(The following post is from a friend and avid reader who wants to remain anonymous. I asked him to write up some book reviews for our blog. This is his third installment.)
Sex Isn’t the Problem (Lust Is) is a slightly modified version of Not Even a Hint, published in 2003. The following review and citations are based upon Not Even a Hint.
Sex Isn’t the Problem is divided into three parts (“The Truth About Lust, In the Thick of the Battle,” and “Strategies for Long-Term Change”). In each part of this book Josh is candid and honest. Yet, he seeks to be discreet, desiring to write “a PG rated book that would instill a love for holiness without dragging the reader’s imagination through the gutter” (10).
Josh makes a point of writing to both men and women, acknowledging that both genders struggle with sexual temptation. Writing with the conviction that “lust may be the defining struggle for this generation,” Harris defines lust as “craving sexually what God has forbidden” (18 , 19).
A Book for Men and Women
The greatest strength of Sex Isn’t the Problem is the fact that it is concise and addresses all people. Many books addressing sexual purity operate on the tacit assumption that men are impetuous and impulsive sexual animals while women are tame and above sexual struggles. Harris breaks this stereotype with compassion and honesty. Similarly, he is concise and accessible. With little in the way of complicated diction, Harris’ work would be a great gift for a teenager—although adults also provided positive feedback about the book online.
A Practical Book
Another strength of Harris’ book is its practicality. Harris draws extensively from his own life, telling many stories of his battle with lust. Similarly, Harris quotes from numerous teenagers and college students who wrote him asking questions about their sexual struggles. These letters add a powerful touch to the book, making things very tangible and easy to understand. Harris also offers a litany of practical suggestions. An entire chapter is devoted to “A Custom Tailored Plan” for addressing lust.
Harris’ chapter on masturbation is perhaps his best—a subject about which many Christians wonder, and with which many Christians struggle. Harris provides a fresh, God-centered perspective with regard to masturbation that is understanding of the real-world Christian experience. Many Christians find the subject of masturbation to be one of immense confusion and frustration.
Being Sexual vs. Lusting
Sex Isn’t the Problem reflects the tension and confusion Christians often experience trying to discern the difference between “lusting” and being “sexual.” For example, he says “it’s not lust to have a strong desire to have sex. It’s not lust to anticipate and be excited about having sex within marriage” (35). Harris speaks positively about sexuality in the beginning of his book and makes noteworthy comments regarding the fact that we are sexual beings (26, 27, 28, 34, 35, 37). As single readers work through the book, many may wonder what it means to have “a strong desire to have sex” without “craving sexually what God has forbidden.”
Harris’ answer to this tension, specifically as it relates to masturbation, is “get married” (111). “Unless God has removed your desire for sex and has given you a clear vision to serve Him as a single person, then assume that you’re supposed to get married and either make yourself ready or begin pursuing it.”
Some reviewers online believe the book could lead some toward sexual repression and confusion: creating a pressure-cooker model of sexuality. In other words, what about the countless people unable to find an appropriate marriage partner? While this subject isn’t the scope of the book, Harris’ other books on dating and courtship do offer a picture of how to go about finding that appropriate marriage partner.
Centered on Christ, not “Purity”
A final strength of Sex Isn’t the Problem is its deeply Christocentric and theologically rich approach. Harris lays out the importance of the gospel and a thorough understanding of forgiveness as antecedents for a life of purity that truly honors God. Similarly, he warns that practical guidelines can easily become legalism. “If you were to use the practical ideas I’m about to share with you as a legalistic set of guidelines, not only would it be displeasing to God, but you wouldn’t change. Your behavior might change for a while, but your heart wouldn’t change” (50). Harris is clear in saying, “only the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection can provide the right power and the right motive needed to” change and break free from sexual immorality (25). Harris disparages the motivation of living in sexual integrity only “to feel like a pure person” (21).
In Josh’s Own Words
The following is a video from Josh’s own Web page about Sex Isn’t the Problem: