Pastors, please stop telling wives of porn/sex addicts to have more sex with their husbands.
Most of the people we meet through our recovery meetings are Christian men and women whose lives have been devastated by pornography and other manifestations of sex addiction. Many of them have sought help from their churches and have gotten counseling from a pastor…which we strongly recommend. It’s great when recovering people have the support of the leaders in their church; it helps them to feel less isolated during a very difficult process and it reminds them of the importance of responding biblically to the crisis they’re facing.
But there’s a recurring problem we hear about, that comes from well-meaning but ill-informed pastoral counseling involving a sexually addicted man and his wife. Naturally, when a wife discovers her husband’s betrayal through sex addiction and the various ways it’s manifested, she’s thrown. She’s traumatized, she’s angry, and often she is in a place where she doesn’t feel safe being sexually intimate with her husband. Often, she will want to see evidence of recovery, or at least a period of sobriety from her husband before she feels ready to re-engage sexually.
The disturbing pattern comes when a pastor, trying to sift through the complex issues the couple faces, hears that they haven’t had sex in 3 months and says something like…
“Maybe if you were more sexually available, he’d have an easier time with his porn/lust problem.” And just like a sledgehammer to her temple, she’s been traumatized all over again, by another man she’s trusted to have her best interest at heart.
It isn’t intentional. Pastors who don’t understand much about sexual addiction often turn to Scripture (always a good idea), but run it through an overly simplistic filter – not considering other factors such as addiction and trauma. These considerations don’t require biblical compromise, but rather help keep well-meaning caregivers from giving some really hurtful and damaging advice. So pastors, please stop telling the wives of sex addicts to have more sex with their husbands.
There are a few reasons why, and we’ll break this up into two posts…
1. Sex addiction isn’t about sex.
People who have become addicted to sex – whether that manifests in porn, masturbation, affairs, strip clubs, prostitutes, same-sex activity, or in some combination of behaviors – haven’t gotten there because they’re “just that horny.” They’re usually regular people with regular sex drives. But somewhere along the way, their beliefs began getting off track. Then their behavior followed. Sex addicts, like people addicted to anything (alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, food, etc.), are seeking comfort from something.
Closer examination of any addicted person’s life story will reveal events and experiences that reinforced a core belief of “I have to meet my own needs.” Whether that came as a result of abuse, neglect, physical trauma, emotional trauma, or a mixture, sex addicts come to believe extremely negative things about themselves and are terrified to let anyone know what they believe to be “the real” them. But this connection that only comes when we are vulnerable – when we allow others to know all of us, good and bad – is necessary to experience intimacy we all seek in our relationships. The experience of sex only simulates intimacy, it does not create it. But for a scared, hiding addicted person, there is a willingness to accept this counterfeit, because the vulnerability required to actually experience closeness and intimacy in relationship is seen as too risky.
As difficult as it can be to understand, and as much as they may try to say it does, sexually addicted people don’t need sex. They aren’t the way they are because they aren’t getting it enough, or because they need it more than a regular person. Which helps provide context for the next point…
2. Sex addiction isn’t “helped” by getting to have more sex.
Because sex addiction isn’t primarily a sexual issue, giving a sex addict more sex won’t cure it. If anything, suggesting or pressuring the spouse of a sex addict will only make the real issue worse and harder to identify. Attempting to “fix” or “cure” sex addiction by giving more sex to the addict is kind of like giving a diabetic kid the keys to a candy store.
He may say more sex is what he needs; he may even believe more sex is what he needs. But a lack of sex (at least the way he wants it) isn’t what caused his problem, and sex can’t cure it. As humans, we were obviously created with sex in mind. But not to have sex – especially “on demand” – will not kill us or harm us.
Additionally, advising a sex addict’s spouse to be more sexually available tends to reinforce his wrong thinking and beliefs. If he is failing to take responsibility for his actions, if he blames his wife’s sexual coldness for his porn use, if he minimizes and says that what he’s doing isn’t that bad…all of these expressions of faulty thinking are helped when a well-meaning pastor suggests that a possible solution would be for the wife to be more sexually available. But not only does this advice potentially damage the addicted person, it also harms the betrayed spouse.
In Part 2, we’ll look more at the damage that can be unintentionally caused to an already hurting wife. We’ll also see how important it is to consider all Scripture has to say about how husbands and wives should relate to one another, rather than one passage in 1 Corinthians 7. Hope you’ll come back for Part 2…
Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness. If you’re a ministry leader, we’d love to connect with you and help you feel better equipped and more confident to shepherd sexually broken people. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!