Sexual Addiction: Ministry and Misdiagnosis
- 2009 19 Dec
Melanie*, an attractive brunette, sat across from me looking down at the soggy remains of a tissue in her hand. She revealed the recent counsel she and her husband received from their pastor the week prior. He had listened to both sides, looked in her eyes, and said, "If you were more available sexually for your husband, this would reduce his need to go elsewhere for gratification." Shocked and broken, Melanie came to me for clarification.
Though I am not a counselor, I've heard many similar stories and have myself walked the path of a wounded wife. During the past seven years, many women like Melanie have been encouraged through our Monday night support group called, Healing Hearts. I have witnessed firsthand how being informed ensures hurting individuals are better cared for. I am also acutely aware that those who are less informed are more likely to re-injure or give poor advice. I believe every pastor and leader is well intentioned, but the damage of good intentions is still real. Having read many books and walked with dozens of hurting women, I know that not all receive wise counsel from church leaders.
By identifying major misconceptions I pray a door to greater understanding is opened and the number of emotional casualties is reduced. Families affected by sexual addiction are a growing demographic. This is a problem too big to ignore and too delicate to address without a deeper knowledge of the problem. Here are six of the most widely held misconceptions.
Misconception #1. Sexual Addiction is about sex.
The idea that a man would substitute fantasy, gratifying himself, or paying a stranger instead of loving his wife in a guilt free marital relationship simply isn't logical. These men love their wives and want nothing more than to be free from a compulsion that pulls them away from their marriage vows. In reality, sexual addiction is about misusing the natural drugs (endorphins) our body produces when aroused in order to temporarily numb emotional pain. God created this "super-glue" of brain chemistry in order to cement marriages. Misused, the same glue forges the chains of addiction. Sexual addiction is about medicating pain. It's not about sex. As with any addiction, there are deep roots well beneath the external symptom.
Misconception #2. Addicts need to just stop the behavior.
It is critical for addicts to get to the core issue—the pain. Focusing on the behavior goes nowhere. Finding the source and learning healthy coping mechanisms are critical tools for dealing with the deeper-rooted problem. This is much like a doctor, who understands the importance of getting past the symptoms to the root problem in order to find a cure. Focusing on the symptoms alone can lead to a misdiagnosis. A wrong turn which then leads away from health and recovery. The majority of the men trapped want to stop, but wanting isn't enough. There is much soul-searching, gut wrenching work to be done first.
Misconception #3. Pornography is harmless.
Statistics document that men who view erotic material on a regular basis see women as objects and are more likely to act violently toward them. Studies aside, a person needs only attend one care group meeting to see the devastation this "harmless" activity wreaks on the men, their wives, and their families. The consequences can impact generations. Stories like Beth's* are all too common.
"My husband wasn't getting help," Beth said. "He was still engaging in risky sexual behavior with others. But I was not going to consider a time of abstinence because I knew that would drive him deeper into his addiction." Beth went to her pastor. He told her the wife's body belongs to the husband, and she would be in sin if she abstained. Beth contracted herpes.
Beth, like so many women, was at risk of contracting any number of sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS. Yet her pastor gave Biblical counsel and well-intended advice. Experience has taught me to counsel wives to believe their husband's behavior over his words until real trust can be observed over time. Much addictive behavior is counter-intuitive. As an inexperienced church leader I have made the same mistake.
Misconception #4. It can be prayed away.
I want to be clear on this point. I believe nothing is impossible for God, and prayer is essential for healing. However, God won't circumvent a person's will to choose. People driven by addiction must bring it out into the light through confession to those affected. Only then is the addict ready to dig into the causes. There is no magic quick fix. It takes much prayer by the addict, and those who love them, just to get the healing process started. (I have heard of rare cases where God provides freedom, but they are the exception.)
Misconception #5. It's all about attractiveness.
Many like Melanie have been told if they were only more attractive, available, or supportive their husbands wouldn't stray. The saddest part about this lie is that Satan places it as a millstone around every betrayed woman's neck. It keeps them in a state of self-loathing and guilt. When that stone is sanctioned or perhaps even placed there by a pastor or counselor, the damage and weight stalls the wife's healing and leaves her floundering.
Misconception #6. Sexual addiction doesn't exist in my church.
Men addicted to sex are not lurking in the shadows, hanging out in trench coats at schoolyards. Many are sitting in the pew, perhaps some even serving on your church board. These addicts think they are the only one with this ugly secret; however, any church with more than 30 members has someone suffering in silence. The truth is millions of men in the U.S. struggle with this addiction, and the number is growing. The number of women is also growing. Thanks to the Internet anyone can log onto any depravity in the privacy of his or her own home. These men and women need a lifeline. They need the hope only Christ can provide.
Breaking the silence around sexuality and this growing addiction is critical as access to pornography increases. Many marriages have been restored even after they were damaged by betrayal. I know this very well. Many church leaders, who have equipped themselves to minister in this critical area, are being used greatly by God. Avoiding these six common misconceptions is a good place to begin. .
*Names have been changed to ensure confidentiality. For more resources go to http://www.hopeafterbetrayal.com/
Originially ran September 16, 2008
Meg Wilson is a regular speaker to women's groups, Bible studies, and conferences. Five years ago she founded the Healing Hearts Ministry to offer help and hope to women whose husbands are caught in the web of sexual addiction. Her book Hope After Betrayel: Healing When Sexual Addiction Invades Your Marriage (Kregel Publishers) was released last year. You can visit her website at www.hopeafterbetrayal.com