I wonder, dear reader, how I should address you. My natural inclination is to treat you as a casual observer of other people’s sin – to speak on such a topic from a distance, giving you interesting information so you’ll be able to help your friend if the topic comes up. That’s safer for me, and it’s less unsettling for you. Sadly though, most of the things I have read tell me that I’m on much safer ground to assume that you also struggle with sex addiction.
As soon as I use that term, you’re likely to shrink back – after all, you don’t think of yourself as a sex addict; it sounds too extreme. In reality, however, it’s generally accepted that sex addiction broadly includes all those who are habitually drawn to sexually stimulating material. There’s a compulsion within you to repeat that behaviour; this means that at some point the sex addict always seems to return like a dog to their vomit (Prov 26:11). If you can’t seem to shake the habit of falling into such a temptation, by definition you’re a sex addict.
Sadly, your environment doesn’t help you escape the temptation. The vast majority of people in our society under the age of thirty view porn and other behaviour associated with it as healthy; as a normal part of sexual expression; as a valuable educational tool. It’s no surprise then that most recent studies also show that porn use is almost universal among adolescents with access to the internet. Sadly, the problem doesn’t disappear as you get older.
Historically, you may have felt isolated and lonely in your struggle, but these days you probably have friends who encourage you in your addiction. Pornographic content is ever more accessible in popular adult movies or TV programs – Game of Thrones, Fifty Shades, and most action movies. Even on your drive home billboards advertising lingerie tempt you to linger lustfully.
Sadly, becoming a Christian is no quick-fix: In one study (McDowel & Cusick, 2016) it was reported that only 3% of Christian men and 13% of Christian women have never viewed pornography. Read that again… It seems almost impossible to avoid even if you want to.
The world will try to convince you that most people can use porn and respond with no negative repercussions; yet even if this were true, pragmatism has never been a convincing basis for ethics. As Christians, we’re clearly taught that God takes sexual sin very seriously (Rom 1:18-32). Even ‘casual porn users’ are still committing sin and damaging their relationship with God.
Sadly, sexual sin seldom stays static; like the black hole of heroin, porn seems to suck everything in; your life revolves around it and nothing else seems to satisfy.
What’s wrong with me?
Well dear reader, I hope you’re not discouraged when I tell you that your primary problem isn’t porn addiction. It may seem that way, but your problem is actually much deeper; and porn is your preferred solution.
You’re trying to use porn as a saviour who can solve your problems and fulfil your innermost needs. Even non-Christian psychologists speak about this concept: “For the addict, the sexual experience is the source of nurturing, focus of energy, and origin of excitement. It is the remedy for pain and anxiety, the reward for success and the means for maintaining emotional balance” (Carnes, 2001). Porn makes you feel loved, excited, intoxicated; it provides a thrilling high that makes normal life pale in comparison. There’s no long-term commitment and there’s seemingly no consequences. But although it promises so much, your problems still remain.
You were designed to find fulfilment in real relationships. God made you in his image; that means in part that you were made for community – for companionship (Gen 2:19-24). And yet, because of the Fall, you struggle to find fulfilment in relationships. Sin broke the unity and closeness of Adam and Eve – and they became ashamed of their nakedness (Gen 3:10).
Because of the Fall, you (and therefore your relationships) are corrupt and fallen (Psa 53:3); this is the reason you struggle to find the level of intimacy you crave and were created for. Other people don’t show you love the way you want them to, especially because you yourself aren’t perfect. Real relationships are hard and real life isn’t adventurous or full enough to satiate your endless cravings. To add to that, it’s likely that you have historical baggage; you may have been abused or struggled with your parents divorcing; perhaps you were raised in a family which participated in other addictive practices (such as drug use or alcoholism).
And yet, without detracting one bit from how difficult your background may have been, you’re responsible for your own actions. The environment God places you in, is there to train you in righteousness, not to give you an excuse to sin (Heb 12:5-11). Blaming your spouse or your parents or your work-place privacy (or even God!) for your sinfulness isn’t a legitimate excuse.
You should find it interesting then, that your preferred solution to the struggles you have, has been to repeat Adam’s sin; in an attempt to defend himself he isolated himself from his wife and the one who provided her: ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ (Gen 3:12). Amnon (King David’s son) did the same when he used his sister Tamar to satiate his sexual desires and then cast her out as nothing, saying to his servants: “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her” (2 Sam 13:17).
By its very nature, pornography objectifies those it portrays, and works to persuade you that they aren’t real people – they’re simply tools to make you feel better. In this way, your uncontrolled sexual desire acts to strip them of their humanity. But those women are sisters and daughters and mothers; those men are brothers and sons and fathers.
And ironically, every one of the relationships we’ve been made for on earth, even if they require effort, are designed intentionally to point us toward an even greater relationship: “Spiritual desire is the drive that God put in us from the beginning, for total satisfaction, for home, for heaven … and it just got displaced into the wrong object” (Rohr, 2013). God isn’t simply an alternative to what the world has to offer – he’s your Creator, your Redeemer, your Friend – and true joy is found in doing things his way, not yours.
Biblically, when you look for your highest joy outside of God, you commit idolatry. And this isn’t simply a problem because he commands against it; it’s a problem because whatever we replace God with is unable to save or satisfy, and simply drives us deeper into despair; by partaking in porn, you’re feeding a beast that will eventually consume you.
And so, your problem is two-fold: you’re a fallen, broken, human being, and you’re looking for help in all the wrong places.
So, what do I do?!
The first thing to recognise is that you need help. Sex-addiction, by its very nature, is self-centered and isolating. Don’t kid yourself that your other addicted friends mean you have support. Addicts often congregate to one another … that doesn’t mean they know what’s good for themselves. You need help from someone who is trustworthy and will have your best interests at heart.
And so, the first person you need to talk to is Jesus Christ. You can do this right now in prayer. You can pour out your heart to him and know that he hears you. And before you think you’re too messed up, you need to recognise you’re exactly the kind of person Christ came to save: He didn’t come to save the well, but the sick. In fact, not one of the people in the Bible had it all together; the gospel went to prostitutes, tax-collectors (thieves), lepers and murderers. Our saviour called out to the broken and the lost and said: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:28-29).
Turn to your God in prayer and repent of your sins. He tells us that ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (John 1:9); he will hear your prayer and will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut 31:6).
But you’ll also need to find someone else to confess to and hold you accountable. It’s likely that you’re so used to trying to eliminate this problem yourself that you’ve forgotten the blessing God intended for you in the church. The rest of us (also broken, weak, sinful human beings in need of grace) are called to build you up and point you to Christ in your need. Your isolation is turning away one of the primary means of grace God has given you in your life – you’ve already proven you can’t do it alone; a decent support network is crucially important … . Not convinced? Look up the following: (John 13:34–35; Galatians 5:13; 6:2; Ephesians 4:2, 32; 1 Peter 4:8–10).
Work out your triggers.
Are you most tempted when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? During your triumphs or disappointments? When you’re under pressure? Find the reasons you go to porn and work out how you can lessen their hold on you.
Change your routine and environment
So much of addiction is habitual; you need to work out ways to limit your options and set up some boundaries. This could be as simple as exchanging your smart phone for a dumb phone, installing Covenant Eyes on your devices, leaving your laptop at work, and putting a time-limit on your showers (set an alarm).
Find what works and stick with it. Remember that once the “syringe” is in your hand it’s too late. Make sure you have boundaries two or three steps beforehand.
Find ways to stop lying to yourself
The life of a sex addict is saturated in deceit – and most of those lies you direct at yourself in an attempt to make you feel better. To put it bluntly – you can’t trust yourself. You need to soak in the truth – set up daily habits of prayer and Bible reading and ask your accountability partner to help you with this. It’s amazing how God helps provide strength when you start the day with good things.
Paul reminds us to do this in Philippians 4:4-9. All too often we forget that in Christ we don’t simply receive freedom from sin – that would simply mean that the gospel is a form of sin-management. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘the pursuit of purity is not about the suppression of our lust but about reorienting our life to a larger goal.’ Find good material which reminds you of the bigger picture of God’s goodness and kindness to you in Christ Jesus.
Don’t forget about your spouse
If you’re not married, don’t think you’ve avoided this problem. Lord willing, you’re going to be eventually blessed with someone to marry – and if you intend to have a healthy relationship you should be open with your future spouse. How else are you supposed to be united so closely that it’s as if you were one flesh? (Gen 2:24).
But if you’re already married, you’ll need to eventually confess to your spouse. Proverbs says that “the man of integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out” (Prov 10:9). When you have nothing to hide, you have strength and security, and you’re never going to get there without openness.
You also need to recognise that your spouse hasn’t been unaffected by your sin. They’ll need help – try to make it as easy for them as possible: Even after you’ve confessed, strive to be humble in your repentance when you fall again (don’t make her ask) – be proactive about giving her information; and refuse to be defensive when she speaks out of her hurt.
To quote Matt Dobschuetz who runs Pornfree Radio, “trying to sell a porn-free life to a person who loves porn is like trying to sell sand to a guy in the desert”. Reading this article isn’t going to solve your problem and handing this article to someone who you know has the problem won’t solve theirs.
Nevertheless, I have prayed as I wrote this article that the Holy Spirit will still prompt you to get help: If this is a struggle of yours, I urge you now to repent of your sin. You may think you’re hiding well, but God knows everything
Christ is the only solution for your brokenness, your hurt, your pain. He finds those who are lost and is a firm foundation for those who are insecure. If you place your faith in him he stands before God’s throne as your advocate and defender; if you truly trust in him, the Holy Spirit will never stop working in your heart to purify you from all unrighteousness. Turn from your sin and run to the only one who can save you; there is still hope for your soul.
Mr Joshua Flinn is the minister of the Reformed Church of New Plymouth, which is a church plant of the Reformed Church of Palmerston North.
Credit for image
Photo by Courtney Clayton on Unsplash