Jarrod: “Thanks for meeting with me pastor, I really appreciate it.”
Pastor Michael: “It’s my pleasure. Now, what can I do for you?”
Jarrod: “Well, I’m sure you have these kinds of conversations all the time. But I think this one may be different.”
Michael: “Well, every life situation is unique. But again, I’d like to help in any way I can.”
Jarrod: “It’s my marriage….it’s…ummm…”
Michael: “Things aren’t going well for you and Jennifer?”
Jarrod: “That’s just it. Everything is going fantastic. She’s understanding, supportive, encouraging…the works.”
Michael: “So you wanted to meet with me because your marriage is going too well?”
Michael: “Is it lacking? Because I know that…”
Jarrod: “No, no, no. It’s not lacking at all! In fact, if I’m allowed to say this, she’s quite passionate. She even initiates sex about 1/2 the time.”
Michael: “Then what is it you wanted to discuss?”
Jarrod: “I feel I’ve wronged her. She didn’t have any lovers prior to our marriage, and I had a couple. Well…three actually.”
Michael: “Does she know about this?”
Jarrod: “Yes, I shared this with her prior to us getting married. Again, she’s the most understanding person I’ve ever met. She has completely forgiven me. I’m just not sure that I’ve…”
Michael: “What is it?”
Jarrod: “I’m not sure that I’ve completely forgiven myself. I hate myself for what I’ve done. I feel like I’ve betrayed her with the worst of betrayal. I feel so unworthy of having her in my life. I keep remembering my past and can’t stop thinking about the stupid decisions I made. Especially the one girl I met. I remember…well, it’s not important. I just can’t seem to get over my own sexual past. I feel angry all the time for what I’ve done.”
Michael: “Here’s another question. Have you talked with Jennifer about this? About your anger toward yourself?”
Jarrod: “I think she knows I’m going through a hard time right now. But she doesn’t know what it’s about.”
Michael: “I see. Well, my first suggestion is that you remember the grace you received from God. You didn’t deserve it — nobody does. Yet he welcomed you with open arms. In fact the Bible even says that he doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Sure, He remembers everything. But He doesn’t hold it against you. If God doesn’t hold it against you, why should you hold it against you? Now, I’ve got a great book over here that walks through this perfectly. It’s short. Very short. Read it this week, and come back next week and we can talk about it some more.”
Jarrod: “That’ll give me something to think about. Thanks. I’ll read it. But I just don’t see me forgiving myself anytime soon.”
In our first post of this series we received a number of questions from you, our readers. Some of our closest friends saw the post and asked us to answer their questions in person. Others emailed us and asked for some specific advice. Interestingly, every person who contacted us had a similar question, which went something like: “You mentioned the importance of sharing our sexual past with our spouse. Exactly ‘how much’ information should we share with each other?”
Hmmmm…that’s a good question. And we understand the difficulty of a subject such as this. Particularly because each and every situation is unique. And each situation brings significant emotions to the forefront of one’s mind.
So let’s answer this question as simply as we can. This answer isn’t the be-all-end-all answer, as every life situation is unique. In fact, there may be others out there who would disagree with our perspective on this, and that’s OK, too. But here’s our short answer to the question, “How much of my sexual past should I share with my spouse and/or future spouse?”
1. Any sexual child abuse and/or other very young sexual activity.
If you’ve been abused sexually as a child, your spouse deserves to know. This can and often does have a significant impact in one’s life, so much so that it impacts their sexual relationship with their spouse.
Another area that may be included here is other childhood sexual activity that isn’t considered ‘abuse’. That may sound confusing to you as you read it, but here’s a hypothetical situation to think through. A young man is abused by his father, but doesn’t recognize it as abuse. He then asks one of his friends to ‘play a game’ that he’s been playing with his father. The friend accepts, and for the next few years they have some kind of quasi-sexual relationship that they didn’t even know was wrong until later in life. This is essentially abuse by proxy. The friend in this situation was a young boy who initially had no idea what he was doing was wrong. The guilt and shame he may feel from this situation would be tremendous, and his future wife ought to know.
2. Any occurrence of rape and/or date rape.
As with the above, if you’ve ever gone through something as dramatic as being raped, your spouse deserves to know. Pastor Mark Driscoll has written about the huge impact this has had in their marriage. His wife had been raped at a younger age and she never shared this with him prior to marriage. So every time he did something as simple as raise his voice in a conversation, she was having terrible flashbacks to that moment. Had he known sooner, he would’ve handled a lot of their difficult marital situations differently.
3. Number of sexual partners.
Again, there are others out there who would disagree with us. Nevertheless, it’s our opinion that your spouse deserves to know of your promiscuous past. He or she deserves to know of the foolish choices you’ve made, and what led to them. Was it a one night stand when you were too intoxicated to think clearly? Or was it a 3 year relationship with someone who broke off the relationship six months prior to a scheduled wedding? Did you experience multiple sexual encounters prior to becoming a Christian, or did you consider yourself a follower of Jesus when they occurred?
These are all very different situations, and again, your spouse (or future spouse) deserves to know what kinds of decisions you’ve been prone to make in the past. Their goal in your marriage is to help you grow in your relationship with Christ, and if they know of the areas you’ve been weakest, they can be better prepared to strengthen you in those areas.
That’s a very brief summary of some thoughts on the information you ought to share with your spouse. Again, they deserve to know who they’re married to, the regrets you have, the guilt or shame you feel, and so on. They and they alone will then be able to encourage, support, forgive, and love you despite your past. That said, there are a number of details you don’t need to share as well. For example:
1. Who you had a sexual relationship with.
The last thing your spouse needs is a mental image of you and another person in bed together. Unless you’re so far removed from this person that you know neither you nor your spouse will ever see them again, it’s safe to say that you really don’t need to share specific information on who you were with.
2. Specific details of your sexual encounters.
When it comes to something as dramatic as rape and childhood abuse, it’s quite possible that there are details you would need to share. Details such as positions, feeling overpowered, etc. will help your spouse to know how to care for you during your moments of connecting.
Outside of this, there is definitely no need to share specifics of what you’ve done. Your spouse doesn’t need to know you engaged in oral sex or enjoyed positions x, y, and z with somebody else. As stated above, the last thing your spouse needs is a mental image of what you’ve done in bed with someone of the opposite sex. This can lead them to doubting themselves and/or wondering if they can ever live up to that kind of standard. In short, when discussing such a difficult subject as this with your spouse, keep it simple. Share that you had a past and you are full of regrets, but don’t get into too many details. But also be sure to discuss what the Bible has to say about grace, forgiveness and love. Studying this out in detail will help you each to focus fully on your future together (including your sex life), and not focus too much on the past.
You may be wondering at this point what this has to do with sexual freedom. Well, a lot. For starters, as with the opening fictional story, there are a number of people who have a hard time forgiving themselves for their own sexual past. The shame they feel continues to hinder their marriage 5, 10, 20, even 40 years in. And while we don’t have too much time to discuss it today, understanding God’s grace is a major part of getting past this and beginning to enjoy sexual freedom.
Another way your past can hinder your sexual freedom is when your spouse doesn’t show grace, understanding, and care in these situations. When you confess to something you’ve done and all the regrets you have for it, it’s imperative that they DON’T ask for specifics. They don’t need to know who, or why, or exactly what you did. If they continue asking questions, it shows that they’re not looking out for your best interest, but are instead looking for something they can then hold over your head in order to control the relationship to their own desires for the next X number of years. In these types of situations, we would strongly suggest good counseling so that the couple may have a facilitator who can keep the questions at an appropriate level. Conversations about sex always bring out a lot of emotions, and a good facilitator will handle the conversation in such a way that keep the negative emotions at bay.
Now, as we’ve done with our first two posts in this series, we’d like to present you with a series of statements of which you need to fill in the blanks by answering on a level of “Good”, “Better”, or “Best”. Think about your past. Think about your spouse. Think about their past. And answer the following statements honestly.
- I’ve done a _______ job of sharing my sexual past with my spouse.
- I’ve done a _______ job of forgiving myself so that my past doesn’t hinder the sexual freedom I can experience with my spouse.
- I’ve done a _______ job of completely forgiving my spouse for their past.
- I do a _______ job of continually praising God for His grace and I’ve accepted His full forgiveness for my past.
- I do a _______ job of not asking my spouse questions I don’t really want to know the answers to.
- I do a _______ job of understanding and comforting my spouse when they have a hard time forgiving themselves.
- I do a _______ job of being more passionate for my spouse than I’ve ever been in the past.
- I do a _______ job of making my spouse feel secure in my love for them no matter what.
- We’ve done a ________ job of getting past our past and staying fully focused on our future.
One final point to make is in regards to God’s grace. Understanding God’s grace is imperative to discussing your or your spouse’s sexual past. If you don’t feel like you (or they) have a firm understanding of God’s grace, we would recommend reading a short little book called The Cure: What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is And Neither Are You? It’s short, easy to read, and is an excellent overview of the New Testament. As we mentioned above, studying this out in detail will help you each to focus fully on your future together (including your sex life), and not focus too much on the past.
This is Part 3 in our series on Five Hindrances of Sexual Freedom in Marriage. Additional posts in the series can be found at the links below. And stay tuned for our next series: Five Ways to Sustain Sexual Freedom in Marriage.