Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction

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Since biblical times, sexual sin has been among the problems that have plagued the people of God. The Old Testament is full of it. In the New Testament, Jesus comforts sexual sinners such as the woman caught in adultery. The apostle Paul warns against being on fire with lust.

Most of us have known fellow Christians who have fallen into sexual sin. A poll taken a few years ago by Leadership magazine revealed that 23 percent of ministers have committed sexual sin (Fall, 1988). Holiday Inn has discovered that the use of X-rated movies in its rooms increases during Christian conventions.

In many ways we live in a sexually sinful culture. Our movies, advertisements, magazines, and TV programs reflect a preoccupation with sex. God’s church is reeling from the effects.

It Is God’s Time to Heal If church and society are to be healed from sexual sin, the church, which has traditionally been silent about sex, must be willing to start talking about the problem. We must recognize that thousands of Christians commit sexual sin. But we must also face the painful truth about it in church. They are afraid they will be judged and ostracized from fellowship.

For some people, sexual sin can be an isolated incident. They repent, learn from the experience, and don’t do it again. Others, however, repeat sexual behaviors over and over again, unable to stop. They are addicted to sex. They have a disease that they didn’t ask to get, and it drives them to sinful activities too horrible to describe here. It’s a disease that threatens to kills them.

A person is addicted to sex when he or she engages in a pattern of unmanageable and repetitive sexual actions of any kind. Addiction is not a matter of the nature or amount of sexual activity.

Sexual addiction is much like alcoholism. It does not matter what kind of, or how much, alcohol an alcoholic drinks. What does matter is whether the person repetitively and uncontrollably drinks to the point of destroying his or her life. The same pattern is true for sex addicts. Any kind of sex, even sex in marriage, can be addictive if, regardless of the amount, it can’t be controlled.

That is not to say that sex addicts give up trying to control their sexuality. They do try to do so many times and in many ways. They make promises, pray, read the Bible, go to church, and ask for forgiveness. They try various strategies, but they always fail. Some even injure themselves to try to stop. One Christian who was addicted to pornography plucked out both eyes because they had offended him. Some sex addicts try to control their sexuality by turning it off altogether. Even if they are married, they are not sexual.

Sex addicts have a rough time. They lose jobs, families, and money. They get arrested and sued. They get publicly humiliated. They contract diseases. But until they get help, they won’t stop their addictive sexual actions.

Like alcoholics, sex addicts increase their sexual activity as they become tolerant to new levels of it. Thus, over time (perhaps even years), the amount of sexual activity will get worse. The ultimate consequence may even be death. Some sex addicts continually run the risk of contracting the AIDS virus.

It’s Still Sin To call unmanageable sexual activity an addictive disease it not to deny that it is sinful. It is not to deny the addict’s personal responsibility for his or her behavior. Yet, sexual addiction presents a paradox: the sex addict’s inability to control his or her behavior prods the addict to try ever more desperately to do so. Healing begins when an addict admits that he or she can’t maintain control and needs help.

This is exactly like the process of salvation. We have sinful natures that we can’t control. As long as we try to save ourselves, we won’t. We need the intervention of God in Jesus Christ. We must surrender to God and give up control in order to get it back. As Jesus said, a person must lose life to gain it. Sex addicts must give up trying to control their sexual behaviors and surrender to the help that is available. Then they will get back control. In this case, surrendering to Christ may mean surrendering to the help that is humanly available.

Ironically, Christians who are sex addicts often have s hard time surrendering control. They tend to perform innumerable Christian activities in a desperate search for the way to stop. It seems clear to me, though, that such people don’t really surrender to God. They interpret salvation as a method of controlling God: being a Christian will make God get rid of their sexual behaviors. They want God to magically take away their lust. They think that if they pray enough, read the Bible a lot, or serve on enough church committees, God will favor them with relief from their sexual addiction. This is still a form of control. It is not surrendering to God.

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Often Christians who are sex addicts have grown up in families that maintain a rigid attitude about God: do the right thing and good will always come to you. This kind of family never talks about problems or offers emotional or spiritual support. The silence about such matters indicates that personal problems are probably caused by a lack of faith. People who grew up in such families ? families that offered little or no nurturing ? often become sex addicts.

Most sex addicts have been physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused. Their addictive activity is an attempt to escape painful memories by finding the love and nurturing they didn’t get at home. They mistakenly believe that love and nurturing are equal to sex.

The Way Out A sex addict will usually need a skilled counselor to help face pain of his or her childhood. The process can take years. The more abusive the home life, the longer the process is likely to take. In the meantime, sex addicts need to become a part of a program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Just as alcoholics find sobriety from drinking, addicts can find sobriety from sex. A number of groups, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, offer help.

When sex addicts surrender to God and ask for help, they will find that God sends it in the form of counselors, pastors, other addicts, and support groups. In a group, an addict can for the first time tell his or her story to people who have lived similar stories themselves. In the forgiveness of this group, an addict begins to experience the grace of God.

Christians need to frankly ask themselves if the church is a place where honesty and forgiveness occur. Do we just shoot our wounded? Do we judge sex addicts for their moral weakness and perversion? Many sex addicts have lived in the shadows of shame, afraid to confess to other church members or to their pastors what they have done.

When the church becomes a place of honesty, then sex addicts will find it a place of grace to cure their despair. They will find the church a place of spiritual discipline that will replace the rituals of their sexual addiction.

I have known the curse of sexual addiction personally. And I have discovered that if I don’t care for myself emotionally and spiritually, I could act out again sexually. I thank God that in the past five years I have not. While I have hurt many people and destroyed my career as a pastor, I have saved my marriage and family. God has given me opportunities to carry the message to others.

There is hope. If you recognize any part of yourself in what I have described, you face perhaps the largest battle of your life ? deciding to get help. You will be afraid to talk about your actions. I know now, though, the biggest threat to my life was continued silence, not starting to be honest. My wife has said she would have left me for continued dishonesty rather than telling her the truth.

God is loving and forgiving. God works miracles of healing every day. Get help.

Getting Help If sexual addiction has progressed and the addict is deeply depressed, he or she may need hospitalization for safety’s sake. Outpatient programs are also available for sexual addiction. A number of hospitals and counselors, both secular and Christ-centered, offer help. In my opinion, anyone struggling with sexual addiction would benefit from joining a twelve-step recovery program.

Here are some phone numbers to call for help: Sex Addicts Anonymous (612) 871-1520 Sexaholics Anonymous (805) 581-3343 Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (617) 332-1845

Copyright © 2006 Dr. Mark Laaser, used with permission. Read more at faithfulandtrueministries.com

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About Mark Laaser

Mark LasserDr. Mark Laaser holds a PhD in religion and psychology from the University of Iowa and a Mdiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. Mark is an internationally known author and speaker. including Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction.  He and his wife, Debra, started Faithful and True Ministries.
See Mark Laaser's Books

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The Secret Sin: Sex Addiction

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