Homeschoolers. Bible study teachers. Missionaries. Married stay-at-home moms. Praying grandmothers who actively serve the Lord. Any of these women can have sexual struggles. But if she has no one to talk to, a woman can end up turning sexual struggles into shameful secrets.
Along comes Fifty Shades of Grey—a book that sold more than 70 million copies its first year and spawned copycats rushed onto bookshelves. Written by EL James, Fifty Shades of Grey normalizes BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism) while offering a bounty of explicit, erotic sex scenes wrapped up in the love story of college student Anastasia Steele and billionaire Christian Grey. The first in this so-called “mommy porn” fictional series is being turned into a motion picture scheduled to release in early 2015.
According to The Barna Group research, 9 percent of practicing Christians have read Fifty Shades of Grey and among all American adults who have read it, one in five were Christians. Suddenly there seems to be a sexual outlet for spiritual women that seems perfectly acceptable. Their longings and fantasies finally have a place to be expressed—in erotica.
What’s the Draw?
Erotica is defined as “art or literature intended to arouse sexual desire.”
Reading erotica, like viewing pornography, may lead to an intense sexual reaction. When a person has a new, exciting sexual experience, the body releases different chemicals, including phenylethylamine (PEA) and adrenaline. The combination of these two chemicals is powerful—and much stronger than the steady impact of oxytocin and endorphins. A person becomes intoxicated with sexual pleasure.
The problem is that PEA and adrenaline will only reappear when sexual experiences continue to be new, exciting, and sometimes even dangerous. What created the sexual “high” last month is no longer new.
For some, reading erotica eventually leads to acting out sexually when words on a page no longer meet the need. But not all women who read erotica end up with addictions or in affairs. Some just don’t need a real person to be physically fulfilled anymore. They progress in their own private self-pleasuring mental imagery. Married women often say they become more unsatisfied with their husband.
Many Christian women get pulled into erotica simply because they’re bored, desperate for an escape from the drudgery of normal life. They want to have a “pulse” again, to dream again, to hope again. So what’s the harm in an imaginary story that takes you away from the drudgery of your life? If you can’t have a real adventure, at least you can enjoy an imaginary one—one that’s guaranteed to have a happy ending.
Many Christian women get pulled into erotica simply because they’re bored, desperate for an escape from the drudgery of normal life.
Erotica writers overtly present romantic love and great sex as the salvation of forlorn women. At one level, this kind of love and devotion is beautiful and endearing. But it is also very dangerous. No man, no amount of great sex—even the best marriage—can ever and should ever take the place of God.
The truth is, your sexual appetite is influenced by what you choose to think about. Reading erotica, watching sexually explicit movies, or fantasizing about some “superman” will spoil your healthy longings for true intimacy. But how do you stop?
Identify the triggers that make you vulnerable. When are you most sexually tempted? When you feel lonely? Bored? Hurt? Anxious? Find healthy ways to meet these longings. If stress seems to be your trigger, go for a run, which can be effective at offering your brain some of the same chemicals to reduce stress that sex would.
Limit your access to sources of temptation. Do the practical things like putting a filter on your computer and getting rid of books or movies that get your mind going in the wrong direction. Break off any relationship that is built on lust or causes you to want what God hasn’t given you.
Set up accountability. One of the most difficult things to do may be to admit to someone else that you’re struggling with reading erotica. When you take this step and ask a godly friend or mentor to keep you accountable, you have taken a giant step in winning the battle.
Change your appetite. Crystal Renaud, founder of dirtygirlsministries.com, coaches women who want to overcome an addiction to porn or erotica. One of her clients could not be aroused with her husband unless she first used erotica. This woman needed a healthy appetite restored. This required her to fast for a time from sex entirely and to focus on her friendship with her husband (read: intimacy). While we wouldn’t recommend such a fast to many married women, this woman’s dependence on erotica had dismantled her ability to be ultimately aroused and fulfilled by her husband. She was also in regular counseling and given a phone number to call when she felt tempted to use erotica. At the end of the fast, she and her husband set a special date and reserved a hotel room. That night, for the time time in her life, she was orgasmic with her husband—free from any fantasy—and now is able to do that regularly. Erotica promised her more but left her unsatisfied.
Build intimacy in core relationships. Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Your desire for sex isn’t just a drive for a physical release but a force meant to propel you to seek intimacy.
In marriage, you can build sexual excitement in one of two ways: by looking more closely into each other (true intimacy) or creating a fantasy outside each other (counterfeit intimacy). Couples who really “get it” know how to communicate the most intimate of experiences with and without words. Being emotionally naked like this makes you extremely vulnerable. The journey toward marital intimacy is learning to create the safest environment possible so that you can explore together without fear of betrayal or humiliation. Erotica and porn do the exact opposite: they make your bedroom an emotional land mine.
With each page of erotica or image of porn, evil reinforces the lie that sex is just about physical pleasure—divorced from true commitment, unselfish love, and God’s holy design. It leaves participants with a deep ache for something more.
The problem is not erotica—the problem is that we want to read it. Our world is always going to offer us salacious temptations. We should expect it. But something is terribly wrong when Christian women embrace it. We’re supposed to be making different choices and living a different kind of life than the rest of the world. While you certainly can and should celebrate your sexuality, you need to exercise discretion if you seek to have your sex life be what God designed it to be: a picture of his passionate love for his people. God’s Word clearly calls us to live our lives as he designed them to be lived in all areas, including sex. This demands that we choose a different path than the world’s way. He calls us to holiness.
Adapted from Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart, © 2014 by Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery. Used with permission of Moody Publishers.