Continued from Part 1 of Noah’s story…
When I got married on June 19, 2004, I thought my sexual purity problems were in the rearview mirror for good.
I had been porn-free for over two years, was leading sexual purity small groups, and had regular accountability. I was also reading Christian sexual purity books that told me if I starved my eyes from lustful looks and images, there would be a “sexual payoff” in my marriage. My wife and I were both virgins when we got married, and I was ready for this payoff.
This promise fit in with what I was taught about sex throughout my teenage years in youth group: save it for marriage, and you’ll have the best sex in the world.
Please don’t misunderstand me—I’m not downgrading purity teaching or the sound biblical mandate to save sex until marriage. What I am discouraging is the idolatrous carrot at the end of the stick that’s put out as the motivating lure for a lot of this teaching. A selfish carrot based around getting my desires met, which pollutes and warps my concept of love and my concept of who and what a woman is.
A Recipe for Disaster
My first three years of marriage were racked with problems related to the warped views of love and sex I brought in to it. Views that I was taught in the church and by sexual purity authors. Through all of this, I learned that treating your wife like a sex vending machine is a recipe for disaster.
A what? You mean to tell me there’s a Christian sexual purity book out there that tells you to treat your wife like a sex vending machine? Well, no, not in those words, but the message was implied and I subconsciously took it and ran with it.
The idea seems like a good one and is often what you hear preached in sermons on pornography as well: God gave you a desire for sex. Porn is a twisted version of that desire. Don’t look at porn. Go have sex with your wife instead.
The problem with this formula is we take porn’s twisted version of sex with us! We approach our wife as if she is our new porn. We approach sex as if it’s the carrot-on-the-stick that we earned and deserve. As if it’s the pleasure-ticket I can demand and take, just like I always did with porn.
This mindset also trains us to see our wives as little more than a set of body parts made for my pleasure, rather than the whole, intricate, complex, dignified person that a woman is. We view porn as body parts for pleasure, and all we’re told to do is channel that desire toward our wives.
Double recipe for disaster.
So here I was, three years into my marriage and still at the young age of 24. My porn-based expectations for sex were not realistic in my marriage, and I was blaming God. We had made a deal and he wasn’t living up to his end of the bargain. It was time to look elsewhere.
Putting Beliefs into Action
Looking back, I can now see reality and how distorted my view of it was. How I was mistreating and using my wife. How selfish my motives really were. How brainwashed I was in thinking God would supply me with a lifetime supply of Satan’s version of sex.
So, I began to put my beliefs into action. I had already started dabbling in porn again. Not wanting to, but finding my desire for Satan’s version of sex starting to spill out sideways.
Oh, have I mentioned I started a church at the age of 23, after being a youth pastor for two years? So here I am, senior pastor of a new church plant, looking at porn, and now being enticed by divorce and a lifestyle of promiscuity. It was not a brazen, intentional, double-life. I was slowly being consumed by my sexual desires. The flames of this desire kept growing until they almost destroyed my life.
Standing on the Edge of a Cliff
As a 24-year-old who was still lightyears away from being able to grow a beard, I fit in pretty well in the college town that my wife and I moved to. I was also three years removed from being a virgin. Sex was no longer unknown or mysterious. The categories of women and sex were now combined, giving me a new confidence around women that I had never before experienced. I praise God I never had this mindset in my single years, as only he knows where I would have ended up if I had.
I remember sitting innocently in a coffee shop, working on my laptop. A very attractive young woman sitting behind me was talking to her friend about how she desired her male roommate (remember, we lived in a college town) to physically come on to her. I longed to turn around and get her phone number. I remember women flirting with me when I was at the gym or cashing out at Target. All of these stimuli built up to the point where I was convinced I had chosen the wrong path. I had tried to do things God’s way and it wasn’t working.
Related: Women Are Daughters, Not Objects
I’m thankful I don’t have any juicy details to share here. I never cheated on my wife. I was just miserable for a long time. We were talking about divorce. While not acting on it yet, I was fully hypnotized by my fantasy world. I envisioned a life pursuing the sexual pleasures I had deprived myself of during my high school and college years. It’s scary how dark of a place sin can take you. It took me all the way to the edge of the cliff, stuck my head over, and it was only by God’s grace that I didn’t topple over into the abyss.
A House on the Rock
Much of that grace was stored up in the legacy I had already built. There was nothing fake about my walk with Jesus up to that point in my life. I had built my house upon the rock, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 7:24-27, but I regretted the house I had built. I longed to go party with those who built their house on the sand and were now basking in the sun. But my house was still built on that rock. It was a sturdy edifice of two decades worth of labor.
I wanted to get out of my marriage, and Satan told me divorce would be my quick fix. But there was something off. I was hypnotized by the fantasy of a hedonistic life, but I didn’t buy in to Satan’s lie that this could be a clean break. My sturdy house wouldn’t let me. I started looking at all the bricks. All the people who had heard me preach. All the people I’d shared the gospel with. All my non-Christian friends from high school who knew Jesus was always first in my life.
I started realizing what my selfish choice to leave my wife would do to God’s name, and I began to recoil at this being my new legacy. What it would do to all of the rich relationships in my life. People who would now see me as a fraud. As someone they could once count on, but who had cashed it all in for his own selfish consumption.
You have to understand that I was still in full connection with God through all of this. I was praying and reading Scripture, memorizing Scripture even. I was asking God to fix my marriage and take away my discontent and pain.
I can still vividly remember the day in 2007 when I started writing in my prayer journal the choices that lay before me. The first choice was to divorce my wife and live out my fantasy life in San Diego. I used the journal to write out every consequence that this would have in my life. This pile of consequences looked like hell itself.
My second option was to do nothing and continue living in discontentment and impurity.
My final option was to invest in my marriage. It was to reject my desire for fantasy and channel it into an investment in my reality, an investment in my wife and my marriage.
This third option saved my marriage and my life.
There’s much more I could write here about what I learned from this and what unfolded, which I’ve written about at length elsewhere.
In a nutshell, God put me on a path to stop seeing my wife as my sex vending machine and to start seeing her as a woman with full personhood. To stop seeing her as a that and start seeing her as a her. To reject Satan’s definition of sex as objectification and pleasure-seeking consumption and to embrace God’s definition of sex as a beautifully deep way of uniting two lives together as one flesh. Two whole lives of two whole people.
Related: Marriage Is Not the Answer to Your Desire for Sex
A Deeper Desire Rooted in Christ
Whether married or single, there is a deeper desire beneath your desire for lust or sex. It’s a desire to know you are accepted, approved, and valuable. It’s discovering that no man or woman can fulfill this desire in you. Like the woman at the well in John 4, you can jump from bed to bed to bed to try to find that fulfillment, but you never will. Not until you let Jesus meet this desire, as she did.
When I let Jesus meet this desire in me, and I learned how to have him meet these needs daily, I no longer needed sex because I was now experiencing life as a whole person separate from it.
It wasn’t until I no longer needed sex that God was able to start growing new, healthy sexual fruit in my marriage. It’s not the same as Satan’s fruit. In reality, it’s much better, although very different. In my flesh, I still have to remind myself that no matter how pretty Satan’s fruit is on the surface, it’s empty, hollow, and rancid inside.
It’s been twelve years since I wrote that life-saving journal entry. If there’s one thing I figured out in the past twelve years, it’s that I’m never going to have it all it figured out, and I better not live like I do. I’ll turn to that subject next in Part 3.
It is hard being a virgin for 43 years, and seeing the world is promoting sex like crazy. As Beavis and Butthead said in the 1990’s: “I want to score!” Also it is hard not to be jealous when you see people a lot younger than yourself having sex and producing babies. Under that kind of pressure, it is hard to stop having “self-sex”.
I do want to do the right thing in God’s eyes is it says in First Corinthians 6:18: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” NKJV
I can totally relate to your frustration. The jealousy and discontentment with having to live without a wife and sex for all these 66 years is almost unbearable at times. Self-sex seems to be a way of not missing out on the pleasure everyone else but me gets to experience. Not sure how to get to place of wanting to give it up.
I really appreciate your testimony. I found that porn use increased my unhappiness in my marriage ten-fold. I see now it was because I was not fulfilling the biblical mandate for a husband to love his wife sacrificially, like Christ loves the church.
Your story looks like me inside. I am 41 years old and I have been fighting pornography forever. My marriage is at an inflection point: we cannot keep it as it was, my wife can no longer support this friendly but not intimate and deep relationship. She is absolutely right. It would be hypocritical for us to live to the end of our lives, keeping up appearances, but destroyed inside. And I am quite sure that there are no sex or women in the world that will satisfy my craving for pleasure. Pornography is just the tip of the iceberg. This internal struggle to separate and put desires in place is a sacrifice. It hurts. Killing meat every day is not for the weak. But basing my walk on just that own effort consumes me. It is not lasting. I need other men. I need grace. I need to learn to relate and be vulnerable to others. I need to take the focus off myself and focus on the needs of others. Thank you for your courage and testimony. Tell me that I’m not the only one. And there is hope for the lost.
Isaiah 42: 3 NIV
It will not break the cracked reed, and it will not put out the smoking wick. Faithfully will do justice
The point here is that you shall not put woman as an idol before God. The woman is not your god. I am learning how to act this out and train it in my life, because I have been living that lie, but as I’ve been working to break the old conditioning in search of a better life, I have realized that God will always take care of me, as he will take care of you too. God will never put you in such a position that his grace cannot reach you. Just accept this truth and do not put the woman as your idol ahead of God, and you shall be okay.
I am young and want to get married (I want to have multiple kids), but I accept this may not be the outcome in my life. I pray, and I do not know what else I need to do (from a practical standpoint) to find a good wife, besides work myself to the bone in order to be worthy, but I’m focused more on doing things right by God, than by desperately screening women around me in hopes someone marries me.
As a side note, confound this evil society that defies God’s order of nature, with men and women, and the family structure. I know a lot of you men in recovery know what I mean. It is so hard to be a single man trying to do things right in this day and age, to the point you could be spurned entirely.