If you find yourself impulsively acting out sexually in ways that go against your values, to the point of feeling hopeless, you're not alone. Possibly, you've been seeing powerful men on the news brought low by sexual behaviors that you've either participated in or been tempted by. The idea of being found out is terrifying for folks who struggle with a sexuality that feels broken beyond repair.
Whether your acting out is with pornography, unhealthy relationships, hook-ups, anonymous meets, or actions that bind you to shame, the good news is that your sexual brokenness isn't the end of the story. If you want change, it's waiting, but probably not in the place you suspect it.
Many of us approach our behaviors from an outside-in approach, as if stopping an external behavior would change an internal reality. Paul gets at this in Galatians 5:16-24 as he contrasts the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Note the difference in works vs. fruit. If you're struggling with sexually addictive or impulsive behaviors, trying harder will not fix it. Fruit does not grow because you force it, but because you nurture it. The first answer to your problem is surrender.
By that I mean that you'll have to surrender to the reality that your flesh is weaker than the Spirit, and that you are not capable of changing your behaviors on your own. You will need to surrender your needs, wants and wounds to a God who desires to meet them.
Isaiah 61, which Jesus reads at the inauguration of his public ministry (Luke 4), speaks to this. Jesus said that he came to "preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners." Jesus deeply desires to heal your sexuality, not only so you won't harm others through it, but because you're sexuality is a reflection of your Creator, meant to bring him glory and give you a window into knowing Him.
For those who find themselves in bondage to sexually addictive or unhealthy practices, you’ll find yourself in this paradox: you can't do enough work to heal your sexuality on your own AND you will need to do long-term, hard-work to realize change.
As you surrender to the work of the Spirit, you will also need to surrender to the necessary and arduous work of sexual recovery and healing. There are many routes to take, but there are several principles that should guide you in your work.
1. Community - You must do the work of healing sexual compulsivity/addiction within a supportive, structured, same gender, and safe group. This needs to be much more than an 'accountability group' that you weekly report your failings to. Support groups like Celebrate Recovery, 12-step groups, or groups focused on sexual addiction facilitated by a licensed counselor are essential and available. Simply search online for a group in your area, and then show up.
2. Counseling - All counseling is not the same, and in fact, some counsel can be harmful. I suggest you find someone who is certified and trained in working with sexual addiction. In particular, I suggest you work with someone trained as a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist). Here is a link to an article I wrote about choosing a counselor.
3. Core Work - At the root of sexual addiction are unmet needs and unhealed wounds. Many of us have tried to meet our non-sexual needs sexually, resulting in a never-ending need for more. Many of us have also been sexually wounded, leaving a festering infection that often shows up in our sexual behaviors as adults. In reality, your unhealthy sexual behaviors are likely not about sex. Whatever you do, you must face these core issues. Abstinence from a behavior does nothing to heal you or meet your needs, but only pauses the behavior until it morphs into something equally as destructive.
4. Commitment - Before you set off for the healing you need, commit yourself to doing whatever it takes. There is a chance that it may require you to spend money you don't have, give up time that you need, or take vulnerable risks you are uncomfortable with. Willingness is key to your recovery.
If you are ready and willing to take some next steps, here are a few resources I have found helpful over the years. Surrender daily, stay diligent, ask for help, and receive the gift of recovery.
For those struggling with sexually acting out:
‘Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction’, ‘Faithful and True’ by Mark Laaser
‘The Fight of your Life’ by Mark Laaser and Tim Clinton
‘Fully Alive’ by Larry Crabb
For those who have been sexually abused:
‘On the threshold of Hope’ book and workbook by Diane Langberg
‘Silently Seduced’ by Ken Adams
‘The Wounded Heart’ book and workbook by Dan Allender
For betrayed spouses:
‘Facing Heartbreaks’ by Stefanie Carnes
‘Shattered Vows’ by Debra Laaser
‘Love is a Choice’ book and workbook by Mineth, Meier
‘Celebration of Sex’ by Doug Rosenau
‘Love and War’ book and devotional by John and Stasi Eldredge
‘Sheet Music’ by Kevin Leman
Healthy Sexuality for Children/Teens:
‘Talking to Your Kids about Sex’ by Mark Laaser
‘Soul Virgins: Redefining Single Sexuality’ by Doug Rosenau
For church leaders:
PSAP ‘Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional Track’ DVD’s by Dr. Ted Roberts
To use in groups:
Conquer Series: www.conquerseries.com, DVD Series
Walking Free workbook by Troy Hause
www.onsiteworkshops.com Onsite, Nashville, TN
www.bethesdaworkshops.org Bethesda, Nashville, TN
www.pinegrovetreatment.com Pine Grove, Hattiesburg, MS
www.hopequestgroup.org Hope Quest, Woodstock, GA
SAA – Sex Addicts Anonymous (12 step programs worldwide)
Celebrate Recovery – (Explicitly Evangelical Christian 12 step program held in some churches)
SAST – Sexual Addiction Screening Test