Many thanks to Christianity Today for their most recent thought provoking story, “Help for the Sexually Desperate,” which explores sexual addiction among Christian men.
Sexual addiction is on the rise in the church today, but how is sexual addiction being handled in Christian circles?
Isn’t “Sexual Addiction” Just Another Way to Say “Sin” or “Lust”?
Christianity Today reports, “The dividing line between sexual lust and addiction is often hard to draw.” Some claim there is no dividing line at all. Calling something an “addiction” paints the picture of someone who is helpless, hopeless, and perhaps even a victim of their own sexuality.
Is “addiction” an accurate word for this increasingly common experience among men? One of the responders to CT’s article on their website writes, “ANYONE addicted to ANYTHING is just a simpleton. Period. Good grief, just take control of your life.” A former wife of a sex addict, who liked the article, writes, “It is important that addicts STOP BLAMING other people, be it their wife or ‘woman at the beach wearing a string bikini’ for their sickness. OWN your sin!”
Some well-meaning Christian readers may be cautious about couching sexual sins in psychological terms because it could serve to excuse someone of their sin by labeling it a biological disease. But this is not the way many people normally speak of “addiction.” We easily differentiate between an adult who has chosen a course of habitual action that led to a biological addiction (such as a gradual addiction to cocaine), and an infant born with an addiction because of a parent’s choice (such as a baby born with withdrawal symptoms because a mother chose to use cocaine during her pregnancy).
In a very general sense, to be “addicted” is merely to devote or surrender oneself to something habitually or obsessively. In the range of sinful behaviors, how much do any of us surrender ourselves to lustful thoughts and attitudes?
Where do we draw the line between an addiction and a habitual sin? Perhaps we can leave that up to the professionals, but the slow fade and downward spiral of disobedience is a reality that we all must face. Our thoughts will determine our attitudes. Our attitudes will translate into actions. Our actions will form into habits. And the sum of our habits makes up our character.
Who are you when no one else is watching? Regardless of how you might define addiction, is your life characterized by purity or ungodly lust?
Beauty from Ashes
Of the many sexual-addiction recovery ministries mentioned in the Christianity Today article, I found it inspiring to see how many were started by former sex addicts.
These men and their wives capture the essence of the twelfth step of AA twelve-step program: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [sexaholics], and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
In the end, the final follow through of recovery from sexual addiction is to become one who is instrumental in rescuing others from their sinful habits.
How the Internet Changes the Sexual Addiction Landscape
Thirty years ago, when Patrick Carnes studied the neurochemistry of sex addicts, he was testing in a pre-Internet world. Up until recently, those more likely to be predisposed to sexual addiction were those who had subconscious motives to act out sexually, such as victims of physical or sexual abuse.
Now the Internet has changed that statistic greatly. “There are now people struggling with sexual compulsivity who never would have been if not for the Internet,” Carnes writes in the third edition of Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction.
Has the Enemy Overplayed His Hand?
“Jay” writes on the Christianity Today website,
“Now that I have a couple of years of sobriety, I can look back on my experience and realize that I had truly lost control of my behavior, and consider myself lucky, as it could have gotten much worse. In some ways, that is the beauty of addictions . . . they don’t get better. You will either end up dead, wish you were dead, or you will find your way into the arms of God. And there is no better place for any of us to be.”
This is the powerful reality of addiction: it creates desperate men. Nate Larkin tells CT, “This new epidemic provides the church with unparalleled opportunity. The Enemy has overplayed his hand. Desperate men will do what they have to do to get help.”
Unfortunately, many men and women have still not seen their lives shattered to a point where change seems necessary. On a corporate level the church may have finally called Satan’s bluff: we are beginning to talk about these matters openly and with wisdom. But on an individual level, many people are still slowly taking a pornographic poison and have no idea that it is killing them. Many are aware of its destructive force but believe they can solve the problem on their own. And many have only found minimal help in men’s ministries and support groups but have yet to truly repent.