Jay is a 30-year-old man who has a six-year marriage and two young children. By all appearances, he and his wife have a healthy marriage. They go to church regularly and seem to be living the model Christian life. In fact, no one around Jay knows of his daily struggles with sexual fantasy, pornography and masturbation, but these have been problems for him since he was 12 years old. The recent increase in his sexual problems is marked by his using prostitution at massage parlors. Additionally, a woman at work seems rather available to him, and the thought of being sexual with her excites him. At the same time, his guilt and shame about the sexual sins he has already committed make him wonder if God really loves him. Actually, sometimes he gets angry with God, accusing Him of not answering his prayers for God to remove Jay’s sexual lust.
Ellen’s older brother and an uncle sexually molested her when she was 13 years old, but to this day, Ellen has never talked to anyone about it. Ellen’s father, being a very hard working man, was never home, and her mother was always off doing work for their church. Ellen was lonely and gave increasing attention to being attractive enough to find just the “right” boy to date. She often fantasized about what it would be like to be sexual with boys and soon began sexual experimentation, including intercourse. As a high school student, through the witness of several friends who knew about her sexual activities, Ellen became a Christian. Happily, Ellen got married after college to a man everyone liked, and in time, kids came along; Ellen now tries to be the perfect Christian wife and mother. Ellen and her husband seem to have a normal sexual relationship, but she often fantasizes about other men. She reads some of the grocery store magazines she buys and feels excited by articles about extramarital affairs. One article even taught her that masturbation was a normal female experience, so Ellen tried it and finds herself doing it more often. Ever since her family bought a computer, Ellen has a good time experimenting with the Internet. She discovered the “chat rooms,” recently finding that she especially likes making contact with other men. Frequently, some men have wanted to talk sexually with her in the chat rooms, prodding Ellen to reveal her phone number so that they can talk more explicitly over the phone. Ellen finds that the thought of doing so simultaneously frightens and excites her.
Jay and Ellen both suffer from sexual sin that has come to be called sexual addiction. Neither of them has yet strayed into some perversion that many do, but they are still tangled in an unmanageable trap that is getting worse. Without help, perhaps both will get even more entangled. The excitement and intrigue of forbidden sex is a problem with which both men and women struggle. This behavior is destroying countless numbers of people even to the point of death through sexually transmitted diseases. Today’s culture has become increasingly obsessed with sex, a sign of how confused people are about God’s design for healthy sexuality between a man and a woman.
Such confusion, excitement and obsession should not surprise us. Since the beginning of biblical times, Satan has attacked God’s faithful with sexual temptation. The biblical accounts show that gender is no determining factor either. Samson, God’s strongest man; David, God’s greatest king; and Solomon, God’s wisest man, were all sexual sinners. Because of public awareness of their sexual sins, Jesus extends God’s grace to both the woman at the well of Samaria (John 4), who had multiple marriages and male relationships, and the woman caught in adultery (John 8), who was about to be stoned.
When sexual sin is called an addiction, that term is not to excuse the sinner. Rather, identifying the compulsion helps trained counselors know how to help people heal lives that are being destroyed by sexual sin. Sexual addiction is original sin in that sexual addicts don’t trust God to care for them, so they try to control their own lives in order to find love and nurture for which they have searched all their lives. Several key words help describe sexual addiction:
Sexual addicts feel powerless.
Addicts are actually trying to control their own lives, but they sense their lack of control over sinful behavior. Paul shows his knowledge of this feeling when he says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do ? this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19, NIV). Sexual addicts try to stop their sinful behavior, having prayed, fasted, memorized Scripture and asked God to remove their lust. Nothing seems to work because a part of them believes that sex is the cure for all their wounds, and that part refuses surrender to God’s control.
Sexual addiction uses sex as medication. Even sexual fantasy creates powerful chemicals in the brain that give a temporary feeling of relief from the pain of loneliness, anger, anxiety, and depression. Sex as a medication is an escape from the painful, true feelings. The brain of a sex addict may crave the experience of sex just like any drug addict craves the next high of a drug.
The disease of sexual addiction is progressive. The disease, manifested by desire, will always get worse over time. More and more sexual fantasy or activities will be needed to achieve the same effect or relief from painful feelings.
Sexual addiction leads to very destructive consequences. The destruction does not stop with just the problems of divorce and losing families. There are physical, legal, financial, vocational and social consequences. Some addicts spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on pornography, prostitution and other forms of sexual acting out.
Notice that sex addiction is not defined by sinful nature of sexual activity. Even people who have sex only in their marriages can be addicted to sex if they are using it as an escape from the loneliness of their relationship. These people can even feel that if the sex is good, their marriage is good, possibly leading to depraved sexual activities. Sex addiction is also not defined by the amount of sexual activity. Some addicts can go for days, weeks, or years without acting out, but they will always return to the lifelong pattern until they get help.
The major energy behind sexual addiction is the feeling of loneliness. Sex addicts are starved for love, nurture and touch. They have very little ability to create it in healthy ways, so they seek a substitute for it through sexual fantasy and activity, mistakenly equating sex and love. But loneliness is not the only motivator.
Another energizer to sexual addiction is anger, a feeling that allows even Christians to commit sexual sin. Addicts are angry with their spouses, hopelessly thinking that marriage should solve their problems. In addition, they are angry with God for not removing their lust, and they are angry with others for not being available. Since they are also angry with the Church for not giving them answers, all this anger causes addicts to be rebellious against their marriages, God and the Church. They feel entitled to get their needs met.
Many sex addicts have been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused as children, never getting the love affirmation, attention, nurture, and healthy touch that all children need. They bring huge emotional and spiritual wounds into their adolescent and adult lives, thinking that the next relationship or sexual experience will solve all of their problems. Ellen, above, who was molested, never experienced a man’s touch as a child except when the man wanted to be sexual with her. This damage has wounded her spirit and what she thinks about herself, about men and about sex. She believes that the only way she has value and can earn the attention of men is to be sexual with them.
Sexual addiction or inordinate attention to sex is a common problem even for Christians. Last year, the Promise Keepers organization surveyed men who attend their conferences and found that over 60 percent of them struggle with sexual sin. Because our culture is saturated with sexual stimuli, we have become somewhat desensitized to the problem. Adding to the problem, the Church, for centuries, has been almost silent about giving a model of healthy sexuality. This stance has left the supplicants without direction, but there is hope.
Several years ago, partly as a result of my own recovery from sexual addiction, I became involved with Christian Alliance for Sexual Recovery (CASR), a ministry that provides workshops for men and women who struggle with sexual addiction. This ministry also conducts workshops for the spouses of sex addicts and for couples attempting to restore their marriages. This year CASR began an association with New Life Ministries to provide treatment for sexual addiction through its national network of clinics and hospitals. With God’s help, we are treating sexual addiction with the best psychological, spiritual and biblically based approaches. Effective treatment acknowledges the following things about sexual addiction:
Paul says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The resources of CASR and New Life Ministries can help with mind renewal of sexual addicts and our culture, by participating in changing one life at a time. If you or someone you love struggles with sexual sin or addiction, please call and take the first step on the journey of healing.
Copyright © 2006 Dr. Mark Laaser, used with permission.
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