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Lesson 3: My Sexual Behaviors

The more we understand how our childhood environment and life experience impact brain development, the more likely we are to recognize the source of our unhealthy behaviors. While it may not be obvious at first, over time, as we struggle to manage love, sex, and relationships, it becomes quite clear: our behaviors, especially our sexual behaviors, are interfering with our ability to create genuine connection with others.

Many women struggle with understanding how our sexuality affects our perspective, capacity for relationship, and even our daily lives. For many of us, our sexuality has brought us nothing but pain: we have been used and abused; we are wanted and rejected; we are shamed for being female.

We have bought into society’s definition of sexuality: that our sexuality ultimately leads us to love and acceptance. We have been deceived.

Even as a little girl I loved the attention I received from men. I was raised by a single mom and never had much contact with my biological dad. My mom got pregnant at 17 and my parents never married. Over the years, I watched my mom’s behavior toward men: fun and flirty, dressing for attention, and always interested in what the men were interested in. Despite a string of unhealthy, unsuccessful relationships, my mom was always looking for the perfect man.

I learned what womanhood should look like from my mom. I typically had more guy friends than girl friends. I was never without a boyfriend, often starting a relationship with a new guy before ending my current relationship. I learned that if I gave my boyfriends physical affection they would treat me well, say nice things to me, and buy me gifts: they would love me.

Although I participated in many sexual acts with all my boyfriends, I didn’t officially lose my virginity until I was 14 years old, the summer before I entered high school, to a high school senior. I felt so loved!

I immediately told my mom about my first sexual experience. My mom gave me a brief talk about safe sex and scheduled a doctor appointment for me so I could get on birth control pills. She didn’t want me to get pregnant. I finally made the connection: sex equals love.

Lara

What is sexuality? While many think our sexuality is based on sexual orientation and preference, it is so much more. From birth we are identified as female. Our brain is female, organized differently than a male brain. For example, the female brain has language centers in both hemispheres; whereas, the language center of the male brain is in the left hemisphere.41 Generally, this is why women cultivate relationships, socially connect, and communicate more than men.

It was once thought that gender and sexuality were culturally shaped, having more to do with how parents raised their children than actual biological differences.42 Today, it is well-recognized that the female brain is structurally and functionally different than the male brain, contributing to the vast behavioral differences in memory potential, emotional sensitivity, learning capacity, and more.

We are created in the image of God and uniquely created female.

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
GENESIS 1:27 NLT

By God’s design, our sexuality is a core characteristic of our human nature. We are sexual beings. It is part of our identity. However, when we don’t understand the intent and purpose of our sexuality from God’s perspective, it can become an area that is misused, manipulated, distorted, and a source of shame.

As illustrated in Lara’s story, so many women confuse sexual activity with love. Ultimately, we all want to experience a deep, unconditional, sacrificial love. Seeking this “perfect” love, we continually exchange sexual favors and compromise our sexuality, only to be left alone, disappointed, and ashamed yet again. What we fail to recognize is that sex is not the glue that holds human relationships together.

In Mark 12:29-31 (NLT), Jesus clearly states that love, not sex, is the bonding agent in relationships: loving God and loving others.

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

So, if we were not raised in an environment where we learned this type of love and have not experienced it elsewhere, how is it that we develop a mindset for genuine love?

Use the following questions to begin identifying differences in the way love impacts our perceptions and behaviors.

Love is a learned behavior. It is not one of our basic human emotions. From birth, we all learn what love looks like through experience. Not only do we learn what love should or should not look like, we assign meaning to love based on the behaviors of others. We spend a lifetime interpreting the intent and motivation behind the way we are loved, only to find that our interpretation was shaped through our misguided and distorted view of love.

Think about life as a child. When do we remember feeling loved and close to our parents? When we received emotional support and encouragement? When we received physical affection—hugs, kisses, snuggles? Going out to shop or explore? Eating new foods or treats together?..

The way we experience love and our perception of love impacts our sexuality. We want to feel loved through genuine connection, but struggle when our desire for love and connection becomes enmeshed with our sexuality. At some point, our sexual behaviors enter a gray area: our mind grapples with what we know to be true and what we can justify, convincing ourselves that our behaviors are okay if we never fully cross sexual boundaries. In the moment, we often cannot see how the behaviors we have justified as “harmless” lead to unhealthy sexual perceptions and behaviors in the future.

I hated getting up in the morning for class. It was my second year of college and I shared a dorm room with three of my good friends. Some mornings, Claire’s bed was empty. It didn’t take long to see her on the top bunk spooning with Brittney—again. Claire must have slept there all night. Weird. I never understood why my friends needed to be so touchy and spoon with each other all the time.

I quickly did my morning stretches and then hopped in the one shower in our dorm room. I had to shower quickly: I knew my roommates’ alarms would go off soon and I didn’t want to be in the shower when they got up. I washed up, got out, and threw a towel around me. A few minutes later, one by one, my three friends got out of bed and made their way into the bathroom. Before long, they were all naked and getting in the small shower together, like they did nearly every morning.

The whole thing made me very uncomfortable. I always felt like I needed to rush through my shower just so they didn’t all get in there with me. There was no way I was going to be squished in a shower with three other girls. I put on my clothes and a little makeup and headed out of the room. I didn’t want to be there any longer than necessary. I knew they would stand around naked while putting on their makeup before getting dressed.

On my walk to the cafeteria, I couldn’t help but question my friends’ behavior. Why do they spoon all night? Why do they feel like they should be naked together in the shower? Are they attracted to each other? I could not figure it out. I sat down at the table and then noticed my boyfriend walking over. For a second I wondered, If I didn’t have this amazing guy in my life, would I want to be naked with my girlfriends and cuddle with them all night? I really hoped the answer was no, but I wasn’t sure.

None of my friends were dating anyone, though they wanted to be in relationships. Maybe my friends were trying to fill a void: since they were not in a dating relationship with a guy, they developed a closeness—too close—with one another. It didn’t make sense to me, but I also couldn’t imagine what it would be like to not be in a dating relationship. Maybe my roommates were trying to fill their desire for intimacy by being physical with each other? My thoughts quickly passed as I stood to greet my boyfriend with a hug. I couldn’t imagine life without the connection we shared.

Kristi

THE CONTINUUM OF SEXUALITY

Human sexuality is complex and exists on a continuum.43 Based on our experiences, both positive and negative, we form rules and expectations around our sexuality. Throughout our lifetime, the pendulum of our sexual behavior swings. So much of our physiology is all about balance, and this includes our sexuality. If we have experienced healthy sexual relationships, our sexual perception and behaviors reflect health. When we experience pain and trauma in sexual relationships, our sexual perception and behaviors swing between sexual extremes: sexual anorexia and sexual addiction.

Sexual anorexiais characterized by a distinct aversion to anything sexual. This includes rigid and judgmental attitudes toward sexuality and physical touch. Many of us who struggle with sexual anorexia carry extreme sexual shame and self-loathing related to previous sexual experiences or a negative perspective of sex. We may exhibit distortions in our physical perception and appearance.

Sexual anorexia is based on a core belief: “I am basically a bad, unworthy person. No one could love me as I am. My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others. Sex is bad and dirty. Sex is my most terrifying need.”

Motivations: illusion of power, control, safety, and self-righteousness

Sexual health is characterized by manageable sexual behaviors. This includes honest and vulnerable communication and realistic expectations of sex. We recognize that physical sex is only part of our sexuality, cultivating intimacy through commitment, trust, and healthy boundaries. We are expressive in our sexuality. We are content.

Sexual health is based on a core belief: “I am saved by God’s grace, worthy of His love. I am created in God’s image and I am loveable. My needs can be met through an intimate, loving relationship. Sex is an amazing part of God’s design between me and my husband.”

Motivations: emotionally and spiritually connected, present, and affectionate.

Sexual addiction is characterized by out-of-control sexual behaviors. This often includes excessive masturbation, pornography use, fantasy, and multiple sexual partners. Despite negative consequences, our compulsive need for sexual satisfaction persists—we seek out risk-filled sexual experiences. We’re looking for a quick fix, a moment of instant gratification to mask our feelings of pain and fear. We feel socially isolated.

Sexual addiction is based on a core belief: “I am basically a bad, unworthy person. No one could love me as I am. My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others. Sex is my most important need.”

Motivations: illusion of power, control, safety, freedom, and choice.

THE CONTINUUM OF SEXUALITY

Some of the motivations for sexual anorexia and sexual addiction are identical. Although many of the attitudes and behaviors are polar opposites, the motivation looks the same: we want to feel like we are the one with all the power; we want to feel like we have control in the relationship; we want to feel safe. As we continue to understand what healthy sexuality looks like, we will discover that this is essential for learning how to manage love, sex, and relationships.

Our sexuality is a defining piece of who we are—a part of our core identity. When we understand our sexual behaviors, both healthy and unhealthy, it helps us recognize where change is needed.

Looking Ahead

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