by Randy Hermann, MA, LLPC, CSAT (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist)
Facing sexual issues is one of the more personally challenging things one can undertake. Fear, shame, and denial all play a role in maintaining secret lives that conflict with our own personal and spiritual values. Be it pornography, intrusive fantasies, or emotional affairs, living a life less than our full potential creates physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational problems for ourselves.
Do I have a problem? I once ran across the world’s shortest self-assessment for sexual addiction. Ask yourself two questions: “Have I ever done anything sexual that harmed or had the potential to harm myself or another?” and “Did I do it again?” Answering affirmatively might indicate a problem.
Anyone who has honestly faced their sexual struggles can tell you that changing sexually destructive behavior is hard.
Why is change so hard? The primary reason for this is that the path to freedom is not a straight line. It is not something that can be grasped directly. There are no quick fixes. In fact, most of us learn that traditional disciplines (try harder, think differently) and even spiritual disciplines (Bible study, fasting, prayer, etc.) do not typically deliver people into sexual health.
What should a person do? The first huge step towards sexual freedom is to clarify your vision for sexual health. Sexual health is much bigger than stopping unwanted or destructive sexual behavior. Healthy sexuality is all about helping you to answer the question, “What kind of man or woman do I want to be?”
The second big and important step towards sexual health is to help understand the motivation underneath unwanted sexual behavior. We need to understand how sexualized thoughts and behaviors have become a way to medicate unwanted or painful emotions. In order to understand how this is working, people often find it helpful to revisit the painful and wounding seasons of their lives, especially the times and circumstances that helped to create the unwanted behaviors. People only find freedom after they uncover the implicit decisions they have made to not feel painful or unwanted emotions. This kind of work is often done best with the help of a skilled friend, pastor or therapist.
Long-term recovery often demands that people reconstruct their lives, so that there is
space for them to experience and work through their stress in a new way. This often involves integrating new ways to connect with their bodies through movement and exercise, connecting with their partners and friends through more honest dialogue and connecting with God through new, more honest methods of prayer.
Is there hope? Absolutely! While untangling the complex web of self-deception and self-medication is hard, it is possible. And those who courageously face their sexual dysfunction are able to recreate themselves in a way that transforms their entire life, including their physical, mental, spiritual, and relational health.