by Diane Roberts
Over the past 16 years in working with Pure Desire, I have seen the dramatic increase of women struggling with love and sexual addiction. Here is a sample email (I might receive) which continues to convince me that sexual addiction is no longer just a guy problem.
I am a single female and I am struggling with issues that guys are normally facing. The problem started as a young teen with Internet pornography. I now feel that my sexual addiction is out of control. I go to church regularly and love God. My pastor and his wife keep telling me to fight harder and remind me that I can do all things through Christ. It has gotten to the point where I am about to give up spiritually because I keep relapsing.
This email not only typifies the problem of the growing epidemic of women’s sexual addiction, it also underlines the shaming message the church is giving as a solution. Essentially, trying harder doesn’t work. If that were the solution, we wouldn’t have this explosion of sexual addiction by which many in the church feel enslaved.
Case in point: my husband Ted (founder of Pure Desire Ministries International) recently wrote a number of articles for Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, a weekly online newsletter. In his final article, Ted included a clinical tool designed to evaluate sexual addicts. The results were that over 50% of the pastors who took the evaluation fit the clinical definition of a sexual addict. Is it any wonder why pastors don’t have solutions? They too are struggling.
Even more telling, 24% of women who took the evaluation could be considered sexual addicts as well. Remember, these statistics reflect the struggle of church leaders.
Among the general population, Patrick Carnes has found through similar clinical tools that 40% of female Internet users now engage in problematic cybersex behavior. He states that “We are seeing more ‘male’ types of behavior including pornography collections, compulsive use of prostitutes, and a new level of aggressiveness in approaching prospective sex partners” (Patrick Carnes, PhD., “Women and Sexual Addiction,” Counselor, June 2006).
There are two distinct differences I have noticed over the years between how women and men process the healing aspect of this addiction.
The first is that women tend to carry more shame because society expects men to struggle but has a different standard for women. We see this standard played out in biblical times when the Pharisees stood a woman before Jesus because she was caught in the act of adultery. The obvious question: Where was the offending man? I love Jesus’ response as he confronts the Pharisees with their own sin and then compassionately tells the woman that he doesn’t condemn her. He then instructs her to leave her sinful life behind (John 8:3-11).
We have found, as women join a safe group in the church which deals with this issue, they realize they are not alone in their struggle. The shame level goes way down and they are able to begin their healing journey.
The second difference is that most women have an advantage (once they fight through the daunting barrier of shame). They tend to connect with women more quickly (than men do in men’s groups), and they start coming to group not because they were “found out” but usually on their own volition. More often than not a woman committed to Christ has a harder time living a double life. Her struggle with the duplicity of trying to walk the Christian walk while acting out sexually drives her to a deep desire for healing.
As women share their stories in a group setting, they begin to realize that much of their acting out behavior was a means of medicating the pain connected with the sexual, physical and /or emotional abuse and trauma from their past. Ongoing accountability with each other in the group helps them maintain sobriety. Covenant Eyes has been a great resource for maintaining this accountability.
I am encouraged by the number of churches that realize the problem and are willing to provide helps to men and women like Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery. I am also encouraged by the courageous men and women who choose to get help so they can walk in freedom. We at Pure Desire want to be a healing resource to churches and have linked up with many across the USA (and some from around the world). You can locate these churches on our website: PureDesire.org.
. . . .
This is a guest post by Diane Roberts, Director of Women’s Ministry at Pure Desire Ministries. Before co-founding Pure Desire, Diane ministered at East Hill Church in Gresham, Oregon, for 20 years. She is also the co-author of Sexy Christians, Betrayed Heart, and Accept No Substitutes.