Category Archives: Sex Addiction

Is Sex a Struggle but not an Addiction? Here’s what to do

strugglingOver the years in my work with sexual strugglers, it became clear that there is a spectrum of struggle … some people simply fight a battle with sexual temptation (and periodically lose), and others would fall into the category of sexual addicts. The line between the two is not always clear — it’s more like a spectrum, not a simple either/or — and many people struggle to honestly face the extent of their problem.

I have come to call this group of people — who fall repeatedly into sexual temptation, but don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for addiction — “sexual strugglers.” Often people in this category don’t have the patterns of emotional and sexual trauma from early life, and they don’t give evidence of other problematic addictive behaviors. But for some reason, they still struggle with behaviors around sex — often related to Internet pornography.

I believe that sexual strugglers need to focus on four things. If they keep these four things in place, they will do well. Also, at the end of this article I will give you an easy, sure-fire way to tell where you fall on this spectrum. So here we go … the four things strugglers need in order to deal with their struggle:

1. Vigilance

Sexual strugglers need to maintain an awareness of their vulnerability to sexual temptation, and realize that this will be an ongoing challenge area for them. Many people who are dealing with sexual temptation at this level try to downplay its importance, or view it as a temporary thing. They may tend to blame other people — especially their spouse — but the problem is internal, not external. If they were in a relationship with someone different, they would likely still struggle sexually.

Often sexual strugglers downplay the problem in their lives, because they are able to go for certain periods of time without falling into behaviors. But inevitably, if left unchecked, their sexual struggles will come back, and they will get into some kind of problematic behavior again if and when the circumstances allow. In other words, they can stop, but they can’t stay stopped.

The solution is a bitter pill for some people to swallow: recognize that this is an ongoing issue, and it won’t go away. We need to keep vigilant. How? Read on …

2. Boundaries

The sexual struggler needs to establish new guidelines or safeguards around his or her behavior. This is the flip side of the first principle, the need for vigilance. Sexual strugglers need to be aware of their vulnerabilities — and do something about them. They need to put filters on their computer, establish guidelines around safe conversations with members of the opposite sex, establish plans for business travel, and for time spent alone (like when their spouse goes away on a trip and they are home alone).

An important step for sexual strugglers is to look back on the times they have fallen into inappropriate sexual behaviors and pinpoint the areas of vulnerability that were in place that led up to his behavior. Then they need to decide what kind of limitations or boundaries need to be put in place. People often resist this because it creates limitations and hassles. But the alternative is more acting out, and further movement on the continuum of sexual health towards addiction.

Continue reading Is Sex a Struggle but not an Addiction? Here’s what to do

What is the Difference Between a “Slip” and a “Relapse” in Recovery

relapseI was recently asked this question: What is the Difference Between a “Slip” and a “Relapse”? by the concerned spouse of a sex addict.

This question is important for any addiction, but it’s fraught with heavy emotion in relationships where there is sex addiction, because sobriety is so important for the restoration of the relationship. Here’s what I said (with some slight editing):

  Thanks for writing. I define a slip as a short duration, one time drift into addictive behavior that the addict puts a stop to by reaching out to get help and get back on the recovery path. It’s not about what the specific behavior was (porn, masturbation, looking at a woman lustfully, engaging in sex, etc.), because different people are struggling with different behaviors to begin with.

  

A slip is different from a relapse in that a relapse indicates a shift back into the addictive pattern. Instead of seeking help after a brush with addictive behavior, the addict stays isolated and acts out again (and often multiple times, over a period of time). This person has taken him or herself off the recovery path, and is now “in relapse.”

 

Advice for a woman who’s husband is a missionary pastor and into porn

sad-womanI recently responded to some comments in a discussion thread started with a request for help by a woman who was struggling because her husband (pastor and missionary) was into pornography. Should she confront him (again)? Along with this question was the concern about whether using web filtering software (in her case Covenant Eyes) was really helping. Here’s what I said in response:

Very good article, and thoughtful comments. I’m a pastor who’s dealt with this area of struggle, and for five years I took a break from church ministry and worked full time leading workshops and counseling men in recovery from sexual addiction. Now I’m back in a church ministry role. Out of my experience – and my work with other men in recovery (many of them pastors and missionaries – I would make the following observations:

1) I agree with those who’ve encouraged the woman who wrote in here to make this her last confrontation. Be ready to leave and/or go to those in authority over your husband. Men who are shielded from consequences by their spouse don’t recover.

2) It’s very hard to fathom the consequences — personal, professional, financial — of having your husband take a break to get help. Imagine the worst case scenario, and ask yourself: could I live with this? Could God help me face this? I know people who’ve lost ministries, friends, even their homes … and they were still glad they made the choice they did to get help.

I think the unhappiest people I know are those who continue to suffer in silence … not being willing to bite the bullet and make the changes they need to make … but hating their life.

3) I would be surprised if the ministry she is a part of does not offer some sort of ministry leave policy to get help. Experience and work with MANY pastors and missionaries have made clear a very important point to keep in mind: men who come forward and ask for help get WAY MORE GRACE AND HELP than those who are caught. Urge/force your husband to seek help … it will be much easier for him to get help, and stay in ministry if he seeks help now, instead of waiting and getting caught later. And he WILL get caught … always assume that it’s just a matter of time before the truth comes out.

Continue reading Advice for a woman who’s husband is a missionary pastor and into porn

Has Porn Hijacked Our Sexuality? An interview with Gail Dines

dinesAuthor Gail Dines says today’s pornography looks nothing like it did 15 years ago — and it’s damaged our ability to have intimate relationships.

I’m including an interview that Sonali Kohatkar did with Gail Dines in its entirety, because it’s a great interview, and contains a helpful overview of the problem or pornography, how the business is run, and the effect it’s having on its users. This is a sobering interview. I completely agree with all that Dines is saying, but I want to add one additional point — about another aspect of pornography that she doesn’t address. I will do that in italics at the end of the interview.

Here is how Kohatkar set up the interview with Dines:

A new book by scholar Gail Dines asserts that society’s over-consumption of pornography and the ridiculous extremes of today’s mainstream pornography have greatly undermined our ability to have meaningful sexual partnerships. In Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality, Dines traces the history of the porn industry from Playboy and Penthouse, to today’s brutal fare that resembles nothing less than the videotaped sexual assault of women.

Not only does Dines go to great lengths to research the depth of porn’s standard fare, but she also details how the porn industry is consumed with profits, and the effect this has on its male viewers. Says Dines, “The pornographers did a kind of stealth attack on our culture, hijacking our sexuality and then selling it back to us, often in forms that look very little like sex but a lot like cruelty.”

Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Boston’s Wheelock College, where she researches the hypersexualization of the culture.

Sonali Kolhatkar: I have to say it was very difficult to read your book, and I had to skip parts where you describe mainstream pornography. This is not your father’s Playboy or Penthouse magazines and videos. What we’re seeing in porn today, and mainstream porn, is completely bizarre. I mean, how do you handle it in your research?

Gail Dines: Well, what’s interesting is that I, like the viewers, get desensitized over time. I mean, obviously I couldn’t have the visceral reaction I had in the beginning to it. But I put those descriptions in because often people say to me, you know, why are you getting so upset by images of naked women? And what I want people to understand is that pornography now looks nothing like it did 10, 15 years ago — that it is now brutal and cruel and is absolutely based on the degradation of women. So this is why I walk people through the porn industry. Also, often anti-porn feminists are accused of picking the worst of the pornography. What I wanted to do was go into the mainstream pornography that the average 11-year-old would get once he put “porn” into Google. Continue reading Has Porn Hijacked Our Sexuality? An interview with Gail Dines

The role of your spouse in recovery from sexual addiction

bigstock_Thoughtful_Woman_386151If you are married, your spouse can help or hinder your recovery, but they can’t make or break it. They can make your recovery easier or harder … but no matter how helpful they are, you still have to do the work yourself. Conversely, no matter how difficult, dysfunctional, or stuck in anger your spouse is, you can still move toward health and recovery … if you really want to.

You can’t move forward in your recovery if you’re holding your spouse responsible for it. Some sexual strugglers think their problem would be solved if only their spouse was more sexually available or responsive. Others think their recovery is on hold because their spouse is angry about their sexual behavior and isn’t supportive enough of the efforts they’re making in recovery.

The list of ways that addicts turn the keys of their recovery over to their spouses is endless … and sad. It’s time to take the keys back, and keep the responsibility for recovery on our own shoulders.

In other posts on this website, we have made the point that the first step in the 12 Steps is to recognize our powerlessness over our addictive behavior … that we can’t control our sexual compulsion without outside help. But let’s be clear: that outside help Continue reading The role of your spouse in recovery from sexual addiction

TED Talk Highlights Brain Changes that Stem from Porn

THE BAD NEWS: Porn alters the brain in ways that inhibit arousal and detract from “in person” sex, creating an epidemic of erectile dysfunction

THE GOOD NEWS: When you stop porn use, your brain can (over time) heal itself

Check out this fascinating TEDx lecture by Gary Wilson. It’s well put together, and really needs no introduction.

Be forewarned: some people who read this site are easily triggered to sexual temptation, and very sensitive to the materials I put on here. So know that there is a brief picture of women in bikinis at one point in the lecture.

But I hope that won’t keep you from watching. It’s very thought-provoking, and I hope that every person who has access to the internet watches this video.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments. 🙂

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When does “looking” become “lusting”?

When does a look become lust? Where is line that separates normal, healthy, God-given sexual response from sinful, destructive lust?

Christians generally focus on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-28 as the standard for moral purity: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So if this is our goal, we need to be clear about what it actually means to “look at a person lustfully.”

Let’s say you go to a restaurant. You look over to your left, and notice someone at the next table who is very attractive. Maybe they are dressed provocatively. You look at them, and their attractiveness registers in your mind. You might even notice something about their body that is attractive or alluring.

Is that lust? When does awareness and/or sexual attraction cross the line into lust?

Christians have been wrestling with this question for generations. Many wise people have written and taught about this. Let me suggest three words that are helpful in drawing the line between looking and lusting:

1. Looking becomes lusting when we stare

Intuitively we all know that there is some difference between looking at someone and staring at them. It’s one thing look at, or notice someone, it’s another to intensely watch them, to “visually feast on them.”

This is where the much maligned and often misunderstood “two-second rule” applies. The two-second rule suggests that looking at someone for a short amount of time is normal and socially acceptable. But looking at someone for more than two seconds constitutes staring and generally signifies crossing the line into lust.

While trying to legalistically apply this “rule” doesn’t work very well, understanding the principle behind it can be helpful.

Neuroscientists tell us that if we look at something intently for an extended period of time, that image gets burned into our brain, and we can recall the image later. We encounter millions of images and sensory impressions as we go through each day. Most of these we either ignore or pay such scant attention to that we can’t recall them later. They move in and out of our consciousness and aren’t retained.

But some of these images and sensory impressions make a deeper impression. They are retained if we pay focused attention to them … if we “take a mental picture.” That’s what happens if we stare at someone.

Let’s go back to the restaurant example. So you see someone who is attractive and/or dressed in such a way that catches your attention and possibly even creates a minor sexual response. But then, instead of fixating on that, you turn your attention elsewhere. You get involved in a conversation with your companion(s), and other thoughts, sights, and sounds take up our attention. It doesn’t take long for that earlier stimulus to fade, as your consciousness is filled with other thoughts and other stimuli.

But if you were staring, you were burning that image into your memory. Later that day, if you sat down and closed your eyes, you could probably call to mind that person, or that image.

2. Looking becomes lusting when we fantasize

Sometimes we do this while we stare: we build a fantasy in our minds about the person we are starting at. We imagine talking to this person, starting a relationship with this person, or doing something sexual with this person. In the later instance, way we are literally “committing adultery in our minds” as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:28.

When we start to obsess about the person, when we spin stories or scenarios in our minds about them, then we have crossed the line into lust.

3. Looking becomes lusting when we objectify

To objectify someone is to cease to view them as a person, and instead view them as an object. We do this when we focus on a person’s body – or body parts – instead of focusing on them as a person. Then we move from relating to them as a human being to thinking about them, looking at them, maybe even evaluating them in the same detached, objectifying way we might look at a pornographic picture.

Habitual pornography users can struggle to build healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex because of this tendency. Viewing pornography trains you to objectify people, focusing on their body and sexuality. Sexual thoughts can intrude in your consciousness as you are trying to relate on a social level with someone.

You can probably see that these three words — staring, fantasizing, and objectifying — are related, and they often go together in practice. If you’re staring at someone, you might also be fantasizing about them. If you are fantasizing about someone, you might also be undressing them in your mind … objectifying them.

Obviously things like pornography, sexual chat, and erotic stories all fit into this category of lusting. They don’t satisfy our sexual desire, they feed it and create desire for more. They don’t build intimacy. They don’t bring people together. They alienate people, because they train people to objectify and fantasize, rather than to love, serve, and relate.

Our goal is to treat other people with love and with dignity as persons. When we view people primarily as objects for our viewing and critique, or view them primarily from the standpoint of potential sexual partners, we are severely limiting the ways in which we can connect on a human, non-sexual level.