I’ve been thinking about sex. I have a lot of questions about sex. I’ll explain. The cause du jour right now in both sacred and secular circles is human trafficking. Celebrities from both spheres are jumping on the sexual slavery bandwagon, waving “Stop Slavery” signs, and holding fundraising efforts of various kinds to funnel money into the anti-sex trade effort. It’s as if everyone woke up at the same time and realized that men, women, and children were being abducted and forced into prostitution. Sexual slavery must be a new phenomenon. No. It’s not. Prostitution is called “the world’s oldest profession” for a reason. As long as people have been having sex, there have been men and sometimes women making money on the backs of other human beings. Sexual slavery and human trafficking is a very old crime. What’s new? Social media, the Internet, and the immediate availability of information. This is most likely why everyone and their cousin are better informed about the sex trade than they were twenty years ago when I was abducted and whisked away to a port city to be sold.
It’s very hip these days to wear a piece of jewelry or t-shirt made by an organization that has declared war on human trafficking, isn’t it? One can drink Fair Trade coffee that donates part of their profits to the cause. One can give offerings at church to organizations that are aligning themselves with these organizations, and I support doing all these things. I wear the jewelry. I buy the coffee. It’s all about awareness, they say, and there are even websites and handouts one can check to learn how trafficked women behave. These are actually really good things because it’s important that we pay attention to our environment. Had my neighbors been paying attention to me and the man living next door to me, I may not have been abducted. It’s that easy after all. Save a woman, man, or child.
I’m quite serious. You have your trafficking victim. There s/he is. Out of the life. You’ve done it! Now what? That was me twenty years ago, and I was only captive for one week. It was by all accounts the most terrifying seven days of my life, but I was already a victim before I was taken. I’ve written at length here about my prior victimization, and it’s what made me an easy target for the man who took me. Many people who are taken are from abusive homes. Traffickers are savvy people. They don’t take strong people with good boundaries who have a good sense of self. They take girls and boys who have already been broken in as victims by their families and communities. We make great slaves.
So, I ask this question: What does the church and all these earnest people who are working so hard to get these women, men, and children out of the life intend to do for them once they are freed? What can they do?
I ask this question because the Christian community that I have come to know in the last forty years can’t do much when it comes to serious sexual victimization. Why? I think it’s because most Christians are still going round and round about sex and sexual identity. I only know one Christian woman who is comfortable talking about sex, and she is the one person who has been willing to “go there” with me in terms of talking authentically with me about sexuality, the nitty-gritty of sex, and sexual identity.
This needs to be heard. God works through people. A sexually abused person needs to be able to discuss sex, sexuality, sexual identity and the nuances of the sex act in a safe environment free of shaming attitudes and embarrassment if they are to progress, mature, and heal. Shaming, religious, and judgmental language must be eradicated completely in these discussions, and most Christians I know simply can’t discuss sex without including shame, judgment, and religious attitudes. This is one reason why it has taken me almost twenty years to develop a healed sexual identity. I had no one to talk to after my trafficking experience, and I fumbled my way through social experiences in the dark. I was completely ashamed of myself believing I was an intrinsically broken, defiled woman after I had been trafficked. No one in the Christian community was willing to talk to me about sexual trauma, healing, development, or even dating, and I was brimming with questions.
Whenever I tried to ask a question I was met with shocked expressions and even told that my curiosity was sinful–sexual thoughts aren’t virtuous or noble after all. I once tried to tell part of my story to a Christian woman I admired and was told that my story was not wanted. She didn’t want to know it. She didn’t want to feel burdened. So, I was left alone in life with my trauma and desire to understand human sexuality and intimacy. People in my faith community continually said that they wanted to end sexual slavery, but they didn’t want to get their hands dirty. I think that this is still very much the case.
People in the West are willing to donate money, buy jewelry and t-shirts, and even volunteer their time to packing boxes and going on mission trips, but are they willing to invest in longterm mentoring? Are they really willing to come alongside one of these victims and support them for possibly years to come while they suffer with PTSD and attempt to build a life, wade through the landmines of attempting sexual intimacy, and discover their true identities after having them shattered? This is not for the faint of heart, and the church at large needs to be prepared for its calling. Setting captives free is not just about donating money. It’s about building relationships and calling forth identities. It’s also entirely not about being comfortable. What kinds of questions did I have on my journey towards sexual healing? What was I dying to ask another woman?
In the beginning of my journey, these were some of my questions:
- How do I have an orgasm?
- Why don’t I feel anything ‘down there’?
- Do you feel anything ‘down there’?
- I can’t stay present when I’m in a sexual situation. Is that normal?
- I feel nauseated when a boy tries to hold my hand. Why?
- I really want to enjoy kissing, but as soon as he tries to kiss me deeply and I feel his tongue I want to throw up. Is that normal?
- I sometimes feel like I’m not even in my body. Do you ever feel like that?
- I’m scared of men. Are you ever scared of men?
In the middle of my journey…
- I’m supposed to “get wet” and feel aroused, but I can’t. I can’t seem to get myself to feel aroused at anything, and I feel so frustrated at this. Do you know why? Can you help me? What do you do?
- I’m terrified of my husband’s penis. Do you feel like that?
- During sex, I feel paralyzed. I feel like I can’t speak. I feel like I can’t use my voice. I try, but I just can’t. He wants me to tell him what I like, but I freeze. What is wrong with me?
- I don’t like sex. I just do it to make him happy.
- I feel like I’m going to vomit when my husband wants me to perform oral sex. What can I do to make this better?
- I don’t want my husband to look at me when I’m naked. I don’t want him to see me. I feel ashamed and embarrassed. I know that men are visually stimulated, and I feel badly for depriving him of this experience. What can I do? I feel too vulnerable.
- I’ve never had an orgasm. Am I supposed to be doing something? My husband feels inadequate. I feel broken. Maybe I am.
- What about masturbation? Should I be doing that?
These are just a few questions that I wanted to ask someone, and I’m not unusual. These are very direct and honest questions about sex, sexual identity, sex in the context of marriage, and sex after trauma. These are all valid and normal questions that anyone who is attempting to progress might ask. Do you think anyone in the church is prepared and equipped to answer these questions? No, but they should be because there are droves of people who desperately need to ask these kinds of questions yet they feel they can’t. Where do they turn to try to get some answers? Pornography. Porn gives us some sense of what sex is like albeit a very skewed example. The problem that many of us face who have been sexually abused, particularly for those of us who have been trafficked, is that we don’t know what ‘normal’ is anymore when it comes to sexuality. We don’t know what a normal sexual response looks like. Normal is gone. So, we need to be able to ask questions of others so that normal and healthy can be defined again. If healthy people with healthy life experiences aren’t willing to talk to us openly and free of shame about the human sexual experience, then what are victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking supposed to do? I can tell you what many of us have been doing.
Suffering in silence.
Why are people so shocked that Christian men and women have pornography and sexual addictions? Why is anyone shocked at the adultery statistics in Christian marriages? If victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking can’t get the help they need from their own faith communities, then what about everyone else with lesser but equally important needs?
I no longer suffer in silence. I ask the questions that I need to ask, but I also have a much smaller circle of friends now. I’m no longer ashamed to say that I have a sexual identity, and I’m on my way to healing it. It’s time that the church gets a major spiritual “chiropractic” adjustment in order to get herself straightened out when it comes to sexuality and sexual healing, or she will be utterly irrelevant when the next Emancipation Proclamation is fulfilled and all the slaves finally come home.