I have to admit the topic of addiction distresses me. I think of the loved ones whose lives have been gutted by it. I look over the statistics and see a pandemic. I read neuroscientific literature and cringe at the brain impact. I think of God as He watches millions of his children compromise the crown of their existence, the cerebral cortex.
Addiction is more than a sweet, secret vice; it wraps its tentacles around every aspect of a human being, putting a death-choke on life, love, and character. The enemy steals the will and holds it fast, marshaling the hosts of darkness to oppose even the most doddering attempt to break free.
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Sexual addiction takes addiction to a whole new level. The holy fire of passion God gave His children, set aside for holy matrimony, desacralized, prostituted, and squandered. Some argue that since sex isn’t a substance, it can’t become an addiction; but observing the lives of a people ensnared brings me to the conclusion that it is.
Definitions of Addiction:
His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin (Proverbs 5:22).
Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment (Isaiah 1:5-6).
Compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.
American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM):
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.[i]
American Psychiatric Association (APA):
Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.[ii]
They have lost their self-control. Unless a helping hand is held out to them, they will sink lower and lower. With these, self-indulgence is not only a moral sin, but a physical disease.[iii]
The American Psychiatric Association hasn’t yet included sexual addiction in the diagnostic manual. Why it omits sexual addiction while including other “process addictions” such as compulsive eating and gambling, I can’t say. All process addictions operate on the basis of naturally-occurring brain chemicals triggered by behaviors.
Whether the drug is manufactured on the street or in the body, it has the same effect. Just as an opium addict develops the classic features of addiction, including desensitization or tolerance to the addictive agent demanding higher and higher “doses” for the same effect, so does a sex addict.
A heterosexual man recently told me he moved from straight to gay porn because straight porn wasn’t strong enough anymore. Some turn to voyeurism or exhibitionism. A few, like Ted Bundy, even turn to serial rape and murder. How is that need for increasing intensity not like a drug? The APA won’t like me for saying this, but an addiction is an addiction is an addiction.
Sexual addiction, called compulsive sexual behavior or CSB, is notoriously difficult to quantify through self-report given the shame associated with it. However, the existing literature points to 3-6% of the population having CSB, with rates higher in certain populations such as young people and gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations.[iv] More on point, a recent study indicated that 15% of clergy have an online sexual addiction.[v]
Since most sex addicts use porn, let’s use porn stats to understand prevalence. Blogger Tim Challies has compiled some updated statistics here. Here are a few shockers:
- 57% of young people use porn at least once a month.
- 46% of men use porn at least once a month.
- 33% of young women use porn at least once a month.[vi]
And from the website “Fight the New Drug”:
- Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined.
- 35% of all internet downloads are porn-related.
- At least 30% of all data transferred across the internet is porn-related.
- Child porn is one of the fastest-growing online businesses.
- The global porn industry is worth about 97 billion, with $12 billion coming from the U.S.
- The world’s largest free porn site received over 33 billion site visits during 2018.[vii]
You get the picture.
While the causes of any addiction can be difficult to trace, we can simplify causation by remembering that all unhealthy tendencies stem back to nature, nurture, and choice. We inherit tendencies genetically and environmentally; we reinforce those tendencies by acting upon them.
A man born to a sexually-addicted father, who then grows up with that sexually-addicted father and witnesses his infidelities, perhaps viewing pornography secondhand, has inherited sexual addiction through nature and nurture. When he chooses to view pornography as an adult, he activates those tendencies, at the same time heightening them until they present a nearly-irresistible drive toward sex addiction. This is the principle of epigenetics, where we activate inherited tendencies through behavior. Inheritance loads the gun, choice pulls the trigger.
Lack of close bonds in childhood may create an inordinate craving for the false intimacy of unattached sexual pleasure. Conversely, being loved well creates a resilience that reduces the appeal of addictive agents. Scientists have shown how rats—who resemble humans in their sociability—can resist heroin-infused water better when they experience well . . . rat-love and rat-joy.
The rodents in isolation chose heroin, while the rodents in a “rat park” full of balls, toys, wheels, and social interactions with other rats didn’t as often become junkies.[viii] Similarly, many a sex addict at least began his perilous journey with an unsatisfied love hunger.
However, sexual addiction has increased since the internet, hinting at the reality that availability does increase the incidence of addiction, and that addictive agents are so pleasurable that they become their own driver.
Some rather disturbing research says that millennials aren’t having as much sex as previous generations, and this may be due to them having more “sex” with pornographic images on their devices. In a recent Time magazine cover story, several young men admitted that they struggle to perform sexually with real women because only porn excites them.[ix]
I recently sat through an excellent collegiate vespers program on dating at Andrews University; sadly, about 80% of the attendees were female. These facts mock the natural longing of the female heart for a manly prince to romance, love and cherish her. The enemy hates the fragile beauty of first sexual experience in the arms of a lifelong partner; he has always tried to crush out God’s creation of godly sex; but now he has bigger boots than ever.
The wise man pled,
Drink water from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well; should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? (Proverbs 5:15-16, NASB).
All the vitality bound up in the human sex drive is wasted in sexual indulgence, bringing its unavoidable emptiness and disassembly of the self.
Sexual addiction can accompany other diagnoses, such as:
- Narcissistic personality disorder—which is a pathological level of egotism and vanity accompanied by an overly-idealized view of sexual experience.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder—in which a person experiences invasive sexual thoughts he or she feels must be acted upon.
- Bipolar disorder—during the manic phase of bipolar, the sex drive is characteristically heightened and the social inhibitions reduced, often leading to sexual acting out.
Sexual addiction scorches every square of earth it touches. Paul said,
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16).
Paraphrased, this would read:
Don’t you know that when you enslave yourself, you become a slave?
In other words, a person in addiction loses their free will to the addiction.
Names for sexual addiction:
- Compulsive sexual behavior
- Don Juanism
Compulsivity acts alongside difficulties with intimacy. Uncontrolled use of pornography, masturbation, phone sex, strip clubs, massage parlors, cybersex, escorts, prostitutes, affairs, voyeurism, and exhibitionism, replace and prevent transparent, bonded relationships.
As mentioned earlier, sexual addiction tends to escalate, desensitization leading to more extreme means to achieve the same thrill. The man who used porn for years finds himself on the side of the road, flashing cars. The woman caught in the web of masturbation hooks up with a stranger.
Because the compulsion to act out overtakes natural inhibitions and a healthy fear of consequences, this progression to stronger and stronger stimuli can lead to dangerous and illegal acts such as rape or child abuse.
The life becomes a shell of itself. Normal coping devices become ineffective as the addicted nervous system comes to rely upon the dopamine rush of orgasm to alleviate stress and anxiety. Depression and anxiety disorders appear, creating an even greater craving for self-medication, creating an even deeper spiral into the darkness.
The self-concept suffers a withering blow through a violated conscience as layers of guilt and shame accumulate. The hell-bent drive toward addictive supply blinds the mind to consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases, loss of career, legal troubles, financial loss, and spiritual devastation.
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Do I Have a Sexual Addiction?
- Impulsivity—Do I have difficulty stopping or resisting the impulse to engage in immoral or inappropriate sexual acts?
- Progression—Do I need more and more of sexual “supply” to get the same level of satisfaction?
- Preoccupation—Am I obsessed with sexual rituals, expending more and more time and energy upon satisfying my urges?
- Recklessness—Do I continue to engage in sexual acts in spite of devastating consequences to relationships, career, and self?
A “yes” to any of these may indicate the presence of sexual addiction.
The addict has lost power over the additive agent and must have help if he or she is to recover. Fortunately, God puts a fence around the human will such that even a person who has lost control to an addiction still has the ability to cry out to Jesus. The demoniacs roared,
What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? (Mark 1:24, CEB),
but Jesus recognized the cry for help and cast out the demons that had set up residence in their minds. If addicted people wish to recover, they must cry out for help from outside of themselves.
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As a counselor, I assist many with sexual addictions in setting up recovery programs. In my view, all the energy, time, and resources that have been invested in the addiction must now be invested in recovery. The weekly schedule must be organized around recovery, with the components of the program displacing the addictive activity, pushing it out of the person’s life completely. I recommend several components to the program:
One on One Counseling:
Weekly counseling with a counselor who understands addictions and has a good reputation for treating them is essential. Abide Counseling Network offers Adventist-informed, biblical mental health counseling, and coaching via telephone and internet.
If one wishes for a face-to-face counselor, it may be helpful to search the Psychology Today database, which will yield mostly non-Christian options, but some Christian/biblical options.
A directory of Seventh-day Adventist counselors can be found at the NAD Family Life website. The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation also has a directory of biblically-trained counselors. The American Association of Christian Counselors also has a directory.
Weekly, twice-weekly, or even more frequent group counseling with a group that helps people in addiction is also essential. There are several 12-step groups that address sexual addiction in a non-religious, yet biblically-based way.
Celebrate Recovery comes from a more openly Christian perspective with a very well-run and comprehensive, and no-cost program based on the Beatitudes. Pure Desire uses a step approach based on Proverbs. Sexual Addicts Anonymous offers some teleconferencing options. Harvest USA has discipleship ministries for men and women in sexual addiction. XXXChurch offers small group support for a small fee.
Filtering all devices must take place. Let’s face it, screens are dangerous to an addict. Digital-age intimacy and relationship expert Robert Weiss has an excellent article explaining the options and functions of filters. He recommends Net Nanny, Qustodio, Web Watcher, and Covenant Eyes.
They all function differently, with options such as forwarding browsing history to an accountability partner. We must avoid as much temptation as possible, and then resist it when we can’t avoid it. Net filters are an important temptation-avoiding strategy.
Besides a personal counselor, the addict in recovery benefits from an accountability partner who will oversee all the components of the program, and hold the addict accountable for compliance. We’re told,
Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed (James 5:16, NASB).
We don’t confess to another as a mediator between ourselves and God, as only Jesus plays that role.[x] But sharing our struggle and failures with a trusted human being can provide a needed reality check, and can help wake us up to the heinousness of sin.
Twelve-step programs use sponsors for accountability, but the sponsee often must reach out to the sponsor. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask others to help in this capacity, but it can be helpful to tell them exactly what it would require, for instance,
Can you act as my accountability partner by chatting on the phone twice a week for ten minutes about how I’m doing with my recovery program?
Church attendance or other spiritually-uplifting social engagement will provide a source of connection whereby basic love and social needs can be met. While some churches’ toxicity may be so extreme as to be contraindicated for healing, most have at least some godly, functional members with whom we can connect.
Reading books on addiction recovery can make a huge difference by changing our headspace from one of addiction to one of recovery.
Some reading ideas:
- Addiction and Grace by Harold May
- At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry by Steve Gallagher
- Celebrate Recovery Participants Guides
- Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker
- Finally Free by Heath Lambert
- Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction by Mark R. Laaser
- Healing the Broken Brain by Elden Chalmers
- Ministry of Healing by Ellen White
- Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction by Patrick Carnes
- Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn by Tim Challies
- The Fight of Your Life: Manning Up to the Challenge of Sexual Integrity by Tim Clinton
- The Journey to Wholeness by Adventist Recovery Ministries
- The Twelve Steps for Christians
Bible Study & Prayer
Daily Bible study and prayer will assist in the process of mind and thought healing, bringing the thoughts out of the gutter of depraved sensuality into the invigorating air of purity and principle. It will warm the heart with the news of a God who loves us as we are, but also leads us on from there into a better life.
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Can God restore our self-respect, relationships, self-control, moral conscience, health, sanity and spirituality? I’ll let Paul answer:
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).
[iii] Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, p. 173.
[iv] K. Derbyshire, & J.E. Grant, “Compulsive sexual behavior: A review of the literature,” Journal of Behavioral Addictions 4(2), (2015), p. 37–43.
[v] Z.S. Ahmad, et al., “Prevalence Rates of Online Sexual Addiction Among Christian Clergy,” Sex Addiction and Compulsivity, (2015).
[vi] Tim Challies, “10 Ugly Numbers Describing Pornography Use in 2017,” April 11, 2017.
[vii] Fight the New Drug Website, “20 Mind-Blowing Stats About The Porn Industry And Its Underage Consumers,” January 3, 2019.
[viii] Robert Weiss, “The Opposite of Addiction is Connection,” Psychology Today, September 30, 2015.
[ix] Jean M. Twenge, “Young People Aren’t Having as Much Sex as They Used To,” Psychology Today, August 2, 2016.
[x] 1 Timothy 2:5.