freedom, leave fundamentalism and also cease from inflicting this on the next generation.
Either way, this is going to end.
The only question is, will Christianity survive it?
Us few Christian therapists out there trying to walk those couples into grace, freedom and being led through life via conversational intimacy with God are completely out-numbered by an army of secular therapists who, quite rightly, see religion/Christianity as toxic spiritual abuse — and are walking the victims of these lies out of it entirely…