Interview With Dena Brehm: Sexual Refuser Turned Passionate Wife

Describe yourself in the earlier years of your marriage.

Well, bottom line, I was a mess … immature, selfish, self-protecting, and in denial. I carried a lot of baggage into our marriage, and I honestly believed that just being married would “fix” me… but it didn’t, and the pain of that disillusionment was intense. I’d used premarital sex to “catch” my future husband, and it seemed to work — only, it backfired on me .. quickly into the marriage, sex became something abhorrent to me … it was as if I blamed my husband for not protecting me from myself, prior to marriage (even though I’d been the one who actively did the seduction). It’s uncanny, but I’ve seen that same story play out over and over, with other marriages. It’s as if we think we can get away with rewriting God’s standards, without consequences. But just like with gravity, no matter what we think, if we take a dive, we’re going to go down. Sadly, for both of us, I learned to hate sex, due to my own warped thinking, and I soon started avoiding my husband, and blaming him for being a “pervert” — all because he had a normal, God-given desire and drive. Beyond refusing him sexually, I also rejected him emotionally … denying him all affection.

What contributed to you being that way in the beginning?

Well, it didn’t help that I was a raging bulimic, LOL! Control queen and sexual respondent don’t exactly blend together well. My preoccupation with my eating disorder was my “first love”, and everything else paled in comparison. However, there were other factors: I’d been taught the typical “purity” stance, all of my growing up years … by parents who had been virgins ’til they married. While they taught me that sex was good, they were vague … and the church and youth groups I attended just gave me the message that “sex is bad … God puts up with it to get babies … He turns His head while we do the nasty … it’s a necessary evil … good, Christian women just don’t enjoy it too much … too much pleasure is fleshly and sinful.” Obviously no one sat me down and drilled that into me — but the covert message was still there, loud and clear. Sadly, I ended up in quite a phase of rebellion, from age 18 – 24, which included alcohol, drugs and promiscuity… though I always planned on repenting, getting married, and “coming to my senses”. Like Augustine, I equated sexual pleasure with sin — something that was to be repented of and banished from my life. Once I got married, and became the “good Christian wife,” sex and pleasure had to go — unless we were trying to procreate, of course…!

How long was it into your marriage before you saw that God was setting you free from sexual refusal and apathy?

It took a loooooong while. My mind was filled to the brim with lies … about God, about myself, about marriage, about sex. And until I was in intense pain, I wasn’t willing or able to investigate those lies. And, as in with many marriages, God seems to wok on the spouse who is more healthy, more whole. Mark was beyond-frustrated with me, and yet, he learned that he couldn’t control me, couldn’t change me. He came home one day from work, to find me passed out at the kitchen table, after a long day of abusing my body with binging and purging (this was my daily activity for 21 years). In anger, he went out for a run, yellilng and crying out to God, “Are you going to let this keep up until there’s nothing of me left?!?” And he felt God say, “Yes.” He collapsed, right there on the street, and sobbed, letting go of me, letting go of expectations that I’d ever change. He asked God to help him learn to love me as I was, even if I’d never change, and would never love him. The change was subtle at first — and I was far too self-absorbed to notice… I was just relieved that he’d backed off. However, one day I did notice a change… I’d again spent the day binging and purging, and was in the shower, desperately, futilely trying to soak up heat and energy into my starved and empty body … suddenly the shower door opened, and there stood Mark, home from work. I knew that he knew what I’d done. But he didn’t rant, blame, or shame me. Instead, he stepped into the shower, fully clothed in a business suit, tie and shoes, wrapped his arms around me, and held me as I sobbed … wordlessly holding me, soaked to the skin … until we both laughed at the beautiful absurdity of it all…!

What circumstances had the most influence on helping you begin this process of relational healing in your marriage?

Ah, it was quite the process… first, God used a ministry called Theophostic to break through the lies I believed about Him, about my body, and replaced them with His truth — that set me free from bulimia. I was transformed completely, and have been walking in that complete freedom for 8 years now. That changed SO much, but initially the marriage continued in dysfunction … Mark loving me, me avoiding Mark … and yet God was working behind the scenes. He led us to work through soul-ties (bonds we’d formed with others with whom we’d been sexual in the past), including the one we’d formed through premarital sex. Mark also confessed of some pornography use of us, prior to our marriage (yes, even that had an effect). And, during this time, I continued to pray that God would renew my mind, my heart, and my eyes for my husband. In spite of that, I managed to deny him sex for 14 months straight, after the birth of our 7th child. I experienced two miscarriages that year – they were devastating. I then went on a “trying to conceive” campaign that obviously involved sex — lots of sex. But, mechanical sex. I finally had to repent, both for using my husband’s body, and for trying to “make” God give me a baby. I also told Mark that I would stop refusing him, sexually… I would be willing to have sex every time he approached me. One beautiful spring day, shortly after this confession and repentance, I was sitting in a parking lot, in my car, enjoying the beautiful spring afternoon, awaiting my son’s drum lesson to conclude. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I was flooded head to toe with a sensation that was wholly unfamiliar to me … sexual desire. I’d never felt it. All I knew was that I wanted my husband BAD. I called him, saying, “How soon can you get home?” He answered, “What’s wrong? Are the kids ok?” I said, “We’re all fine. I’ll be waiting for you in the bedroom. Naked.” We both got home in record time, and collided in a joyous, passionate embrace … it felt too dang good to be moral or legal, but I figured I’d enjoy it while it lasted, and I could repent later. Likewise, Mark figured that aliens had invaded my body, but since I *looked* like his wife, he too could indulge, and repent afterwards…! In the afterglow, a bit dazed, more than a little astonished, he looked at me and said, “Did you ever think it could be this way for us?” I suddenly realized that it was more than merely sexual … I had gone and fallen in love with my husband for the first time in our 17 year marriage…! This man, the father of my 7 children, the one I’d disdained and avoided like the plague, became my lover and best friend. We were in that state of frenzied bliss for over 2 years … making love daily for over 8 months…! Glorious! At age 42, I finally found my libido, and the love of my life. I waited eagerly for him all day, and when I saw him pull into the driveway, my stomach would flip … I got butterflies! It was so fun! The joy overflowed into every aspect of our lives, we bonded like nobody’s business, and our children thrived in our new relationship (even as the teenagers pretended to be mortified).

What circumstances had the most influence on helping you begin this process of relational healing in your marriage?

Well, we had to calm down a bit … people needed feeding, he had to make money, and we had a household to run..! We went through many stresses at the time … we got kicked out of church (due to my posts on TMB), we fixed up our house to sell it, we moved 3,000 miles, Mark started traveling 50% of the time, I had another miscarriage, and then, at the age of 45, I had our 8th baby. Our marriage continued in the passion ’til I gave birth … and then had to deal with a pregnancy-induced liver illness… it’s been a tough couple of years. Being postpartum, sick, nursing a baby, took a toll on my libido. Of course, that’s somewhat natural, due to chemical/hormonal changes. However, despite my libido-dive, and despite his travel schedule, we’ve maintained an active sex life. It’s far too important to let life-changes interfere with our need for bonding, physically, emotionally and sexually. I have confidence that my body will return to “wanton-normal”, and if it doesn’t, I’m committed to working with an endocronologist ’til I get my groove back…! Wink Having found my libido at 42, I’m not letting go of it without a fight…! I plan on being a sexually active woman for the rest of my life — it’s the spark that lights up every other aspect of who I am … and I truly believe that’s God’s gift for us, while we’re in these fearfully and wonderfully made earth-suits!

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