in our own strength

When my husband and I were engaged, we both had baggage that we kept to ourselves. We didn’t share the secrets we harboured, but they tormented us with a ferocity that I didn’t understand at the time.

My then-future-husband did know that I had been sexually assaulted in college and (apparently) challenged me on how I had healed from the event. I have almost no recollection of this conversation [note to self: this is not a good thing!], except that he was the first person to whom I told any details. I remember him asking me if the guy had exposed himself to me during the assault and answering affirmatively, but other than that, the conversation is a complete blank in my mind. My husband says that he asked me if I had gotten over it and I gave a flippant answer of, “Oh, I’m fine” after a hesitant pause. His response was reportedly, “Doesn’t seem like it to me….”

Anyhow, I was a youth pastor at a small local church and was quite aware of the propensity in the area for teens to end up pregnant and drop out of school. And so as we expressed our love for each other and were engaged, we decided (somewhat tacitly) to abstain from all physical intimacy for the duration. We wanted to “set a good example” for the kids in the youth group and be able to conduct ourselves with integrity as a Christian couple. So we didn’t hold hands, we didn’t kiss, we did nothing physically.

It was hard — there were times that watching a romantic movie would send me over the edge and I’d have to go home and take a cold shower (yes, me!). And there were times when a simple brush of his hand across my arm would send the electricity tingling up from my stomach.

We kept our secrets to ourselves, we didn’t build a basis of trust the way we should have, and most sadly, we built a platform for sexual problems in our marriage.

We maintained purity and were virginal at our wedding, and the kiss we shared during our wedding ceremony was amazing. But the whirlwind of the reception and the limo ride to the hotel didn’t provide enough time to build the intimacy and trust we needed to start our sexual lives together. Men have an innate ability to go from 0-100mph in a short amount of time; women don’t have it. The old joke goes like this, “How do you get a woman ready for sex? You … [and there’s a long list of things to do to prime a woman’s pump]. How do you get a man ready for sex? Show up naked!” That’s pretty accurate in our experience, too. 😐

So how did I go from not ever kissing this man to hopping in the sack in a matter of hours?

I didn’t. Pure and simple. I just didn’t. I longed for his touch, but I had no courage to tell him. I had no ability to share my heart and passion for him, because we were missing that basis of trust and intimacy. Unfortunately, this inability to trust followed us for many years, and it compounded my mixed-message-understanding of married sex. I struggled with messages of “sex is dirty,” and the like, but it was combined with “good girls don’t … ” and “what would he think of you if you …?” Ugh. It was not pretty.

In retrospect, I realize that we never invited God in to our decision to abstain from all physical contact during our engagement. We made the decision in our own strength and maintained it in our own strength. We hamstrung ourselves in our intimate lives for many years to come because we simply didn’t listen to God or even ask what He thought of our decision. :(

Desmond Morris, PhD., is a noted zoologist who has studied the animal kingdom and human sexuality at length. He has observed several things, but one of the most interesting to me is how the human animal builds levels of trust and intimacy through physical touch. The Twelve Steps of Bonding look like this:

  • Eye to Body. The importance people place on these criteria determines whether or not they will be attracted to each other.
  • Eye to Eye. When the man and woman who are strangers to each other exchange glances, their most natural reaction is to look away, usually with embarrassment. If their eyes meet again, they may smile, which signals that they might like to become better acquainted.
  • Voice to Voice. During this long stage the two people learn much about each other’s opinions, pastimes, activities, habits, hobbies, likes and dislikes. If they’re compatible, they become friends.
  • Hand to Hand. The first instance of physical contact between the couple is usually a non-romantic occasion. At this point either of the individuals can withdraw from the relationship without rejecting the other. However, if continued, hand-to-hand contact will eventually become an evidence of the couple’s romantic attachment to each other.
  • Hand to Shoulder. The hand-to-shoulder contact reveals a relationship that is more than a close friendship, but probably not real love.
  • Hand to Waist. Because this is something two people of the same sex would not ordinarily do, it is clearly romantic. They are close enough to be sharing secrets or intimate language with each other.
  • Face to Face. This level of contact involves gazing into one another’s eyes, hugging, and kissing. If none of the previous steps were skipped, the man and woman will have developed a special code from experience that enables them to engage in deep communication with very few words. At this point, sexual desire becomes an important factor in the relationship.
  • Hand to Head. This is an extension of the previous stage. The man and woman tend to cradle or stroke each other’s head while kissing or talking. It is a designation of emotional closeness.
  • Hand to Body
  • Mouth to Breast
  • Touching Below the Waist
  • Intercourse

My husband and I skipped the steps that should have built up to the last 4 levels of intimate bonding, and so when we tried to go from Voice to Voice straight to Intercourse, it was an unmitigated emotional disaster. Knowing now what I know, I realize that God created us to need the steps of bonding and that none of them are wrong or bad, especially kept within a Biblical context of love and marriage. But our baggage kept us from understanding that.

As hindsight is always 20/20, I realize now that although we “set a good example” for the kids in the youth group, it didn’t prevent them from becoming sexually active. Some of them did, some didn’t. Some got pregnant outside of marriage, some got girls pregnant before being married. Some remained pure for their weddings. But wow! we could have made a much better impact showing them Godly love and purity instead of purity done in our own strength. And chances are very good that we wouldn’t have short-changed ourselves in the process.

When my husband and I talk about this now, we realize that if God had called us to the decision all those years ago, we would have been in a great place. He would have made up for the lack of trust and lack of intimacy in some miraculous way. We would never counsel a young couple now to do what we did … unless God was calling them to it directly. Because we have the scars to show from doing it ourselves. And we wouldn’t want another couple to struggle how we did or jeopardize their marriage like we did.

His and his,

~Cori.

This entry was posted on 240656H Jun 2008 and is filed under Path to Healing, Sexual Assault. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

  • http://www.sensuouswife.com Sensuous Wife

    I am so glad you said this!
    I have always felt that couples who felt guilty for kissing or holding hands were setting themselves up for Victorian disaster on their honeymoon.

  • cori

    Yep, you’re right. If we knew then what we know now, Sensuous Wife…but the good news is that our God is an AMAZING Healer and He is making up for the lost years and the gifts He gives are SO good.

    ~cori