This continues a web series that begins at
When a Woman Doesn’t Want Sex
We left with newly weds, Susie and Darren, suffering a disturbing escalation of sexual problems. Susie froze upon seeing her husband naked on her wedding night. Now this chilling reminder of Susie’s childhood abuse is spreading, icing up more and more of her relationship with Darren. But there is hope. Patiently apply a heat source to a corner of a block of ice and the warmth will slowly spread, eventually melting the entire block.
I am acutely conscious that as any normal man reads the following he will squirm, agonizing over how he could ever attain the degree of self-control required to honor his wife and his God. Be assured that further on in this web series this vital matter is fully and sensitively explored, with some very practical solutions canvassed.
I would plead for Susie and Darren to carefully, lovingly discuss ahead of time what might best comfort Susie should, in the midst of lovemaking, she suddenly have a severe emotional reaction, like when she first saw Darren naked. If ever Susie were to suffer such distress it would be critical to calm her as soon and as effectively as possible, and so minimize the damage caused by the reaction.
To grasp the importance of this, consider what a setback it would be if a person fell off a cliff in the midst of trying to overcome a fear of heights. Just how major this setback is would depend on how painful and traumatic the fall was. Likewise, it would be a blow to the quick resolution of Susie’s and Darren’s sexual difficulties if Susie suffered an horrific flashback when making love. Nevertheless, the more the trauma can be minimized, the less it will damage their future lovemaking. Even if this were not so, we would still want Susie quickly comforted but in this case it is doubly important.
Susie and Darren would need to discuss such things as: How would Susie feel if Darren held her tight while she was still shaken by the experience? Would this be reassuring or might it make her feel her as if she were being forcibly restrained and so increase her panic? Would a hot drink help, or would Darren’s absence while he prepares it be disconcerting? Would it be worthwhile placing a hot drink nearby in a flask? It would be helpful for them to talk through all the options they can think of that might comfort and soothe Susie. Throughout these discussions, Darren should patiently realize that Susie will have only a vague idea of how she would really respond should that crisis hit. Nevertheless, this in-depth sharing will give Darren valuable clues as to what might best work in that crisis and what should be avoided.
I also suggest they discuss with Susie’s doctor the possibility of having a medical option in place for such an emergency. Medicine is way outside my expertise, so Susie and Darren would need to be guided by their doctor, but what I have in mind is medication, such as valium, that can be taken immediately after the event to quickly calm a distressed person. I’m not thinking of regularly taking something “just in case,” (unless the doctor were to prescribe this because Susie’s anxiety levels are constantly high). What I have in mind is simply having prescribed medication readily available that would calm Susie quickly, should lovemaking trigger a flashback of past horror. Addiction to medication and side effects are a concern, but if restricted to emergencies – and if emergencies themselves are avoided as much as possible – this should not be a problem.
They should also discuss everything about the physical and emotional setting that might help Susie feel warm, relaxed, content, secure, special, loved, cherished, happy, attractive and romantic. Should it be preceded by a romantic meal? Should Darren shower and use an after-shave Susie has selected? How should he dress? Things to consider about the physical setting include lighting, room temperature, flowers, cushions and whatever else Susie feels makes it cozy and cheery and romantic. What mood would she find most helpful – joyful, relaxed, sensual, worshipful? They could select music to help set the preferred mood. Maybe Susie will surprise Darren by saying she would feel more secure if someone else were present in another room.
All such things should be chosen according to Susie’s taste, not Darren’s, since her sensitivities are currently the biggest concern. If this seems one-sided, it is for this time necessary. However, Susie should be longing for the time when she is healed enough to balance the score.
Of course, every person is unique, so throughout this web series I can only cite possibilities that you as a couple need to drastically modify for your situation. With you, for example, it might be that the wife finds it intolerable to have her breasts seen or touched, in which case what I’m about to mention would be most inappropriate for you. I’ll continue with Susie and Darren, trusting your intelligence to adapt it to your unique situation.
On his wedding night, Darren had no way of knowing what would trigger a negative reaction within Susie. Ideally, however, he should have proceeded very slowly. Susie should have alerted him the moment she felt the slightest discomfort and Darren should have immediately backed off and done everything in his power to comfort and reassure her.
(Sloppy typing and my spell checker conspired in an earlier draft to make the last sentence read, Susie should have altered him the moment . . . “Oh if it were only that easy!” laughed the first woman to spot the error.)
To improve their sexual relationship, Darren and Susie must first undo the damage caused by them not stopping when Susie had been traumatized by seeing Darren unclothed. They need to discuss in detail what things make Susie feel uncomfortable, and set rigidly-adhered to rules that will give Susie the security she desperately needs. Probably they will start by ensuring that for the next several lovemaking sessions they will not allow themselves to proceed beyond what they had felt comfortable about before they were married; restricting themselves to kissing fully clothed. They will probably also decide to keep the bedroom off-limits to any form of lovemaking, since at present Susie associates the bedroom with past traumas she has experienced with Darren. They need to keep to this restriction for as long as it takes for Susie to learn to trust Darren fully and to feel as secure and positive towards him as she had prior to marriage. Darren must be very patient at this time. Trust cannot be forced. Darren must prove himself to her by never overstepping the agreed-to boundaries. If Darren were to shatter that trust even once, it will be a big setback for them.
When at last Susie has returned to the confidence she had just before the wedding night, they need to discuss the next step. This will probably be for Susie, during a time of passionate kissing, to signal when she is ready to have her neck caressed. This will be done with the understanding that Susie will always remain in control because Darren will stop the instant she tells him to. Over the next sessions, Darren’s stroking, which will always begin with her neck after a long time of kissing, can slowly move towards her breasts, directed entirely by Susie’s desires.
Darren should try never again to move ahead of what Susie longs for at any given moment. He should, for instance, kiss her until she is begging for him to touch her breasts and even then perhaps hold back just a little. Let her longing build up.
After several such sessions, if Susie is feeling confident they can slowly proceed further. Once Darren discovers something new that she likes he should stay there for many minutes, allowing her to acclimatize to the new experience and learn to enjoy it. While introducing the new – it might be stroking her thighs, for instance – he should, as much as possible, simultaneously keep doing whatever Susie is already comfortable with and enjoys. While stroking her thighs, he might keep kissing her lips, interspersed with verbally reassuring her of this love. Or, if she is totally relaxed about having her breasts caressed and thoroughly enjoys it, he might caress her with one hand on her thigh and the other on her breast. By so doing, he is building a link in her mind between the new, which she finds mildly pleasant, and the established, which she finds highly enjoyable. In time – several sessions later, perhaps – the build up of arousal could awaken a new desire within Susie, such as the caressing of her buttocks. If so, she should convey this to Darren. If not, he might help her discover new pleasures by Darren gradually exploring different parts of her body in a way and at a pace that Susie feels perfectly comfortable with.
Once the new is firmly established in Susie’s repertoire of nice feelings, the couple can slowly begin to move to another new thing. Susie might sometimes wonder why she should bother to progress, when she feels happy to remain where she is, enjoying what she already feels comfortable with. But new sensations offer unique delights. I love apples, but there is so much more to food than that. I would not want to spend the rest of my life restricted to only eating apples. And not only does further sexual exploration offer new delights, some of them will be even more wonderful than anything Susie has so far enjoyed.
Each small progression will probably take many sessions, but the exciting thing for Darren is that the warmth is spreading. The icy coldness is retreating.
When making love, Susie should try to give her husband constant feedback of her every little feeling and not wait until something dramatic happens before telling him. If she begins to feel uneasy she should also immediately mention it, trusting Darren’s love and understanding to be such that he would not be offended. He must stop as if his life depended upon it, cover up if needed, and reassure her. He should gently, soothingly consult with Susie as to what would make her feel more at ease.
The whole incident should be bathed in calm, faith-filled prayer. Darren will be guided by what Susie had earlier told him would most likely comfort her, but because it is hard for anyone to predict ahead of time what would work best, Darren must remain flexible; alert that Susie might feel the need to change from the pre-arranged plan. He should seek to do whatever she feels it takes to calm and comfort her – even if she tells him to leave the room. She needs whatever will most quickly restore her feeling of security and makes her feel in control of the situation.
After Susie has calmed, and if she feels up to it, they should try to focus on the enjoyment they experienced prior to the trauma; going over the good parts in their minds and telling each other about how much it meant to them. They should realize that not only can they find ways around the negative, they can learn to prolong the positive. They have learnt something valuable this time. Next time will be better because they will know what to avoid. If Susie is up to it – she probably will not be – they could end the session with a repeat of the earlier fun, ensuring they stay well within the realms of safe and familiar territory.
After Susie has totally calmed – perhaps a day later, but before another time of making love – Darren should seek clarification from Susie as to what she thought triggered the adverse reaction. It is possible that it was so subconscious that she does not even know. Don’t dig up the distant past, but in prayerful, confident dependence upon God, try to work out together exactly what would be best to avoid. For the next couple of passionate times, renewed caution is called for. Susie needs to regain her confidence. So for those times, leave a wide safety margin. If all goes well, after a few sessions they can prayerfully discuss where it would be safe to shift the boundaries.
As the couple inch forward, fears will gradually dissolve. To illustrate, let’s deal with Susie’s shock at seeing Darren’s body. Both Darren and Susie need reassurance that Susie’s reaction is not the slightest reflection on her love, nor the slightest indication of any inadequacy in Darren. The problem is simply the emergence of a ‘ghost’ from Susie’s past. In consultation with Susie, Darren will need to work out ways of being as intimate with Susie as she wants, while concealing whatever needs to be concealed. They should creatively consider together various options in clothing, lighting, whether Susie, upon a signal from Darren, should close her eyes, or focus solely on his face, and so on. They should carefully put in place precautions that will reduce the possibility of Susie accidentally seeing anything that might slightly disturb her.
When, after several days or weeks, Susie is feeling ready, they should discuss how Susie can begin to associate with the Darren she loves, those parts of his body which prior to marriage he had rightly kept covered. It might be best to find a warm but non-sexual situation in which to begin. That might make it less emotionally charged for Susie. Also, the sight of Darren aroused might at this early stage be more disturbing for her. Even the sight of Darren’s bare chest might take some getting used to. If this is even slightly so, Susie and Darren might sometimes agree to do something like watching television together, with Darren having his shirt off. Or, it might feel more normal to Susie if, dressed in swimming wear they go for a swim together several times.
They could also discuss whether there might be ways of making Darren’s body look less like what Susie remembers of her abuser’s body. Possibilities include using preparations that make the skin look more suntanned, and bleaching or shaving body hair. All such things must be prayerfully worked out as a couple. It must not be something Darren decides on his own initiative and then thrusts upon Susie. No matter how good his intentions, this is too risky.
One possibility might be for Darren to work out some rather comical strip routines in which they both know that fully revealing himself is several routines away and he’ll give her adequate warning. Humor is a good way to reduce tension. Another possibility is that one day, when Susie is feeling relaxed and happy, she might warn Darren what is about to happen (I’d advise a warning at this early stage) and playfully enter the bathroom when Darren is about to have a shower. For as long as it’s fun, she can stay, but if she begins to tense up, it’s time to leave.
Susie should also mentally prepare herself, telling herself as she imagines seeing him unclothed: This is my darling. This is the body God lovingly fashioned for him. He is beautiful. He is perfect for me. Seeing him will further my healing. It’s my reaction, not his body, that is less than perfect. I am honored to be able to see him. Darren grants no other woman this privilege.
If her own nudity makes her feel uneasy, Susie should try to become more comfortable about her body. For instance, after taking a shower, if she is securely alone she might sometimes decide to go about her household chores without bothering to dress. If Susie finds that too big a step, by now I think you are beginning to understand what she should do. Susie should simply find smaller steps and take longer to reach her goal. For the first few times she might remain partially clothed, or remain locked in the bathroom and simply change her routine such as cleaning her teeth before dressing. Susie should only move to the next little step after feeling comfortable with the one she has already taken. The critical thing is not how many weeks or months it takes but that she is gradually moving forward.
When, after as many weeks as it takes, Susie feels ready for intercourse, they should take the precaution of using plenty of lubricant, such as K-Y Jelly, to minimize any physical discomfort. Until Susie is sufficiently experienced to find intercourse so enjoyable that she wants to prolong it, they should ensure Darren is near climax before entry.
Every couple need to realize that there is sure to be some degree of unevenness in anyone’s recovery. A recovering wife will have times when she feels more confident and adventurous than others. In fact, such swings can be quite marked. This can be frustrating, but accepting such times as a minor hiccup and not letting them upset you, will aid recovery.
Here’s a suggested prayer for wives:
Like the phantom pain from an amputated limb, false guilt feelings sometimes harass me, and yet the truth is that because of you, my past sins have vanished. Through the miracle of Jesus trading places with me you have bestowed on me the moral perfection of my Savior. So it seems pointless me trying to analyze my past degree of innocence, or otherwise, in the events that emotionally wounded me. Regardless of sex, before your astounding forgiveness, I stood utterly condemned, having willfully done things that broke your heart. I keep hiding from the fact but the reality is that like the rest of humanity I deserved no less than an eternity in hell. And yet you offer me heaven, having made me sparklingly pure in your holy eyes. Cause me to delight in the purity and freedom from guilt that is now mine through Christ.
My experiences with sex have been so awful that I tend to hate not just the abuse of the gift – which I have every right to despise – but the gift itself. Nevertheless, by sheer faith in your goodness I affirm that what was so horribly wrong was not your perfect gift but the way it was abused for evil purposes, totally contrary to your loving ways. By faith in you, the Creator of sex and the Source of love and purity and holy perfection, I declare that marital relations are good and pure and holy. It is an exquisite gift from the God who delights in blessing me beyond all I could ask or think. Sex is your beautiful wedding gift lovingly given to me just because you want to thrill me. Because you always knew I would marry, you placed your present within me from before I was born and caused it to grow. Tragically, your delicate gift was opened ahead of time and savagely vandalized beyond recognition. What was originally holy and beautiful, now seems an ugly, filthy, guilty mess. What was intended as a delight and a blessing now feels like a curse. But you love me, and I refuse to leave your precious wedding present mangled and discarded in a dark corner of my life. I want to honor you as the giver of this love-gift by seeing it restored to its intended beauty and by thoroughly delighting in your generosity to me.
Cause me to turn that gift, once so abused and despised, into a thing of beauty that floods me with joy, enhances my marriage, and glorifies you.
You have only to glance at women’s magazines to know that women find sex a most exciting adventure and a uniquely exquisite source of pleasure and fulfillment. Christians tend to cherish the wonder and intimacy of the experience by being more private about the subject but some research suggests that women who are committed Christians typically find sex even more exciting and delightfully fulfilling than worldly women. Until you find healing, however, you are a sexual cripple who is missing out on so much and your handicap makes you a burden to the man you mean so much to. I speak this way not to distress you but to inspire you to press through to the healing that is rightfully yours. You are like a wheel-chair-bound person who, despite the potential to be healed, will never in her life walk unless she has someone devoted to her whose longing to see her become normal is so incredibly intense that long after everyone else has written her off as hopelessly incurable he will keep trying to motivate her and relentlessly help her breakthrough. In fact, sexually you are doomed unless you are blessed with someone so driven that he persistently refuses to let you lay down and die. If you are married, most likely you are blessed with such a man, even though before your healing is complete it might feel like a curse.
In the next webpage we will discuss your husand’s sex drive. His sexual passions might at present be like a wild fire but, as impossible as it seems, they can be tamed and become a beautiful source of warmth and security to you. So, despite your reservations, I encourage to boldly read this next webpage, which will include a deeper explaination of how your husband’s sex drive is your link to God’s healing.
Husbands will be wondering how any red-blooded man could possibly cope with the sexual pressure of a go-slow approach. This matter is vital to both partners and it is squarely addressed in the next webpage. Prayerfully, what I have just shared has empowered wives to embrace with positive anticipation the challenge of understanding their husbands’ yearnings and discovering how it can become an enormous source of blessing to women for whom sex has until now brought nothing but pain.
Grantley Morris 2000. All rights reserved. Not to be copied except for personal use because this is not the final draft.