How can I undo my sexual past?

From the book, A Case for Chastity, read the complete chapter on transforming your past from regret and mistakes into building stones for a future full of hope.

How Can I Move Beyond the Memories?

Although Kayla and her fiancé practiced chastity for many months before their marriage, she carried emotional scars from previous sexual encounters with other men. Regret, pain, and loss had accompanied the breakup of those earlier sexual relationships. Kayla worried that her married sex would drudge up the past—a reminder of the guys with whom she had become so intimate but who had left her. Kayla had been deeply in love with one of her previous boyfriends, and she feared she would remember him at times in which she only wanted to focus on her husband. How could she let go of these memories and joyfully engage in the same activity that had caused her so much hurt?

Jeff experienced casual, meaningless sex. After he made a commitment to chastity, he avoided women. He knew he needed to honor and respect women. But because all of his earlier relationships were based on physical attraction and sexual acts, he had never practiced authentic respect for women. He didn’t know how to get close to a woman without wanting to take her to bed. He feared that if he became too close, his old self would take over and he’d repeat his behavior. His past immobilized him from having healthy, freeing relationships with women. How can he move past this?

Both Jeff and Kayla need the same thing: healing. Simply starting over, as the previous chapter describes, only scratches the surface of the transformation that we need and desire. When something deep within us is altered or damaged, we cannot simply ignore the harm to our sexuality or hope it will be all right in the future. If we shoot ourselves in the foot and experience pain, it’s a good idea to stop shooting ourselves. That’s not the only thing we need to worry about, however; we’re still walking around with an injured foot. The foot needs to be restored, and it will take a good surgeon and some medication before it functions as it did in the past. After unchaste sexual experiences, our hearts, minds, and souls also need to be restored because they’ve been affected or damaged. But restoration takes time and help from the Creator of sexuality, God.

Misconceptions About “Moving On”

We can move on from an unhealthy sexual past without healing; however, we will not experience the potential fullness of our sexuality as long as it remains contaminated with impurity of the past. Sexual memories do not escape us easily or quickly. To pretend that they disappear is naive. Immediately after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, if someone had urged us to “move on,” that person would have been considered rude. We needed time to refocus on our own values; celebrate and grieve the lives lost; and respond in a positive, healthy manner. Monuments recalling painful events would not be erected and important if all we need to do is simply chalk up hurt, devastation, and pain as learning experiences and “move on.”

Many people believe that time, new relationships, and distance can heal all wounds. That is partially true. Time and distance allow us to forget more easily. But for some, the hurt may linger and return when least expected, unless it is dealt with in a healthy manner. Strong, healthy relationships can bring us hope and give us confidence in our ability to maintain good relationships. Often, God sends us people and gives us the time we need to move on more easily. But if we base our healing and strength on a current relationship, what happens if the new relationship ends? What happens if this person betrays us? Further hurt will occur. But even if we find ourselves in an extremely healthy, lifelong relationship, the chance still remains that the memories and hurt can recur years later. The most loving, wonderful, even holy spouse cannot go back to our past and change what took place.

Real Healing

Nothing can change the past, but healing can transform the “wrong,” done either by ourselves or others, into channels of grace and growth. Healing frees us from the negative emotional, mental, and spiritual effects of sexual impurities. With true healing, we can look back with maturity and peace, knowing that our past cannot keep us from real love and freedom. Healing can come in many ways. The more we seek and are open to the types of healing described below, the more likely we will be restored to the person of joy, love, and trust God created us to be.

Inviting God to Lead the Trip

Healing takes time. “Forgive and forget” sounds nice, but we’re human. Even if we experience profound moments of love, forgiveness, peace, and closure from past mistakes, we are rarely able truly to forget. Therefore, our hope in healing is not to shove completely out of our mind all that has happened in the past. On the other hand, true healing allows us to look back on past experiences with compassion, forgiveness, and hope. Emotional and spiritual healing are difficult to obtain with the help and wisdom of other people alone. But if we open ourselves to Jesus, God’s healing fills us with unconditional love and forgiveness. Inviting God to heal allows us to experience more than this world, time, or even the most incredible humans can provide.

Forgiveness

On a retreat, while speaking to eighth-grade girls about their friendships, I, Heather, asked Sheila why forgiveness or reconciliation was still lacking between her and Kristen. “She told everyone my secret. It was just so awful—what she did. It was too awful,” Sheila replied. Sometimes things do seem too awful for us to forgive. We feel empowered when we hold on to the anger. Not choosing to forgive, however, is like our drinking poison that we’ve prepared for the person we hate. The other person is rarely affected by our anger.

Although it is difficult to forgive those who hurt us or to seek forgiveness when we’ve hurt someone else, forgiveness is essential in the healing process. It requires that we take ownership for our actions or our hurt emotions. We must deal with the reality that actions can deeply affect others.

Wendy was raped as a young teen. She was nothing but polite to this cute guy, but he pushed himself on her. Wendy never saw him again. Does he realize what he did was wrong? Is he sorry? Maybe, maybe not. Has he asked for her forgiveness? No. She had no reason to forgive him for such an awful crime except that she was tired of being bitter. Also, she knew that it was essential. During a retreat she remembered the part of the Gospel when Christ forgives his killers: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). While she was praying, she imagined herself climbing up on the cross and looking at the scene of the Crucifixion, picturing the man who raped her in the crowd. She then said, “I forgive you.” Wendy experienced tremendous freedom after that experience. She continues to remember her pain but also continues to forgive the rapist.

Renewal of the Mind

Jeff was only able to relate well with women after the Holy Spirit transformed his view of sex and women. Our past is in our memory. A random image, song, or book can trigger it. If we watch movies or listen to music with images of shallow sex, our minds will have a difficult time convincing us that chastity is possible or even worth it. We’ll revert back to old patterns or only go through the motions of abstaining instead of being able to embrace chastity fully. We all must fill our minds with the truth of how much God loves us. We must remember how beautiful and sacred our bodies and sex are meant to be. Reading the Bible, books on chastity, talking to and surrounding ourselves with strong, wise believers will assist us in this process. Instead of trying to merely throw out lustful thoughts or tendencies, it is best to replace them with healthy and loving truth.

Human Relationships for Healing

Hal forgave his abusive dad for all the hurt of his childhood and tried to rebuild their relationship. But because of his father’s alcoholism, Hal could never get too close, and he had no model of how an honorable father should behave. Hal prayed for healing, and God sent him an incredible Christian man—his father in-law. While dating his future wife, Hal realized that he could learn much from this new father figure. Through his father-inlaw and his relationship with God, Hal received the love of a father which he had never experienced from his own.

Other humans can provide great healing in our lives. When we seek healthy, whole, and healed individuals to be our friends, we are inherently touched by the grace in their lives. To heal after having unhealthy sexual relationships, we must focus on building solid friendships and family relationships. It’s important that we be selective in who we seek to help us—not just anyone will do. We need to go to places where strong Christians hang out—at youth groups or church events. God touches us most profoundly, however, through those who allow themselves to be completely filled by him.

The Divine Relationship for Healing

Through personal or group prayer, sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, and retreats, we can be eternally changed. In little or big ways, immediately or over time, we will be healed if we continually open ourselves to God’s mercy and love in our lives. God desires to heal all of our painful or shallow experiences. When we are hurt, we can ignore the injury; or we can clean out the wound, apply healing medication, and learn from the experience. When we look at the scars, we don’t always need to be reminded of the hurt, but we can be reminded of the healing, hope, and strength we have received. God does not inflict pain upon us but simply hopes that we will allow him to help transform it into something good.

Years after accepting God’s gift of a fresh start and much healing, Liz told her new boyfriend about her regretful past. After admitting she was not a virgin, he responded, “It’s true, then. The gift of starting over and being healed is real. God can restore a person’s purity!” He went on to tell her that he saw her as the most beautiful, holy, spotless, and pure woman that he’d ever known. He said that if her past included anything impure, God had truly healed and restored her.

This page is a chapter in the book, A Case for Chastity.