I am a big believer in continual self improvement. When I was a Christian–as a youth and teen–I wanted to be the best Christian that I could be. I went to church 2-3 times a week for Sunday service, Bible study, and special events. The main purpose was always to learn how to serve Christ better.
Nowadays, as a not-quite-card-carrying agnostic atheist, a lot of my self-improvement activities fall under the category of healing…especially from the negative ideas I bought into as a fundamentalist Christian.
Some of the most difficult areas of my core beliefs to address are about sex. I stopped actively believing in Christian dogma 20 years ago but the sexual beliefs are in many ways the most difficult to change. The old beliefs still heavily influence me even today.
Hard Habits (of Thought) to Break
For example, a peer in my high school youth group once wrote an article about how girls should not wear baby doll tees. They were too tight and showed too much skin, he said. They tempted the boys. Along those lines, I still cannot comfortably show my bare legs in shorts because tempting men is a sin! (Okay I might have gotten over this one years ago if shorts ever appealed to me as clothing item, but they don’t. Thigh chafing is real.)
Because of the intense indoctrination I experienced throughout my early life, I have always felt that sex, sexuality, and intimacy–even with a caring partner–is somehow wrong.
In my twenties, after leaving the Christian faith, I explored many different avenues of beliefs and lifestyles. I experimented with bisexuality, BDSM (intensely–the photo you see is from wax play I did with my husband), and even polyamory. I thought I was all sexually liberated and shiznit and for years I thought I had dealt with the effects of my ultraconservative upbringing.
Here’s the kicker. For whatever reason, when I got married, the old beliefs came roaring back with a vengeance. Apparently, getting married negated all the interim experiences and brought my childhood religious indoctrination to the forefront even in my spousal relationship. This included the area of intimacy, both physical and emotional. In the few years before our wedding, I had made inroads toward dealing with my issues with physical and emotional intimacy, but as soon as we said our vows–well, talk about backsliding!
Yes, the Bible says that sex between husband and wife is to be celebrated; however I was apparently indoctrinated long enough and thoroughly enough to feel that *all* sensual and sexual behavior was somehow wrong. Somewhere in my childhood, I had learned that it was bad to be aroused. It was bad to turn someone else on, even my spouse.
I’ve been married five years now, and it has only recently become apparent to me how stilted my intimate relationship with my husband has become because of my unconscious beliefs that still cling to me. (Yes, I’m slow on the uptake.) It saddens me to think that he has not received some of the love and interaction he deserves because of my deep-seated issues with sex.
So a couple months ago I decided that I would face this problem head on. I started by exploring my feelings and thoughts towards sex and intimacy. I could feel my psyche trying to avoid the topic. I found myself asking questions like: How has intimacy with my husb–oh, gee I really should do laundry! Sweep the floor! Something, something!
Once I passed the “distraction phase” I arrived at a couple of conclusions: First, my mind and my heart were completely divided. My mind said, well duh, of course sex with my husband is good and healthy (After all, this is not my first exploration into healthy sexuality–it has been a long process of acceptance). Quite a few years ago, I intellectually accepted that sex is a healthy human need.
However, my heart never believed this. I feel highly uncomfortable with the whole idea of sex, even in the context of marriage. I grew up in a household where my parents–who are still married–rarely touched each other in affection in front of us kids, let alone with desire. They do love each other, but they are just not physically demonstrative about that love.
For me, ANY feeling of desire or arousal simultaneously brings up a vague feeling of wrongness. I assume these are feelings of shame and guilt, although I am still not quite sure what that ‘wrong feeling’ is composed of. I did, and do, enjoy sexual intimacy with my husband. It’s not as though I felt like I was being taken against my will. But at the same time, there was, and always is, this subtle feeling of wrongness.
Overcoming the Past
I had no idea how to take on this challenge of healing this area of my life. Many of the online resources I looked at suggested implausible (for me) ideas. So I asked myself: What would it feel like to believe sex and intimacy with my husband is healthy and good? How would it feel, physically and emotionally? Further, how might this impact my interactions and relationship with him? Cue blank stare.
Contemplating this idea–that sex and intimacy are good and healthy–was possibly what it is like for people born blind to imagine seeing. It felt as though there was simultaneously a huge wall and a giant black hole, a big expanse of nothingness staring back at me from my heart. An impassible pit of hopelessness, if you will. And THAT is incredibly sad.
My heart is so fearful of sex that my instinctual reaction is to avoid thinking about it let alone talking about, writing about, or having it.
Realizing this was revelatory. It is apparent to me now, talking to friends and family who are still Christians, that the level to which I believe that sex is wrong goes far beyond what (most) fundamentalists mean to teach. I guess maybe some people have a natural firewall for dogma of this sort. I do not.
I mean, even the Bible says sex between a married couple is to be celebrated! I find it kind of entertaining, but also annoying, that I have to use the preceding sentence as a tool to break down the toxic walls in my psyche. However, it is the one thought that I can really use to confront my issues and say, hey! It’s not okay that you feel this way about sex, ESPECIALLY with your husband.
Now, when I engage in any intimate activity with my husband, I keep in mind (when I can ;D) my new mantra: Sex with my husband is a good and healthy thing. It’s already making a difference. I find myself initiating sensual and sexual interaction more often now. In addition, I am more playful, and more accepting of his desires (even simple ones, like his constant desire to interact with my breasts!).
Am I suddenly 100% comfortable being physically intimate? Of course not. But I am starting to be able to contemplate sex much more honestly. Internally, I don’t avoid the topic as much. I look forward to the day when I can joyfully and lovingly be intimate with my husband without the negative baggage I currently carry. My guess is it will be more pleasurable than I can imagine.
[Featured Image: Adobe Stock]
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