Discovering Healthy SexualityBH Women Contributor
Today's post was written by Stacey Oliver, a Brook Hills member who works with Awaken. She experienced healing and restoration in her own marriage after the revelation of her husband's sex addiction and adultery, and they now serve together to walk with men, women, and couples. She and Greg have been married since 1992, and they have three amazing kids: Katie, Matthew, and Claire.
In January 2009, our family came to Brook Hills wounded. My husband’s sexual addiction and betrayal had just been exposed, and he had lost his job as a worship pastor. Through a period of healing and intense counseling, I was able to look back on the years of our marriage leading up to when Greg was exposed and see many unhealthy beliefs and patterns related to sex. Here are some things I thought…
- I desire sex much less than he does; there must be something wrong with me.
- Sex was a chore, a duty for me to perform to keep him happy.
- If we had enough sex, I wouldn’t have to worry about him ever straying.
The truth I discovered through recovery was that it wasn’t about me. Greg’s addiction predated me and was something he brought into marriage. Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder; addicts are not simply people who can’t get enough sex. They are broken men and women who have never learned or experienced working through their areas of sin and brokenness in safe, connected relationship with other people. They believe that they are defective, and they hide. In their isolation, they pursue sex and pleasure in an attempt to meet their needs. This doesn’t work and leaves them unfulfilled, but rather than trying something else, they generally dive deeper into the addictive behavior and become trapped in an endless, hopeless cycle. Shame plays a huge role, particularly for Christians who have always existed in a “to know better is to do better” lifestyle.
When you have a couple in their early 20’s bringing this broken mix of belief and behavior into marriage, it’s no wonder that God’s beautiful picture of sex gets distorted. We bring unrealistic expectations in. We believe that having sex will create intimacy. If we fight or feel disconnected, having sex will fix it. This is a backwards view of sex and intimacy. Sex doesn’t create intimacy; its design is to be the natural outflowing of intimacy that’s already there. But two broken people who never learn how to know and be known will look for sex to provide something it was never meant to provide.
So how does unhealthy sex manifest itself in a marriage where your husband is (or may be) an addict? Some women know or suspect their husbands have a problem, but others, like me, don’t have any idea. Even without specific knowledge of a porn problem, we often know that things aren’t as they should be. As a result, we tend to engage in unhealthy/addictive sex. From the husband’s perspective, he sees sex as something he can’t live without, something to run to based on his emotions. If it has been a bad day, sex will fix it. If it has been a good day, it’s a way to celebrate. Sex becomes connected to external feelings rather than closeness with his wife.
Even when an addict is making changes and attempting to stop using porn and masturbation, he will often turn to sex with his wife instead. While this looks a lot more “right,” it can be just as addictive because it is still not coming from a healthy place of intimacy. Often, wives just become a sex object to substitute for masturbation.
And what about for wives? How is addictive sex possible for a wife who isn’t a sex addict? Often, there are beliefs that when things are rocky or when there has been a fight, sex is the way to get close again. If there is insecurity in the relationship, sex will bring the missing security. This is a way of looking to our husbands to fulfill all our needs, of seeing sex as a “cure-all.” What’s going on here is actually an attempt to control. This desire to control our husbands and our marriages becomes our own addiction. Although sex addiction is easier to identify than an addiction of control, both are oppressive.
How else does this desire for control continually show up in relation to sex? Some women certainly run (unhealthily) to sex to try to keep their husbands happy and faithful. Others, especially those who discover that their husbands have betrayed them through porn or infidelity, will completely shut down. In anger or hurt, their control manifests in an attempt to protect themselves from further pain and is often combined with a desire to punish their husbands for their betrayal.
But some women actually fall into the same trap as their husbands. In an attempt to provide what they think their husbands want, or sometimes out of frustration at their own lack of desire, women are beginning to turn more often to erotica. Movies and books like Magic Mike and the 50 Shades of Grey series are becoming go-to’s in an attempt to manufacture a better experience. In doing so, women are unaware that they are contributing to the poor health of themselves and their spouse.
In a recent interview on healthy sexuality, therapist Melea Stephens introduced the Hebrew word yada. This is the word used in Genesis where we read, "Adam knew his wife Eve." Melea explains,
"It connotes a very intimate connection between two human beings or between a human being and God. It means to know, not just in the head sense, but in the heart sense. To understand someone, to see them for who they are, to reveal who you are to someone else, to choose them, to pursue them. It gives a picture of two separate, solid individuals who can stand on their own two feet, secure, and already have their worth, value, and identity. And, therefore, don't have to say I need you, but rather I want you…I can say "yes" to sex with my spouse because I desire it. I can say 'yes' even if I don't desire it, but am able to enter in with my husband. I can say 'no' if I'm not desiring it and explain that 'I'm not rejecting you, but can we just talk?' or 'Can you hold me?'"
When a husband and wife learn to first have their needs met in relationship with God and then come together as an outflow of being filled by Him, they then can experience physical and emotional intimacy (yada) as God intends.
It is important to pause for a minute and realize that this is going to take a lot of work. It is not achieved through a quick, formulaic approach. If you suspect or know that your husband is addicted to sex or if you are simply not content to settle for an unhealthy approach to sex, you need to seek help from a qualified counselor who can guide you through healing and moving forward. It is also critical to become part of a safe community who can walk with and support you through what you have experienced. Awaken and Brook Hills provide such a community through groups that meet at Brook Hills on Wednesday nights.
I still have so much more to learn and to continue to surrender. But what I have found is that, as I learn to bring God into every aspect of my marriage - including our sex life - and surrender to His control and gracious leadership, I am finding true freedom.