Is shame hurting your sex life?

Hot sex © Omidii | Dreamstime.comSexual shame is common for women, and there are few women who have not felt sexual shame of some sort. This is even truer for women in the church, and especially for those raised in the more legalistic corners of Christianity. Many still feel sexual shame, while others are doing and not doing things to avoid sexual shame.

The church has used shame as a tool to ensure virginity. Aside from the fact that it has a poor success record at keeping people pure, even when it does work it saddles women with the feeling that sex is inherently dirty and shameful. My bride has heard more than one soon to be wed woman express concern that she would be “losing her purity” on the wedding night.

Men are not immune to sexual shame. The most common one for us comes from porn use – especially if we moved past the more common stuff and into uncommon, bizarre, or extreme porn. Once a man masturbates to something, it becomes tied to his sense of sexuality, and it tends to come to mind when he is aroused. Shame is an understandable response to suddenly thinking of teenage girls, animals, or mutilation while trying to have sex with your wife!

Sexual shame comes in at least three flavours – fact based, lie based, and victim based

Lie-based: If a woman feels shame at being naked with her husband, or at touching his penis, she is suffering from lie-based shame. There is no reason for her to feel shame, her actions are not just allowed, they are right, good, and holy before God. The solution here is to understand the truth – to know that God is not opposed to all sex, and in fact intended husband and wife to have and enjoy sex a great deal.

Fact-based: If a man or woman feels shame over past sex that was wrong (including porn), that is based on fact, on something that should not have happened. The solution here is confession, repentance, and grace. The confession must include confessing to one’s spouse – even if the sin occurred before marriage. Sexual sin is against the one who sins, against God, and against the person’s future spouse. All three of these must be dealt with.

Victim-based: Sadly, it is common for men and women to feel shame about being molested, raped, or coerced into sex. This is a mix of fact and lie – the sex was wrong, but it’s a lie that the victim is to blame in any way. This one is difficult, and often requires third-party help.

Shame is a difficult thing to deal with, and it usually takes time to peel away all the layers and become free. A head understanding is good, but only a heart understanding will end shame. Be patient with yourself, and/or your bride, as you work through shame.

A couple of resources: (aff links)

Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage is a good book for a couple. While not directly about shame, the book deals with many of the roots of shame, and offers truth that can end the shame.

Intimate Issues: 21 Questions Christian Women Ask About Sex is an excellent book for women,. The authors explore many issues, including those that lead to shame.

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5 Comments on “Is shame hurting your sex life?

  1. I often wonder why shame, and sexual shame in particular, doesn’t get more attention by the church. Is it because the church wants to keep it as a weapon to manipulate behavior? Sad to think so, because it doesn’t work that way.

    Christ came to bring freedom from shame – all kinds. There is healing available in him.

    Thanks again for addressing this issue. In the recent 7 Links Challenge that went around, I picked my own “shame series” as the post that didn’t get the attention I felt it deserved. So happy to see you writing about it here.

    • @Scott – Yes, it is s sad situation. There are those using it to control people, and others not wanting to0 admit to having done this in the past.

      The other big factor is that attacking the status quo is always dangerous and difficult. It’s also dangerous and difficult not only for those who agree with you, but with those who don’t standup and say you are wrong. What makes this very tricky for pastors and others in church leadership is that the guardians of the status quo tend to be the folks who give the most money to the church. Preach against the status quo, and your offering will take a deep hit. Just being silent will hurt the offering as well – if you are not speaking the party line, the party’s support will drop.

      I’m not being cynical here, I’ve seen it, and I’ve heard it from a number of pastors – mostly bold pastors who have taken the hit for doing what they think is right. I have also heard the stories of people in leadership being sidelines or openly removed from leadership – both lay leaders and clergy, volunteer and paid. I also know of people working for Christian ministries who have been fired for supporting those who are sharing a Christian pro-sex message.

      All that said, we’ve been doing this for 14 years, and it’s gotten a lot better over that time – and continues to improve. Thanks to all who have fought for that, and to all who will join in.

  2. Such a good post Paul… I shared on Twitter and Facebook.

    I so appreciate all you and Lori do to encourage sexual intimacy and sexual integrity in marriage.

  3. not sure where to start …we have been married for 18 years and my wife just told me that when i try to fondle her through her clothes that she has alot of bad memories…..i should also say that i a really the only guy she really dated(she did have another guy but that did not last real long)….i am not sure when in our relationship that i started to touch her in sexual ways to bring her to orgasm with my hand through her clothes, but it happen almost every weekend we were together before we were married.. we did not see each other naked till our wedding night..(.we started a long distance relationship in sept of1992 and by nov of 1992 we were engaged, but we did not get married till oct of 1993)…so when i try and get sexual with her she does not like me to touch her through her clothes….last night in bed i ask her if she had really forgiven me for touching her the way i did and she said she has…then i asked her if she had forgiven herself also and she said i do not really know….i know what i have done to her in the past was not all my fault because she willingly enjoyed it and left me do it….where do i go from here….i hope i have made sense of what i was trying to say….i dearly love my wife and would do anything for her…..for the most part we have a great sex life except for a few things…..

  4. @J – Your situation is not uncommon. At least you know the problem now.

    While your wife did “allow” you to do what you did, that does not necessarily mean she was willing. Neither does the fact that her body reacted as it should to stimulation mean she wanted it. She may not have known how to ask you to stop the first time, and then once she had allowed it once she felt she could not say anything the next time. Her having a climax would have added to her guilt. Maybe she both wanted and did not want it, and maybe she would have rather you never do it again. Either way, if you started doing it without asking her you violated her in a small way, and you need to own that without putting part of it back on her.

    The other side is how she deals with herself. If you consider that most abused women blame themselves, it’s easy to see how she would be blaming herself for what happened, and for allowing it to continue. That she enjoyed it only makes it worse. You taking responsibility for making her sexual without her consent might help her move on to dealing with herself.

    All of this is a huge problem for your current sex life. Avoiding the act that brings back the memories is certainly necessary. She might also benefit from clear communication about sex. Things like “I would like to …” or “May I …” or “Would you like me to …” This is giving her the choice she felt she did not have in the past, and may be healing.

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