Past sexual trauma

This part of “How do you get an uninterested or unwilling wife to have more sex?” is a difficult one – past sexual trauma.

First, who qualifies as sexually traumatised?  Statistics put rates of sexual molestation plus rape at 20% to 40% of all US women, with similar rates in most “developed” countries. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, in my mind. Think of the sexual teasing girls receive in school (especially junior high) when their sexuality is developing.  Think of the pressure to be sexual, and the fact that most college age girls say they have gone farther than they wanted to with more than one guy.  Look at the over focus on sex all around us, from ads, to movies, to what comes in our e-mail in-box every day. If you think of it this way, you would have to say sexual trauma has been inflicted on virtually every woman who grew up in a “modern country” in the last few decades.

I’m not trying to make every woman a victim; neither do I mean to down play the horror of more serious abuse. That said, I think we ignore the damage “less serious” sexual trauma does because it’s so common in our culture.  Just because something’s the norm does not mean it is harmless.  Many women who were not raped or molested are none-the-less suffering from the same kind of problems suffered by women who were.  Also, realise that some women cope better with sexual trauma better than others do (for a great many reasons), so some women with “minor” sexual trauma will be more deeply harmed than some with more significant trauma.  Bottom line, don’t dismiss this as a potential problem just because your bride has never been raped or molested.

Getting past her sexual past will take time, and for most women it will take the help of someone who has training and experience dealing with such things.  Some pastors have the training, most do not.  If her injury is not significant, or she is very motivated to resolve it, she might manage with the help of a few books, talking with a friend who has overcome something similar, or a support group.  For most it will take more than that – be ready to support whatever she needs.

Beyond that, here are some things to expect and some ways you can help her:

You need to understand the results of sexual trauma.  Generally, one of two seemingly opposite things happens – either the woman is very sexually closed, or she acts adventurous and/or promiscuous.  Either way she is doing something to compensate, and she is not being who she was intended to be sexually. Being anything other than what you are by design pretty much ensures that you won’t be happy.

If your bride has been sexually traumatised, and has not dealt with it fully, how you currently experience her sexually is not how she should be. What’s more, she can’t really enjoy sex until she is healed and free to be herself sexually.  She also needs the freedom – both in her mind and from you – to change.  That means starting to want and enjoy things she did not want or enjoy in the past, and (this one will be tough for you) no longer wanting to do things she had been doing.  Women who have been traumatized often don’t know how to say no, and because of this they end up doing things they don’t want to do, and don’t enjoy.  Sometimes a woman is so used to doing whatever a man wants that her husband has no clue she does not want to do things they are doing.  As tough as this will be for you, she must have your permission, and even your blessing, to say no to things that the two of you have always done.  (By the way, often something that was set aside is later picked back up, by her choice. Once she feels she has a right to say yes or no, she can say yes and then really enjoy it.)

Healing of sexuality is neither a straightforward nor constant.  Usually it looks more like four steps forward, two steps back, one step left, and one step diagonally back to the right (net gain of one step).  There are also times when it seems she is just moving backwards, with no gains at all.  Again, she has to back out of what she never chose to do; only then can she choose to be sexual.

During her healing, having sex will likely be difficult at best. I generally don’t like to see a couple go sexless for any length of time (although there are situations where it’s the best, fastest, or only way to get it done), but some modification of your sex life, and some major concessions by you, will almost certainly be required.  There are various ways to give her the space she needs and still provide you with some sexual release. In order of best to worst:

  • Sex just for you – basically no foreplay quickies.
  • She takes care of you by hand (depending on how she was traumatised this might be easier, or it might be a very bad idea).
  • You masturbate while lying in bed with her (possibly with the lights out).
  • You masturbate alone with her knowledge – thinking only of her, and not “too often”. (The shower is a good choice, she is less likely to walk in on something she can’t face, and if you promise to do it only in the show she knows you are not doing it to porn).
  • You masturbate without her knowledge. This is a bad choice, and I’d only recommend it if she can’t handle any of the above and you can’t deal with the amount of sex she is able to have. (And yes, “if I don’t climax occasionally I go into lust overdrive” is valid IMHO).

As she is working through things, don’t become focused on what she wants to do sexually, or on giving her an orgasm. Some women climax only because the guy they are with wants them too, and that is hardly healthy or enjoyable.  As with other aspects of her sexuality, she has to be free to not do it before she can want to do it and really enjoy it. Your focus on her pleasure is understandable and right, but if you want it when she does not, it just becomes one more obstetrical to her healing.

Be aware that she is going to be very sensitive to things like any hint of porn use, you looking at young, pretty or under-dresses women, or any sexual joking, innuendo, or hints made by you. Don’t dismiss this as just her over reacting because of her injury – doing this is like slapping her on a badly sunburned back and then blaming her for the pain because she got sunburned.  Yes, she is sensitive, and as her loving spouse you should to work to not hurt her.

Finally, I want to encourage all of you that healing from sexual trauma can and does happen.  My bride was molested more than once/by more than once person as a child, lost her virginity to rape in college, and had all the usual sexual hassles a girl faces.  By the time we married, she was deeply injured sexually, and would very much have rejoiced had I lost all interest in sex.  Fortunately she decided to deal with her and get healed.  It took time, but the results have been far greater than either of us could ever have imagined. Today, after 25 years, we have more sex, and more sexual enjoyment, than most couples half our age do.  I say this not to brag, but to encourage you; no matter how badly your bride has been sexually injured, she can be so fully healed that she enjoys, wants, and seeks out sex with you. Give her the time, space and freedom she needs to heal, and pray for her to face what she needs to face.  Also, pray for yourself to be able to give her what she needs from you.

Other parts of this series (current page in bold):

8 Comments on “Past sexual trauma

  1. THat was really good information for the husband to know concerning his wife if she was molested and struggles with sex. What about the husband. I was molested by men as a child and became very confused as far as if I was gay or not. After meeting my wife and getting married I know I was meant to be with a woman, but becasue of my abuse I have had temptations to be with a men because of the feeling I got from the experience. Sadly, when my wife and I were struggling I had an affair with another married man. The consequences of that out ways the pleasure I had.
    I still struggle sexually from being molested by a man as a child. Do you have any data about sexual struggles men might have and how many men struggle with same sex attraction even after they are married.

  2. Thank you for this article. It raises some deeper concerns for me. I believe that my wife has had some level of sexual trauma before we met. We have been married for over 20 years and porn and affairs have been an on going problem from my end. I am at a point where I feel that the best thing for both of us is to divorce. The relationship is basicaly sexless and we can not discuss the topic she just gets angry or clams up. I don’t want to live like this the rest of my life and she can’t get past her hurts.

    • @eddieews – Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, let her know before you do anything. Make is crystal clear to her that you can’t continue this way, and that if the two of you don’t get help, it’s over. No promises, but I have seen some pretty amazing changes when a spouse realises their behaviour is going to leave them alone. Make it clear there needs to be a real, significant, and permanent change. Then give her at least six months to do that. Be ready to send her to counseling, or to go with her. Be ready to work on “your stuff” while keeping her aware that you can not continue with her if she does not deal with the sexual.

      May the Lord give you wisdom, strength, and courage.

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