Written by Lori Burns, Executive Vice President of NewDay Center
I have been a pastor and a licensed mental health and addiction counselor for over 22 years. I am also a child of an addict and the wife of a husband in recovery, including sexual addiction. In my 22 years of listening to members of the church and counseling those in the community, I often hear, “Thanks for not thinking my husband is a creep”, “We can’t say anything to our small group because that will change how they see us,” or “I appreciate you believing my son is not unfixable.” Or even “I can’t tell the pastor because they may ask us to leave the church or my volunteer position.”
Sexual Sin and the Church
I will not go into depth discussing why I think the church silently and unintentionally shames and considers different those who are struggling with sexual sin, but instead I want to focus on helping those in the church—who love their church—understand a little more about the nature of sexual brokenness. I hear many who struggle with sexual addiction from all denominations say they feel that the church has more mercy and acceptance for those struggling with substance addiction than pornography addiction. Why is this? Perhaps in general the church struggles to talk about healthy sexuality, or that technology has made pornography much easier to hide. Or perhaps it is an uncomfortable subject if, as Pastors, they may struggle with it as well. Whatever the reason, it’s a struggle for the church, and many misunderstand the battle of those caught in sexual addiction. Let’s look at some statistics to help everyone understand that how is a struggle for many. And more than likely, if you don’t struggle with it, you know someone who does.
Let’s start with some statistics, primarily in the church:
(The ongoing epidemic of pornography in the church: ANALYSIS MICHAEL CHANCELLOR | JANUARY 27, 2021)
- 47% of families in the United States reported that pornography is a problem in their homes.
- Eleven is the average age that a child is first exposed to porn, and 94% of children will see porn by the age of 14.
- 70% of Christian youth pastors report that they have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with pornography in the past 12 months.
- 68% of churchgoing men and more than 50% of pastors view porn on a regular basis. Of young Christian adults 18-24 years old, 76% actively search for porn.
- 33% of women ages 25 and under search for porn at least once per month.
- Only 13% of self-identified Christian women say they never watch porn — 87% of Christian women have watched porn.
The first thing we must understand as Christians is that we all sin daily and fall short of the glory of God. This sexual sin, amidst telling a lie, stealing, or cheating on your taxes, etc. is sin in God’s eyes (Eph 1:1-5). However, sexual sin is much deeper to the one struggling. Pat Carnes, in his book Out of the Shadows, lists four key beliefs for the person who becomes addicted to porn and sex.
- Regarding self-image: I am basically a bad, unworthy person.
- Regarding relationships: No one would love me as I am.
- Regarding needs: My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others.
- Regarding sexuality: Sex is my most important need.
When the addict has these beliefs, they are caught in a vicious cycle that often has been plaguing them since adolescence.
Not Just a "Man's Problem" Anymore
As you can see, pornography, by a large percentage, is part of most people’s lives who walk into the church weekly. In fact, women are now becoming a high percentage of those using pornography. So, to say it is a “man’s problem” just isn’t true. I coach parents in today’s world to understand that it isn’t “if” your child is going to see pornography, it’s a matter of when and how you are helping them know how to resist pornography and have accountability. Today’s youth pastors unfortunately often feel alone with this issue and have little support from their leaders on how to help parents. Youth pastors are on the front lines dealing with this daily. Ask any youth pastor and they will probably say they are having regular conversations with youth about these issues. Sexual sin basically eats away at our soul (begins at an early age for 90% of those struggling) and elevates lust and sexual acts to become a person’s greatest perceived need. This disables and isolates a person to the point of total isolation and especially isolation from God. If sex becomes someone’s greatest need, it is impossible for them to have a healthy, loving, deep relationship with anyone because their relationship is caught in the fantasy of sex and no longer with a real person or God.
Our culture has cheapened sex to acts, a moment of arousal, and a way to simply give our brains a shot of dopamine. Sex is now an act cheapened to simply meet a need, and no longer has the purpose of connecting on a deeper level with vulnerability and intimacy in marriage. As, Michael Chancellor said, “In fact, outside of intimacy, sexual satisfaction has the half-life of a daylily. It is here today, gone tomorrow. And then the need is there again. Sometimes more powerful than the day before. For obvious reasons, sexual activity was divorced from intimacy. In other words, it was sex for sexual satisfaction that never lasted, not unlike the last meal. Porn increases sexual desire to the point it feeds on itself.”
So, we need to understand what is happening within the person we care about before we know how to help them. Why would someone struggling with sexual issues want to share with their small group or be part of the church if they think judgment and shame are what they are going to receive? Often, it is true that the church or its members bring unintentional judgment, which is often a lack of understanding of what this addiction is doing to the person. The church is to be a place where we can be vulnerable and bring our hurts, pains, and joys. Understanding that this isn’t something they can just stop and that they are stuck in a cycle helps provide a common ground where they can share and know you are not going to reject them.
The challenge to the church is: If you are a small group leader, pastor, or leader in ministry, please know the first thing we can do as a community to change this culture is to understand sexual addiction and walk along aside the person who shares this struggle. This often takes a listening ear of someone who is being present, accepting, and letting them know they are right there with them as a fellow sinner. I hear often from volunteers and pastors that they feel incapable, or that this is “beyond my expertise”, and they don’t know how to help them. Being their pastor or mentor doesn’t mean you need to counsel them. When you became a Christian, God equipped you with everything you need through the Holy Spirit to be able to sit, care, listen, and walk alongside someone. A way you can take action is by making sure you have resources on hand to have the conversation, or even start a group to help the members of your church who are suffering silently (including many of your own staff). Talking about this subject helps to bring it from the dark into the light.
If you personally struggle with sexual issues, you are not alone—look at the stats. If you are a parent or spouse of someone who struggles with sexual issues, please know you are not alone. Your loved one is suffering with shame and in a cycle where they feel trapped. They have not committed an unforgivable sin; they need to feel seen, accepted and encouraged to seek help in order to experience freedom.
Please know that if you are in a community that is not safe then I would encourage you to first seek a community and a church that is. Many churches now are doing a great job of having community and staff that share and support those struggling with sexual addiction and addiction in general. Find a church where its leaders talk about it, have resources, and help others see we all have brokenness and need God’s healing. Also, seek Christian counseling to explore your underlying motivation to seek pornography. Like many addicts, this began in adolescence, and it manifested as a symptom of a greater issue or trauma. Healing and freedom come through facing those hard things so we can see our true identity in God.
Parents and spouses of someone who has sexual brokenness need to also seek support, accountability, and Christian counseling as much as their loved one does. Addiction affects the entire family. Healing needs to happen with the entire family, not just the addict.
Bottom line, any brokenness (ex: lying, envy, substance use, stealing, jealousy, etc.) left in the dark and kept secret often continues to shame and destroy us. Seeking a safe place, community, and individuals with whom you can share your brokenness will provide encouragement, vulnerability, love, acceptance, and accountability. Finding this type of environment is being the body the Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). However, if you are struggling today, it will ultimately take courage for you to decide to seek the help and community you need. If you are a spouse or parent of a loved one who does not want to face or deal with their sexual brokenness, you can still seek help, support, and counseling. I know from personal experience that you cannot deal with this alone. Whether you are the addict, or a parent or spouse of an addict, freedom and healing is needed and it ultimately comes from God and the support of others. No one can bring your brokenness into the light except you. God wants that for you, and he wants you to be restored to Him and to have true freedom. If you are struggling, please reach out to us today, and we are ready to help.