Overcoming Sexual Addiction: Is it Really Possible?
Addiction is a term borrowed from the Substance Abuse Treatment field. In the past few decades, it has been applied to compulsive and out of control sexual behavior because it mirrors a lot of the same qualities as a substance abuse problem.For example, not being able to stop, needing more to get the same result, and continued use despite negative consequences are all things that can be found in both sexual and substance problems. It could be argued that sex problems are more difficult to deal with because sexuality is part of you, while abusable substances are not.
In 1 Corinthians 6:18 (NIV), Paul says,
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.”
The bottom line is that we are dealing with something very personal that is attached to our deeper self. Throughout the Bible we can read stories of people or even whole nations brought down by sexual sin. Is there a solution?
Before we talk about a solution it is important to define the difference between secular and Biblical terms. In secular treatment community, addiction is thought to be an incurable, chronic disease that can never be cured, only brought into remission.
Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous describe addiction to alcohol as an incurable “disease” with a “physical allergy” combined with “spiritual malady” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939). The Bible (NIV), however, does not contain the word “addiction.”
Romans 6:16 reads,
“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Basically, the Bible describes patterns of addiction as more of a powerless problem with an ultimate solution that creates freedom. There is a “sinful nature” that is composed of fulfilling desires outside of God’s created intent, and being a “slave to the Spirit,” which is achieved through obedience to Christ.
Later in the chapter in verse 18, Paul says, “You have been set free from sin and becomes slaves to righteousness.” The problem I have with telling someone to identify as an “addict” for the rest of their life is that is seems to run contrary to the promises of Scripture.
God’s goal for believers to is to be “set free” from sinful patterns, not be labeled by them. However, the issue remains: Why do so many people who profess belief in Christ find it impossible to break the patterns of their sexual struggles?There are many reasons why a sincere believer may not experience freedom from a sinful pattern, but over the years I have seen a constant that the reader may want to consider if you are not having success in breaking an unwanted sexual problem.
It starts with a paradigm shift: the goal of breaking an addiction for a Christian is not sobriety; it is connection.
Jesus taught the following in Luke 11:24 (NIV):
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left’.”
Jesus teaches in this passage that outward change is not enough to order what is inside a person. Our sexuality is just an extension of our relational selves. Without a relational solution, there is no power to overcome.
I don’t want to oversimplify a complex problem. In his book, Breaking Free, author Russel Willingham explains, “We must understand our sexual ritual and the underlying need it symbolizes, learning to meet God and others in this very place” (Breaking Free, 1999, Kindle position 1857).
When a person spends the better part of their adult life burying their relational self and mismanaging emotions with sexual acting out, getting in touch with the need for authentic connection is a formable problem. The point here is that the Christian life is not just about turning away from the “don’ts.”
A person that doesn’t look at porn, smoke, or abuse alcohol isn’t necessarily free. I have seen many people replace their unwanted addictions with religious obsessions that make them unrelatable and unpleasant to be around. The Christian life is also about learning to turn toward God and others in an authentic, loving way.
Overcoming Sexual Addiction: 5 Essentials to Break the Habit
Nowadays, there are many Christian-based programs designed to break the pattern of unwanted sexual behavior. In my experience, there are common elements to these programs that give men success.
If you are having trouble breaking the habit, the following are what I would consider essential in overcoming sexual addiction (slavery): spiritual disciplines, accountability, support, insight into deluded thinking, and people to grow alongside together.
Let’s now consider why each of these elements is crucial to a plan for overcoming sexual addiction.
Galatians 3:3 (NIV) reads,
“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”Paul is admonishing this church for trying to do things by human effort. This one may seem kind of obvious, but to some it is not. The Christian life includes spiritual habits that believers are exhorted to practice daily to seek and connect with God.
Prayer, Bible study, and confession are spiritual-based behaviors that provide access to the power to live the Christian life. A starting point in a good recovery plan for overcoming sexual addiction must include these practices.
I recommend that they be done daily not to be legalistic, but to be relational. Jesus talks about “daily bread” in the Lord’s prayer, so it can be assumed He wanted us to seek God daily. A powerless problem starts with seeking a source of power!
If the ultimate goal of breaking the pattern and overcoming sexual addiction is connection, then accountability relationships are beginning steps in being relational. Accountability is simply sharing a behavioral goal and then reporting success or failure on a regular basis to an identified partner.
When dealing with a highly ritualized behavior that gets deeply embedded in a person’s brain, sharing regularly begins to put shape and form to conflicts that drive the behavior underneath.
Learning from setbacks and being open to direction from the partner (who is also in the battle) can be essential in developing new coping tools. Additionally, learning to reach out before acting out occurs helps arrest the cycle and give the struggler a chance to identify what they need from God and others.
“For where two or three gathers in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
There is power available when believers gather to seek God. One of the best methods I know of for overcoming sexual addiction is to join a support group for this purpose. Groups are able to meet needs that individual relationships cannot.
A person trying to break an addictive pattern at any given time may need multiple things at once: accountability, support, coping skills, insight, and hope. A one-on-one relationship may be able to provide a couple of these things, but a group can supply all through the collective experience of the members.
Some of the greatest power I have ever seen is a group of people striving to be close to God while honestly admitting their relational brokenness. Having a safe, shame-free environment where honest sharing can take place is invaluable to helping with this problem.
Sharing with people who readily understand exactly what you are going through is the key. The feeling of grace can be felt in the room when these conditions are met. This is the type of problem that can not be solved on your own. If you are not having success in your struggle and have never joined a support group, I highly recommend this step.
Identifying and Rejecting Deluded Thinking
“The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15, NIV)Our thoughts are subject to justifying behavior when they go unchecked. When we do things that violate our values and morals, our conscience sends off alarm bells to warn us. The sinful nature’s answer to this problem is to slowly put the conscience to sleep with thought distortions so when the time comes, no alarm bells go off.
It is the little lies that open the person to the big acting out problems. Examples I have commonly heard are distortions like, “I really need this,” or “Nobody is perfect,” or “I’ll just confess it later, I’m saved by grace.” Thoughts like these bouncing around in a person’s head seem right and correct at the time.
An important part of recovery is learning to detect these distortions early in the acting out cycle and talking them through with a trusted partner or therapist. Sometimes just hearing oneself admit these thoughts out loud to another person is enough to see where they lead.
However, sharing with someone who knows our pattern well and can challenge our distortions can have a huge impact. Being able to challenge assumptions and compare them with Biblical truth is the ultimate goal.
At the heart of many addictions is the belief by the addict that “no one will ever love me as I am.” This idea clearly contradicts the gospel message and must be challenged if the person is to ever experience freedom from bondage.
Growth with Others
A couple of sayings I have heard in sermons in the past include: “You have to give it away to keep it,” or “The Christian life is just one beggar showing another beggar where to get some bread.” The idea here is that once a person starts having a measure of success with their problem, they start sharing the “good news” with those that want it.
Connection is about both giving and receiving. Men who learn to vulnerably share how God has worked in their lives naturally give hope to those who suffer in isolation.
Actively mentoring and helping others break their sexual bondage pattern is a great way to reinforce lessons learned in recovery. Evangelism in its purist form is just people telling all that God has freed them from in their lives!
In conclusion, the above are some general areas to think about when pursuing help for overcoming sexual addiction. People struggle to different extents and benefit from different approaches to getting help.
The above areas are only the skeleton elements that I view as essential in a Christian-based recovery plan. In terms of groups and professional help, there are a lot of programs that offer help. To get started, it can be helpful to see a professionally trained Christian therapist for guidance in where to start. At Seattle Christian Counseling, we have several Christian therapists who specialize in interventions for overcoming sexual addiction. The first step is just asking for help!
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