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!


  1. Wonderful story of redemption!
    But man, 8 kids?!?!?!? Lol…you certainly have your quiver full.

    I worry sometimes about when we have kids – I hear so much about women and their libido’s going way south (and not just for the winter, lol) and them no longer being attentive with their husbands and yada yada yada….we both have been blessed in that we enjoy an extremely active sex life, he’s terribly attentive with me in and out of the bedroom, I certainly have no qualms in initiating sex and we both desire it daily…it’s just scary to think that all that will change when we start our family. YIKES!!!!

  2. LOL, yeah, 8 kids is a lot … no matter how you figure it.

    We “planned” only two of ’em, and I recall thinking that I was in favor of boarding schools…! Instaead, here I am, husband working from home, and I’m unschooling (a form of homeschooling) — they’re here 24/7.

    And you know what? I wouldn’t have it *any* other way…!

    God knew what it would take to get me outside of myself, out of my self-absorbed notions … I didn’t even really know *who* I was created to be until I got challenged in this way. I’m the woman in the corner, surrounded by wee folks, hollering “Ok, Ok, I give! I’ll learn patience!” LOL!

    As I’ve learned it,, anything we do out of a motivation of fear … that ain’t God. Life is meant to be lived to the hilt … experienced as fully as possible. Having a child, participating so intimately in God’s creation of another human being … investing so completely in another soul, outside of your own, is an incredible gift, honor and privilege. How and why would I *ever* pass up such an experience…?!?

    (Plus — perhaps due to having had all those babies, I have orgasms that peak for 2 minutes plus, at an intensity that blows my mind.)

    Perfect love does indeed cast out *ALL* fear. 🙂

    Shalom, Dena
    AKA Shulamite-in-Training

  3. Wow! Cheers to you! We have found that homeschooling helped my libido. Everytime I see my girls get a concept or want to try something we’re learning I get way pumped. All that adrenaline yields a lot of extra energy, ( I am an adventurer by nature and a lover of life.) which yields a very celebratory me!

    Your story of your husband joining you in the shower made me cry and think of all the teen girls I have worked with over the years. I wish I could show them this.

  4. Wow, that was a WONDERFUL story!!! Thank you so much for sharing it with us! May our God continue to draw you and your husband together in EVERY aspect of love!!

  5. I *do* understand needing an outlet for all that celebratory energy…! And disappointment, and sadness, and anger, and you-name-it…! Sex is good for all of it!

  6. Dena, you are absolutley correct in that your “full quiver” is AWESOME. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t implying that it was less than fulfilling but for someone with no kids it’s intimidating to see that…out of my cofort zone so to speak. But that’s what God does with us all – always changing us, taking us out of our comfort zone to grow us closer to Him. Sometimes it’s appealing and other times it’s not – depends on how willing I am to relinquish control.
    I have family memebers with households full of small kiddies – I love spending time with them but I also see the tiring side of parenting, lol.
    And as someone who is a little older than the average for not having kids yet (36y/o and married recently for the 1st time, no other sexual partners), you start to wonder “do I have the energy for so many little ones?” Lol….but as my husband and I say, “whatever God decides to do with our womb then so be it.”
    And good for you that you get to have rockin’ O’s after so many kids – something to look forward to I guess….although I can’t complain in that department ;o)

  7. Dena, thank you so much for sharing your story. We have several things in common, and I can thoroughly relate to your story and how we were both redeemed. God is awesome!

  8. What a great testimony, thank you Dena! I have read several of your posts on TMB and was curious about your whole story. Thank you for sharing.

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