“Why was it so hard to resist sex before marriage, but now in marriage, resisting is all I do?”
“Why do I love my husband, but don’t want to make love?”
“Why was sex so good before marriage when I shouldn’t have been having it, but now that I can, it has lost its sizzle, and I’ve lost my desire?”
You’re Not Alone
Can you relate to any of the women above? Like them, do you love your husband, want to stay married, but struggle with sex? Do you yearn for physical and emotional closeness with your mate, yet shun their intimate advances? “What happened to our sexual relationship?” you may wonder. If these questions have crossed your mind, you’re not alone.
Many married women genuinely want to feel more desire toward their husbands, and can’t figure out what went wrong. They wish their sexual relationship could be more and are dismayed that it’s not. They want to give themselves without reserve to their husbands, but can’t. I know, because I was one of them.
As a newly married wife, I was surprised to find that within a short time, sex had lost its appeal for me. I loved my husband, but avoided sex. And when I couldn’t avoid it, I was a passive participant, rather than an enthusiastic one. I thought there was something wrong with me, yet I couldn’t tell anyone. After all, everyone else seemed to like sex. The women in the media seemed to enjoy it and want it all the time, and my husband liked it a lot — so what was wrong with me?
There’s Good News
If you’re wondering the same thing, I have good news! There are many reasons why women may have fluctuating desire for sex in marriage. Children, fatigue, hormones, work, illness, medications, emotions, and stress are some of the obstacles in enjoying or desiring sex. I certainly experienced all of those. But then God began to take me on a journey of healing from my past abortion and my past sexual relationships — even the sexual relationship I had with my husband before we got married.
I never imagined that my sexual past could have an impact on me today, but God was showing me that it had. And with healing, He set me free. Free from the wounds I’d accumulated, free from the lies I’d ingrained, and free from all my past sexual partners that were keeping me from experiencing true intimacy with my husband.
Healing set me free to love my husband, and enjoy being loved in return. I thought it was too good to be true. But since then, as God has given me the opportunity to lead hundreds of women through healing, I’ve watched Him do the same thing in others.
I imagine that you may be wondering how your sexual past could be affecting you today. I want to share what God has taught me about sexual bonding, and how our past — whether from sexual abuse, trauma, or our own choices — can impact emotional and sexual intimacy in marriage.
Sex and the Brain
What does the brain have to do with sex? Everything. The brain is our biggest sex organ. Scientists have discovered that we release chemicals and hormones that create a bond during sexual arousal and release. The chemicals released give us a feeling of pleasure, and make us want to do it over again. In addition, the hormone oxytocin is released which is designed to relationally bond us to our partner.
Oxytocin is an amazing hormone. I call it God’s super-human-glue. It’s released three times in a human: when a woman gives birth, when she breastfeeds her baby, and in both men and women when they experience sexual arousal and release.
In addition, men release vasopressin which also helps with bonding. When we save sex for marriage, the only person that we bond with will be our spouses. And as our marriage progresses, and we’re having sex over and over, that bond gets stronger, causing our love to deepen and mature. I believe God gives us a glimpse of oxytocin in Genesis 2:24 when He says; “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Other versions use the word cleave for united, which literally means to be glued together.
But what happens when we take sex outside marriage and bond with other partners? What about in the case of sexual abuse? Preliminary science is showing that if we have past negative sexual relationships, this can inhibit our production and release of oxytocin. In other words, every time we have sex in a relationship and then break up, we release less oxytocin in each subsequent relationship. Then we get married. We hope that marriage is a big giant eraser, wiping all the past away, but instead we bring all our past sexual bonds into marriage with us. They can keep us from releasing oxytocin and bonding exclusively with our spouses.
How does past bonding impact our desire in marriage? If over time we’re not bonding well enough sexually, we can begin to experience sexual withdrawal. Sex can become less enjoyable, less intimate, and less desirable. Bonding in previous relationships keeps us attached to past partners. This can cause us to compare our current spouse with past partners, leaving us dissatisfied or disappointed. During seasons of struggle in our marriage, we may feel drawn to the past, thinking, “Maybe I should have married someone else….”
To summarize, if we’ve bonded to past sexual partners, we will not bond as well in marriage. And if we’re not bonding well, it can decrease sexual desire and enjoyment in marriage.
The Emotional Divide
Human beings are relational. There are five recognized levels of emotional intimacy that we move through as we get to know someone intimately. With each level, we share more of ourselves, placing us at increasing levels of vulnerability. And at greater risk of being hurt or rejected.
That’s why to become truly intimate, not only do we need to progress through the levels slowly, but also at the same pace. Women tend to be more comfortable relating emotionally and therefore can move more quickly through the levels. Men more often (not always, of course) relate in practical terms, with less emotions, and therefore need more time to move through the levels.
Couples who start having sex outside marriage generally are at the moderate level of communication. At this level we’re sharing opinions, beliefs, and thoughts. That doesn’t mean we aren’t occasionally sharing feelings, but when we experience conflict, we’ll gravitate to our safe zone, or the level where we communicate the most.
Once we start having sex, we’re releasing all those chemicals and oxytocin, and now we’re bonding. We feel close, attached, one. At this point, the sex makes us feel closer than we really are. It becomes a false sense of intimacy and our relationship will begin to focus on the physical. It’s how we’ll communicate love and resolve conflict. Outside marriage, wherever sex begins on the levels of intimacy is where our intimacy will get stalled. Because working through conflict is required to move to the higher levels, we’ll avoid greater vulnerability as it may threaten our relationship.
And then we get married.
The sex has made us feel close, but over time the newness of our relationship wears off, and the reality of life settles in. At this point we begin to discover that we don’t know each other as well as we thought we did. We’re not able to communicate our deepest needs, desires, or fears. We bring the same communication patterns we had before into the marriage, and continue to avoid conflict in fear of threatening the relationship. Many couples live in this emotional divide long into their marriages. I see this most often once the kids are gone and a couple discovers that they share less in common than they first thought.
For most women, sex is about being emotionally connected. The closer a woman feels emotionally to her partner, the greater desire she’ll have for sex. Women feel emotionally connected through communication. When we’re connected emotionally, we feel heard and loved. This is what stimulates our sexual desire. Men on the other hand feel emotionally connected through sex, and once they’re connected, they’re more open to communication. In other words, if you want to get your man to talk, have sex. Men if you want to get your wife to have sex, talk to her.
To summarize, if we’re not connected emotionally it can inhibit our desire and enjoyment of sex.
Shame On You
As I’ve talked with women all over the country, I’ve discovered that regardless of how they were sexually wounded, from abuse as a child or young adult, forced into sex as in date rape, or promiscuous by choice, they all carry emotional damage. Shame, self-blame, regret, pain, brokenness, unworthiness, despair, and distrust are some of the baggage women carry into their future. Emotional pain accumulates with each relationship. Although we’d like to believe that we leave it behind as we move on to the next partner, without healing, it gets buried deep until it resurfaces in the next relationship.
These emotions can inhibit sexual desire in marriage. How? Because now in marriage, when we have sex, it triggers the shame we experienced in the past. Remember that the brain is our biggest sex organ. As the shame, pain, thoughts and memories flood our mind, it robs us of our desire for sex. We’ll begin to withdraw, pull back emotionally and physically.
Whether from sexual abuse, trauma or our own choices, the shame we felt in past situations will reappear when we begin to feel the same arousal in the present. The negative associations we had with sex in the past situation will resurface in the present. We may feel unworthy, dirty, shameful. Details of past abuse or promiscuous choices become vivid realities, stealing our moment of desire.
In summary, the negative emotions we experienced in past sexual relationships will be triggered in the present and will extinguish our desire for sex.
God Can Heal
The good news is God can heal your past and restore your desire for your husband, and for sex. Yes, its true! Not only has He done it for me, but He’s healed countless others as they’ve trusted God with this area of their lives.
God can break the bonds you’ve created in your past relationships, heal the wounds you’ve accumulated, replace the lies you’ve ingrained with His truth, and help re-bond you to your husband, increasing your desire and enjoyment of sex. Even chemically, preliminary science is beginning to show that with healing, our brains heal too. As we heal, we’re able to release oxytocin again.
I’ve watched this happen in women. As past wounds heal, their emotional walls come down. Gradually you see them feeling more love for their husbands, and are able to receive love. With healing we no longer trigger negative associations with sex from the past, and our desire for sex improves.
Below are some of the steps of healing that I’ve experienced and led others through. If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or sexual trauma, you may also need to enlist professional help with a licensed counsellor.
The Steps to Healing
- Acknowledge what’s happened and surrender it to God. Write out your story using the life map exercise in Kiss Me Again.
- Break the silence. Tell someone — a counsellor, trusted friend, your husband.
- Grieve your losses and wounds. Let God show you what and how you need to grieve and the wounds He wants to heal.
- Break past bonds. Write out your sexual history list. Ask God to show you everyone you’ve created a bond with. Write the names, or details of the event down. Ask God to show you how each one of these situations and/or people hurt you, and damaged your view of yourself, others, God, men and sex.
- Pray this prayer with each person/situation on your list, asking God to sever the bond you’ve created with them.
Lord, I ask forgiveness for sinning against you and against my own body. In the name of Jesus, I sever and renounce the bonds I created with _____. I release my heart tie with this person physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I choose by faith to forgive _______ for their violation against me. Please forgive me of my violation against _______. Please remove the negative emotional baggage I’ve been carrying around with me. Restore to me a virgin heart — as though I’d never been with this person, and heal me completely of the damage this sin has caused me and my marriage. Thank you for your forgiveness. I accept it fully. Amen.
The Pain that Heals
It’s hard work, I know. But I promise you, it’s worth it. You’ll go through some pain as you bring up the past, but its what psychologists call “good pain.” Good pain allows us to heal. Good pain is allowing God to expose what has hurt us in our pasts, and gives us the capacity to surrender it to Him so He can heal us.
He’s done it for me and countless others. He can and will do the same for you. He’s just waiting for one thing: for you to ask.
Get a Free Marriage Series Today
(This five-session, video-on-demand series, includes the session:
Sex – How Can Something So Good Be So Complicated?)
You don’t have to face this alone: Email a mentor.