Faith and Family: Sexual integrity — Christians struggle with sexual sin just as much as nonbelievers

Faith and Family: Sexual integrity — Christians struggle with sexual sin just as much as nonbelievers

Mention the term “sex addiction” and images of out-of-control celebrities often come to mind. We sigh, shake our heads and lament the moral failings of the rich and famous.

Unfortunately sexual addiction is a problem for an estimated 12 million Americans, daily destroying marriages, families, careers and reputations. And the Church is not immune. In fact various studies have found that Christians struggle just as much as nonbelievers with sexual sin, and research suggests that half of church-going families see sexual sins like pornography as a problem in their homes.

Too easily accessible

The rise in sexual addiction may be blamed in part on the ever-increasing amount of sexual content that is easily accessible online, but that is just part of the story, according to Christian counselors Tim Clinton and Mark Laaser, authors of “The Fight of Your Life: Manning Up to the Challenge of Sexual Integrity.” Lust and sexual sin have been a battle since the fall of man, and the Bible shows the struggle human nature can face when sex is involved.

“You can trace it back to the Book of Genesis where, in fact, we can read about several different sexual sins, including adultery, prostitution and incest, forms of sexual sin that people in the Church are secretly acquainted with,” Clinton and Laaser write. Just as Satan sought to destroy the beauty of the God-ordained relationship between Adam and Eve, “the sexualization of our culture through television, grocery store magazines, endless porn sites and websites for adultery, as well as the sexual chaos of today’s generations, are the enemy’s missiles and landmines that assault us.”

While society debates the long-term impact of pornography and hypersexualized behaviors, the Church faces its own battle, said Greg Oliver, executive director of Awaken, a Birmingham-based recovery ministry that seeks to equip the Church to effectively understand and engage the issue of sexual addiction.

“For many years a debate has endured both inside and outside the Church over the legitimacy of sexual addiction as a real disorder,” Oliver said. “There are a variety of reasons why people reject the concept of sexual addiction. Many feel there is a lack of empirical research to support the conclusion that sexual addiction is real. Others criticize validating research as being conducted by those with a vested interest in making a living off sex addiction clients.”

The most prevalent criticism within the Church is the belief that calling compulsive sexual behavior an addiction removes a person’s responsibility for his or her own sinful actions, Oliver said.

“Does calling a problem an addiction necessarily mean that the addicted person is not responsible? Are ‘addiction’ and ‘sin’ mutually exclusive concepts? Is it not possible to adhere to a belief that both can exist in a Christian’s life? These are critical questions,” Oliver said.

These are good questions but they also hinder ministry to those who struggle with sexual sin.

The science of addiction

Though the American Psychological Association does not officially recognize sexual addiction as a disorder, the problem is very real, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). AAMFT’s website describes sexual addiction as “a serious problem in which one engages in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior despite increasing negative consequences to one’s self or others.”

Behaviors associated with sexual addiction might include:

  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Simultaneous or repeated sequential affairs
  • Pornography (including magazines, videos and clothing catalogs)
  • Isolation from spouse, partner or peers
  • Cybersex or phone sex
  • Multiple anonymous partners
  • Unsafe sexual activity
  • Strip clubs and adult bookstores
  • Use of prostitution, escorts or massage parlors
  • Frequent inappropriate sexual remarks or humor
  • Unexplained mood swings or depression, especially before or after sex

In order to call these actions a disorder AAMFT says three key elements of the individual’s mental state are often observed. First the sexual activity is often used to cope with emotional pain, manage stress or replace true intimacy. Another distinction is that as with other addictions, the sex addict’s behavior brings no lasting gratification and the individual continues to pursue the “high” regardless of the financial or personal cost. A third factor is that often these patterns of behavior continue despite the individual’s “sincere and persistent efforts” to stop.

Rory Reid, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a leading expert on sexual addiction, said, “It’s not that a lot of people don’t take sexual risks from time to time or use sex on occasion to cope with stress or just escape, but for these patients, it’s a constant pattern that escalates until their desire for sex is controlling every aspect of their lives and they feel powerless in their efforts to change.”

Often sexual addiction, like other compulsive behaviors, can be traced to issues in the individual’s family of origin, according to AAMFT. A background of abuse or neglect, addictions, incest, affairs or pornography use can all lay the foundation for sexual compulsivity.

The high degree of shame associated with compulsive sexual behaviors means that many who struggle do not get help, and that’s where the Church has a tremendous opportunity, according to Traylor Lovvorn, co-founder of Route1520, a Birmingham-based ministry that provides counseling, group therapy support and resources for men and women who are affected by sex addiction and sexual sin.

Once an individual admits to having a problem with sexual sin, the next step is counseling with a qualified therapist who can help the individual begin making connections between life experiences and addictive behavior, Lovvorn said. The process is long and challenging, but the Church can provide a place for healing.

“Clinically sex addiction is an intimacy disorder. It cannot be cured in isolation,” Lovvorn said. “Once a church and pastor understand that, the next question is, ‘Where is that safe place that men and women who are struggling in these areas can … find authentic community?’”

Support groups

Both Route1520 and Awaken offer Christ-centered recovery groups for men and women who have experienced the consequences of sexual brokenness. Support groups offer an opportunity for those at different stages of recovery to come alongside others who are on the same journey, Lovvorn said.

The encouragement that participants receive from being part of support groups helps them push through the hard work that leads to healing.

“There is a tremendous amount of hope for healing, but it is not a quick fix,” Lovvorn said. “It’s not possible to just say a prayer or to just say I’m sorry. Healing from addiction is a journey, not a quick fix formula. There are no shortcuts.”


Helping a loved one

In order for a person to stop a destructive habit, they must admit they have a problem. This usually happens when a person experiences a life crisis like the threat of being fired, losing a spouse or financial ruin. Typically the person already has several problems related to their sex addiction but it is not until the crisis point that they realize they have to change.

  • If your spouse or family member is struggling with sex addiction there are steps you can take to help your loved one.
  • Don’t shame the person: Many times they feel a great deal of shame already.
  • Show them a “tough love” approach: This involves setting boundaries for their behaviors and consequences for breaking or violating the boundaries.
  • Seek God’s guidance and encourage them to do the same: Their relationship with God is their lifeline.
  • Be prepared for spiritual warfare: Remember that as a Christian you are given all the armor and weaponry you need (see Ephesians 6).
  • Insist that there can be no secrecy from your spouse/family member: They must maintain transparency with you as you hold them accountable.
  • Maintain filters on electronic devices and insist that your spouse/family member allows you to check these devices periodically: Again the addict needs to maintain a high level of transparency.

Source: Steve Trader
Pathways Professional Counseling