Chapter OneSexual Addiction
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I recently talked with a pastor about the shame of being a sexually
addicted Christian. By every indication this pastor is successful. He
has developed a large church "full of many gifts of the Spirit." Well liked
by his people, he preaches wonderful sermons. He is married, has children,
and appears to be a normal family man.
Yet this pastor leads a double life. Many days he is drawn to a local
park, where he meets men whose names he does not know and engages
in sex with them. Most of these encounters last less than thirty minutes,
and no words are spoken. He then returns to his office feeling emptier
than before. Looking for intimacy, he finds instead only frustration and
fear. When will someone from his church find out?
This pastor knows he is committing the sin of sodomy. He prays, fasts,
reads Scripture, and yet he cannot stop. He is alone. Who can he tell?
Disclosing this behavior would cost his job, family, career, and reputation.
SEXUAL ADDICTION AS A SIN
Sexual addiction is a sickness involving any type of uncontrollable sexual
activity. Because the addict can't control his or her sexual behavior,
negative consequences eventually result.
Whenever I speak to Christians about sexual addiction, someone
always asks, "When you call these sexual behaviors an addiction or a disease,
aren't you forgetting that they are sinful? People should repent,
change their ways, and get right with God." I always agree with these
statements. The sexual behaviors that become addictive are sinful. People
should repent, change their ways, and get right with God. Repentance,
behavior change, and a deeper relationship with God are all goals of the
healing journey for a sex addict. I usually respond to this question with
another question: How long do you expect repentance and change to take?
Sin and addiction have some common characteristics. Like an addiction,
sin is uncontrollable and unmanageable. In fact, God had to sacrifice
his only Son because we could not manage our own lives. Sexual
addiction is about trying to control behaviors-and failing. Just like
alcoholics, sex addicts tell themselves they can quit tomorrow if they
want to. They like to think they are in control, but they are not. Indeed,
their inability to give up the illusion of control is precisely what prevents
sex addicts from healing. It is the same with any sin. Our attempts
to control our lives prevent us from trusting God to care for us.
Addiction provides an escape from feelings. Despite experiences of
God's love and power, people of faith sometimes have fearful, distrustful
natures that drive them to seek an escape from feelings. Consider
the prophet Elijah. After he defeated the priests of Baal on Mount
Carmel, he was afraid for his life. Rather than face his fears, he ran away
and hid in a cave. Jonah ran from his fears of God's preaching assignment
and ended up in the belly of a whale. The disciples fled in fear
from those who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Just
like an addiction, this drive to escape painful emotions is unmanageable.
It is our inherited sin nature. Addictions provide a way of escape;
a false solution; a means to control loneliness, anger, anxiety, and fear.
Addictions, being unmanageable, also lead to destructive consequences.
Addictions destroy lives, break up families, ruin careers. Sin
too has its consequences. Romans 6:23 tells us the wages of sin is death.
Most sex addicts experience devastating shame and believe they are
totally worthless. In the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve sinned
they were naked and unashamed. After sinning, however, they felt
shame. Because we are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we also
feel shame when we sin.
Therefore, a clearer understanding of addiction provides a deeper
understanding of sin. Sin is more than just a list of immoral behaviors.
Sin is the lack of a relationship with God and the destructive behaviors
committed as a result. Sin is unmanageable and causes people to distrust
God, to control their own lives, and to commit behaviors destructive to
themselves and others. Sin causes shame and leads to death. Unmanageability,
escape, shame, and-for some-addiction, are interwoven
into the very fabric of sin.
SEXUAL ADDICTION AS A DISEASE
Sexual addiction is also a disease-a situation in which something normally
healthy becomes unhealthy. Both sexual addiction and disease
have observable symptoms and a natural progression that, if left
untreated, get worse and eventually lead to death.
Defining sexual addiction as a disease is also consistent with a definition
of sin. Sinfulness has a cause. We inherit original sin when we
are born. And sin has symptoms. We don't trust God. We make
unhealthy choices. We try to control our own lives. Like disease, sinfulness
is a degenerative process. The Bible continually warns us that
we can sink deeper and deeper into sin. Sinfulness can eventually kill us.
The concepts of addiction and disease clarify and deepen our understanding
of the consequences of sin. In accepting that sexual addiction
is a disease and a sin, we must also accept that the devil, the personification
of evil, is at work in sexual addiction. He uses many devices to
create sexual addiction, including unhealthy family dynamics, abuse,
and feelings of shame. The devil convinces us we are evil and irredeemable.
He sows hopelessness by convincing us we won't get well.
There is no question in my mind that we are engaged in spiritual warfare
when we attempt to heal sexual addiction.
"MORAL" SEXUAL SIN
Sexual addiction is a disease and it involves sinful behavior. It is not my
purpose to provide a theological definition of what is sexually sinful.
Most immoral behaviors, such as infidelity or child abuse, are plainly
sinful. However, there are sex addicts and sexual activities that, on the
surface, appear moral.
Consider the example of the sex addict who never engages in sexual
activity with anyone except his wife, yet uses sex with his spouse as
an escape from intimacy, not as an expression of it. In this case, the sex
addict treats his spouse simply as a body and not as a spirit. Here, sex,
although it is with a spouse, is really no different than masturbating.
In these situations, the same characteristics of addiction apply. Over
time, the addict wants more and more and becomes bored and unfulfilled
in the marital sexual relationship. On the surface, he is faithful.
But God, looking at his heart, discerns his motives.
These sex addicts don't know how to be emotionally or spiritually
intimate with a spouse and believe they will find intimacy in sexual contact.
Using sex to mask their loneliness, they are unwittingly driven
deeper into loneliness, never revealing their feelings. They might even
say to themselves, "As long as I remain faithful to my spouse and as long
as sex is good, I don't have a problem and our relationship is good." In
fact, the relationship is not good, and the sexual activity becomes an
addictive way to avoid the pain of the poor relationship.
Whether their sexual behavior is inside or outside of marriage, sex
addicts are lonely and isolated. They use sex for all the wrong reasons.
The question is not whether or not their sexual activity is considered
moral. The question is whether or not sex is an expression of intimacy
or an escape from it. One definition of sin suggests it is any activity that
separates us from God and from others. By this definition, purely physical
sexual activity in a marriage devoid of intimacy is perhaps addictive
and could be considered sinful.
Sex addicts may have family and friends. They may be active leaders.
However, no one really knows them. They haven't told anyone who
they are, what they feel, and what they've done. Christian sex addicts
think if they were really known by those around them, they would be
hated, shunned, laughed at, or punished. A key question of this book,
and one every believer needs to consider, is: Will Christians help to heal,
or will they help to increase, this shame, loneliness, fear, and woundedness?
Unfortunately, in too many cases we have "shot the wounded,"
rather than healed them.