How Your Sexual Story Affects Your Mental Health

We live in an epidemic of mental/emotional health issues. There are many factors involved, and it’s impossible to completely differentiate them all. However, we can say confidently that God created you as an integrated human being – physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual. And because it’s such a big part of you, your sexual story affects your mental health in a big way.

You are more than your sexuality, but you are a sexual being whether you’re having sex or not. This is more than feeling frustrated over desiring more (or less) sex in your marriage. It’s more than your possible angst around your sexual drive as a single Christian. The matters of the heart at play here affect every dimension of your wellbeing.

What feelings come up when you think about sex and sexuality? Feelings are only part of the “truth,” but they provide a big clue into how your own mental health has been/is being impacted by your sexual story.

Mental/emotional impact of your sexual story

You learned about sex, relationships, and intimacy long before you knew you were learning anything of the kind. And it’s not that hard to notice how what you learned and experienced has impacted your mental/emotional life. Is sex the way to “fix” any difficult feeling? Is sex the primary way to fulfill your need for connection, validation, and love?

On the negative side, things such as sexual abuse or early exposure to pornography often lead to turning feelings inward, dis-integration of your internal world into split-off parts, and patterns of either desperate clinging or ongoing isolation that are destructive and long-lasting. On the positive side, good role models and wise teaching around intimacy and sexuality can lead to inner confidence and patterns of healthy connections with others that result in resilience and wellbeing for life.

The early things you learned and experienced also caused you to behave in ways that have big impacts on your mental wellbeing – for good or for ill. An ongoing pattern of things such as multiple sexual partners, pornography addiction, or broken relationships may foster depression, guilt, anger, or bitterness. Looking for love in all the wrong places leaves you empty and miserable.

And remember, you didn’t wake up one day and choose to “act out” in harmful ways. Your story affected you then, and it affects you now. Whatever might be unwell in your mental/emotional world came from somewhere. And because of how deeply sexuality is built into our being as humans, the not-so-good parts of your sexual story make an out-of-proportion impact on your mental health.

Choosing Intimacy (or not)

Humans have been hiding ever since evil entered this world. And the way you’ve been crouching behind walls of your own making, hoping to find safety and protection, instead leads to emptiness, isolation, and all the resulting mental health issues that kind of life breeds. We were not meant to thrive on our own; our bodies and brains need other bodies and brains to mirror and connect with. It’s been said you need to connect with other brains to learn how to be human.

But you’ve learned through hard experience whether connecting with other humans is desirable – or not. You probably rarely think about it, but your natural tendency is to either pull back and hide emotionally, or to risk and connect. I have yet to meet someone who deeply connects with others who has not done thoughtful hard work in addressing the wounds they’ve experience in their soul through intimacy gone wrong.

One of the primary decisions you make that affects your mental/emotional wellbeing is this;

Will I connect or will I stay in hiding?

Your brain has made (probably unconscious) assumptions about questions such as these; since choosing intimacy has risks, is it worth it? Are there people who are “worth” connecting with? Am I capable of enduring the challenges of intimacy to get to the good parts?

Nobody can or will force intimacy on you. You get to choose. And your mental health will never thrive if you choose NO.

Healing your Wounded Soul

Becoming capable of intimacy is one of the primary aspects of growing in sexual wholeness (regardless of relationship status). Whatever trauma you may have experienced can be healed. You can learn to identify the walls you’ve erected in your own soul and choose when and with whom to take them down. If you’re married, you can become capable of genuine sexual intimacy with your spouse. (Your spouse still has the choice to pursue intimacy with you or not.)

One important way to find healing for the mental health challenges many people with sexual issues face is to address your sexual story. Look under the surface of your sexual “stuff”.  And then share your story with someone. Doing so is the most powerful way to disinfect the shame and find the other brains you need to connect with in developing new mental patterns.

We know neurobiologically that when you invite someone to see and know you, and they allow you to feel felt by them, your brain begins to change. Trauma gets “finished” in your brain. New memories form and your old memories take on new meanings. You can picture new and healthier ways of being and living in the world. You get to experience moments of intimacy, and continue to practice while you get better at it. The different parts of you become less separate and more integrated.

This isn’t magic. It’s not instant. And there’s an aspect of this kind of healing that will only be completed in eternity. But there’s more goodness and wholeness available here and now than any of us have yet fully experienced. Connecting deeply with others and connecting deeply with God are the most important steps along the way.

Your mental health gets better when you steward your sexuality well.

Your Turn: How have you seen that your sexual story affects your mental health? Where do you need to take better care of this part of you?

Want more? This week’s podcast episode is a conversation with Joe Padilla from Mental Health Grace Alliance. Listen or watch.

Tweetables: why not share this post?

  • Because of how deeply it’s built into our human nature, your sexual story affects your mental health in big ways. Here’s what to do about it.  Tweet that.

Do You Need some Sexual Discipleship?

My new book is just that; sexual discipleship. Sexpectations: Reframing Your Good and Not-So-Good Stories About God, Love, and Relationships.

If your heart is struggling with anything around sex, love, and intimacy, you need this! This book will help you:

  • reinterpret your sexual story with honesty and compassion
  • find freedom from shame, compulsive behaviors, past harm, and hiding
  • redefine the way you look at God, sex, love, and relationships
  • orient your sexuality as God intended and embrace what He has for your future
  • experience Jesus coming right into the middle of your story to bring healing and wholeness

Check out our new Sexpectations website where you can find related resources. You can download a free chapter of the book, and order the book for yourself.