Redefining Godly Sexuality

Redefining Godly Sexuality

By: Susan Schiller

Sex and shame in the Christian culture go hand-in-hand, and in this article I will be sharing a story that has mature content and should only be read if you are 18-years of age or older. I'm sharing this story because sex is part of the mystery of life God created and I want to root out the lies that have wrapped this great mystery in a thick fog of perversion that has caused many well-meaning people to put shame on each other. Ignorance is not bliss!

I am an explorer in this mystery, an observer, a participant, but I am not an expert. I'm like a goldfish that recently jumped out of the bowl, only to land in someone's well-meaning hand, and nearly suffocated under the care of well-meaning Christians. I always knew there was more and that somewhere there was a large body of water waiting for me to swim the currents, leap, splash around, and enjoy!

First I must quickly tell you how I got into that bowl, which I call the Christian purity culture. Like most nice girls, I wanted to please my parents, teachers, and pretty much everyone. I learned to be obedient and to follow the rules. Rules make everything black and white, so it supposedly causes the world to be a safer place. On a rational level, it makes sense, doesn't it?

Driving on a freeway or through the heart of a big city, it's nice to have traffic rules which hopefully save lives. Like driving safely, there were rules for safe sex, too. Those rules were "don't look, don't touch, don't do". Safe sex didn't mean using condoms or the pill; it meant wait for marriage, period.

We avoided R-rated movies – those were off limits. No nude photos and such. The Song of Solomon was spiritualized. Definitely no porn. And "no sexual intercourse until marriage" was a given. If you didn't abide by these rules and more, you could not lead in our church.

In our church women could not be elders, so gender narrowed the leadership potential pool by more than half. Men, if they were divorced, could only help maintain the church building – they were not allowed to teach or lead. Admittance to church leadership was an exclusive club for those we considered having matured on the "godly scale". So the greater your church position, the more godly of a person you were. If you accidentally discovered a church leader having an affair, you were told to keep quiet about it, because it would be disturbing to the rest of the church and it might cause other couples to expose have problems.

One whole year our pastor was having an affair with a young woman in our church and all of the church elders were aware of it, and still church went on as usual… for a whole year! The double standards between professional church leaders (on salary) and lay leaders was confusing. Our church was "on fire for the Lord" and it was necessary to maintain business as usual or the heavy mortgage payment and salaries might not be paid.

From an early age, we were conditioned to control our sexual drive, to confess, repent, and cast out the demons of lust and masturbation. You can imagine that "cover up" was the game in pretty much every church, and statistics will tell you that more Christian marriages fail than non-Christian. And more than 55% of Christian pastors confess to using internet porn.

In later years, in my position as a prayer counselor, I listened to the confessions of many church leaders who secretly indulged in homosexuality, adultery, molestation, sexual addictions, and more.

Our rules were not keeping anyone of us safe, apparently. We were just getting very good at coverups.

As a teen I thought the rules made it "easy". I never went to parties, didn't really date, and pretty much lived like a nun, by my own choice. I rarely ever talked, for fear of gossiping. I slipped silently like a ghost through high school and college, only half-living. I was a "good girl" and as such I squeezed into the tight confines of a man-made-marriage a virgin, eager to please my husband.

And that's when the rules dropped off. We weren't given rules for godly sex. In fact, because of the pre-marital rules and isolation, I had almost no knowledge of sex at all. A cloud of toxic shame enveloped us, even though my husband and I were married and it was supposedly "safe" to have sex. Because my husband had more knowledge than I did (because he "rebelled" against the rules), he began to teach me about sex. But it still felt "out of bounds"… like we were getting away with something immoral.

Nevertheless, it felt exciting at times! I began collecting and wearing sexy negligees – beautiful jewel-colored gowns that seemed elegant enough for formal dining and made me feel beautiful. I controlled my weight and exercised to stay trim and lean, yet even so, I still felt awkward about my body and hid my nakedness under the covers. I somehow learned to please my husband and three babies came along within three years.

Starting a family was a game-changer for us, as newlyweds. We were in our early twenties and there was no internet, back then. We were active in our church, but no one talked about sex as being good. About as close as anyone came to giving us advice, was our downstairs neighbor who suggested we "get bunkbeds".

My husband began to stay away from home as much as he could, to avoid the stress of babies he didn't feel comfortable handling. In addition, he had lost a job seven times in those early years and seeing up close the needs of our growing family totally overwhelmed him. In his deep insecurity he sought stress relief in the arms of other people, both men and women. I felt abandoned in many ways, but I never understood why or what to do, so I turned to books like Marabel Morgan's, "The Electric Woman: Hope for Tired Mothers and Others". Next, I read "His Needs, Her Needs: How to Build an Affair-proof Marriage" and "The Act of Marriage:The Beauty of Sexual Love".

I put all the responsibility on me to change myself, to "electrify" myself, to meet his male-specific needs, and to make our marriage more exciting.

It seemed like books were the only places you could go where people are willing to tell you how it really is. One thing most of those self-help books had in common was a focus on the woman's responsibilities and what to do in a normal relationship.

If you are in a relationship, as I was, with someone who has a personality disorder, such as narcissism or sociopathy, normal self-help books – no matter the author or how popular they may be – no normal self-help book will help. In fact, those books may likely bring lasting harm and damage to abnormal relationships. I didn't know it, back then.

So I took my electrified self and used my new education to try to please my man. When he finally did arrive home late at night sex became a "marital duty" because I was so tired by then. I still wore the gowns and did the things that please a man, but night after night my heart wept because all the joy was being drained out of my life. He needed the quick stress relief that sex provides, but there was no emotional connection for me. Just stress and verbal abuse from my husband, as he needed to vent his frustrations about our upstairs neighbors, our landlord, his boss, our pastor… everyone, it seemed.

I learned to turn off my own sexual needs and desires. That's a death toll in a marriage, because a man needs to know his woman is pleased, and he needs to be honored and respected.

I couldn't pretend anymore. I had lost all respect for the husband who avoided home, avoided paying the bills, and avoided intimacy. My focus turned to my three little ones. Without much help from my husband in those early years and with virtually no time off, my own stress level hit the roof. Financial woes increased the pressure, as soon there was not enough food in the house and my husband spent more and more time at his parents' house, where food was always plentiful. In fact, during that time, my husband became obese. It was getting harder to admire, respect, and honor him and there were many days when I wished he would never come home again.

I've since redefined "godly sex" to take place within the godly parameters of caring for your spouse's emotional and physical needs.

I no longer advocate marital sex to continue when one spouse (male or female) is abusing the other – whether emotionally, physically, financially, or in any way, shape, or form. Sex should only take place in the context of relational safety.

All families will experience the normal hardships of life, and when they are shared and the weight is not put solely on the wife, it's still possible to enjoy godly sex. I'm not saying there should be no sex unless physical needs are met… just that if there is a pattern of abuse, there needs to be a time and space created to heal the wounds of abuse, to create a "safe space" until the wounded partner feels ready for intimacy.

In our story, I was regularly blamed for not having enough food in the house. With oatmeal, peanut butter, and pea soup, I could keep the kids' tummies full most of the time, but even then there was food rationing and none of them had as much as they wanted. I often went without eating, so much so that one day at church my pastor warned me, "Sue, I think you have anorexia." I had no courage to tell him I was just hungry all the time.

It's very hard to be electrified and ecstatic in the bedroom when you're desperately hungry and overly exhausted and bill collectors have been calling all day and you're worried about producing enough milk for your baby.

My husband eventually confessed he was having an affair with a co-worker but promised to break it off. I believed him, but I think I knew deep inside that there was more than just one. Years later it proved to be true.

A few years later, my pastor began giving me special attention while I was working part-time in the church office. I didn't realize I was being groomed by a predator. We needed my income. I was making more money than my husband and for once our budget was feeling comfortable.

My pastor kept promoting me and giving me pay raises, always telling me how valuable I was to the church. His words were often the only kindness I received, as at home, I continually heard degrading words – threats – and cutting remarks. I was repeatedly told I was worthless and made to feel as if I could do nothing without my husband's help. Yet, at the church office, I was free to use my creativity in learning software programs, designing graphics, and writing curriculum. I was even invited to attend regional leadership summits and to help create a written vision for the church, along with detailed plans for our 5-10 year goals.

Church became my love affair and a form of addiction. It was my safe place, I thought. Since I was a child, to be able to be inside a church sanctuary every single day of the week was my idea of heaven on earth! As my responsibilities increased, so did my hours, until I was working 70-80 hours a week. Much of my work I was able to do from home, but nearly every day I was at church.

My pastor always made sure we had time alone together, and I began to feel uncomfortable about that. It progressed so subtly because we were genuinely very busy (our church was on fire and had doubled in size since I began working there) and the meetings  were needed to keep the communication channel open, but still there was something wrong about it and it confused me.

I began to feel an attraction to my pastor. I didn't think sexual thoughts about him and there was never any physical contact, but I began to journal about it. My diary was the person I turned to every day to share my heart with, as there was no one else. I penned thoughts like, "I wonder what it is like to be truly loved as a wife. I want so much to be hugged and touched, not to have something taken from me, but to be given to me. Lord, where does an unloved wife go for help?" My fantasies of being cherished ended abruptly when my pastor made it clear that he wanted me sexually and soon afterward, I left the church… and my job… and my "safe" place.

I used to beg my husband for counseling, but each time it was denied… until the very end. He was very worried about losing his position as a deacon, if our marriage troubles were exposed. It would have been a public humiliation, to be demoted.

Our sex life disappeared in the fog of infidelity as I shut down almost completely. Yet, on the surface, anyone who saw us in church or in the neighborhood would have thought we were the "perfect couple".

My thoughts never progressed beyond imagining what it would be liked to be hugged in a cherishing way, for I kept my thoughts as tightly locked up as possible. But I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for my own mental infidelity to my husband. In reality, in re-reading my diaries, I spent much more time praying for my husband than in indulging in fantasies of being hugged… but at the time, my own sinful behavior was magnified in my eyes.

We were active in church and always in leadership positions. I attended women's Bible studies and conferences, where we were taught to always speak well of our husbands and keep private matters private. That seemed like a great "rule" and I lived by it, never sharing any of our stress with anyone, not even my mother or sister. It was especially reinforced that you should never talk to your family about your husband, because he may lose respect in their eyes.

Above all, we were taught to honor and respect our husbands and to submit to them at all times. What we believed didn't matter. Our beliefs and values were secondary to our husband's. It was a patriarchal system, not a godly system, but I didn't know it back then. All I knew is that something was deeply wrong. And it wasn't about my husband having affairs or my lack of sexual appetite. It went deeper than that and I began to dig for answers. When the answers started to appear, it changed my whole perspective about marriage, sex, and femininity – entirely!

Before this story gets too long, I'm going to pause here and continue on the next page. If you care to join me for Part II, please click here to meet me for chapter two!

All my love,

Sue

PS  As a woman now almost 30-years beyond that time, I want to tell that younger version of me that it was really okay to fantasize about being hugged and to long to be cherished! You weren't perfect but you didn't do anything to draw your pastor's predatorial eyes. You dressed and acted appropriately. You were excited about your job and you performed with excellence. You needed love even more than the vegetables you craved during the lean years. You did well, with the knowledge and guidance you had at the time. I wish I could have been there for you, back then, but I am here now and I always will be. You deserved to be loved just for being you, not for your performance or non-performance.

Susan Schiller knows how it feels to lose everything: marriage and family, church and reputation, finances and businesses, and more. Susan's upcoming, interactive memoir, "On the Way Home," tells the story of how she came to be known as "the most abused woman" her counselors had yet met and how she learned to navigate her way out of hell to a rich and satisfying life. In her lifetime, Susan has served in duties ranging from home school mom – to pastor –  to full-time deliverance minister – and to Midwest regional prayer coordinator for a large international ministry. These days you can usually find Susan soaking in her favorite hot springs pool, reading a book (or several), blogging, baking bread, or hanging out with her family and friends. You can get a free copy of Susan's upcoming book, "On the Way Home" by registering here.

Copyright 2013, Susan Schiller, http://TeamFamilyOnline.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline and bio, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact Susan Schiller.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole Romero December 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Susan, 

This is an important story. Thank you for your bravery and detail in sharing. I hope this helps a lot of women know that they are allowed to fight for love and affection. 

Love this place you have created!

-Nicole

Reply

Susan Schiller December 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Dear Nicole,

I am blessed and honored by your visit here today – thank you so much for your own bravery and transformational writing! I look forward to hosting your words here one day soon! 🙂

Reply

Carolyn Hughes December 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Your courage in sharing so personally and in so much detail is so amazing Susan. You can feel the combination of frustration and fear about this subject which in this day and age still seems so taboo. Thank you for lighting up the darkness.

Reply

Susan Schiller December 3, 2013 at 10:06 pm

It takes a lot of brave, but it helps me so much when other women write about these things… I know when I do that I become freer and freer, and maybe if it helps just one other person become freer, then it's worth it.

I am honored by your visit, my dear friend – I'm deeply grateful to know you! 🙂

Reply

Rachel Attwood December 3, 2013 at 6:46 am

I was always taught to speak well of my husband, submit, don't make waves, and be at home.  The women at church always appeared so perfect, have no emotional needs, and I wanted so much to fit and have a place.  Finally one day I just snapped and now I know it was because we were all hypocrites, me included.  I left and began to really live well, love my neighbors, spend time with my kids instead of being at church meetings, I began talking and spending time with my husband from my heart.  I paid a price for leaving church functionally and heading into genuine relationships. People actually think I am back sliding but now I am moving into abundant life.  The weight of FAKE is off my shoulders now and I can laugh again.  

Reply

Susan Schiller December 3, 2013 at 10:07 am

Wow, Rachel… you heeded your wake up call and look at the joy and abundant life that have resulted! As for me, it took several alarms for me to finally wake up…

Your story is amazing – anytime you wish, please do share more or a link to where you may be writing! I would really love to hear your whole story sometime 🙂

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