Sexual Addiction: A Modern Plague
[Guest writer is Jeff Oberle. I work with Jeff at Wellspring Christian Counseling. Jeff Oberle is a Staff Counselor and the Team Leader at Wellspring. He earned his Master of Arts in Counseling from Covenant Theological Seminary. He commonly addresses issues such as intimacy, infidelity, pornography, addictions, anger, communication, and depression in his counseling.]
Whether man or woman, adult or child, non-Christian or Christian, sexual addiction is ravaging all people groups in American culture today. Certainly sexual immorality is nothing new, as Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9) We look into the Old Testament and we see sexual sin in the lives of Samson (Judges 14-16), Judah (Gen 38) and David (2 Sam 11-12) to name just a few. I wouldn’t suppose that sexual addiction did not exist in Ancient, Biblical, Victorian, or now in our Modern eras, yet the sexual revolution of the 1960’s is often seen as creating an environment or cultural condition for the acceleration and rapid increase in sexual addiction to where it is quickly becoming the moral issue of our times.
The Church would do well to understand that it is not the stereotypic “dirty old man” in the shadows of seedy and windowless establishments that is consuming annually, over 10 billion dollars of sexual material and then acting out in sexually sinful ways.
Sexual Addiction is impacting …
- The largest consumer of pornography is 12-17 year olds.
- The average age of first exposure to explicitly sexual images is now 5 years old.
- Over 40% of high school age kids engage in oral sex, yet consider themselves to be virgins.
- “Sexting” (sending sexually explicit messages or photos of oneself over the internet) among teens has exploded in the last few years.
- 1 in 6 women struggle with addiction to pornography.
- 28% of those admitting porn addiction are women.
- 9.3 million women access adult websites each month.
And the Faithful…
- 29% of born-again Christians believe it is morally acceptable to view movies with explicit sexual behavior.
- For every 10 men in the church pew, 5 are struggling with pornography.
- 34% of church-going women say they have intentionally visited online porn sites.
- Almost 50% of Christian families said porn is a problem in their homes.
- 57% of pastors say addiction to porn is the most sexually damaging issue to their congregation.
- Over 50% of pastors say internet porn is a temptation – 37% say it’s a personal struggle!
The Damage Wrought
According to research, as little as 6 hours of exposure to soft-core porn (anything designed to arouse one sexually) is enough to:
- Destroy sexual satisfaction in marriage
- Decrease partner satisfaction
- Decrease the value of faithfulness
- Increase in the thought that women enjoy being raped
- Cause a loss of ability to be with one person and cherish that one person
There are many other damaging effects of pornography, including the objectification of the opposite sex, compulsive masturbation, and a loss of productive time at work and home, and even loss of jobs. It is not unusual for an addict to plan on spending just 20 minutes visiting a favorite porn site before going to work and suddenly realizing its dinner time!
Recognizing Sexual Addiction
Sexual addiction is best thought of as being on a continuum. At one end is a person who is sexually repulsed and having no interest in sex, and at the other end is one who is sexually obsessed. The point of addiction on the continuum can be difficult to discern. Here are some signposts:
- Sinful sexual behavior that is repetitive for more than two years (part of a technical definition).
- Behavior that is intensifying and requiring more frequent and intense use to achieve a sexual “high”. For example, behavior may begin with pornography, move through voyeurism, and into prostitution.
- The addict feels totally powerless to stop the behavior even though he/she has attempted multiple times and wants to stop but has failed.
- Compulsive sexual behavior continues in spite of negative consequences such as STD’s, divorce, etc.
A person ensnared by alcohol, gambling, and drug addictions is fairly easily seen by family members and close friends; however, because of the availability, anonymity, and affordability that the internet provides, sexual addiction is often hidden in the shadows for long periods of time, often for years and decades. Discovery may come as a moment of “surprise” to the addict and the discoverer alike (most often a spouse or child), through revelations of “odd” numbers or charges from phone records or hotel bills, or by the addict being caught in a sting by law enforcement.
Warning signs may include:
- Unexplained or increased secrecy or distance in a relationship.
- Changes in the sexual relationship (increase or decrease in desire).
- Increased time spent on the computer. Staying up late to “play computer games”.
- Unexplained decrease in productivity in regular activities. Irritability, lack of concentration, anxiety, or depression
To adequately help, one must break the denial that often exists and help bring the addict into repentance, confession, and to receive forgiveness. Additionally, it is necessary for addicts to grow in their ability to exercise self-control by helping them recognize triggers and make a covenant with their eyes (Job 31:1), memorize Scripture (Deut 6:6), and pray (1 Thes 5:17). After all, it is sin, and Scripture calls believers into obedience and instructs us to not only avoid, but to flee sexual immorality (e.g., Col 3:5; 1 Thes 4:3; 1 Cor 6:18).
However, additional intervention is often necessary. Dealing with the sin is just one side of the sexual addiction “coin”. The problem with addressing the sin alone is that it is likely to “force” the behavior deeper into hiding, deepening shame, and intensifying hopelessness. If sexual acting out is one side, the other side of the coin is the addiction itself. Mark Laaser describes sexual addiction as the process that drives sexual sin and keeps the behavior going. Helping involves calling the addict into repentance, and aiding the one trapped find victory over the addiction (the process).
Helping involves Addressing All aspects of the Addict’s Personhood, including:
- Physical: The “feel good” chemical dopamine is produced in the body creating a high similar to drugs and alcohol. The experience of withdrawal can be expected.
- Emotional: Sex addicts are gripped in a vicious cycle of shame-driven and shame – creating behavior. While shame drives an addict’s behavior, it also becomes an unwanted consequence of their behavior.
- Relational: Sexual addiction is often described as an intimacy disorder. A desire for relational safety, control of relationships, and a temporary relief from relational pain leads addicts to a fantasy world of false relationships where these longings are met.
- Cognitive: Sexual addicts need to be transformed in their thinking about God, themselves, and others as it relates to intimacy and Biblical love.
- Spiritual: The addict looks to sexual behavior to find value, safety and significance. The addicted individual has raised an idol(s) in his/her heart. The behavior at first serves these needs, but soon the addict is sacrificing himself on the altar of the addiction.
Ideas for Helping
The following are ways to help the addict work through their addiction. Some or all of the following will be integral parts of the healing process. The bottom line is, the more the addict is active in their own recovery, the better their outcome.
- Communicate compassion, acceptance, and a desire to help as you are equipped. Refer to a professional when your personal and professional limits become an impediment to helping.
- Recommend individual counseling – The person ensnared by sexual addiction must become aware of the heart issues (Prov 4:23) driving their addictive behavior. Counseling facilitates awareness of one’s brokenness and woundedness, and the resulting problematic relational thinking and relational styles that served to create and may perpetuate sinful behavior.
- Assist the addict in seeking out accountability. Addictions thrive in secrecy and accountability helps prevent hiding.
- Encourage the addict to become involved in a group. Groups provide a powerful opportunity for the one fearful of intimacy to take risks in a safe, supportive, and non- judgmental environment in growing their ability to be real with oneself and others (intimacy!).
- Help the spouse– The spouse will need support as they go through their own healing experience. Disclosure often brings relief to the addict but is often a sickening and traumatizing experience for the spouse. Spouses often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the revelation.
- The best way to eliminate sexual addiction is to provide preventive measures.
- Encourage conversations about sexuality in men’s and women’s groups.
- Invite speakers to address healthy sexuality in your church.
- Encourage facilitating discussions between parents and children in the area of sexual purity.
- Encourage the use of computer filtering, blocking, or monitoring software for computers and cell phones to provide accountability and protection from harmful web- based content. (Two companies endorsed by the National Coalition for the Preservation of Children & Families are: SafeEyes (www/InternetSafety.com) and CovenantEyes (www/CovenantEyes.com.)
- Suggest reading books such as False Intimacy by Harry Schaumburg to help establish right Biblical thought.
- Strengthen marriages by encouraging marriage enrichment opportunities.
- Provide support to biological, blended, and adoptive families.
Jesus came to proclaim freedom for those imprisoned and sight for the blind (Luke 4:18). This is the picture of a sex addict: blinded and trapped. As we apply the mercy and the grace of the Gospel, we provide a foundation for the growth of those imprisoned and blinded by sexual addiction.
Sexual sin thrives in secrecy and the longer the Church keeps its voice quiet, the longer the tentacles of pornographers grow, reaching in to grab the hearts of our spouses, children, and friends. We live in a world saturated with sexual images. It’s likely going to get worse before it gets better, judging by the fact that sex is the #1 topic searched on the internet. Shall we get to work?
Resources for Further Study
Carnes, Patrick, Contrary to Love. Minneapolis: CompCare 1989.
Carnes, Patrick, Out of the Shadows. Minneapolis: CompCare, 1992.
Ferree, Marnie C., No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Shame. Fairfax, VA: Xulon, 2002.
Laaser, Mark, Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Fairfax, VA: Zondervan, 2004. Means, Patrick, Men’s Secret Wars. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1996. Schaumburg, Harry, False Intimacy. Colorado Springs: Navpress Publishing, 1997. Blankenship, Richard, S.A.R.A.H. – Spouses of Addicts Rebuilding and Healing.
Fairfax, VA: Xulon Press, 2007.
Statistics for this article compiled by the National Coalition for the Preservation of Children & Families, http://www.nationalcoalition.org