If you’ve been following my journey through my last two blog posts, you’ll see that I’ve identified two issues that create conflict in romantic relationships: the expectation of sex and the influence of power. My plea at the end of each blog post is that we continue the conversation and bring these topics out into the open.
The biggest question I’ve received from readers is – how do I even begin to have these conversations with the people I’m closest with?
Talking about sex isn’t easy. I’m sure you can remember how awkward you felt the first time your parents told you about sex. If they told you at all.
So here is the best advice I can give about overcoming those walls and stigmas and creating meaningful conversation about sex and abuse:
- Before having a single conversation with anyone, rest in the presence of your Heavenly Father.
No matter what your beliefs are, there can be fear of judgement when talking about sexuality. The first step towards overcoming that fear is being enveloped by the overwhelming and all-consuming love of the Father. No matter what your sexual history may be, no matter what you may believe about sexuality, God loves you unconditionally.
During my relationship with my ex, I would break down in my room, overwhelmed with shame, asking God if what I was doing was right. In the middle of a particularly bad episode, God brought me to Romans 3:22-24, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
At the time, I had no idea what it meant, but I was deeply consoled by the word “justified”. It wasn’t until later that I heard a sermon on justification, in which I finally understood that God doesn’t see us in terms of our own righteousness. At all. When he sees us, he sees us through the lens of Christ’s righteousness. It didn’t matter what sin I carried, and it didn’t matter what “righteousness” I achieved. No matter what good or evil I carried out, my faith in Christ meant that God saw me as righteous.
This is how great his love is for you. Your actions do nothing to earn his love, grace or righteousness. It has been given freely to all who believe in him. Spending time in his unconditional love for you will give you confidence to speak up, no matter what judgements others may pass.
- Tell your story to people you trust.
If your parents are present and active in your life, take the time to break the barriers and start the conversation about sexuality. Here’s the key: you don’t need to agree. If you and your parents have different ideas about sexuality, that’s ok – it’s not either of your jobs to convince the other of their viewpoints. The main point of conversation should not be what is and what is not ok in a relationship, the main point of conversation needs to be that your relationship is a safe and judgement free space.
Many parents stop the conversation at “save sex until marriage” or “make sure you wear condoms”, which assumes only consensual sex, but there is always the potential for abuse. The main conversation must be creating safety in the relationship and building trust, so that communication can happen if abuse ever does happen.
If your parents are out of the picture, make sure to start the same conversation with parent-like figures you can trust. Lean on the people who love you, and know that you are never alone.
If you have already been through an abusive situation, the best thing you can do is tell someone. Memories kept in secret gain power, but exposing those memories and experiences to the light allows you to gain power over the shame and fear. Be strong. Have courage. You are loved and you are pure in the eyes of the One whose opinion truly matters.
- Keep open lines of communication in your romantic relationships.
I am definitely a fan of the model of dating where you become friends first, then romantic second. Creating a friendship with your significant other where you can talk openly and freely is vital in a healthy and lasting relationship. From the very beginning of your romantic relationship, sexual expectations need to be talked about. What do you agree on? What do you disagree on?
No matter what you agree on, there must be mutual respect. This doesn’t mean compromise. If one person in the relationship wants to abstain from sex until marriage, and the other person thinks sex is ok outside of marriage, it doesn’t mean you compromise at handjobs. You should always feel 100% in control of your sexual decisions. Period.
If you’ve discussed your sexual boundaries and your partner oversteps them and continues to overstep them, this is a sign of a lack of respect and love. A loving partner will be concerned with your feelings and will want to make you feel safe and cared for. A loving partner will not ask you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.
This is where it can get hazy and this is where strength is required. If you’re uncertain about the state of your relationship and concerned about your actions sexually, look at your partner’s actions, not their words. It’s easy to convince ourselves they love us when they say such sweet things, but emotional manipulation and coercion is not love. It’s a power play.
- Never assume you know all the details.
Now this concerns conversations about others who may have been caught in abuse, which is happening more and more frequently with all of the media coverage on sexual harassment.
Tread lightly with your words. So many men and women have experienced what we now see everywhere in the media. Thoughtless words condemning victims may make someone overhearing your conversation feel more afraid about exposing their situation. Those who have experienced harassment and abuse are already afraid of no one believing them, of their abusers denying their stories, of being accused of having malicious intentions. Your words may affirm those fears. Instead, we should speak with controlled tongues and with wisdom, understanding that we will never know all of the details and therefore have no right to declare anyone guilty or not guilty.
This also goes for situations in our own communities. You will never know how deeply abuse wounds until you experience it, so please, speak carefully. Speak with care. Speak with tact.
Have courage in beginning these conversations. Be strong. Remember that you deserve respect and love and should settle for nothing less.
Again, there is so much more to this conversation, and I will continue to write as an advocate for those who may have lost their voice.
Vanessa is still conducting interviews for her upcoming book Prince or Poison: Identifying the Difference Between Love and Abuse. If you would like to share your story with Vanessa, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to make a contribution to Vanessa’s research and book expenses, please visit here.