When Your Past Complicates Intimacy

When Your Past Complicates Intimacy

People who research such things say that somewhere around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused in some way. And then there are many who received distorted messages about intimacy as they were growing up, or who became caught up in unhealthy sexual relationships. Those experiences have long-lasting consequences. When so much of your past complicates intimacy it seems a miracle for any marriage to be sexually functional.

Our unconscious and conscious ideas about sex and intimacy develop early. And popular media and the pornography industry distort our perceptions exponentially. Sex can become synonymous with control, pain, shame, manipulation, pressure to perform, weakness, violation, power, powerlessness, contamination, selfishness, being dirty, exploitation, and much more.

How far we have fallen!

God designed sexual intimacy to be beautiful, bonding, restoring, safe, exhilarating, satisfying, unselfish, holy, and deeply meaningful. It’s a picture of how He designed the relationship between Him and us to be. Is it any wonder the enemy has worked so hard to mess up this aspect of our humanness?

When a Christian man and woman get married, or when a married person becomes a Christian, the baggage around sex doesn’t magically disappear. But even when your past complicates intimacy, there is hope. As with any aspect of our brokenness, God has the answer. It’s an answer that takes conscious investment on our part.

That answer is something I learned personally, and you can too.

My Own Story

I grew up with plenty of baggage around sex. When I was 48 years old God brought a wonderful loving husband into my life. But before Al and I were married, and even with my medical training, I was afraid of physical intimacy. I was mature enough to know this was something I would have to address if our marriage was to be healthy.

During the months prior to getting married I invested a great deal of prayer, time, and energy in preparation. God had already brought me an amazing degree of maturity and healing, but I revisited that journey thoughtfully. I prayerfully and repeatedly sought to be certain I was following God’s leading and not my emotions.

I lost count of the number of times I read Song of Solomon. My medical and theological training provided me with more than enough physical and Biblical facts, but I needed my soul to be right. I intentionally soaked in the depictions of physical love Solomon described. And our life together as husband and wife was a testimony to how God turns broken things into beauty.

Whatever shape your sexuality is in right now, it’s neither too early nor too late to find God’s answer. These four elements will be important as you do so.

  1. Choose Healing

Dr Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy likes to say that we are all in some measure sexually broken, and God offers us each a path of sexual discipleship. This has nothing to do with learning biology, or adhering to some external standard of righteousness when it comes to sex. It has everything to do with embracing the way God designed you and me to be when it comes to intimacy, and pursuing intimacy intentionally.

Remember, sex and intimacy overlap but are by no means synonymous. Those distorted meanings surrounding sex need to be healed in your soul for true intimacy to be possible. That kind of healing takes time and God’s intervention. You can cooperate with God in that healing process in many ways. But even God won’t force healing on you; it all begins with your decision to choose healing, to “go there.”

  1. Learn to Feed Yourself

Most people go into marriage expecting their spouse to somehow fix them, to meet their needs, to fill up the hole in their soul. But no human being can be expected to be “enough.” Looking to your husband or wife to give you everything you need is certain to disappoint and frustrate you, especially when it comes to intimacy.

The best way to combat that frustration is learning to feed yourself. As with the infinite variety of physical food God makes available, we have access to a wide array of emotional/spiritual nourishment. But it’s up to us to decide when we’re hungry, to find the healthiest most nourishing food we need, and decide to take it into our being. Learn to feed yourself, and you’ll be much less hungry in the future.

  1. Study God’s Word

Your past does not have to define your future. Moving beyond brokenness around sexuality is possible! Study the Bible to discover what God says about our bodies being His temple and His design for physical intimacy. If you don’t know what God says in those areas, start there. Authentic Intimacy and Be Broken are two sources for some of that teaching.

But then decide to let God’s word move from your head to your heart. Go to the Bible for spiritual food. In whatever area you are aware of being broken, search God’s word for input about that specific issue. Whether it’s Song of Solomon like I used, or some other passages, soak in them long enough for the message to transform your memories, feelings, desires, emotions, and whole heart. God’s word will do that for you if you let it.

  1. Look Beyond Yourself

Intimacy and sexuality will not thrive if you make it about what you need or want or can get out of it. Pursuing intimacy, including sex, only really works if you make it about the other person. If you’re single, learn to reach out in friendship, giving of yourself generously. Use your time to learn about healthy boundaries, about being unselfish, and growing your character. Find ways to give of yourself for the benefit of God’s kingdom.

When you’re married, learn to make it about your spouse more than yourself. That doesn’t mean accepting abuse or putting up with bad behavior; you can learn healthy boundaries now if you need to. But there is little that will lift your own spirits more and energize you better than focusing on the person next to you more than yourself.

That kind of focus leads to healing and intimacy. And that’s a huge way God helps you get past your past.

Your Turn: Has your past complicated your experiences of intimacy? Where do you need to seek healing, sexual discipleship, or spiritual growth in this area? Leave a comment below.

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