I was innocently walking through the mall last week. Christmas shopping. Making my list and checking it twice. When in front of me appeared the store that cleverly beckons me. The one that stirs a longing within my heart at the same time it brings a knot to my stomach. Enticing me while rousing my insecurity, fears and loss. A store filled with both hope and grief.
The lingerie store. Filled with intriguing pyjamas, bras, panties, and other attire.
Now, if you are one of my children, this is where you might want to stop reading. But if you are the partner of a sex or porn addict, or have lived with the rejection of a sexless marriage or any type of sexual abuse, you may very well understand the conflicting emotions of wearing lingerie. Or of even buying lingerie.
In my case, I want to wear lingerie. It makes me feel pretty and sexy. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But it also makes me very sad. And a little bit angry. Because I can’t. My sexuality has been damaged. Sex and porn addiction stole my husband’s healthy sexuality. It has also taken mine even though I was not the one viewing it.
I have read articles on the harmful effects of pornography on the addict’s sexuality. I have witnessed those effects in my husband. And I have experienced them on a very deep, personal and painful level. And yet, there is little information on the harmful effects of porn on the partner’s sexuality. But I, the partner, have suffered immensely too.
When my husband chose pornography and masturbation over sexual intimacy in our marriage, my sexuality eroded. I fought to regain it. I read the magazine articles on how to please a man and drive him crazy in bed. I tried it all. Problem was, he was not interested in any of it. My sexual needs and desires were shamed and ridiculed. I finally gave up and did my best not to have them. I stuffed them. I buried them. I accepted a sexless marriage.
And now, almost three years into our recovery programs, I am still struggling in my attempts to accept myself as a sexual being with needs and desires. Even with my husband’s tremendous healing and recovery from his sex addiction, it continues to feel like he holds the power in our sexual relationship. His addiction and recovery influence every choice I make in expressing myself sexually. There is little freedom, fun or lightness when every move I make, every word I speak, every article I wear is funnelled through the lens of porn addiction and the possibility of relapse.
I want to feel pretty and sexy in what I wear to bed. I want my husband to think I look pretty and sexy in what I wear to bed. I do not feel the need to dress provocatively to get his attention, but I do want to clothe myself in ways that please him. That also adds to my pleasure and helps me mentally prepare for sex.
But therein lies the conflict. I want my husband to desire me and my body. I need to be assured that after twenty years of sexual rejection he is attracted to and aroused by what is underneath the lingerie. It is necessary for my mind to avoid any connection to the world of pornography so that I do not unfairly compare myself to the thousands of naked women that have aroused my husband.
The first time I walked into a lingerie store after we began our recoveries, I was overwhelmed. I hadn’t expected that reaction. Approaching the store, I had been filled with nervous anticipation. Feeling excited and bold with this new sexuality that was emerging from deep within me. As my eyes scanned the merchandise, my heart leapt enthusiastically at the possibility of being daring with my sexuality. And then I froze. Bewildered. Closely followed by my mind screaming “Nooooo. What are you thinking?!”, and an urge to flee from the store. But I stayed, took a deep breath and swallowed the teary lump in my throat.
I soon realized that neither myself or my marriage was emotionally ready for any of the overtly sexual lingerie options on display. But I also knew that with careful consideration I could find something that would make me feel both sexy and comfortable. My focus was not on what my husband would find sexy, but on what would enhance and help me embrace my sexual healing.
I intentionally avoided certain colours, fabrics, and styles. But then I found something that kindled a spark in my soul. And I left the store with more than a new little nightie. I had hope.
That little nightie spent several months in my dresser drawer before I gathered the courage to wear it for my husband. It was a promise and gift to myself as much as it was to him.
I’ve returned to the lingerie store a few times since then. But like my first purchase, the items often stay unworn until I feel safe enough to reveal the growing acceptance of my own sexuality. It is vulnerable exposing not only my body, but also my soul.
Last week the winter and Christmas themed pieces on display reignited the yearning in my heart for sexual lightness and fun in my marriage. I walked into the store with a twinkle in my eye that soon faded with the realization that this could easily be a triggering problem for either my husband, myself or both of us. The sense of loss washed over me once again. I dejectedly wondered if my sexuality and healthy fantasies would be forever tainted by my husband’s past pornography addiction.
I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that I wasn’t emotionally ready to find out this year. I don’t believe it has anything to do with me being scared, or insecure, or not brave enough. Simply, God is laying a foundation and rebuilding a healthy sexuality in both myself and my husband so that one day we will be blessed with holy sex in our marriage as He designed, created and intended it to be. That will be a gift delivered from God, not Santa.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Matthew 6:25