Sex & SinglenessWomen & Pornography

How I Prepared for Sex in Marriage (as a Former Porn Addict)

Where is the premarital prep book for women who’ve been addicted to porn?

Turns out, there isn’t one. At least not the kind I thought I needed.

In case you missed it, I recently got married. We both waited into our 30s (I was 32 and he was 34). Totally worth it.

Read: Life is more than sex and marriage…

But how do you prepare for sexual intimacy in marriage when you have a background that leaves you easily triggered?

You might think it would be easy. After all, one of the selling points for pornography is that it “helps” couples sex lives. I’ve mentioned this before and can say with 100% surety, that’s a lie. If I had relied on what pornography had taught me, our honeymoon would have been a wreck.

Here’s how a “typical” premarital season goes (I think).

The couple gets engaged. Then, a couple weeks out from their wedding, they buy a special book that holds a bunch of tips for how to have a great sex life in marriage. It gives an anatomy lesson and some creative love-making suggestions and so on. And they live happily ever after.

(Yes, I understand that I severely oversimplified that process.)

Obviously, it’s different for everyone, but that seems to be the general progression of events. At some point in there, you buy the book, and it’s a rite of passage, of sorts.

My husband and I got all sorts of recommendations when we were engaged- each with a warning.

Read this one, but only two weeks before.

Start this one, but do not read the chapters for him.

Read this one, but have someone cut out the pictures first.

Yes, that’s right… pictures.

We read this one, but be careful! Don’t read it too far out from the wedding. We did and it was a long two months.

I highly recommend this one, but make sure you follow the rules and wait to read the later chapters until the honeymoon.

It was like someone was blindfolding me and telling me to dance in a minefield.

Have fun!

The thought of reading a book on sex was absolutely terrifying.

Why?

Because I know the Pandora’s box that is buried in some deep crevice in my brain and I really did not feel like pulling it out and busting it open weeks before our wedding. That’s the same reason why my husband and I didn’t kiss until our wedding day.

Why would I spend years speaking out against pornography only to go poke the giant weeks out from my own wedding?

I had zero desire to read a book on sex, but, I was torn.

Torn because I have friends who are recovered porn addicts as well. I’ve asked them what their wedding nights were like for them. One answer, from years ago, haunted me. Our stories were very similar and she said:

“One of my regrets is that we didn’t learn more about sex before we were married. I had seen it on screen, but I didn’t understand the mechanics of it. It was really hard for us to figure out.”

Hard to figure out? How could sex be hard for a porn addict to figure out?

Pornography aside, I felt like I had a pretty good grasp of how things worked. I worked in a crisis pregnancy center for two years. Part of my job was to educate women on their anatomy and sex, including dispelling a bunch of myths. On top of that, I took advanced anatomy and physiology in college, so I could label parts and color code them if needed.

I would never claim to be an expert, but I felt I had a decent enough beginner’s knowledge. I wasn’t naive.

So my engagement was spent walking the line between these two worlds: on one hand not wanting to regret not learning about sex, but on the other not wanting to launch myself head first into a struggle with pornography in the name of “learning” about sex.

Did I really need a book on sex?

When my then-fiance ordered a book that came highly recommended to him (with a warning), I looked at reviews. The reviews mentioned pictures.

Pictures!?

I found one of those “look inside” options and sure enough, this Christian book on marriage was filled with very life-like illustrations of sexual positions. It would be one thing if these were marshmallow figures or even shadows, but these were people- detailed people, down to the shape of her nose and his chiseled abs.

If I have a “porn alarm” in my head, it sounded.

And I’m not proud of this, but I absolutely lost it. I got angry at the author. Angry at my fiance’s friends. Angry that people actually read this stuff and were OK with soft-core porn in the name of Jesus. And how dare this man I love even suggest we read something like this!?

If memory serves me correctly, it was one of the biggest fights of our engagement.

I started to frantically search for an alternative to the book he had already ordered. Come to find out, a lot of the premarital books had images of some sort.

The panic attack that ensued is what landed me in counseling.

I made an appointment that day because if I couldn’t even read a book about sex, I was pretty sure I was going to die of a panic attack after our wedding. By that point, even shadowy outlines in books made me want to throw up.

My friends were telling me to get a grip. As I talked with them, what came out wasn’t a former addict fighting for sobriety. It was a trauma victim who felt like she was fighting for her life.

Read: Porn Addiction, Sexual Trauma, and Why I’m in Counseling

Shortly before the meltdown over the book, I had struggled with a different feeling.

I felt I knew too much.

When I was exposed to pornography at 13, it was hardcore pornography. For years, that was the content I watched. At one point, I told my husband, “There is nothing I haven’t seen.”

And I felt so guilty for that. There was so much shame. I wanted desperately to un-remember it. I needed a delete button. Some way to approach marriage with the same awe and nerves as a “normal” woman.

So, you know what I did? Not proud of this either.

I started searching online as if I were a bride-to-be nervous about her wedding night.

I wanted to know what was “normal” for a woman to know.

I knew better. Knew exactly where a search like this could lead. Sure enough, it did. Weeks before my wedding, I was on my phone, watching softcore porn, excusing it because it was “educational.”

No doubt this also fed into my meltdown.

The day I scheduled my counseling appointment, I had this realization:

I didn’t need a book on sex. I needed a book to help me forget everything I thought I knew about sex.

Everything I knew was at war with everything I hoped and everything I feared. The trauma, met the addiction, met the engagement, and I was a mess.

After sharing my story with my counselor, she looked at me and said, “I don’t think you need to read a book on sex.”

Chains fell right then, I am telling you.

She was the first person who told me not to read a book on sex. Other people were telling me to get over myself and invest in my marriage. My friends were telling me to read them; other experts were telling me to read them. People were saying we had to read one. But she got it.

Instead of a book detailing the mechanics of sex, she recommended books on intimacy and healing from sexual trauma. Porn hadn’t taught me anything. It had traumatized me.

Rushing the “mechanics,” she said, could actually cause more harm than good. Focusing too much on how to have sex as opposed to how to connect could hurt our marriage. Basing my expectations on those outlined in a book could add unwanted pressure and turn a beautiful experience into a traumatic one.

So, my premarital prep was about sexual healing, not learning about sex.

I purchased a book on intimacy, written by a Christian sex therapist, but put it away when a chapter encouraged raunchy talk. It’s just not something I’m comfortable with and I didn’t like her instruction that wives needed to be “dirty” (her word) in order to connect with their husbands.

I didn’t want to feel “dirty.” I was trying to stop feeling dirty.

At the same time, I bought the book Not Marked by Mary DeMuth. If you are a victim of sexual trauma, I cannot recommend this enough.

This book was my marriage prep. I read through it, writing notes in the margins, and highlighting parts that resonated with me. Stories of fear and flashbacks. Stories of struggling with self-worth and depression.

Mary even shares her own struggle with a pornography addiction and how hard it was to reconcile with her story as a sexual abuse survivor.

A great feature of the book is that Mary’s husband, Patrick, shares his side of the story in each chapter. I would highlight things he said that reminded me of my husband-to-be.

I cracked open a new journal and, each day, I wrote an entry on sex. Since I am a writer, I tend to process things best through writing. In that journal, I would share my honest thoughts about sex and would reflect on what I had read in Mary’s book.

The night before our wedding, I gave my husband the journal and the marked-up book. I gave that man my heart. Conversations I had been too broken or scared to have spilled out on those pages. He got a glimpse into the space where the addict was at war with the trauma victim was at war with the part of me that hurt for him.

He read the journal through the night before our wedding.

That exercise did more for our honeymoon than any book on sex ever could have.

Instead of detailing positions and techniques, reading that book and letting my husband in on my journey of sexual healing facilitated honest, open, communication about sex. That foundation of honest communication has saved us so much hurt in these first few weeks of marriage.

We never cracked the cover on a book about the mechanics of sex, and you know what happened? We look back on our wedding night with overwhelming joy.

If you’re getting married or newly married and feel you need a book on sex, that’s fine. But don’t feel you have to have one.  So many people will tell you that yes, you need one- you must have one. Some may even say you must have one with pictures because it’s the only way you can figure it out.

It isn’t.

In some cases, reading a book on sex might be harmful. If you aren’t sure if that’s the case for you, I highly recommend seeking wise counsel from a Christian counselor. If you think a book might be helpful, I don’t have one to recommend, but I do want to encourage you to remember the foundation.

Instead of spending your time before marriage trying to figure out how to master something you can’t even practice, focus on intimacy. Focus on communication. Don’t rely on what pornography has taught you.

Because, here’s something porn doesn’t teach you: good sex isn’t about the right position or the right amount of foreplay. It’s about intimacy.

You have your entire marriage to figure out the mechanics and tricks; you only get to lay the foundation once.


If you’re a parent, check out The Whole Story, which now has a course option for boys! You can get both courses here.

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