Overcoming Sexual Shame and Fear in Marriage

by | Jul 3, 2024

Over the years of working in this ministry, I have learned that there are many Christian men and women who feel uncomfortable with their sexuality, are afraid of intimacy, or experience embarrassment when talking about sex. There can be many different reasons for this. Few of us have healthy experiences of talking about sex, and fewer still have received any kind of healthy sex education. Add to that the negative impact of purity culture and potential sexual trauma, and it’s no wonder couples enter marriage and experience shame and fear when it comes to sex and sexual pleasure.

If this affects you, be encouraged that this is a common struggle amongst Christian couples. Feelings of sexual shame are normal, and if you grew up in a church tradition that stigmatized or ignored sexuality, a positive, God honoring perspective towards sex would be even more unlikely. You are not alone in your experience, and there are things you can do to help you move forward as you embrace God’s design and His perspective on married sexuality.


Addressing Emotional Barriers and Psychological Hurdles

Think of yourself like a sponge. From the day you were born, all your experiences of sexuality and all the narratives you’ve heard about sexuality have been poured over you like a steady stream of water. The more you have seen, heard, and experienced, the more you absorb. ​​Your thoughts and feelings around sexuality have been shaped by your past experiences.


How do past experiences contribute to shame and fear within marital intimacy?

Mary, age 15, overhears some gossiping between her mother and her mother’s church friends. They’re talking negatively about a woman at their church who they think wears too much make-up and is “too comfortable” talking to the men in the church.

Judd, age 10, is introduced to porn by a friend at school who shows him how to look it up on his phone. When he is later discovered looking at it by his father, they exchange silent glances, and his phone is confiscated for a week.

Tim and Sarah, a young married couple, sit awkwardly beside one another in church as the pastor talks about his hot wife and how they have sex all the time. Sarah wipes tears when she hears him talk about duty, and Tim pockets the advice for that evening when he knows Sarah will claim she has a headache.

Each of these experiences leaves its mark. Mary feels it’s sinful to attempt to look attractive and display confidence towards men. Judd only relates pleasure with shame. Sarah feels obligated to have sex. Tim feels sex is his right.

In order for you to address the shame and fear you experience around marital intimacy, you need to begin by understanding the cultural, religious, familial, or personal influences that have contributed to your feelings. For a long time I believed sexual pleasure was a gift for my husband, and my role was to be a “dutiful wife.” I formed this belief through years of hearing church teaching, talking with others, and observing the relational dynamics of other couples. It’s taken time for me to understand that this falls short of God’s plan for married sex.

Are there particular conversations or moments you have clear memories of that have influenced your thinking about sexuality? How did you experience other people’s sexuality? What were you taught in church?

Starting here allows you to see what you have absorbed so you can compare it to God’s Word.


Advice for overcoming past trauma to enhance sexual intimacy in marriage

Beyond influences, there are many men and women who have sadly experienced the very opposite of God’s design for sexuality, not only outside of marriage, but within it too. My heart breaks for the man or woman who has walked this painful path.

Abuse and trauma should not be swept under the rug or treated lightly. If this is your story, make sure your spouse knows what happened to you. Talking about these traumas is likely incredibly emotionally charged and extremely painful, yet I encourage you not to ignore the pain and move on. Instead invite God, the ultimate Healer, in, and let Him do His healing work.

You may also need to connect with a trauma-informed sex therapist who can help you separate what you experienced sexually from what God has designed for you to experience sexually.

If your spouse has experienced sexual trauma, learn to be patient and compassionate. Understand that it takes tremendous courage to seek help in an area of life often marked by shame and sorrow and that these kinds of events can have a significant negative impact. Don’t rush your spouse into sexual activity. Be their companion as they heal, building emotional intimacy and trust.


Additional factors that lead to shame around sex

Sometimes shame around sex and sexual pleasure stems not from the sin of others against us, but from our own sin and shortcomings. There are many men and women who, like Judd, from a very young age have connected sex with sin and shame. There are also those who experience shame because of hidden or unaddressed ongoing sin, like pornography use or extra-marital sex.

Shame sometimes tells us the truth: that we have sin between us and God. If this describes you, God’s grace can cover you and forgive your sin. You are not too far gone to experience God’s goodness, redemption, and restoration in your life. The Bible tells us that if we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7). God’s Word also says that when we confess our sins to one another, we are healed (James 5:16). Bring your sin into the light, and, in and through fellowship with other believers, allow God to heal your heart, renew your mind, and set you free from sinful, destructive patterns in your life.


How can couples work together to overcome shame and fear in their sexual relationship?

Get used to talking about sex. Every sexual challenge within marriage is an opportunity to build a more intimate connection. This isn’t just about developing communication strategies, but also about cultivating a healthy and positive relationship with sexuality. The Bible is your common ground, so together you can use this as a trust building exercise that will in turn help you combat your intimacy issues.

Here are four truths from the Bible about sex:

  1. Sexual intimacy between a Christian husband and wife is to be viewed as a mutual gift exchange. It is a profound way that a man and a woman say with their bodies, “I give myself completely to you (1 Corinthians 7:3–5).
  2. Sex between a husband and wife is about giving, not taking (1 Corinthians 7:3–5).
  3. Sexual pleasure in marriage is not dirty. It is a wonderful, God-given gift. A husband is told to always delight in the sexual love of his wife. Wives are to do the same (Proverbs 5:18–20, ESV).
  4. God created sex for both the husband and wife to enjoy. His design for sexual intimacy is that pleasurable mutually satisfying sex is a worthy pursuit for both the husband and the wife (Song of Solomon).

Study God’s Word together and invite Him in as you seek to unpack His heart for sexuality and a healthy, pleasurable married sex life. Read books together, like “God, Sex and Your Marriage,” “A Celebration of Sex” by Doug Roseneau, and Cliff and Joyce Penner’s book “Restoring the Pleasure.” Give yourselves a new, healthy, holy sex education that equips you to talk about sex, removes feelings of shame, and leads to the exchange of sexual activity for true sexual intimacy.

Don’t settle for shame and fear around sex in your marriage. Recognize the roots of your fear, address your negative beliefs around sex, and re-educate yourself to cultivate a healthy understanding of sexuality. Connection, joy, and pleasure await you on the other side.