The Secret Sin of Sexual Addiction
By Marnie C. Ferree
Sexual Addiction Among Christian Women
- 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography.
- More than 80% of women who have this addiction take it offline. Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs.
Maria frowned as she pulled into the garage. It was 2:30 a.m. – much later than she’d planned to be out. She hoped her husband or children wouldn’t wake up and realize she was just now getting home. She’d have to remember to tell the girlfriend she was supposed to have been with that she had stayed out this late just in case her husband mentioned it. She wondered if he had any clue about where she’d really been. Probably not, she reassured herself. His dullness was why her life needed some excitement.
On the other hand, Maria felt guilty for deceiving him. He didn’t deserve what she had done in violating her marriage vows. Maria was ashamed she had again so quickly broken her promise to God that she wouldn’t be with her lover again. Just last Sunday she had gone forward during the altar call. But she was bored in her marriage and her lover was so attentive. Surely it wasn’t hurting her husband if he didn’t know. After all, her other affairs hadn’t harmed her, had they? Her escapades sure were less complicated when she was single.
Maria vowed to make up for her sin by being extra nice. She resolved to be more patient with the children. She’d plan something special for her Bible class Sunday morning. She’d pull it back together somehow. She had to.
Maria sighed. The thought of her church friends made her shudder. What would they think of her if they knew? Everyone believed she was so together. She could never face them if she were discovered! She felt overwhelmed with shame. Yet she felt powerless to stop what she knew in her heart was wrong. I’m nothing more than a hypocrite, she thought. Tomorrow, she resolved. I’ll stop the affair tomorrow. I can do it this time. I know I can ─ I have to!
The Truth About Sexual Addiction
You may be shocked by Maria’s story. Surely only a handful of women are involved in this type of sexual sin. And, of course, none of them could be “good” women who go to church and are married and car pool their children and hold down a job. Aren’t they easily recognizable as the cheap women they are? Their hair is bleached blond or colored a brassy red. They wear figure-enhancing clothes. And figure-revealing. They swish their hips when they walk and bat their eyes seductively. They abuse alcohol and drugs. You’d never come in contact with them in your circle.
The truth is that Maria’s story is painfully common. She represents thousands of women, including Christian women, who are involved in sexually sinful and addictive behavior. Maria could be your tennis partner, your child’s teacher, or your neighbor. She could have sung that beautiful solo in church last Sunday morning. She is any one of untold numbers of women who are trapped in sexual sin and feel there is no way out. Perhaps Maria even describes you.
Sexual misconduct is, by nature and necessity, a secret sin. If Maria were going to share her struggle with someone, where would she turn? Could she tell her pastor? The minister’s spouse? Would she be comfortable confessing her affair to her small group or her Sunday school class? Would she dare ask for the prayers of the church and specifically divulge why? Maria is afraid even to call the crisis hotline or visit a counselor. She doesn’t think anyone could understand her struggle, much less help her. She doesn’t trust she wouldn’t be stoned for her sins.
Women like Maria (and perhaps like you) feel all alone. Because no one in the church talks about sexual temptations, especially among women, it’s easy to believe no other female has similar issues. When was the last time you heard an honest, nonhumorous discussion among Christian women about their difficulties and struggles in the sexual area? Have you ever heard such a conversation? I believe that silence about sexual matters is a great shortcoming of the church. Have you gotten the message sexual problems are simply too bad to talk about?
Sexual addiction is a secret sin that has been around since biblical times, yet it has been denied, ignored, undiagnosed, and untreated for centuries. Those within religious communities have been quick to condemn such sin, and rightfully so, but they also have been unwilling or unable to understand the sexual sinner and offer her the help she so desperately needs.
The shame associated with sexual mistakes is profound. Sexual sin has typically been considered somehow worse than other kinds of sins. When you think of King David, the sin of adultery usually comes to mind before his sin of murder. The fear of being discovered in sexual sin makes it especially difficult for strugglers to ask for help. And when the problem has escalated beyond “just” a rare or occasional sexual slip into the realm of sexual addiction, the shame can be paralyzing.
Ignorance and misunderstanding about the concept of an addiction to sex is widespread. Knowledge and research are fairly new. Only in the last 30 years has attention been directed toward this area. When someone admits to being a sexual addict, the response is usually horror and disgust. Or fear. Some sex addicts report people avoided them. One female addict’s church asked her to leave when she revealed she had struggled for years before with sexual sin. She reported, “I felt like I had leprosy.”
As if the shame of being addicted to sex isn’t bad enough, the stigma of being a woman who struggles with this problem is particularly intense. I sometimes tease my male colleagues who are recovering sex addicts that my shame is greater than theirs. Our culture has the attitude that “boys will be boys.” A female who has sexual addiction is considered especially perverted. After all, women aren’t even supposed to like sex. We’re the ones with the proverbial headaches.
The female sex addict quickly embraces an identity of shame and questions whether God even loves her at all. How could she be a Christian and remain involved in sexual sin? The only way to make sense of that dual reality is to condemn herself. My own self-description (privately, at least) was “slut.” I knew what I was doing was wrong; I knew I couldn’t stop. The only conclusion must be that I was a horrible, terrible person. The label that matched how I felt inside was “whore.” The juxtaposition of my heart for God and my lust of the flesh caused me to doubt my salvation. I was afraid of being stoned by God.
A common assumption is that sex addicts are nothing more than moral failures who are weak of character and will. Clearly they must lack faith and genuine commitment to God. Most sexually addicted women have prayed about their problem and begged God to free them from its power. They’ve read God’s Word and been convicted of their sin. They have tried to stop and have been unable to maintain abstinence from inappropriate sexual behavior. If the solution were as simple as taking these steps, far fewer women would remain enslaved. Failure to stop acting out, despite their best intentions, only increases these women’s shame. To be judged as nothing more than morally corrupt adds to that pain.
While sexual addiction is unquestionably sinful behavior, to stop with this explanation alone is to miss other critical factors that are involved. Sexual addiction is also a disease. It’s not an “either-or” issue. It’s a “both/and.” If the question is, “Is it a disease or is it sin?” The answer is yes. Accepting sexual addiction as a disease doesn’t in any way absolve an addict from responsibility for her sinful behavior. She clearly must admit her immorality, become convicted of her status as a sinner before God, repent of her actions and lust, and turn from her behavior. Her recovery will be temporary and shallow, however, if she only takes these spiritual steps.
If the church and individual Christians want to help sexually addicted women – those “caught in adultery” as Scripture describes the women brought to Jesus – they must put down their stones of condemnation and offer a way out. I’m not recommending excusing or condoning sexual addicts’ behavior. I’m simply suggesting Christians move beyond the barrier of judgment and discard their stones of shame.
Taken from No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Addiction by Marnie C. Ferree.