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Lesson 2: Healthy Sexuality

When it comes to our sexuality, it can be challenging to identify what healthy sexuality looks like. Socially, we are bombarded by mixed messages from TV, films, and popular culture. We get the impression we should be able to have sex wherever, whenever, and with whomever we choose with no consequences. However, from our church, we may hear that we should never even think about sex, much less enjoy it. Neither of these approaches are biblical. We are sexual beings. God created us to have a sexual identity. Somewhere along the line, we humans really mess up this whole concept.

Our sexuality is shaped by many things but not just our biology. It is learned through relationship and experience. Growing up, we may have experienced an environment that encouraged healthy boundaries and we were given authority over our body, which made us feel safe, protected, and confident with our physical identity. However, when we experience abuse, neglect, and abandonment, this negatively affects our boundaries, disrupting our sexual and self-perception. Boundary violations include:

• Emotional: “Stop crying! You’re such a baby!”
• Intellectual: “You are so stupid!”
• Physical: slapping or pinching
• Sexual: inappropriate touch or words
Our sexual perception is unique to us. If we have a healthy sense of our value and worth—a balanced and accurate self-esteem—our internal boundaries protect our sexual perception. When our self-perception is broken—when our sense of value and worth is unhealthy—it impacts and shapes our sexual perception. We believe the lies:
• “I’m pretty, but not as pretty as…”
• “I will only get a boyfriend if I…”
• “If I’m skinny, I will be loved.”
• “I have to be porn-ready for relationships.”
• “My husband will leave me for someone else if I’m not…”
• “I have to dress a certain way to feel sexy.”
• “I fantasize that I am someone else to orgasm during sex with my husband.”

• “I have to get free from this addiction before anyone will love me.”
• “I have to act like someone else just to get a guy to notice me.”

Our sexuality is complex. As women, our view of healthy sexuality becomes complicated by body image issues, comparing ourselves to other women, and the shame we hold on to as a result of our sexual experiences. It’s no wonder we have difficulty understanding and experiencing healthy sexuality.

I am very involved in church and mentor other women. I am a worship leader, volunteer at women’s ministry events, have the perfect marriage, well-behaved kids, and am extremely kind to everyone. However, I have a secret. Every day, I live under a cloud of shame from something that happened when I was a little girl.

When I was eight years old, I started to explore what it would be like to kiss someone. It started out as simple curiosity, but quickly grew into something I couldn’t stop. I began by making out with my teddy bear, pretending it was a boy I liked from school. One day when my neighbor friend Kate was over, I told Kate we should kiss. We kissed a few times, and then wanted to kiss again with the lights off and longer. This continued for several months. Eventually we tried experimenting in other sexual ways and included other neighbor girls as well. I knew it was wrong, but the excitement and the shame drove me to want it more. A couple years went by and Kate moved away. Eventually I stopped seeing the other girls in the neighborhood. Kate held all our friends together and with her gone, it wasn’t the same.

After Kate moved, I felt very guilty about everything I had done and what I made the other girls do too. I felt flawed. I never wanted anyone to find out what I did with my friends. The thought of anyone knowing became my worst fear. I buried this secret deep inside and carried the guilt with me every day. My anxiety grew over the years, but on the outside, I worked hard to make sure it looked like I had it all together.

I may have made my life look great, but the shame from my early sexual experiences with other girls was driving my perfectionist behavior. It had been more than 30 years, but I still worried about someone finding out or running into one of those neighbor girls from my past. To make matters worse, I never told my husband about it. My own sexuality was so tainted by shame, I constantly struggled to sexually connect with my husband. It didn’t matter how much I tried to forget it. Unless I took the time to process and deal with the guilt and shame, I would not be able to experience healthy sexuality.

Beth

In practical terms, what does it mean for us to develop a mindset for healthy sexuality? What does this look like on a daily basis? What does this look like behaviorally?

As women, the development of our sexuality is important. Whether we are married or single, we have to learn what it means to live out our sexuality in a healthy way. For many single women with previous sexual experiences through masturbation or encounters with others, we need to discover what it means to live as sexual beings as God intended and not filled with shame and regret, but fueled with the knowledge that our sexuality was created by God for good. For married women, many of us carry our shame and regret into the marriage, unable to recognize how our self-perception and sexual identity inhibit true connection with our spouse.

I love having sex with my husband and regularly reach orgasm during sex. Before having sex I heard about so many women who couldn’t orgasm and I knew that wouldn’t be a problem for me. Truthfully, I was proud to marry as a virgin who didn’t have a problem in the orgasm department. For several years, I figured out the secret to successful orgasm by masturbating a couple times a week but that wasn’t a big deal, right?

In my dating history, I was close but never gave into sex before marriage. Instead, I would get intimately physical with my boyfriends without crossing “the line” and then masturbate when I was alone. I never looked at porn: instead, I allowed my mind to wander into the world of fantasy where I took on the role of a sexy woman dressed in skimpy clothes, dominating the man I was with. The men in my fantasies would change from time to time, but what really turned me on was thinking about how sexy I looked. Although my fantasy may not have been influenced by porn, my perception of what a woman should look like during sex was heavily skewed by images I saw in movies, store catalogs, and social media.

Fast forward ten years after our wedding night. We had “good sex” for ten years and I never had a problem with masturbation after we got married. Most of the guilt and shame I had about my masturbation issues were in the past. Since I

didn’t masturbate after getting married, it seemed like a non-issue. However, while having sex with my husband, my mind would wander deep into the same exact thoughts I had when I used to masturbate. Every…single…time. In fact, if I didn’t let my mind wander into my fantasy world, I knew I wouldn’t reach orgasm. If my fantasy got interrupted, it wouldn’t happen either.

In those ten years of having sex a couple times a week, I never once orgasmed without escaping into my fantasy world where I was a sex idol. My brain was responding to my fantasy rather than the amazing reality that was right in front of me. I was incapable of experiencing real, healthy sexual intimacy with my husband and had absolutely no idea what I was missing.

Kora

When it comes to living out our sexuality in a healthy way, we have to be intentional. We have to understand and identify how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contribute to our sexual health. Are we consciously choosing to move toward healthy sexuality or are we constantly pulled back into unhealthy sexual behaviors? Once we have developed this awareness, we can begin to replace our unhealthy sexual behaviors with new behaviors that promote a holistic approach toward healing physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Remember, it’s not enough that we simply stop an unwanted behavior— we have to replace the behavior with something that will keep us on the path toward lifelong healing.

The following table describes many of the differences between unhealthy sexuality and healthy sexuality

ACKNOWLEDGING MY NEEDS

All of us have needs: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. However, when we have experienced deprivation in these areas, it often leads us to create distorted beliefs that make us feel we are undeserving.164 Those of us who struggle with relationships often miss the fact that healthy relationships are founded on reciprocal interaction— both individuals giving and receiving. In fact, because we desperately seek love and acceptance, we become quite skilled at giving in relationships, but not as comfortable receiving in relationship.

Receiving in relationship requires asking for help. Many of us who struggle with love, sex, and relationship issues were raised in an environment where asking for help was a sign of weakness. It was risky. It left us open to painful experiences. We learned that having needs was unacceptable. In many ways, this left us unable to recognize our own needs, let alone how to get our needs met.

As we continue to learn how to be in relationship with others, it’s important to develop a realistic expectation of our needs. Here are a few examples of common needs.

Physical: Water, food, clothing, shelter, exercise, sleep
Mental: Quality time with others, learning new things, quiet time alone
Emotional: Feeling safe, cared for, and loved; finding meaning in life
Spiritual: Quality time with God, reading the Bible, going to church, finding purpose

Identifying and acknowledging our needs can become challenging, especially if we cannot separate the difference between our wants and needs. Most of us would agree that getting coffee at our favorite local coffee shop would most often fall into our wants category. However, suppose we are having a difficult week, and when texting a friend about it, she suggests we meet for coffee to talk. Realistically, we can admit that quality time with a friend meets our mental need, but meeting at our favorite coffee shop is also going to meet the emotional need of feeling cared for in a difficult time.

As we work to understand what health looks like for us, we first must raise an awareness to our basic needs, as well as recognize the needs that may be uniquely ours..

Raising an awareness to our needs is a positive step on our path toward lifelong health. As we develop a realistic perspective surrounding our needs, it’s important to recognize that we can always look to our heavenly Father and He will meet our needs.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” MATTHEW 6:31-33 NLT

Looking Ahead

Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.

Assignments