Sex is a great servant, but a terrible master. Sex can bring pleasure, express love, build intimacy, and create life. But out of control, it can bring pain, express contempt, destroy intimacy, and even kill. Like any natural appetite, when fed and directed, it brings satisfaction and joy. But when starved or overindulged, it brings suffering.
Because sex is so personal and powerful, we tend to get stupid about it. It’s hard for us to think clearly. That is the purpose of this blog. This blog’s title contains the two words that aren’t often used together: “sexual sanity.”
What is sexual sanity? It is living with a healthy experience of our sexual selves: avoiding the extremes of out of control sexual addiction on the one hand, and an over-controlled sexual shutdown (sexual anorexia) on the other. Maybe it’s easiest to understand what sexual sanity is by thinking about what it is not. To get clear about sexual sanity, let’s look at the alternative.
Here are six signs of sexual insanity:
1. Pretending that sex isn’t important.
We tend to do this today, in reaction to a culture that seems sex-crazed. We try to pretend that sex is just a small part of life, that it’s really not that important. In reaction to popular culture’s obsession with it, we want to minimize the power of sex. We try to pretend that sexual problems in a marriage really aren’t that important, that we can have great intimacy even if our sex life sucks.
Who are we kidding?
Sex is important, and has been since the beginning of time. But it’s especially important today, precisely because we’re living in societies where we’re continually bombarded with sex messages. In a sex-saturated world, we had better be healthy about our sexual boundaries, or we will fall into destructive habits.
2. Using sex to do something for us that it can’t do.
If we are sad, sex can provide temporary distraction. If we are lonely, sex can provide a temporary feeling of connection. If we are insecure, sex can provide a temporary feeling of confidence and well-being. But the operative word in all those scenarios is “temporary.” The distraction, pleasure, and sense of well-being that sex provides is fleeting … it never lasts.
If we are using sex as a coping mechanism rather than a way to express love, we will make things worse instead of better. After the sexual experience is over, we often wind up feeling more sad, lonely, and insecure, because what we did was unhealthy and destructive. Using sex to try to medicate pain or fill a void inside us doesn’t work. It’s like a dehydrated castaway drinking sea water to satisfy his thirst. It just makes it worse.
3. Trying to control compulsive sexual behavior by repressing rather than redirecting sexual desire.
Try as we might, we can’t turn the sex drive off. Castigating ourselves for having sexual thoughts won’t move us toward purity or long term sexual health. We are sexual beings, and we are going to notice, get aroused by, and desire people we have been biologically programmed to notice, get aroused by, and desire.
It is possible for a person to have a healthy, monogamous, intimate relationship with someone, and not be obsessed with sexual fantasy or engage in inappropriate sexual behavior or pornography use. In fact, that is how many people live. But if that person has a healthy sex drive, even in the midst of a healthy, monogamous, intimate relationship, sexual thoughts about other people, temptation, and arousal will be part of life.
The goal is not to live free from our sexual urges, and thus feel guilty when we experience them. The goal is to be healthy enough emotionally, relationally, and spiritually that we can choose not to dwell on – or act on – the sexual thoughts that come up.
4. Trying to heal from sexual struggles – which thrive on secrecy and shame – in isolation, thus perpetuating secrecy and shame.
Let’s face it: nobody likes talking about their sexual struggles. Some people may like to brag about their sexual exploits, but would never want to acknowledge how powerless they are over their impulses. “Sexual struggles” are what emerge when sex takes on an addictive or compulsive role: we start doing things that we wish we wouldn’t do, that we try to stop, that we regret doing.
Many of us deal with secret sexual struggles – masturbation habits, pornography use, perverted fantasies, inappropriate relationships – that we are too ashamed to talk about. We want to change, but we don’t want to talk to anybody about it. We want to have God help us fix it, as long as that doesn’t involve other people. But God doesn’t help us heal from our secrets in isolation. James 5:16 says “confess your sins to one another so you can be healed.” We confess our sins to God so we can be forgiven; we confess our sins to other people so we can be healed.
5. Pretending that pornography and intimacy can coexist.
It is time we admit that pornography doesn’t help us. It is the cigarette of sex. It is common, it is addictive, and there is no way it is good for us. It is a guilty pleasure. People know it’s bad for them, but they use it anyway.
Although it has been around in various forms for centuries, since the 1960s pornography has become increasingly mainstream in our society. There have been ample opportunities for pornographers to demonstrate the social and relational benefits of pornography. If there were some value or benefit of pornography, we would have heard about it by now. There is none. We use it because it’s a cheap, easy means of sexual gratification. But it doesn’t help us at all. Pornography and intimacy do not coexist. If one advances, the other retreats. It’s that simple.
Porn creates fantasies and images that serve as a screen between us and reality. In this way porn interferes with intimacy, which is the bedrock of sexuality. To a regular user of porn, real women or men and real sexual encounters start to lose their appeal. They are just bad porn. The real can never match the fantasy.
This is not because the real women or men in our lives are not attractive or sexy, it’s because they are real. They have real needs and desires of their own. They are not “safe” and controllable like the fantasies and images that we play with in our minds. Consequently, they intrude on the screen in our minds where (we think) the real action is. They’re like a person talking too loud in the movie theater next to you.
6. Pretending that our partner is the problem.
Blaming our spouses for our addictive behavior is the favorite pastime of sex addicts around the world. “If only my wife were more sexually available.” “If only my husband paid more attention to me.” “If only my spouse were … more attractive, thinner, not so thin, larger busted, smaller busted, longer legged, shorter legged, more aggressive, less aggressive, more vocal, less vocal, blond, brunette” … and on and on.
Who are you kidding? Chances are you were having problems with your sexual behavior long before your spouse came onto the scene. If he or she leaves, you will have problems with someone else. People overcome sexual problems when they admit that their spouse isn’t the problem. Their habit of using sex to distract, medicate, or comfort themselves is.
This blog is written with the goal in mind of helping expose the insanity of these ideas about sex, and replace them with helpful ones. I hope you’ll find the articles helpful here. But more than that, I hope you’ll join the conversation. If you don’t understand – or agree with – something, say so. This subject is too important to ignore, or be ignorant about.