Several months ago I presented my Allies talk to a group of parents. I met one of the attendees a couple of weeks later. She thanked me for coming and told me that on the way home that night she and her husband each shared some things from their past related to sex that they’d never told anyone before. She was grateful for the ways my words had opened the door for that conversation and paved the way for many more.
Sexuality is a central and integral part of being human. Last week’s post presented how and why this is so. Sexuality is shaped over a lifetime beginning with the emotional bonds we form (or don’t form) as infants. Because of the ways sexual encounters impact us (and they impact us deeply), they can shape our views of ourselves, others, our world, and God.
Because sexuality is so significant to our lives and because sexual experiences impact us so deeply, sexuality can also be an area of significant growth for us. An important part of that growth involves acknowledging the experiences and encounters that helped shape us.
Your stories matter. In many cases, they hold the key to healing from sexual wounding or finding freedom from recurring sexual struggles. As we think about our childhood experiences we can then respond with compassion to the child within us. This can help us respond with grace and compassion to our own children and identify with the challenges they may face.
In today’s post, I’m inviting you to take some time alone with God to think about and begin to process some of the ways in which your sexuality has been shaped thus far in your journey. Most of your encounters or experiences were totally outside of your control, especially in the early years. All of them can and will be used by God who promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). Trust God in this. He was there then, He is with you now, and He will guide you into whatever is next for you.
I hope and pray that you’ll consider doing this exercise, though it may not be easy. As you do, be kind to your younger self. Don’t criticize or condemn. Remember that you were a child with limited information as sexual things began to enter your world. Perhaps you weren’t protected or loved well. You likely experienced feelings of pleasure related to sexual encounters, which is completely normal. It may be helpful to let this inner child speak freely now. Often children are silenced in their most vulnerable moments – by fear, threats, guilt, or shame.
I’d like to share some things to consider and pray about before you begin this exercise:
- Knowing your sexual history can be helpful but it may also be difficult to process or express. Deep feelings are often attached to these memories and you’ll likely need to address some of the beliefs that surfaced from your experiences. Often it is not the trauma itself that causes the most damage but the lies or beliefs we adopt as a result of it. Such beliefs may be related to identity or worth. Ephesians 1:1-2:10 contains beautiful truths related to our true identity in Christ.
- It’s important to be kind to yourself and mindful during this process. Where do you do your best work? In a people-filled space? In a quiet room in your home? Consider your best time: morning or midday? Nighttime may not be best simply because it’s the end of your day and you may need time to regroup. Set an ending point for each time you pick this up. Work on it for perhaps an hour and then do something you enjoy: go for a run, get coffee with a friend – something that blesses you.
- This may be harder than expected given that you may be in a very healthy place emotionally and/or relationally and these events happened a long time ago. Don’t be surprised if there are a range of emotions that surface. As much as you can, allow yourself to grieve, or be angry, or sad, or question things. Feel your feelings. If you don’t think that you’re able to do this alone with God, seek professional help.
- As you consider who might be a safe confidante for you to eventually begin sharing with, who comes to mind immediately? While a spouse or close friend may seem like the best person to start with, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this person hold confidences well?
Is this person someone who, after hearing parts of your story, would or would not use them against you later?
Is this person currently (or in the past) working toward sexual wholeness or healing?
How willing is this person to share with you from his or her own journey?
If you don’t have someone like this in your life, consider finding a professional to begin working through your sexual history with. There are specialties you may want to consider in a counselor such as training in trauma recovery or sex addiction (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist). If cost is a factor, ask if they work on a sliding scale or consider only going every other week.
Create a timeline of various sexual encounters or experiences during your childhood, teen, or young adult years. Use the following questions to help guide you. Use another piece of paper to write down associated feelings, responses, or other details.
- Do you recall healthy affection being modeled by your parents toward each other or not? How so?
- Do you recall healthy affection expressed by your parents toward you and your siblings or not? How so?
- What is your earliest memory of something sexual?
- What, if anything, happened related to this (e.g. were others involved, were you shamed or harmed, were you able to talk about it then or later, etc.)?
- Record other sexual encounters or experiences.
- What messages did you hear or internalize about sexuality during your childhood (from parents, siblings, friends, media, culture, or experiences)?
- What messages did you hear or internalize about your body when you were young or as you began to develop sexually?
- What messages did you hear or internalize about relationships?
- How was nudity or privacy handled in your home?
- Consider any silence or negative messaging about sexuality and how that impacted you as a child.
- Was the topic of masturbation ever addressed in your home, and if so, how did that affect you?
- What do you remember about the first time you saw porn or something similar? Describe its impact.
- Imprinting of sexual memories is normal. Are there other encounters or events that are seared in your memory? List them on your timeline.
- As you look with fresh eyes on the various influences that worked to shape your sexuality, refer back to the original considerations (above), and remember to be compassionate and kind to your younger self. Ask God to lead you to the next step in your recovery and/or redemption journey.
Remember, as difficult as this work may be, you’re in a tender place with God. Becoming more comfortable with your stories and finding any needed healing will reap huge dividends as you work to become an ally to your child in today’s culture.
I’d like to share some resources that may be helpful to you in your journey of discovery and healing. You can find these and others under Tools on our website.
- Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing by Jay Stringer
- Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation by Dan Allender
- Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers
- Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters by Dr. Juli Slattery
- No Stones: Women Redeemed From Sexual Addiction by Marnie Ferree
- The ministry of Authentic Intimacy
- The ministry of Be Broken
- The ministry of Faithful and True with Dr. Mark Laaser
Finally, let me close with a prayer for you, my friend. Personalize this as you enter in with God.
Sweet Jesus. You know everything about me. You were there through every moment of my childhood and beyond. You saw every wrong, You cried with me, You held me when I hurt, You were even with me when I made poor choices. Forgive me for those. Take these memories, these parts of my story, especially the ones I’ve hidden deeply. You can have your way with them, but don’t let them go to waste. Use them somehow for Your glory and Your purposes in my life. I pray You will lead me in the next step. Maybe it’s doing this exercise. Maybe it’s to read your word each day and pray You’ll prepare my heart for this journey. Maybe it’s finding someone who will pray for me as I take this next step. You provide for Your purposes, and I believe You want me to walk in true freedom and authenticity. I believe You are leading me toward sexual wholeness and healing. I believe You have more for me and for those I love and lead. I love You. Thank You.
I’d like to thank Mindy Pierce of GROW Counseling in Atlanta for helping me with much of the content related to this exercise.
Would you like to know more about the sacredness of sexuality and how to find hope for related struggles? Check out TrueNorth Freedom Project and our blog posts. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to host our Allies talk for parents in your church or school.
Founder and CEO, TrueNorth Freedom Project, Atlanta, GA.
Want to help us bring the good news of sexuality to a hurting and broken world? Find ways to give here. TrueNorth is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Donations are tax-deductible and our EIN is 46-5767272.
Photo by Markus Spiske