Part 5 of an 8 part series. See other articles below.
“Purity is purity,” I’ve heard it said. But I wonder, is it that simple? How are we to view purity when it comes to situations of sexual abuse, rape and other kinds of sexual assault?
Before diving into this article, I want to address those who have been abused and have endured the pain, confusion, grief and sometimes vague understanding of its impact: an article like this can be incredibly triggering. To be triggered does not make you bad, or broken. It confirms that there has been a wounding that has occurred in your life surrounding your sexuality. If you have experienced sexual abuse or assault, I urge you to take great care of yourself if you choose to read this article. If you begin to experience panic, deep anxiety or a sense of not being present, it’s okay to give yourself permission to stop reading and deal gently with yourself. Lastly, even if you’re not sure how your abuse has affected you, it’s incredibly important to talk with a knowledgeable therapist about what happened; there is healing that can be yours.
If you haven’t experienced assault or abuse, you might be surprised by just how many people have. While the numbers differ slightly depending on who you go to for the stats, most agree that roughly 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Take a minute in the room you’re sitting in and count; every third woman and every sixth man you count represent how many people just in the room you’re sitting in will have endured some sort of sexual abuse by the time they reach adulthood. The numbers are staggering.
As a therapist, I see couples and individuals all the time who don’t understand why they are having issues in their lives and who fail to see a connection between the sexual harm that occurred then and the pain and dysfunctions they are now experiencing. It all feels completely unrelated to those who experience it, but here are a few examples of symptoms I’ve seen that can be connected to having been sexually abused or assaulted: inability to lose weight, having a hard time sleeping, over-sexualizing relationships, not enjoying sex, and being unable to hold both good and bad at the same time.
Most people are either completely unaware of the impact of sexual trauma in their lives or it feels too scary to face the harm that was done, so there is much time and energy spent keeping the knowledge of the impact at bay. Throw into the mix something like Christian faith and things get even murkier.
There are many people who go to their pastors, parents, Christian therapist, boyfriends and girlfriends trying to understand why they feel “dirty” and they are told it’s because they are no longer pure. The loss of purity did not come from a choice they made, but having been sexually harmed by someone. Most the time, sexual abuse occurs by someone the victim knows and has built trust with. This fact, combined with the fact that sometimes the abuse is arousing for the victim, makes the experience even more confusing. “How can I be pure…I’ve had sex, even though I said no and didn’t want it?” “When I was sexually abused it felt good as much as it felt bad, does that mean I wanted it and am no longer pure?” This type of belief and thinking about abuse and assault is called, “victim blaming”.
I am going to say something and I want every Christian to hear, if someone has been sexually abused, raped, or assaulted – even if by someone close to them and even if at some point during the experience it felt good – it is still a grave sin done by the assailant and does not take away from the purity of the person this has been done to. Is it their fault in any way.
C.S. Lewis expands on those self-righteous ones like this, “The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasure of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.”
If you have been sexually abused or assaulted, you are still pure. Take comfort from these words from Lewis that you might just be closer to heaven than those filling up the church pews. I want you to know there is hope, that you can have a beautiful, enjoyable sexual relationship with your partner, and that you can be free from the harm that was done. The only way to find healing is to face what was done.
Again, I want to encourage you to join a support group, read a book, or start therapy. You are courageous and strong for having survived and thrived in many other ways. Do not let someone else define you as less than the pure beauty that you know yourself to be.
For more information on abuse and how you can get help, please contact either Candice Czubernat or one of the following organizations:
- The NDVH has several articles discussing what qualifies as abuse, how you can get help, and what it means to survive these differing kinds of abuse.
- The California DSS has helped many leave abusive situations, find shelter, and go on to live healthy lives.