How do you reclaim and redeem your sexuality as a survivor of sexual assault?

TW: This article talks about sex, sexuality, and sexual assault which may be triggering. Proceed with care and make sure to take care of yourself after reading.


Are you afraid of sex? Do you find yourself weighed down by sexual sin and temptations? Do you despise the fact that your body is sexual? Are you terrified of marriage and dating? Do you fear your wedding night? Are you overcome with shame from what happened to you?

You are not alone. After being sexually assaulted I have struggled to see my sexuality as a good thing. If you wanted relational or maybe even some form of sexual intimacy with the person who assaulted you, you may believe that it was your fault and that your sexuality is evil or dirty. Being taken advantage of sexually can cause you to fear being sexual again and to grasp for some shadow of control. Whether you are terrified of sex or have flung yourself into sexual relationships after the assault, both are normal symptoms of that shame and fear. 

So how do we reclaim and redeem our sexuality as survivors?

My sexual brokenness started long before I was assaulted

I don’t know about you but the baggage surrounding my sexuality began long before I was sexually assaulted. In high school, ashamed and insecure about my body I found that dancing sexually around my classmates got me the attention and validation I desperately sought after. Of course, it didn’t actually solve the problem. The attention and validation I received only lasted as long as I gave them a reason to look. The more sexually promiscuous I was, the more hollow I felt inside. While my peers praised me for my sexuality they wholly ignored the rest of what made me beautiful and special. My personality and passions were the things that I truly longed to be validated and celebrated for. I wanted someone to tell me that my body was beautiful even with the things that I was most insecure about. 

While my sexual exploration left me more and more unsatisfied, it led me into a sexual addiction that I struggled with in secret. I wrestled with pornography, masterbation and an addiction to sexual attention. Completely lost in the tumultuous sea of my sexuality I began having sex with my boyfriend. All of these things were happening while I was a professing christian and desperately trying to follow after Jesus. When I went to college I continued to wrestle with the same struggles. But when I got plugged into a christian community on campus I began to trust and love God deeply. As my heart changed and grew in intimacy with God, I became convicted to want to live the way God called me to live. My boyfriend and I committed to abstinence with difficulty and eventually broke up. In my newly found commitment to sexual purity and broken hearted from the end of a 3 ½ year relationship, I slipped back into my old habits of sexual promiscuity to find validation. It was in that place spiritually and sexually that I was sexually assaulted on several occasions over the course of a year.

When I reached rock bottom, God showed me the path to healing

Perhaps you can relate to my story. The shame of what happened and the baggage from my sexual history were suffocating me. The two were so messily interconnected that I blamed my sexuality and sexual brokenness for the assaults. But slowly God began to reveal to me His beautiful design for my sexuality. He compassionately revealed to me His plan and purpose for marriage and showed me  that I was worthy of a relationship that valued and loved me unconditionally. He cast vision for a marriage marked by faithful, sacrificial love. Through the Authentic Intimacy podcast he revealed to me that I was not the only christian struggling with my sexuality and that while we are all sexually broken, God can heal even our most painful wounds. 

The Gospel is written in our sexuality

In the Christian world, sex is rarely talked about. The main message you get is: don’t have sex before marriage at all costs THE END. But God’s story of sexuality is so much deeper and richer than that. In Dr. Juli Slattery’s book Rethinking Sexuality, she explains that the Gospel is written in our sexuality. You heard that right. God created sexuality as a metaphor to illustrate His love for humanity. In Ephesians 5:22-33 we get a glimpse of the metaphor God had in mind when He created gender, sexuality and marriage. The sacrificial love and submission we are called to in a Christ-centered marriage illustrates Jesus’s sacrificial love on the cross for us. The metaphor in marriage helps us understand our life as Christ followers as we die to ourselves and experience everlasting life in perfect union with Him! 

The love that God has for us is not a contractual love, it is a covenant love. It is not dependent on our faithfulness to him or keeping up our end of the bargain. He is and will always be faithful to us because He has made a covenant promise that He will never break. Praise God! In the same way, marriage was designed to mirror that covenant promise. In marriage you are called to love another person for as long as you live and no matter how hard it gets you remain faithful to each other and sacrificially love one another. Sexual intimacy is the celebration of that covenant promise. The vulnerability and giving of self in sex is a symbol of the covenant of marriage you have entered into. The fact that sex is passionate, pleasurable and requires a sacrificial give and take reminds us that the covenant love we have with God should also be passionate and sacrificial.

Our desire and yearning for sexual intimacy as a single person is a beautiful piece of the puzzle as well. Our longing for deep intimacy with another person is a reminder of the God-shaped hole God has placed in our hearts. Our soul yearns desperately for unity and closeness with God. The patience and struggle to wait for sexual intimacy is the same struggle we face as Christians living in a broken world waiting for Jesus’ return. We look forward to the day when we will be able to live the rest of eternity in complete and perfect unity with God. 

Covenant love gives hope to survivors

There is the hope in this vision of sexuality for survivors. The sex that was forced on us when we were assaulted does not even come close to the consensual covenant sex of marriage. Rape is a violation of our sexuality. Instead of our sexuality being expressed in a committed consensual relationship it was selfishly taken advantage of. That is not the design God has for sex. Sex is a mutual loving surrender. Coercion is not love. Love is not forced. Love is sacrificial. 

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

If you blame yourself for what happened, ask yourself: Did the person who harmed me love me this way? I promise you that the answer is no! 1 Corinthians 13 is the love that we should expect. That is the love we are worthy of. That is the love that God gives us every second of everyday even when no one else will. The person who harmed you was not loving – they were self seeking. They weren’t patient or kind. They were proud. They dishonored you. They delighted in evil instead of rejoicing in the truth. Survivor, you are worthy of so much more. As you courageously date again and pursue marriage, you should settle for nothing less than a spouse who is committed to running after Jesus and loving you and others as 1 Corinthians 13 models. Of course we cannot expect perfection from a spouse. They are marred by the same brokenness and sin that we all suffer from. However, let us hope for something far greater than the abuse or assault that we endured. 

Your sexuality is not dirty or bad.

As Dr. Howard Hendricks says, “We should not be ashamed to discuss what God was not ashamed to create.”  God is not “indifferent or too holy” to care about your sexual trauma, temptations, and shame. Dr. Slattery says, “Jesus is creator and savior of every aspect of our lives including sexuality.” God created us as sexual beings. It was an intentional part of His design of you. It was not an afterthought. 

Yet because over the powerful metaphor ingrained in our sexuality, the Devil is all the more committed to destroying it. “If the body and sex are meant to proclaim our union with God, and if there’s an enemy who wants to separate us from God, what do you think he’s going to attack?” (Rethinking Sexuality). In John 10:10 it says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” There is hope in that for survivors. It gives me hope that while the enemy has killed, stolen, and destroyed our sexuality, Jesus has come that we may have a sexuality that is full of life! 

Invite God into your broken sexuality and allow Him to restore it

Something struck me in my recent reading of The Song of Songs. It consistently uses the garden as a metaphor for sexuality. Gardens are not stagnant. Contrary to purity culture’s well intentioned but harmful teaching that once we’ve had sex before marriage we are irreparably and permanently damaged, this metaphor suggests otherwise. Gardens can be tilled, nurtured and brought back to health. We serve the Great Gardener who loves us more than we can even wrap our heads around. He is the restorer of all things and He can restore your sexuality to His beautiful design. Invite God into your broken sexuality and allow Him to begin restoring it. 

Note and citation: Rethinking Sexuality by Dr. Juli Slattery is a powerful, perspective shifting exploration of God-honoring sexuality and I highly recommend that you check it out for a more in depth understanding of the concepts I described here.

One thought on “How do you reclaim and redeem your sexuality as a survivor of sexual assault?

  1. Kate – thank you so much for sharing this. I know it takes courage to share so openly about these subjects. Keep sharing your story! This is an important conversation in the church. Much love!

    Like

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