FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How Our Sexual Past Affects the Present

with Barbara Wilson | May 14, 2008
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What happens emotionally and spiritually when we unite sexually with someone else? Today on the broadcast, abstinence educator Barbara Wilson tells Dennis Rainey about the power of sexual bonding and how her own sexual history affected her as a wife until she found healing in Christ. Tune in to find out if you may be sexually bonded to someone other than your spouse.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What happens emotionally and spiritually when we unite sexually with someone else? Today on the broadcast, abstinence educator Barbara Wilson tells Dennis Rainey about the power of sexual bonding and how her own sexual history affected her as a wife until she found healing in Christ. Tune in to find out if you may be sexually bonded to someone other than your spouse.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What happens emotionally and spiritually when we unite sexually with someone else?

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How Our Sexual Past Affects the Present

With Barbara Wilson
May 14, 2008
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Barbara: It is the one sin that we commit against ourselves.  He says all other sins are outside the body, but with sexual sin, it's something that just happens right to the core of our being.  And so that wounding impacts us in every way – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and so there is a healing process that we need to go through, and that takes time – it's working through the wounded emotions, it's grieving some of the losses that we've had, and it's breaking those ungodly soul ties that we've created.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 14th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If there are sexual sins from your past, maybe it's time for you to experience the power of confession and repentance.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  We have been taking some time this week to unpack a story, and the reason is because a lot of what we want to talk about on today's program, you have to have a context to understand the things we want to discuss.

Dennis: That's exactly right.  We've been talking about how the past impacts the present and specifically how mistakes made around the sexual area can impact our marriage and our relationships today.

Bob: And as we've mentioned these may be programs that would not be appropriate for younger listeners.  Parents will need to make that decision, but we are talking about some of those issues from our sexual past and how those can impact relationships and the rest of life in the present.

Dennis: And Barbara Wilson has been helping us navigate some – well, not only treacherous waters, but these are delicate subjects to navigate.  Barbara, welcome back to the broadcast.

Barbara: Thank you, great to be here.

Dennis: Barbara and her husband live in Sacramento.  She works as an abstinence educator there in the Sacramento area and, Barbara, you've been doing this for a number of years.  In fact, you use an illustration with teenagers around hearts and how, when two people connect sexually, it's much more than just body-to-body.  Share that illustration with our listeners.

Barbara: What I do is I bring two hearts and, beforehand, what they don't know is I actually glue these hearts together.  But then in the demonstration, I staple two hearts together to indicate a guy and a girl having sex.  And I talk about how the world just, you know, says that sex is just a physical thing; that you can move on from person to person, and it's no big deal, there's no real impact.

But in God's economy, or God's terms, you know, sex is much more than just a physical thing, it's a spiritual and emotional and even a chemical union that happens the way God created us.  And so I staple this heart together, and I show all these different things, but then when it comes to the break-up what I show is, because I glued the hearts together previously, it's actually a tearing apart, and I'll say, "You know, even though there were two different hearts that came into this union, you're actually tearing apart only one," and that just signifies what it means when you become – when God says you become one.

And what happens when you tear the hearts apart is that you have parts of each of the heart left on the other heart to signify that when you have sex with somebody, you leave a part of yourself behind with them, and you bring with you a part of that person into your future.

Bob: Some of the teenagers that you're sharing this illustration with are right in the middle of this kind of sexual activity in their own lives.  I'm sure they're coming up to you afterwards and saying, "Well, what do I do?"

Barbara: That's right, and college students, as well, where, actually, I find where the effect of the sex is really starting to hit them, and they understand the emotional pain that's happened, and the wounding, and they understand the connection.  They understand that even though they have moved on to a new person, that they still feel attached to that last person.  And so getting them to see what this sexual bonding is all about and what God meant when He said, "You really become one."

Bob: Unpack that whole idea for us, of what you mean by sexual bonding and what you're saying goes on when two people come together outside of marriage?

Barbara: Well, God talks about marriage and the oneness.  It's like a mystery, He says.  It's kind of like when we become one with Him or when He lives in us, and we live in Him, there is this oneness that happens, and He goes marriage is like that or sex is like in that oneness.

So what I found, too, was that God says that the oneness happens even if it's with a prostitute.  So I realized, okay, it's not just marriage, it's not just saying, "I do" that creates this oneness.  There is something about the sexual union that creates that kind of oneness.

And as I was beginning to learn new curriculum, to be able to teach abstinence to young people, I found this incredible information about the brain and how God designed our brains to release chemicals and hormones, that uniquely create an intense bond with each other that is so exciting to me and is so amazing how God created us.  And that this bond that He created for us when we save it for marriage was intended to help us have a lifetime union with that person.

Bob: Intended to make us cleave with one another, all right?

Barbara: Mm-hm, exactly.  And so there is this oneness that happens, even physiologically, and what's neat about that is that God said in His Word a long time before any of us were born, that we were to save sex for marriage because it creates this oneness and now, here in the 21st century, we are actually having science now validate what God has always said – that physiologically we create this bond, and there is a hormone that we release called oxytocin, which they have known for a long time is released in animals, especially those who mate for life, and it's also released in women when they give birth and when women breastfeed.  And they've now discovered that it's also released in men and women when they experience sexual arousal or release.  And I call it God's "superhuman glue."

Its specific job is to create a bond between people.  So who else is going to love those teenagers when they start mouthing off at you?  Their mother, right, because of that bond that's created, and the same thing happens in a marriage relationship.  When you're having sex, you save sex marriage, and then you're having sex over and over with your husband or wife, you are only just intensifying that bond over and over again and creating this life – this foundation for a lifetime marriage.

Bob: But if you haven't saved sex until marriage …

Barbara: Well, here is the damage that we can do to ourselves, and this is one of the reasons why God said to save sex for marriage, because he is not only trying to protect us from creating bonds outside of marriage but also trying to provide for us the kind of union that he wanted us to have in marriage.

So what science has discovered as well is that whenever we have sex with somebody and then move on to a new relationship, what happens in that relationship failure is that we start to inhibit our brain's ability to release oxytocin.  So with each subsequent sexual relationship you have, you actually release a little less oxytocin.

And so you're damaging your brain's ability to be able to release oxytocin.  So here you have all these people having multiple sexual partners in their past, and then they think, "Okay, but now I'm getting married, and I'm going to make all of that right, and it's not going to impact me," but they don't realize that they, first of all, impacted their ability to release oxytocin and create the bond, but they have also brought all of those people from the past as a permanent imprint in their brain with them into their marriage.

And that can sound kind of discouraging for many of us that maybe had a lot of sexual partners, but the other exciting piece of that is that God can restore and heal that and redeem that and be able to break those bonds to your past, which is what He has done in my life and also help you to be able to rebond if you're married in your marriage, but also if you're single, and you're looking forward to a marriage one day, to be able to have that kind of bond that God wanted.

Dennis: Barbara, you actually list a series of questions that are kind of a self-diagnosis to see if the past really does have a grip on your marriage relationship today.  And I wonder if you wouldn't mind sharing – not all of the questions, there are probably 20 questions total that you attribute to another author, but maybe take a half a dozen of those questions and just maybe comment on a couple of them as to what's behind that question, what's taking place there, so that people who may have been promiscuous could see how damaging it really has been.

Barbara: Okay.  Well, one of the things that I have seen is not only from my own story but with women who have had sex in their past is that they, in their marriage, they struggle having sex.  They struggle expressing themselves sexually.  They tend to avoid times of intimacy.  They might struggle with lust.  Let's say they might need to use alcohol to be able to have sex with their husband because they need to become uninhibited.  Those are some of the things. 

They will struggle with shame.  They may struggle with sexual indiscretions, too.  They may – a lot of women end up maybe having affairs in their marriage or even emotional affairs.  There is a lot of mistrust of their husbands because we have a lot of wounding that happens in our past, and so we build up these negative connotations of who men are and so we bring that into our marriages, and we don't trust our husbands.

One of the things is that you can struggle with memories from your past, and so that they don't – they seem like they just happened yesterday, and every time you bring that up, that that memory comes up, you have a lot of shame and condemnation.

Dennis: Now, did these things happen in your marriage?

Barbara: Yes, they did.

Dennis: Which ones?

Barbara: All of them – expressing myself sexually, avoiding times of intimacy, I not only shut down physically but emotionally.  It's not that we didn't have sex, but, you know, I was like this passive – you know, not much of a participant.  It's really awesome how God has totally healed that in me.

Dennis: And you would attribute that to the past mistakes you have made in your teenage years and as a young woman in your 20s?

Barbara: Now I would.  At the time I didn't.  I just through we had – you know, we were just different, and I just didn't enjoy it, I didn't like it, I didn't want to have it.  I just through he – every time he wanted to have sex he was just trying to use me, and so I had all of these negative views of sex, and that's one of the things that sexual bonding and wounding from the past can do in your marriage.

Now I know that all of that had to do with my past, because as God brought me through healing and began to expose those lies that I had ingrained because of my wounding in the past, I was thinking the same way that I was, and that's how sex from my past had ruined sex for me inside of marriage.

Dennis: You teach others in these small groups that you lead around this subject that the beginning step is forgiveness, but that's not the final step.  There are other processes that need to take place.

Barbara: Well, what I've discovered is with sexual sin, there is a healing process that we need to go through, and, you know, God talks about that.  He talks about sexual sin in the Bible.  He says it is the one sin that we commit against ourselves, and He says all other sins are outside the body.  But when you sin sexually, or if you've had someone sin against you sexually, it's something that just happens right to the core of our being.

I think it's because it just touches such a vulnerable place here.  And so that wounding impacts us in every way – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and we bring that with us.  And so there is a healing component, and that takes time.  It's working through the wounded emotions.  It's grieving some of the losses that we've had.  It's reversing the lies that we've ingrained because of sex in our past with God's truth, and it's breaking those ungodly soul ties that we've created.

Dennis: As a part of that forgiveness, you encourage women to write out their sexual history.

Barbara: Yes, I do.

Dennis: What are you actually telling them to do, and why do you want them to do that?

Barbara: What I do is I have them get alone with God and just ask Him to show them everyone that they've created an ungodly soul tie with or bond with sexually, and it definitely will include people that they've had sex with outside of marriage, even if it was their spouse, and they are the only person they had sex with outside of marriage.  You know, they've created an ungodly soul tie outside of marriage with them that is impacting their marriage.

It can be just with people that we've gone too far with, it could be emotional affairs they've had, it could be bonding to pornography or whatever it is.  And then I encourage them to write it down because there is something that happens when we write things down.  It's like God shows us things.  It's like bringing it out into the light, and God shows us things about those events that we never ever saw before.

And then once they've written that list, and, you know, God may add to that list because He would do that with me, you know, for the next year or so.  I would think of different people that I hadn't thought of at the time.  And then we have a prayer in the book that they can pray and ask God to sever the bond that they've created with that person and ask forgiveness for that person and allow God to break that tie with them.

Bob: You had 15 or 20 years in your marriage before you ever started to confront some of these issues in your own heart and your own life.

Barbara: Yes, about 20 years.

Bob: If I had come to you in the middle of that and said, "How's your marriage?" What would you have said?

Barbara: Well, on the surface our marriage was pretty good.  In fact, I would have said we had a pretty good marriage.  But what I realized was that we had a lot of struggles, and we didn't communicate.  We weren't communicating very well, not at a deep level.  In Chapter 4 I talk about the levels of intimacy and how there's these five levels that we grow through as we get to know someone, and what happens when you have sex along that line before marriage is you stop growing in emotional intimacy.

So let's say you're back at the moderate level where you're only talking – you're just sharing your beliefs and opinions, you're not really sharing a lot of feelings.  That's where you really stop growing emotionally, and so here you have all these people getting married because they've had sex, they've created this intense bond even physiologically, they feel closer than they really are, but it's a false sense of intimacy, and then they're getting married, and then struggles come in their marriage but they can't really talk things out very well, because they've never really built a foundation of communication in their marriage, and that was us.

We would kind of stay in that moderate area of communication, you know, talking about the kids and what we're going to do on the weekend and money and work and things like that, but we never really got to real deep heart issues.  And every once in a while, we'd move into that higher level, but when it got unsafe or we started arguing, you know, then we'd kind of revert back to that moderate level, and I realize when I began sharing this, speaking on this, and I realized "This is so us.  We had sex before we got married, too soon."  Well, we shouldn't have had sex before were married, anyway, but we had it so early in our relationship it really impacted our ability to grow in intimacy at all, and that we had kind of stayed stuck in that place for all those years.

Bob: When you came to the point that you began to see that what you were talking to other women about was true about your own marriage, about your own relationship, did you know what to do about it?

Barbara: I did, because at the time God had really been showing me areas.  I guess the first step was I really got healing for my abortion – that was the first step.  And then as I began to share more about bonding, God really led me through some sexual healing for myself, and, at that point, I was teaching about these emotional intimacy levels and how I talked to the psychologist, the one who came up with these levels, and he would recommend couples who came to him who had had sex in their past, they were married now, they had sex before they got married, and he would encourage them to abstain from sex for a little while in their marriage – just for a short while so that they could get healing and move to that highest level of intimacy.

I remember one day when I was speaking on it, and I heard this little whisper from God, and He said, "Well, Barb, how come you're out telling other people to do this, and you're not willing to do it yourself?"  And so that was one of the steps that God led me on, and as we had that fast from sex for about a month, that's when God did an amazing healing in my life, and I started going through the study on sexual healing, and God just began to show me all the things that wounded me in my past and what I had brought into my marriage.

Bob: Time out – you went home to your husband and said, "Honey, I've got this great idea for our marriage."

Barbara: I did.  I didn't think that he would be very …

Dennis: I'll bet he just was really excited about that.

Barbara: Well, you know what was interesting was, because I had already been on this healing journey, and God was already doing so much in my life, and he was beginning to see a change in me.  And so, at that point, he was willing to try things, and what was fascinating was we did talk a lot in that month, but we talked a lot about sex.  We talked a lot about what our struggles were in our marriage, and it was really exciting because at night he'd come home, and he'd go, "So what did God show you today?"  You know, like, he'd want to know what was God doing in my life because he was seeing changes in me almost daily.

Bob: And I'm guessing that kind of communication was creating some new intimacy …

Barbara: Absolutely.

Bob: There were probably some times you thought, "This would be a good time to just go ahead and break that fast."

Barbara: Yes, it was hard, it was very interesting, because before we had the fast, I'm going, "I could care less if I ever have sex again in my whole life."  But then as I'm going through the fast, and God is healing me, you're right, He started to awaken desires in me that I hadn't had in a long time.  So it was really exciting to see God do that healing.

Bob: You know, what you're talking about here today has got to be an epidemic.  I mean, if what you're saying about this bonding that occurs prior to marriage when people are intimate with one another …

Dennis: No doubt about it.

Bob: If that's true, and if that's carried over into marriage, and if that's creating an issue, we've got a culture where this has got to be the dominant motif of marriage.

Barbara: Well, and I would say after – we've had – you know, the sexual revolution started back in the early '60s, and so here we've had over 40 years of sexual revolution with this whole "free sex" idea, and, you know, the no consequence kind of lie, and so, yeah, now we're starting – I remember my son asking me, "Well, why is this becoming a big deal now?  People have been having sex outside of marriage for a long time."  And I said, "You know, we're kind of entering into our third generation of couples who are having sex outside of marriage, and so now we're beginning to see the effects, the emotional, spiritual, and physical effects and broken families and high divorce rate.  We're starting to see the effect, and people are feeling it.  They are realizing, wow, their life is such in a mess, and they're beginning to see their destructive paths."

And so I just really feel like the Israelites when they were crying out to God for healing and God to rescue them, and I feel like God is coming to rescue His people, and Christians, I'm really speaking – I feel like God is calling His people to turn away from their sin and to have healing and to humble themselves and have forgiveness and healing so that they can move forward whole and free.

And I just think that there are so many people in our churches that are dealing with this issue, and God wants us to reach them all so that we can have a voice for our world.

Dennis: And they're dealing with this in secret …

Barbara: Mm-hm.

Dennis: Which is one of the major messages of what you've written about here.  You've shared about your abortion, but that forgiveness and that healing can be offered to literally tens of millions who – I think you're right, Bob.  I think that the guilt, the shame, the agony that people feel in private, you know, it's interesting to watch you talk about this, Barbara.  You are very animated, and I've noticed that you are wearing two rings.  I think there is something about your wedding ring and another ring.  Why do you wear two rings?

Barbara: Well, of course, my wedding ring symbolizes the commitment that I've made to my husband 26 years ago now.  So that's one ring that I wear on my left hand.  And I think you're referring also to the ring that I wear – this little ring I wear on my pinkie finger that has a heart, and inside is a little cross, and I got that to commemorate what God had done in my life.  I was reading in the Old Testament where God had said to Moses several times in this one chapter for the people to commemorate what God had done in their lives and what God had done for them, and I felt like, "God, are you telling me that you want me to do that, too?"

And so I went and bought this ring, and I wear it on my right hand.  I never take it off, and it just symbolizes what God has done in my life – the healing and the forgiveness and the redemption and restoring me and setting me free, and I wear it all the time just to remind me that the enemy can never hold me back again because of what happened in my past.

Dennis: And your story really does embody the passage in 1 John, chapter 1, verse 9 – "If we confess our sins, He" – that is God – "is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Barbara, I just want you to know I appreciate you for being open and honest and sharing your story with our listeners but also for your book and sharing your story with others, because I think a lot of people are going to benefit from this, and I hope you'll come back again someday and join us.

Barbara: Thank you, it's been an honor to be here with you.

Bob: The title of Barbara's book is called "The Invisible Bond."  It's a book that we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can go to our website to find out more.  When you get to the home page on the right side of the screen, there's a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click in that box, it will take you to the area of the site where you can learn more about Barbara's book and about other resources that we have available from FamilyLife that deal with the issues we've been talking about this week.

Again, the website is, click the box on the right side of the home page that says "Today's Broadcast" for more information.  You can order the book, "The Invisible Bond," online if you'd like, or you can call us 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll make arrangements to have a copy of Barbara's book sent to you.

You know, we have been mentioning over the last several weeks the matching gift opportunity that has been made available to us here at FamilyLife.  Some friends of the ministry who have agreed to match every donation we receive here at FamilyLife on a dollar-for-dollar for basis up to a total of $635,000.  The deadline for that is May 31st, and it's coming up pretty quick.

I wanted to make sure that, as a listener, you know that FamilyLife Today is a member of an organization called the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.  You sometimes hear on the news about different ministries that are spending money in ways that they shouldn't spend their funds, and we just wanted you to know that there is an independent organization that keeps an eye on how we spend our money here at FamilyLife and make sure that we're doing what we say we'll do with the donations that we receive and especially during this month when we have this matching gift opportunity available.  I just wanted to make sure you knew that's an important part of how we operate this ministry.

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Now, tomorrow, Dr. David Tubbs is going to join us on FamilyLife Today, and we're going to hear from him about how living in a culture where personal rights and liberties are being emphasized.  Our children may be experiencing some of the negative implications of that.  We'll talk about it tomorrow, and I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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