"How Do I Know If I'm Addicted?"
I sat down on a pile of wood and looked around. I often came here to think, next to this railroad track, because it was one of the few places I could find some privacy. Father, I don't know what to do, I prayed. I've never felt this much pain, and I thought when I got married it would go away!
Keri and I had been married for seven years. I loved her, but I felt as though she was indifferent to my needs. Every time I tried to tell her how lonely I was, she became defensive. It was becoming clear to me that our relationship was at a crossroads. Father, I don't know whether she cant see my pain or whether she does see it but won't respond. My feelings of rejection were overwhelming.
This was not a new experience for me. After my parents divorced, my mother turned to alcohol. She could never connect with me because of her drinking and constant relationships with a steady stream of violent, abusive men. In desperation I turned to the thing she seemed to be turning to—sex. As a seven-year-old I became sexual with every girl in the neighborhood who would have me. I devoured every page of pornography I happened to find in a field or on the roadside. Romance with a girl—any girl—became my constant, waking preoccupation.
In my teens I became even more dependent on porn. I would go into run-down used bookstores seeking it or to the "respectable" stores and stand for hours flipping through their sex manuals. I began taking increasingly greater risks and not caring who saw me. I looked through other people's windows when I thought there was a chance of seeing something. And I was not above homosexuality. By the time I was sixteen, I was masturbating once or twice a day and planning, with a friend of mine, to seek out a prostitute. I was blindly moving toward a cliff, not realizing the danger.
It was in this world of ever-increasing darkness that Jesus Christ found me. When I understood that all the truth I had been searching for was contained in him, I promptly abandoned my self-made New Age religion (I had picked that up along with all the sexual perversion) and made a full surrender to him. It was not long before I found a solid evangelical church and began growing rapidly. I dug deep into the Word and began cultivating a passionate prayer life. My habitual use of pornography and masturbation stopped. I attacked my stubborn tendency toward sexual fantasizing with a vengeance. I was moving forward and getting free of my previous life. Nevertheless, just below the surface the deep ache persisted. I had knocked all the branches off the twisted tree of my past—but the trunk, with all its roots, was still very much alive.
That is when I came to a brilliant conclusion: I need to get married! After all, didn't Paul say it was better to marry than to bum? A short time later I met Keri. She was short and had beautiful black hair. We fell in love and married nine months later. The first couple of years were incredible. I felt greatly loved by this woman, and we had sex often. But then the pain deep in my heart started moving to the surface. When it did, I would blame her for not "being there" for me. We would argue. There would be silence and hurt on both sides and then apologies all around. We would make up and be fine for another six months, when it all came up again.
This pattern went on for years. In the meantime we had a child, I entered the ministry and we moved three hundred miles from our hometown. It was at this point that the loneliness and despair caught up to me. That is when I ended up at the railroad tracks, pouring my heart out to God. I was so desperate I was even open to counseling. One thing led to another, and Keri and I ended up in the office of a therapist. She was a Christian, but I still felt uncomfortable seeing someone who had received "secular" training.
Opening up about what was really going on was not easy. It was, however, a major turning point in my life—not because our counselor gave such profound guidance (she mostly listened) but because the Lord himself began to fill in the blanks as I exposed my inner self to another believer. I had no idea that this was the biblical mode of healing (see Jas 5:16). I just did it because my other options had run out.
My gradual restoration (as described later in this book) opened up a whole new world of ministry. I began volunteering, and then working full time, with New Creation Ministries. As someone on staff with an organization that specializes in helping the sexually broken, I have been exposed to an invisible subgroup within the church. These men and women are the walking wounded of the body of Christ. And they all have one thing in common: They have experienced abandonment. They were not necessarily left on someone's doorstep, but in key areas of their lives they have been forsaken. Many of them came from Christian homes where their parents did the best they could. Unfortunately, many of those parents had not been properly nurtured in their formative years either. Consequently, they could only give what they had received. In many cases it was not much.
John was a full-time Christian worker. He traveled and did evangelistic work in the churches within his denomination. He was articulate and theologically astute. I was impressed with him during our first appointment He came to see me because his wife had found out about his affairs and X-rated videos. She smashed the VCR on the back porch and told him to get help. After getting the particulars, I asked about his family.
"Well, I'm not sure what that has to do with anything," John said, "but I came from a good Christian home. My parents had us in church every week, and we took Scripture very seriously. I believe it was my upbringing that influenced me to go into the ministry."
"How did your parents express affection to you?"
"My mother was very affectionate, but my dad was emotionally unavailable."
"How did that make you feel?"
"It made me feel rejected," he said, as his head drooped.
"What kind of relationship do you have with your dad now?"
"It's getting better. When I was about forty, he finally told me he loved me. That felt really good."
"I get the impression that you wanted to hear it sooner."
"Yeah, I did. I never felt like I measured up. I couldn't understand what I had done to make him not want to be involved with me."
"Perhaps that's just where he was. Maybe it wasn't about you at all."
"You could be right. But I've struggled with insecurity all my life as a result"
"Could it be that your womanizing and compulsive 'need' to use videos is an attempt to get some kind of nurturing?"
John began to see that his problem wasn't only about sex. It was about legitimate, unmet needs. Did that mean that his sexual behavior was therefore acceptable? Not at all. This man was involved in serious sin, but sin was not the only thing we were dealing with. And since every pastor or counselor he had seen dealt with it at the sin level only, the changes never lasted.
Not everyone who struggles with a sexual problem is dealing with an addiction. Dr. Archibald Hart, in his excellent book The Sexual Man, found that the vast majority of godly Christian men in his survey were deeply troubled by the intensity of their sexual feelings.
Some of what passes for lust is testosterone, not moral weakness. Are men, therefore, not responsible to rein it in? Of course they are. Matthew 5:28 says, "Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." What the Lord didn't say was, "If you see a beautiful woman and feel an inward pull—you've sinned!"
In other words, simply noticing an attractive woman and responding emotionally is not lust. It's that second look, taken with the intention of mental pursuit, that is adulterous. The King James Version (which is closer to the original Greek in this instance) makes this meaning even clearer: "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." Picture a person driving around town running errands. He has been too busy to notice that it's past lunchtime. What happens when he approaches a fast-food place and his senses are overwhelmed by the smell of burgers and fries? The reaction is immediate and involuntary. His stomach growls, he salivates and swallows, and a sense of weakness washes over him. He may turn in, or he may drive past, but he has no control over what happens inside of his body at that moment. What he can control is how he responds to it.
Though sexual desire (unlike food) is not a matter of survival, it is tied to deep needs for love that are a matter of survival. To feel shame and guilt about an initial attraction makes as much sense as condemning yourself for hunger at one o'clock in the afternoon. It's how you handle that initial attraction and where you go with it that decides the morality of your choice.
This is a fine line we're talking about, but a distinction that needs to be made. A lot of men are walking around feeling guilt simply for being sexual. I think of several reasons for this:
Lots of men feel uncomfortable with their sexuality for these reasons. These are not signs, however, of a sexual addiction. Christian men, in their attempt to follow the Lord, will struggle with these issues from time to time. But, as we shall see, the sexual addict has this and a lot more on his plate.
Below is a list of characteristics that accompany abnormal behavior. I have found them to be accurate signs of sexual addiction as well:
Age-inappropriate behavior. This may not be related directly to sexuality, but I have observed it in the life of every sex addict I have ever counseled. It is what some have called "arrested development." For example, a thirty-year-old man may act like a six-year-old. He says to himself, That's just the way I am, but everyone around him can see how childish his behavior is. When others try to point this out, he becomes defensive and thinks everyone is just being critical.
At a time in his life when he should be able to think about the needs of others, he is often stuck in a selfish mode. His dealings with his wife are characterized by insensitivity. He will come home late and not bother to call and let her know his plans. He may insist on sex at the drop of a hat or ignore her sexual needs altogether.
His children often take a back seat to the TV, newspaper, gym or ministry. When he does attempt to spend "quality time" with them, it is usually brief and superficial (unless it involves an activity that he likes—then he can do it for hours, giving the impression that he is a devoted father).
This kind of selfishness is obvious, but another side of his narcissism is harder to spot He can be giving, complimentary, pleasant and positive around everyone outside of the family, and they may think of him as "Mr. Personality" But these can all be unconscious attempts to manipulate them into meeting his hunger for approval. He is a needy little boy in an adult body.
Intense reactions in response to minimal stress. When the sex addict does not get his way—look out! He will explode, withdraw or manipulate. One of the areas where this can typically be seen is in his sexual relationship with his wife. If she declines his advances, he may lie in bed staring at the ceiling and heaving deep sighs. Or he may go sleep on the couch as a demonstration of his passive rage.
If he is the more aggressive type, he launches into a tirade about how "you never meet my needs." This guilt-inducing tactic is usually effective for a few years. But eventually his wife will see through it and will no longer buy into it. As childish as all of this may seem, his feelings of rejection are profoundly real. This doesn't mean that his wife really is rejecting him, but he perceives it that way.
The sense of rejection is followed by feelings of hopelessness and despair that may last for days. At this point he will resort to masturbation, pornography or another relationship. He feels that since his wife said no to sex she was, in fact, despising him as a person. This reaction betrays a deep level of childhood brokenness that he mistakenly thinks a loving wife or a sexual fix can address.
Frequency of symptoms. Even the most secure spouse will occasionally feel put off by the others sexual disinterest. But, as we have demonstrated, the sexually broken man will consistently respond this way. And though most men have a fairly high sex drive, the addicted man is obsessed in this area. For him everything contains sexual innuendo. The way women dress, smell, talk, cry or worship is a turn-on to him.
Along with the internal symptoms, the external behaviors are frequent as well. For instance, not every man who has an affair is a sex addict, as tragic as even one affair is. It is the frequency of the affairs or the frequency of fantasizing about one that shows an addictive problem. A man who masturbates two or three times a year is not necessarily an addict (though he might be defrauding his wife or engaging in lust), but daily or weekly masturbation could be a sign of addiction.
Though even a single exposure to pornographic magazines or videos is destructive to a person's spiritual life, it is the frequency of their use that determines whether an addiction is present. This distinction is an important one; while the occasional slip in one of these areas can be overcome by renewed discipline and vigilance, sexual addiction can be overcome only by more drastic measures.
Degree of social disruption produced by symptoms. All of us have sexual difficulties at one time or another, but for the addict these difficulties place an incredible strain on relationships. The first person it affects, obviously, is the spouse. I have heard some wives say, "I wish he would go out and have an affair so he could stop bothering me about sex!" I've watched other women, who were less sure of themselves, begin to question their worth as persons because their husbands wanted constant sex or none at all.
The disruption also affects the children. This is something the addict usually doesn't think about. The children notice the tension between Dad and Mom, and though they may not say anything, their insecurities grow as the tension escalates. Many children rush in to provide some kind of relief by cracking a joke to break the tension, by being the "perfect child" so the family will have a reason to stay together, or by getting into trouble themselves, thereby diverting the tension from husband-wife to parent-child. Children adopt these roles (Mascot, Perfect Child, Scapegoat and so on) in an attempt to bring stability to the family. Unfortunately, they sacrifice their childhood in the process.
Job performance suffers as well. The addicted man may be late to work because of cruising for prostitutes or stopping to look at magazines. He may take "breaks" in order to masturbate in the bathroom or car. He may flirt with, sexually harass or have affairs with female co-workers. Needless to say, none of these things makes for a pleasant or productive work environment.
Prostitution, voyeurism (looking through people's windows), exhibitionism, rape and child molestation are examples of illegal behavior that some addicts use to meet their need. We may think that Christians could never be involved in such things. But Scripture has at least one account of a man of God manipulating the people around him and breaking the law in an attempt to satisfy his sexual urges. Not only did he use his position of power to get sex, he also used a member of his staff to cover his tracks by arranging a murder (2 Sam 11). Though David may not have been a sex addict, this incident certainly produced the social disruption common to sexual addiction.
Inner suffering. The loneliness inside the sexually broken man is horrific. It is so unbearable for him that when it rises up, he feels the need to silence it immediately with some kind of sexual act. He believes that if he allowed it to come to the top, he would die. A pastor in my group for Christian leaders felt this pain so acutely that he drove to a remote area and parked by a railroad track. He sat there for hours, waiting for the train—fully intending to jump in front of it when it arrived. It was during the wait that he decided to contact us. (Thank God for late trains!)
The addict believes, deep down, that he is not worth loving in the first place. This is the reason for his loneliness. The addict has already assumed he is unlovable, so he consistently deflects the affection expressed to him by others. This, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Eventually they stop reaching out and pull away from him altogether.
Some addicts still relate to others but only in a way that doesn't risk their inner core. Others choose not to relate to people at all but find it easier to relate to a thing (a magazine, piece of clothing or fetish). In time, the pornographic fantasy becomes more satisfying than real relationships with all their demands, challenges and possibilities for rejection.
The inner suffering of the sex addict comes from two sources: deep, unmet emotional needs from childhood and the pain and disappointment caused by trying to meet those needs through his sinful behavior. Psychology in its worst form focuses on the pain and does not believe in the existence of sin. Christianity in its worst form focuses exclusively on the sin and considers the pain irrelevant. Neither approach is helpful; each is damaging.
The addict is constantly wondering, Is everybody this lonely inside? The person who has had his basic need for love and nurturing met has a hard time even conceiving of the inner pain that the sexual addict lives with every day.
Rigidity and persistence of the symptoms. A true addict is someone who has attempted many times to stop, but without success. He has a paradoxical love of acting out sexually and, at the same time, a bitter hatred of it Some are able to stop for years at a time, but then the longings resurface with a vengeance and the behavior resumes. (This is often true of newly married sex addicts who think marriage will "cure" them.)
One youth minister said, "I pleaded and prayed to God hundreds of times but with little long-term effect. The question I kept coming back to was: How can this be? I am a Christian, I love my wife, I have two special kids and I am a minister—what is wrong with me?"
One reason Christians are so stumped by this problem is the one-sided view they take of it. They see it primarily as a moral issue, and since many of them are very moral, they don't understand how they can continue to violate their own deeply held convictions. What they fail to grasp is that sexual addiction is not only about sin, it is also about real need.
The addict's need is not for sex (though he thinks it is); his need is for love. If that need goes unmet, he will live in a perpetual state of "hunger," looking for something to satisfy it. Even if he discontinues his sexual behavior for a while, his underlying yearning for love will not be addressed. Soon he finds his good intentions being overwhelmed by a longing that won't go away.
Physical damage. Addicts who do not experience healing will eventually experience some kind of physical damage. Some have injured themselves directly through their sexual behavior or have suffered the effects of disease and infection. Several people in our ministry have died of AIDS.
The most common physical damage is not a direct result of the sexual acting out. It is a result of other ways in which the deeper issues come out. A majority of sex addicts deal with other compulsive behaviors as well: eating disorders, workaholism, spending problems, substance abuse or frantic religious activity (mistakenly called "ministry"). Many experience obesity, high blood pressure, pain in their joints, anxiety and panic attacks, severe mood swings, depression, fatigue, sleeping disorders, extreme irritability or any of a host of other physical and emotional maladies.
They may experience physical damage to their property or possessions as a result of being involved in risky sexual behavior: being beaten while "cruising" in a park looking for sexual contacts; having jilted lovers break windows in their home or car; paying out thousands of dollars they can't afford on phone sex, prostitution, legal fees or fines. Few sex addicts experience all of these problems, but any degree of identification with this list should cause great concern.
Here is a long definition with several important parts, each of which we will discuss.
Sexual addiction is an obsessive-compulsive relationship with a person, object or experience for the purpose of sexual gratification. Whatever the type or amount of the behavior, it is damaging spiritually, physically or both. The addict has repeatedly tried to stop the behavior but at the same time is terrified of stopping. What drives the addiction is inadequate spirituality and deep unmet childhood needs that are valid but are mistakenly thought to be sexual needs. The behavior usually starts in pre-adolescence and tends to shape the orientation and personality of the individual. Genuine recovery is possible only with outside intervention and divine help.
Addiction is an obsessive-compulsive relationship. Some addicts think about sex literally all the time, but this is not true of all. The addict can be involved in other activities for a while, but he tends to return to his obsessive "core" in a few hours or days. He is like the bird who flies far and wide and does all kinds of things but always returns to the nest. For the addict, sexual thoughts and fulfillment are the "nest."
All men can be sexually compulsive from time to time, but for the addict this compulsion is the bedrock from which many of his decisions, plans, motives, thoughts and actions unconsciously spring. He finds himself acting out sexually and then saying, How did I get here? I've got to stop this, only to find himself in the same situation a short time later. He can really identify with the words of Paul, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing" (Rom 7:19).
The addict may say that Jesus is the most important person in his life, but when the chips are down, it isn't Jesus to whom he runs—its the addiction. He is addicted to the mood-altering experience of sex (the "high" just before and during acting out). He may be attached to an object—women's undergarments, for example. The object itself brings a feeling of security and arousal—a real person isn't needed. Or he may be addicted to a person. This person may be a favorite prostitute, a lover or even his wife.
Strange as it may sound, a person can be attached to his spouse in a way that is very unhealthy. What passes for love in many Christian marriages is actually a very needy, dependent and dysfunctional way of using the spouse to meet needs he or she was never intended to meet.
Whatever the addictive behavior, it is damaging spiritually. We've already talked about physical damage to self, family and property, but what about spiritual damage? This is the most tragic loss of all. Sexual addiction is an idolatrous attempt to meet our need apart from God:
My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jer 2:13)
The Holy Spirit says some surprising things here. First, he says the ones who are doing this are his people. That should forever settle the question, "Can Christians be involved in idolatry?" The next thing he says is that his people have forsaken him. Sexual addiction is not just a matter of having a bad habit or weakness—it is an abandonment of God.
Next, God says that instead of drinking from the ever-flowing stream, we have gone out and created our own inadequate ways of satisfying our thirst. The problem is, we were not meant to kneel at the bottom of this self-made cistern and ingest handfuls of dirt. We were meant to drink from the fresh, satisfying waters of the living stream. By his behavior the sex addict is saying, "Lord, I don't believe you can meet this need, and I never have. So I'm going to meet it my way."
Another thing the Spirit says in this verse is, "Your longing is valid—it's where you're going with it that is not." God does not condemn our legitimate thirst for love, including erotic love. However, what the addict calls sexual desire is actually a mixture of unmet childhood needs, a hunger for God, legitimate arousal, conditioned electrochemical responses in the brain and lust—all in one package. He mistakenly thinks that one sex act will address all of these needs!
The addict does not bring his true self into the sexual act. The true self has already been deeply wounded, so he refuses to expose it to further rejection. He would rather engage in the predictable ritual of sex than uncover his true self. This choice may protect him from endangering his soft inner core, but it also ensures that the needs of that core never get met. Consequently, he uses objects, romance or a "special person" to take the edge off his loneliness without ever admitting how lonely he really is.
This is not to say that the sexually addicted Christian has no spiritual life. I have met sex addicts who were involved in fruitful missionary work, evangelism, teaching and leadership. But these activities also become a way of trying to meet their needs under the guise of ministry.
Some think that because they have intense times of worship, prayer or Bible study, they are relating deeply to God. But genuine intimacy with God is a long, grueling process that involves being stripped of our attachments and false securities to stand naked before him. This the addict will not tolerate. So he finds himself between a rock and a hard place: he longs for God to free him, but he is terrified of life without the addiction. He is split against himself and rendered spiritually unstable (see Jas 1:7). This creates great spiritual damage to his soul.
The person has repeatedly attempted to stop. The Christians I've worked with have repeatedly tried to stop their behavior but without success. It isn't until they experience spectacular failure or simply grow tired of their chronic compulsion that they finally reach out for help.
This reaching out for help is the first step toward healing, not the last-ditch attempt that most of them think it is. The fear and spiritual pride of addicted people are awesome. They desperately want to believe they are in control, and they try to convince others that they are. They suffer a terrible blow to their ego when they have to admit that sin really is as powerful as the Bible says it is.
Two things drive the addiction. I have said that two things are the driving force of sexual addiction: An inadequate spirituality and unmet childhood needs. First, let's look at spirituality. The Christian addict may have allowed Jesus into every area of his heart with which he is consciously in touch. But he reserves entire regions of his spirit for the addiction.
Most stragglers do not believe, deep down, that God can touch this ache. If they are open to that possibility, however, they are then faced with a second question, "How do I let him into this part of my heart?" The answer to that is not simple. I will devote an entire chapter to it, but at this point I will say it involves what I call the Great Transference.
Jesus once talked with a woman who had a similar ache in her soul. In her attempt to address the ache, she had married five times. Finally she gave up on the institution of marriage and just moved in with guy number six. What did Jesus say to her? Did he advise her and her boyfriend to visit a sex therapist? Read more books on communication? No. He said, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water" (Jn 4:10). He was challenging her to make the Great Transference from sex to him.
The fact that we're saved doesn't mean we are not still looking for Jesus. He may have come in, but we still have dry areas he needs to fill. We have to transfer those needs from the adult bookstore, bedroom and pages of Hustler to the place of prayer. Not only this, but some of the areas he needs to fill were intended to be filled by someone else at an earlier date. This brings us to the second force behind sexual addiction: unmet childhood needs.
Many Christians don't understand how profound their need is to receive nurturing and affirmation in childhood. As I counseled with one woman, I asked her to describe the relationship she had with her parents.
"What kind of personalities did your parents have?" I asked.
"Well, my mom was very controlling. She could be outspoken and rigid. I've always admired her convictions, but I wouldn't want to be like her."
"How about your dad?"
"I have a lot of respect for Dad. He was always quiet, and for years I thought it was because he was stupid or something. As I got older, I realized that he was actually very intelligent."
"You've described a family that was involved in lots of activities. Your mother was controlling and your father was passive. Am I getting this right?"
"Do you understand that being active as a family is not the same as being nurtured by that family?"
Her eyebrows drew together. "Uh, I think so."
"Your mother can't control you and nurture you at the same time. And a passive father is unable to be assertive in the way that genuine nurturing requires."
I continued, "For all of the good things your family was involved in, your home life lacked genuine closeness, didn't it?"
Her eyes filled with tears. "Yes, it did."
"Is it such a mystery why you've thrown open the doors of your heart to a steady stream of men?"
"No, it isn't. I think I see what you're saying."
Our need for food, clothing and shelter can be met, but we can still experience profound problems if our basic need for nurturing is not satisfied. A study done by Dr. H. M. Skeels proved how true this is. She took thirteen children from an orphanage and placed them in a women's facility to be cared for by some of the inmates and staff. In this new setting the children were rocked, cuddled and lovingly spoken to—things the overcrowded orphanage could not provide.
In a two-and-a-half-year period the children's I.Q.s increased an average of twenty-nine points. The I.Q.s of the children in the original institution dropped twenty-six points during the same period! Dr. Skeels tracked both groups for thirty years and found that her subjects went on to integrate normally into society. Those in the original institution were never released, due to mental retardation and lack of social functioning (although one got a job as a dishwasher).
The point is clear: Nurturing is a matter of emotional life and death. That is why Paul said, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4 KJV). Many parents, including Christian parents, are great in the admonition department but drop the ball when it comes to nurturing. And, notice, this is not nurturing the way we think it ought to be done, but is the nurturing and admonition of the Lord. In other words, we are commanded to nurture as God nurtures.
Nurture is not a matter of teaching children to memorize Bible verses and go to Sunday school. It is a matter of affirming them and speaking words of life to their sense of self the way God does to us. Parenting requires an anointing of the Holy Spirit and a sensitivity to the heart of God that few parents have. Is it any wonder that this generation—even within the church—is so vulnerable to a variety of obsessive and compulsive behaviors?
The behavior starts in pre-adolescence. Most children experiment with sexual behavior—everything from playing doctor to "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." However, the child who later becomes a sexual addict tends to get involved in sexual behavior a good five years before the usual age. In The Sexual Man, Archibald Hart said his respondents recalled their first sexual feelings taking place around age 12. The men I've worked with had strong sexual feelings as early as 8 to 10. His respondents stated that they first masturbated around the age of 13. Those I have counseled began between the ages of 9 and 12. Hart's men recall being exposed to pornography around the age of 15. Those I've seen are exposed during the 9 to 12 age range.
Do Dr. Hart's respondents have poor memories or problems telling the truth? I don't think so. These figures are reasonable for those coming out of fairly healthy homes. That is just it; sex addicts usually don't come from healthy homes. They come from families that have a difficult time providing real nurturing. As I've said, Christian families are not immune to this. Often our ideas as Christian parents are a lot closer to our next-door neighbor's than to God's. The only difference is that we quote Bible verses as we wound our child's spirit.
Am I saying that the sexual addict has nothing to do with the formation of his own addiction? Of course not. Though his pain from childhood is real, he is still responsible for the sexual way he manages it today.
Legalistic prohibitions may influence him to curtail the behavior, but they fail to address the emotional deficit behind that behavior. For this reason, the addict either takes up the behavior again (when he can no longer ignore the cry of his soul) or switches to some socially acceptable addiction like workaholism or eating. This is why understanding the root issues of sexual addiction is so important. If we can grasp when and where the holes in our hearts began to form, then we know what areas the Lord Jesus has to touch.
The behavior tends to shape the orientation and personality. Many believers who struggle with sexually compulsive behavior think it indicates an insincere faith. But let me ask a question: Is it realistic to assume that a twenty- or thirty-year-old man who has used pornography and masturbation since the age of eight is going to experience complete internal change just because he goes forward at an evangelistic crusade?
"God can do anything!" some might say. True enough. But many of us struggle with fears, jealousies and pride that we have had since childhood. We often extend compassion to those who struggle in these areas (since we can relate) but expect the sexual addict to change overnight.
The addict's coping mechanisms have become deeply ingrained as a result of his experiences in childhood and adolescence. That is why the man who has consumed porn or lived in the party scene for many of his pre-Christian years will, most likely, tend to view women as objects even if he has a genuine new birth. We can be thankful that such an orientation can change, but that change will require high accountability and a lot of determination.
Recovery is possible only with outside intervention. A genuine sex addict cannot experience healing in isolation. It is too cunning, powerful and baffling to handle alone. Not only that, but the addict is too practiced in his unique form of twisted logic to change without an outsider to point out his blind spots. Sexual addiction is about relational deficits from childhood. Those relational gaps from the past must be filled in relational ways today with members of the same sex.
Much of the love that the addict seeks from women can, in fact, be adequately supplied by men. I am not talking about homosexuality but about healthy and intimate relating to another brother. This is difficult for the addict to grasp, because he honestly believes that his need is for sex. He doesn't realize that what he needs is love, and that love can come in surprising ways from other honest, gutsy men.
Recovery is possible only with divine help. The addict does not know how to let divine help touch his need in the sexual area. Many have found the twelve steps helpful in this regard. But the twelve steps, as good as they are, are limited in what they can do. Those who work the steps but do not move on to intimacy with God eventually experience frustration and partial recovery, not the full transformation that Jesus intended when he said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10).
We have seen how deep-seated sexual addiction can be. It is not just a matter of sin. It is a combination of spiritual, hormonal, environmental and volitional factors. This in no way absolves the addict of his responsibility, but it helps him understand some of the ways he got where he is. With that understanding he can begin clawing his way out, with God's help.
We have taken a brief look at the origins of sexual addiction and its definition. In chapter two we will examine its mechanics.