It was thrust upon us from our youth. It overcame and became us and now we are being asked to live without it. For so many survivors sexuality has been a battleground of unchosen and unprocessed love, hate, violence, impotence, power and ambivalence. Even after our will is freed to choose, we find our feet stumbling down familiar paths following a groove worn in the fabric of our soul, a groove leading to that familiar, broken cistern...one that still cannot satisfy.
My question before God is and continues to be, "My Father, when You make a heart pure, what does it look like?"
I struggled with sexual addiction for over a decade. Before I began dealing with my SRA/DID history I prayed and fasted and cried out to the Lord, going round and round the circle of shame, yet unable to break free. I would use every bit of will power I had to hold off as long as I could, but in the end I knew I would be overpowered. Over time I got to the point that I would give in as soon as I sensed a struggle. The pain of trying to resist and being defeated countless times was more than I wanted to deal with. I'd preferred to just admit I was hooked, cower in my shame and not try to think about it. "Yes, I am bad/worthless/dirty." Moving on...
There were a few points in my journey where I got desperate and sought the Lord, begging Him to deliver me. I knew I was two-faced, but I had no idea how deep those faces went. Every time I reached a new rock-bottom, I heard one phrase in response to my cry, "When you no longer need it, it will go." I was baffled. It made no sense. I decided it was satan speaking and fell right back into the next cycle of failure. But right there God was speaking to me saying, "I see you. All of you." I just couldn't hear Him yet.
Once I started confronting my history head-on, I was able to tease out the roots of my sexual desire. Most of the places these desires stemmed from had nothing to do with God's intended purpose for sexuality and my panacea-whack-everything-that-moves attempts to vanquish my longings were clearly failing. I have to chuckle a bit looking back. I find that if I am facing a formidable foe that I can't see and don't understand, if I come out of hiding at all, I come out swinging wildly. Unfortunately, I found that most of the time my misguided aggression was preventing more of my self and history from being present and therefore resolved.
But how did I get here? We don't wake up one day as sexually-addicted adults without looking behind and seeing a scarlet thread leading back through a haze of choices. For me this thread began very very early, and not all those choices were mine.
Sex found its introduction early in my childhood. Through my primary caretakers I was conditioned to believe I needed sex more than food. I grew to believe my sexuality was my source of power - in my mind it's what kept me fed and a roof over my head. If the men were pleased, even momentarily, I was safe, accepted, fed and found a place to belong... even if it was at their feet. I had no understanding or awareness of a life or relationship without sex, for that didn't exist in my little world. Yet in all this, I also believed my sexuality wasn't really even mine, just as my body, emotions and will didn't seem to really belong to me since they weren't within my domain of control. There are many roots to sexual drive, but I will seek to address a few that I found most entrenched in my own life.
Digging Up the Roots
Starting out on the journey, most often I would experience sexual desire when I had more of me trying to be here, coming forward from a past context and looking to find a safe place to land. Resolution came with a release and validation of my humanity through the slow acclimation to present reality. In many cases this humanity came forward in the state it was left in, which was often in a sex act or orgasmic state. Through the process of grounding in the present out of these past experiences, one can feel extremely humiliated, but shame-avoidance is part of the strength of dissociation as well as an artifact of the memory itself. No matter what state I am in I have learned to say, "Any 'more' is a good 'more'. It's time to let it be here." It is a facade to think anything is better left dissociated. Dissociated aspects of self and unresolved trauma hinder relationships with others and God. It affects those we love more than we realize and it represents places that demonic entities can attach to or prey upon. Unhealed wounds and open, untended sores in the natural world attract flies and represent potentially dangerous weaknesses. The same holds true in the spiritual.
Side Note: For those helping survivors, whenever more humanity is being released out of a defiling event it is good to pray about spiritual charges that would effect the atmosphere and those present during the process. As the affective side of the past is released, any spiritual attachments can seek a place to land. It is important to pray around the spiritual as well as transference and countertransference dynamics before or after these events.
Often I would feel sexual desire when I had a strong emotion - namely hatred, fear, anger or pleasure. I had learned to convert any strong emotion into sexual desire. Strong emotion necessitates some kind of release, but as a child I was never allowed to have a normal, appropriate response to what I felt. Instead, from infancy, being brought into sexual arousal was the option I was given to release my emotional energy inside. As I began to integrate, I would get in touch with new emotions that I had never built capacity for. Because the only way I ever processed any feelings was to funnel it into a sexual act, I had to learn something new.
For example, I might be sitting down with my pastor and his wife at a meal and taste something enjoyable and I would immediately feel aroused. It wasn't intentional. It was spontaneous and it was embarrassing. But if I didn't recognize the conversion and I just tried to stuff down the arousal because of shame, the desire would only intensify. Instead I had to acknowledge and name the original emotion, pleasure, and bless my capacity to experience pleasure. I would often have to speak to myself and my body and explain that pleasure exists outside of sex and my mouth can eat and enjoy food without arousal now. I also reminded myself that I don't have to 'pay' for this food. It is a gift, no strings. As I spoke truth aloud, acknowledged the source of the desire and allowed shame to dissipate by responding in kindness towards myself, the arousal would subside or it would make way for a more memory and release.
Need also could precipitate sexual desire. If I was hungry, exhausted, cold or needing comfort, I would experience sexual longing. As a very small child I remember feeling like I was starving but before I ever got to eat I was sexually aroused. In my still-being-formed mind this created a connection between the need for food and sex, the experience of hunger and arousal. After awhile when I experienced hunger, I thought I needed sex. I was often intentionally sleep deprived and forced to engage in sexual activities for hours or days. I found that the physiological effects of orgasm masked my true needs pretty well, and since I couldn't seem connect to the source of fulfillment of those needs, I assumed sex was the answer to just about everything. This wasn't a conscious conclusion, it was just a by-product of classic conditioning and a little girl's attempt to find order in chaos.
As I integrated, I had to learn how to identify needs in my life, fulfill them healthy ways and turn to the Lord for satisfaction. It started with giving things a name. "This is hunger. It means I need food." Then I would immediately go eat to help my brain rebuild the connection between hunger, food and the filling of the original need. In a sense I had to build new memories and pathways in my brain through acknowledging and meeting my needs in healthy ways. Even still, my brain didn't always understand or know how to experience satiety, so I learned to turn to the Lord where my body and brain were still healing.
And sometimes sexual arousal is just a physiological response. My jeans are too tight. My bowels are really messed up. I have a lot of pain with my menstrual cycle this week. My hormones are going crazy....etc. For me, physical pain, especially in my lower abdominal area will trigger a sexual-type response. This is something I never dreamed I would share publicly, but I only say this as an example because it might help you feel a little less odd, yourself. If I get constipated and I am forced to do a medical procedure to help my body void (which unfortunately happens when damage has been done down there and the trauma has been locked up in the body), my body immediately starts spasming. The spasms create intense pain and my body responds within seconds by producing an orgasm. This physiological response can easily trigger shame and feelings of powerlessness, but my body is simply responding in the way it had to thousands of times in the past. It doesn't know the difference between today's medical intervention and yesterday's way of surviving all kinds of sex. It is uncontrollable and physiological. It isn't a memory state; it is the way my body has been conditioned through years of abuse.
When life forces me into these hard places, I remind myself that this is not sexual and I am not 'being hurt'. My body is already hurt from my history and it is only doing what it knows how to do, and then I bless my body. Honestly, I don't know how I would have survived without my body finding ways to endure. Sometimes I even try to thank my body for all it has brought me through.
Being kind to yourself goes a really long way.
Sex as Power, Control or Escape
There are other factors that drive us to keep our sexuality in the forefront of relationships. Sex may be seen as a form of power or self-protection. If sex has been associated with the fulfillment of needs or as a tool to have power in relationship, as it was for me, then it will take time and daily, conscious decisions to let go of the perceived benefits of relating to others primarily out of our sexuality. In my history with men, if I sensed a man was angry or I felt intimidated I would instinctively start flirting or being playful. This diversion, which often lead to the perception of consensual sex, felt less painful than being the brunt of someone's unadulterated hatred and violence when sex was taken without consent. The latter left me with the stinging reality of my own impotence. Today when I encounter anger in others, I have had to learn to turn towards the Lord for interpretation of the situation as well as how to respond, otherwise old patterns kick in before I have a chance to even think. Sex as a source of power has many manifestations, but getting at the root means learning to let the Lord be our Protector and Strength. It is a walk of faith and trust to let go of lesser powers.
Relinquishing sex as an escape is one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced. Sexual release has an anesthetizing effect. On top of that, when it is experienced as a child in the context of incest or violence, it can precipitate the psyche-splitting behavior where one seems to be able to separate from the pain of the body. As a child, this was necessary in the context of abuse and a beautiful God-given survival skill. But fast forward a decade or two and as an adult, if that person is using the same methods of survival when the need for survival has passed and as a result has never processed the trauma nor developed life coping skills, then turning to a sexual release has now become a hindrance to life. It has become an unhealthy escape from areas of life that he or she has been unable to build capacity for. I told a friend recently that if dissociation had a sister it would be orgasm; both provide a quick flight from the present.
As I began to rely on dissociation less and less, I found my soul hungry for any form of escape, but especially through my sexuality. The same way I had to learn to say 'no' to the easy way out through dissociation and begin to stay present and confront life's impossibility, I had to do the same with finding escape thru sexual release. It is learning to say 'yes' to the task of growing up our emotions and building capacity for life, a life without a plan B. Without God this task of developing a lifetime of lost capacity is impossible. But with God, all things are possible, and we do not walk alone. Since He is God with Us, we can borrow His capacity when we need it. We might even be surprised by the unexpected places joy shows up along the way.
Passivity & Disowned Sexuality
Through years of being overpowered, we have been conditioned to believe our sexuality is not our own. In time, we may find ourselves immediately submitting to any and all sexual advances because our sexuality has been externalized and our boundaries broken down. This takes time to rebuild as we learn to take responsibility for this area of our soul/spirit. For years I believed I was indebted to those around me, and that debt was paid through my body. I didn't understand when people were kind or fed me without expectation of payment. That was new to me. In a similar vein, I saw my sexuality as the way I would say 'thank you'. If I felt grateful for something I would offer my body. I didn't understand that a simple "Thank you" was enough.
As I began claiming back my body, taking ownership of my sexuality, then submitting it to the Lord and forbidding the enemy to trespass my soul and spirit thru the gateway of my sexuality, I began to learn the difference between true arousal, conditioning, conversion and being triggered sexually from spiritual forces outside of myself. Once I began dealing with the root of the arousal, I began seeing a shift. Our sexuality is a gateway for the soul/spirit and so part of having a plethora of one flesh unions enmeshed with satanic interfaces is that our soul can become a doorway to the corporate kingdom of darkness. When you can take back those doorways from the enemy and close them - which is less about warfare and more about the displacement of dark powers through exercising your will and standing on the Truth of God's Word - then less will be able to control and penetrate you spiritually or physically from the outside. One of the last places I have experienced arousal from is outside spiritual influences and triggers. There is no magical prayer, but you need to ask the Lord how to close the doors and be faithful to follow Him where He leads.
Sex & Worship
Within the proper context of a husband and wife covenant, sexual relatedness is worshipful. I’m not saying the sexual encounter between a man and his wife will mirror the ecstatic, terrifying, euphoric, soul-shattering experience it was in the cult, thankfully, but if marital intimacy is to be a reflection of Christ loving His Bride, then proper relatedness will bring glory to the Lord. It will even reflect Him. I believe with all my heart that the gateway of sexuality is a doorway not just to the soul, but also to the spirit. Man and wife are designed to be one flesh and related to and communing with one another from their spirit so that their one-ness transcends, encompasses and incorporates the natural and soul realms.
Bearing in mind that satan has stolen and twisted every beautiful thing he can, it is easy to imagine the perversion of sexual expression in the cult. Because of this, for years I simply stopped worshipping. I didn’t know how to separate my heart-expression of love towards God from the sexual gateway of satanic perversion, hatred and wrath I had become, most often in rituals. Sex and worship in my mind and heart were inseparable. When I would try to worship, I couldn't help but remember. So I became quiet, until recently....until I realized that all along satan was after the hijacking or cessation of my ability to worship. If the enemy couldn't kill it, he wanted to steal it, pervert it or silence it.
Beginning to worship again brings with it waves of terror, accusation and fear of vulnerability. For me, the easiest place to begin is intentional gratefulness. Thankfulness towards God is the seed of worship. Genuinely thanking our Father for working all things together for good, even if it is by naked faith, not only pleases Him, but is also a tremendous weapon against darkness.
Moving into Freedom
Part of the healing for me was learning myself and learning to show love to myself. When I say "I am addicted to sex", what is the truth? I'm not addicted to sex in the sense that God created it, so what is it that I am using it for? Am I filling a need? Am I avoiding something? Am I using it as a release for an emotion I don't know what to do with? Is more of me trying to be here?
At the beginning of my journey sexual arousal often elicited panic in me because of the struggle with shame, but today I see it as an invitation to grow in a new capacity. Today I experience sexual desire for different reasons. Sometimes I am being tempted, or there is something projecting on me from the outside and I need to pray and stand. And, let's be honest, I am a single woman who has lived a lifetime engaging in sex and I am learning to develop the capacity to experience arousal and not have release. I am learning to suffer in a new way. A way that says - "Lord, you are my steak dinner, so I'm going to put the cotton candy away and wait for You to meet my needs in your time."
One thing I learned along the way is not to entertain thoughts. Not even for a moment. If I am watching a movie or online and there is a sexual scene, I flee. I'm not kidding. I know myself well enough to know that two seconds of a stolen glance takes me two steps closer to a path I've shed blood, sweat and tears to never have to walk down again. What does that two seconds really cost? Not just to me, but to the Lord and all those who have fought for and with me? The closing thought the aged Apostle John has in 1 John is, "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." It is important to honor the Lord's work in our lives by protecting it with our choices.
Another lesson I've received is when I have memories, especially sexually-charged ones, I ask the Lord if this is the time to deal with these. I found the enemy will sometimes use highly-charged memories to draw me out into a memory states. I would get stuck in these sexual states thinking I could find my way through on my own and end up falling or channeling. Instead, I test any thought or memory when I feel arousal tagging along with it. "Lord are You in this process?" If He is, He promises to carry us into resolution, otherwise pride, often cloaked as shame, will lead us into a snare. If I don't sense the timing is right, I do not allow the memory to overtake my present experience. I will acknowledge the past and validate my history, but I don't allow myself to get drawn into re-living it. I wait until I am in a counseling setting with the God-given support I need. The Lord can teach you how to do this without shutting down or dissociating.
It has been over two years since I was under the grip of sexual addiction. I don't know the day or the hour, but I do know when I no longer needed it, it went. It didn't go easily, but it is gone! It has been a slow, miraculous process of claiming back my self and allowing the domain of my sexuality to come under the loving hand of my Father - a Father Who has never once reached for anyone without holiness and love in His Being. God created sexuality as an intricate part of the holy expression of His Son's love for the Church, a love that gives and lays down its life. Something each one of us, if we are honest, is aching to know. Something that He is longing to express through each one of us if we are willing to be cleansed and be transformed by Him.
No exclusions. No favorites. No I've-gone-too-far.
So if you find your life swallowed up in your own sexuality and can't seem to wriggle out of the web, I would start with asking the Lord and yourself, "Why?"
Is my sexual desire trying to speak to me? If so, what is it I am really trying to say?
End Note - There are many differing opinions on the 'right' or 'wrong' of self-stimulation/masturbation from both a psychological and Biblical point of view. I am not attempting to speak towards this either way. For me, there was no middle ground on any sort of sexual expression that didn't continue to fuel a desire for more in me. My addiction meant that as soon as I conceded a little, my mind continued to push the limit until my emotions and will eventually followed. I needed to find a place in God where there was grace for the steady dying-back of my sexuality through abstinence so it could come into a place of correspondence and submission with my spirit again. In my journey this equated to no intentional sexual release of any sort, and my God gave me grace for it, as He will you if you want and need it.