In our last post we began looking at the unintentional damage that takes place in many pastors’ offices, when wives of porn/sex addicts are encouraged that their husbands’ problems might get better if only they were more sexually available. The first two things ministry leaders who counsel couples need to understand about sexual addiction are:
1. Sex addiction isn’t about sex.
2. Sex addiction isn’t “helped” by getting to have more sex.
In Part 2, we want to look more closely to what happens to a woman who receives this kind of counsel, as well as take a deeper look into 1 Corinthians 7 and a broader biblical picture of how husbands and wives should healthily relate to one another sexually.
3. Encouraging a woman to give herself sexually to a man who is abusing this vulnerability only further traumatizes her.
Research indicates that among women who find out their husbands have been unfaithful to them (either through porn addiction or physical adultery), over 70% of them exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In other words, having a sexually addicted spouse is traumatizing.
It’s common for women to struggle with the vulnerability required to engage sexually. It requires a lot of trust, and when that trust is broken it becomes even more difficult. In many cases, sexually addicted men are using their wives to act out porn-driven fantasies, making their wives nothing more than a live action sex toy. Women who are used sexually in this way feel cheap, abused, and unsafe. For a trusted spiritual leader to then suggest she reopen these wounds to a thus-far unrepentant husband and make herself sexually vulnerable again is unintentional spiritual abuse.
Not only does telling a wife to have more sex with her husband not work, it also harms both spouses. “But what about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7? That seems to say pretty clearly that husbands and wives aren’t supposed to go very long without having sex.” True, but those few verses need to be read alongside the multitude of other Scriptures dealing with the marriage relationship, so…
4. We need to apply 1 Corinthians 7 in its full, proper context.
Let’s start by looking at what this passage says:
“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-5, ESV)
Seems pretty cut and dried, right? Christian spouses ought to have sex, and have it regularly. No disagreement. But the logic often followed is, “Your husband struggles with lust, he’s made a mistake, you’re upset, you won’t have sex with him, that makes it harder on him, he struggles more, therefore you should have sex with him so he won’t struggle as much.”
The problem with this logic is that it is illogical. And unbalanced. And unfair. And doesn’t look at the full picture. Paul’s charge to couples is equally applied, to both the husband and the wife. Biblical sex in marriage isn’t just about her “putting out” so that he doesn’t struggle. It’s about mutual sacrifice and preferential love for one another. It’s about serving our spouse, not our own selfish desires.
Whether through pornography, masturbation, affairs, prostitutes, strip clubs, or any other misuse of sex, a husband has already violated Scripture’s command regarding how he ought to treat his wife. In Ephesians 5, a Christian husband is told to love his wife in such a sacrificial way that he is willing to die for her. Sexual betrayal demonstrates a 180-degree departure from the attitude and practice that’s supposed to already be going on. Before addressing a wife’s understandable hesitation to be sexual with a husband who has betrayed her sexually, that husband ought to gently but honestly be made to face the damage his actions have had on his wife.
Before we address a wife’s unwillingness to have sex with her husband as unbiblical, it’s critical to acknowledge that the husband who uses porn and cheats on his wife has already behaved unbiblically. Before addressing her sexual coldness, let’s address what’s prompting it now. It could be that there are indeed deeper, long-standing issues of hers that eventually need to be addressed. But before focusing on those, let’s get both the husband and the wife the immediate help they both need.
Help for him looks like qualified, informed therapy that understands the complexity of sexual addiction and addresses all that has contributed to getting him to this point. It looks like grace-based, supportive relationships within the Body of Christ who will unconditionally love him while also stirring him to take responsibility for what he’s done. Help for her looks like empathy that allows her to feel and express her fear, anger, sadness, and other trauma-induced emotions in the safety of not being pressured to immediately make herself sexually vulnerable to the one who has betrayed her. It looks like patient, understanding nurture while God brings her to a more emotionally stable place. Help for both of them looks like long-term engagement with them as a couple, not pushing for quick results (which don’t necessarily indicate health or success), involving people with the professional qualifications to address specific issues, and spiritual leaders who can corral this process under a biblical umbrella.
One more thing…
We know this isn’t easy. There’s no way it can be. Issues of conflict in marriages, especially when amplified by sexual brokenness, are complicated. But as spiritual leaders, as shepherds, easy isn’t what you signed up for. It’s worth discovering and learning more about how sexual addiction works, and what are (and aren’t) the greatest needs of an addicted person. In an uncomfortable marriage counseling situation, “Have more sex” may seem like the easiest answer…it just isn’t the right one.
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 talk with you more about this, and other issues related to sexual addiction recovery for people within your churches. Our passion is to help pastors and ministry leaders become more confident in their shepherding of sexually broken people. We’d love to partner with you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!