I can’t even discuss this part of my story without immense blushing. That is the effect of the shame-based teachings on sex from the evangelical church and the purity culture. I also grew up in a Pastor’s home where sex wasn’t really talked about – and then when it was – the damage had already been done thru the voice of shame and filth.
Instead of teaching me to bless my body, that she was created in the Image of God and sexuality an integral part of my creation identity – I was taught from meta-messages of church, family, and culture that sex was a very bad thing. “Don’t think about it, talk about it, sing about it or do it until you are married. Oh yeah, and then when you are married – you should be an expert because it is your job to keep your husband happy.” (“because that’s realistic!” she said, sarcastically)
Adding insult to injury – not only were my lessons lacking on being proud of my beauty made in God’s glory – but no one told me what to do if you marry an abusive sex-addict. Oh wait, yes they did, in these exact words, “You need to be having more sex with him. It’s a wife’s job to meet her husband’s needs.” At 22 years old, hearing those words from my dad, who was also my pastor, felt like failure. The air deflated out of my lungs and my heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. “Wait”, I thought. “Even my dad thinks I’m not measuring up?” For lack of better imagery; I was forced into marital prostitution – trained to use my body as a tool to keep my husband from wandering from the bedroom.
At the time, I knew nothing about sexual addiction and knew NOTHING about sexual abuse within marriage. I was in for a world of hurt.
I want to accomplish 2 things here – first, I want to provide information for those who find themselves married to a sexually addicted spouse. Knowledge is power – the more you begin to NAME the things that keep you up at night, the things that confuse you, and make you uncomfortable or ashamed – the more you will begin to deal in reality, regaining your voice to stand behind your boundaries and protect HER (click here to read about boundaries) . Second, I would like to open the door and invite you into my story.
My narrative causes me to ask these three questions:
“How do I invite the Lord into sexuality when it has always been something so dirty, shameful, used to manipulate and control me?”
“Lord, how does sexuality become redeemed after it has been so mutilated?”
“In what ways am I reclaiming the power that was surrendered to cowardly men?”
I’ve been remembering the abusive ways my addicted ex-husband used sex to manipulate and control me. You see, my marriage was characterized as one of coercive control and sexual abuse was a huge part of that. It has brought me so much shame. I choose to bravely pen these words because I know that other hurting pornography widows will be able to relate to this and I want to offer you empathy and compassion. This is something you won’t hear your pastor preach on Sunday morning and I want you to know you are not alone.
Last January, I remember being “stuck” to the wall of my shower. I could not move. I had washed my hair and was just rinsing off as the hot water trickled down my back, all of a sudden, deep deep guttural moans came out of my throat and I was reliving what felt like different memories all at the same time. They came at once – a whole lifetime and all related to sex and unwanted affection/attention. Forced masturbation from a neighborhood kid, unwanted affection from a boy on the school bus, forced sex in my marriage because he felt insecure, blame and shame from parents and counselors, manipulative sexual tactics by ex to keep the attention off of his sexual addiction and place responsibility on me, daily unwanted pressure, being told I cannot have physical affection (non-sexual touch) unless it ends with sex, gas-lighting, neglect… I didn’t even recognize the sound of my own wails. Standing there in the shower, I was overcome with the realization there is more sexual abuse in my story than I care to look at. In the words of Dan Allender, “There is a deep reluctance to begin the process of change by admitting that damage has occurred.”
In my marriage, intimacy (not just sex) was always tainted by the images he chose to store, recall and masturbate. Intimacy of the soul and spirit NEVER existed and I’ve since learned that a man with such prolonged addiction will experience an alteration in his ability to have sex. (If you would like to know more on the effects in the male body watch here) To think of all the times he made me believe it was my fault; that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t skilled enough or “lazy”. These accusations alone, left me in a dark cloud of shame for a good majority of our marriage as the resentment and anger built every time.
You see, betrayed partners fall into a specific category of abuse; one that we often don’t want to look at. This has been one of the slowest points of healing for me, because the layers of the onion have peeled back so gradually and with caution. This layer is deep: sexual abuse.
Betrayed partners can experience both non – physical sexual abuse and overt sexual abuse. I believe BOTH are forms of coercive control.
Coercion: “Manipulation in the form of threats may also be used, forcing the victim to submit to unwanted sexual acts out of fear or guilt. The husband may imply or state that he will get violent, leave, find “another” woman, expose her in some way, or punish her or her children. The threats do not have to be spoken; oftentimes wives experience punishments without explanation. Coercive sex abuse can be very confusing because after being “persuaded” (a.k.a. bullied), consent was technically granted. The victimized wife is left wondering, “Was I sexually assaulted or did I agree to it?” Whatever form of coercion is used, be it physical, financial, or emotional, any sexual act which is not based on mutual consent constitutes sexual violation.” –Darby Strickland
Non – physical sexual abuse: when your husband makes unwanted sexual gestures towards you, makes rude and hurtful comments about the way you wear your clothes, makeup or hair. He tries to tell you what to wear (either dressing you like a nun or in clothing that causes you to feel exposed), prohibits you from wearing makeup, buys you unwanted lingerie, or repeatedly asks you to wear costumes or sex toys that make you feel uncomfortable. Makes sexual noises towards you. Coercive force to watch pornography with him. Unrelenting pressure.
Physical Sexual Abuse (Violation): Coercive force to do sexual acts, engaging in unwanted acts, in order to avoid more abuse; forcing you to have sex when you have said “NO”, rape (forced sex awake or sleeping) unwanted sexual touch, ignoring tears or other expressions of discomfort.
I know that it is difficult to read thru that list. It is even more difficult to realize “Oh my gosh. This is happening to me.” It makes me sick to my stomach even now.
You might be saying, but my husband only looks at pornography. Pastor Darrell Brazell, a recovering sex addict and leader of New Hope for Sexual Integrity, states, “a man who is consuming and devouring images at the speed of light cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy. He will consume and devour his wife.” He goes onto state, “Spousal sexual abuse involves any contact or interaction whereby a vulnerable person (the spouse) is used for sexual satisfaction, control or revenge of the other spouse.” Oftentimes, the addict will make coercive sexual advances towards his wife, knowing she will reject him, thus giving him the entitled right, in his mind to go sexually act out. This type of manipulation is abusive. It uses sex as an act of revenge against his spouse for her right to say “No”.
Abuse is a heart issue not a marriage issue. It stems from a heart of pride and entitlement. Abuse grows from a person’s belief systems and values – NOT his feelings. When sexual intimacy is perverted by entitlement it wreaks havoc on the one who is being controlled and consumed.
If you are married to a man who is addicted to pornography it is NOT your job to have sex with him in order to help him “curb his cravings” or to help him “handle his sex drive” nor to “keep him from straying from the marriage bed”. If he has stated that he is working toward recovery or wants to get help – he is in a chemical DETOX. He is literally retraining his brain how to operate without the binge-purge reward cycle of sexually acting out. He has literally been using the act of sex, pornography and masturbation as a pain -reliever. He needs TIME to learn new skills, and strategies in order to connect to relational joy WITHOUT the “hit” of dopamine that is administered when he engages in sexual release. He needs to learn how to CONNECT rather than COPE. In the book, Don’t Call it Love, Patrick Carnes quotes a research study by Milkman and Sunderwirth claiming, “The relationship between endorphins and orgasms was demonstrated by a group of neuroscientists who showed that the level of endorphines in the blood of hamsters increased dramatically after several ejaculations. This finding would account for the well-known decrease of pain during and after sex.” In layman’s terms: sex is a powerful pain -relieving drug – it is used as a coping strategy to cover up deep, deep attachment wounds, and the inability to integrate traumatic memories and/or deal with every day stress of life. It is NOT your responsibility to manage his addiction and it is NOT your fault he is using sex with other women and himself to medicate. IT IS NOT your FAULT.
I tell you this information so you can understand why it is imperative to say “NO” when your sexually addicted spouse is manipulating you for sex. The blame-shifting and manipulation sound like this:
“I wouldn’t have to look at pornography if you would just do what I want in bed.”
“If we would just have more sex then I wouldn’t need to look at porn.”
“You’re trying to control me – now you’re even controlling our sex life.”
“It was a long time ago – you should just get over it. You should trust me by now.”
“It’s just porn – I’ve never slept with anyone else. Everybody does it.”
“It’s your fault – you put the weather app on my phone” (yes, I literally heard that one!)
By year 8, I learned his addiction never left, more lies, minimizing and more denial. Coercive control began to sound like “victim mentality”… it got really sneaky. The blame shifting dug in like a slow blade down my back cutting only 1 vertebrae at a time so I wouldn’t notice the pain. His words came out with such sorrow, but little did I know he was feeding his addiction behind closed doors.
“Well, I’m used to living without sex now, I know how to starve myself”, he would cry out as the “victim.” And, “You just get to call all the shots now – you control everything I do.”
Does this sound familiar, sister?
Manipulation and gas lighting were his strong suit. By the end of our conversations, I was apologizing and reluctantly getting undressed! (Gas lighting plants seeds of doubt, making you believe you are at fault)
Following church culture, I thought I was doing the “godly” thing. He exploited my goodness, compassionate and giving heart. I was his target to keep the attention off his insecurity and sexual addiction. I was living out the way I was trained: Staying SMALL for a man was code for “pleasing God”. Remaining unseen and unheard was the patriarchal code for “being a godly wife.” I was living out the patterns from childhood abuse and trauma, and for a woman who has been trained to be timid and small: all his crocodile tears and stories of sexual starvation pricked my bleeding little heart. Overtime, I became so numb. Devoid of human soul.
Continued in Reclaiming My Power After Sexual Abuse Part 2…