Is It Sexual Addiction or Is It Sexual Sin?

An article in Christianity Today, “Help for the Sexually Desperate,” states: Is sexual addiction a disease or simply immoral behavior? Clinical psychologist Bob Hughes speaks for many Christian therapists when he says sex addiction is both a sinful choice and a biological disease. Dr. Harry Schaumburg, with twenty nine years of experience in helping restore sexual purity, disagrees. Addiction does not provide a path to healing because it does not get to the heart of evil.

For more than eight years, the evangelical church has been forced into an unwilling awareness that there is sexual sin in our midst. There is an increasing volume of books, articles, and seminars. New ministries and more counselors are jumping on the opportunity to sell a book, build a practice or establish a thriving ministry. Without a doubt, greater awareness is critical as men and women struggle in secret, marriages crumble, and another local church staggers at the revelation that their pastor has fallen. Greater awareness of a problem always stimulates a new industry, a new ministry, or a new technique. However, having been captured by a therapeutic culture and a persistent attitude that we can fix anything, I believe we fall prey to a psychological diagnosis and label the problem an addiction, a new biological disease. The disease concept of sexual addiction immediately weakens an already frayed understanding of sin, especially when its strong advocates tell the hurting and desperate that “using the word addiction helps us define the qualities of sin.”

Reading the cover article “Addicted to Sex: Why Many Men Are and What To Do About It,” in the March issue of Christianity Today heightened my fears that more and more people will be lead astray and lose sight of the fact that the truth of the gospel is only powerful when we know and believe in our hearts that sin is sin. With open minds we must realize how easy it is for well-meaning people to be deluded “. . .with plausible arguments” (Col. 2:4). In this spiritual crisis, like the church at Corinth in their struggle with sexual sin, we must “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (vs. 8).

To even imagine, as the article suggests, that looking at pornography, having multiple affairs or visiting a prostitute is both a sexual addiction and sin shows the lack of sound doctrine. It is one or the other; it can’t be both. The two concepts cannot co-exist in our theology, and to attempt to do so reduces the effectiveness in combating this evil that now is so widespread and growing within Christian home. It is time to draw a line in our minds that clearly defines the truth, a truth we not only believe but guides our hearts and lives. We can’t afford, in this post-modern era, to say we believe in sin and then turn away from the power of the Gospel to flawed human techniques to heal a deceitful heart. Snapping a rubber band on your wrist, telling your secret sins in a group to find acceptance and comfort, or daily checking in with a sponsor will never conquer the sin that “clings so closely” and tears marriage to shreds. Removing human responsibility by theorizing that natural brain chemicals, androgens, or changes in neural circuits is the cause of compulsive sexual behavior may appeal to some who want an explanation that eases their conscience. Such theories lack the sharpness of a “. . . two-edged sword, . . . discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Without conviction and the application of grace the best we can achieve is frustrating behavioral management. Researchers, as indicated by the Mayo Clinic, can establish theories, but the truth of sound doctrine offers an explanation that stands the rest of time and is for all people.

For the twenty-nine years that I have helped people out of the bondage to sexual sin there has been a consistent voice declaring that the cause lies within the family of origin and past history of abuse. Quoting Mark Laaser, a highly regarded expert in the field, the CT article states: “But the Internet has changed that. Now there are people without the extensive history [of abuse] who get sucked into sex addiction.” Do we actually believe that new technology creates a new problem? We so easily forget that nothing has changed from the days of Noah, just improved technology. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5) Let’s not be naive. Easier access to pornography via computer’s use of the Internet didn’t suck people into a sexual addiction. It’s a machine; it is just bettered technology! It is the intention of the thoughts of heart toward evil that sucks us into greater levels of sexual sin. A computer expert relayed to me, “It is sex that is driving the development of much of the new computer technology, not military nor business use.” Make it available and people will look at it, whether you go from sketches to colored printing, or black and white photos to colored movies. The Bible makes it very clear (1 Cor. 7:2ff) that every man and every woman is vulnerable to sexual temptation and lacks self-control.

If we understand the nature of sin we will not be so dangerously deceived “with empty words” (Eph. 5:3-6). The foundation for understanding why men and women struggle with sexual sin and what to do about it is not found in the afore mentioned article. The understanding is as old as the problem and spelled out clearly in the New Testament. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:5, 6). Paul answers the questions we should be asking: What is the real problem? Where did it come from? What we are to do about it? And, why it is vitally important to address the problem?

First, what is it? It is sexual immorality, or in the Greek, porneia. Porneia originally referred to any excessive behavior or lack of restraint. Eventually it became associated with sexual excess and indulgence. We get our word pornography from the Greek word; porn plus graph equals a writing. So porn is a writing or picture about sexual sin. Porneia includes all sexual behavior outside of marriage, including adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, incest and prostitution. I believe that any form of impersonal sex, masturbation, lust, fantasy or any sexual activity that disregards God or another person, including a disregard for one’s spouse, is unacceptable behavior for the true believer who wishes to glorify God in their body (1 Cor. 6:20).

The remaining vices in Col. 3:5 give us a picture of what is on the inside and further describe the true nature of sexual sin. Impurity describes any substance that is filthy or dirty and could include refuse or the content of graves. It is a filthiness of the heart and mind that make the person defiled. The word speaks of an internal disposition, an immoral filthiness on the inside. Passion is an inward emotion aroused by some external object; an impure object prompting sexual sin. To effectively deal with the problem of sexual sin we must understand the God takes action in dealing with all sexual sin. Paul states, “God gave them up to dishonorable (degrading) passions” (Rom. 1:26). At the same time we have the responsibility to “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (Rom. 6:12). Passions express themselves in bodily activity. Rather than falling into an addiction through the influence of our family of origin or the Internet, the dreadful picture is that a person who claims to be a believer can yield to sexual temptation and then has no immunity to the consequences of becoming a slave to that sexual sin.

Being a slave to our passions, which is a heart condition not an addiction, leads to being driven by our desires for wrong things. Evil desires are strong desires which are a perversion of our God-given desires and which are unrestrained and originate in what is earthly or our sin nature. Covetousness, which is idolatry is a word that means a strong desire to acquire more and more, especially that which is forbidden. It is a desire to have more regardless of one’s need. Peter makes the connection between lust and greed (covetousness), “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14).

The next question that Paul answers, Where did it come from? “Put to death, therefore what is earthly in you” (Col. 3:5). Clearly, the problem in on the inside. All men and women are vulnerable to sexual sin; we all have within us a nature that exists for self, not for the glory of God. It is within us to do, to say, to act in ways that serve our needs, our goals, and our purpose. Meaningful sexual intimacy must involve a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman in which they give emotionally, spiritually, relationally and sexuality for God’s divine glory and purpose. Anything less is a perversion of the will of God and leads to destruction.

This leads to the next question, What to do about it? Three words say it all, “Put to death . . .” Putting sexual sin to death requires the work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men and women through the process of illumination, true conviction, genuine repentance and perseverance. Today we know the concept behind these words, but know little of the experience of this kind of death. Many want to change their shameful behavior and avoid the negative consequences and expect God to do His thing without completely dying to self. In the last seventeen years I have worked with nearly 2500 people from across the US who have experienced years of sexual sin, who have struggled with every conceivable sexual behavior, who have tried recovery and failed, counseling that didn’t work, and accountability that was a fraud. Many who came for intensive counseling have found real and lasting change. The proof of change is not simply the absence of the sexual behavior, but everything changing as we learn to live out the reality that “The grace of God has appeared, . . . training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13).

Real change is not the false conviction of being caught and then being riddled with shame. Nor is it a human attempt to control behavior in fear of serious consequences. Nor is it a matter of accountability that asks hard questions but frequently fails because one is only as accountable as one wants to be. It is a death of self, death to being self-centered and becoming God-centered and other-centered. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died , and you life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).

Finally, why is it vitally important to address the problem? Almost everyone begins to deal with their sexual sin when they are caught. The pressure is on to do something when the secret is out and the person has been arrested, they’ve lost their job or are threatened with losing their wife and family. This is not the most effective motivation for putting sexual sin to death. It is a calculated but limited human response designed to improve one’s situation. The Lord Jesus demands a deeper obedience, a high regard for God’s commands. He raises the bar under grace for everyone who struggles with sexual sin. “You have heard that it was said’ You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). The Lord’s unpopular motivation for changes comes from a different perspective than the model of addiction can ever create. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (vs. 29). This severe demand demonstrates the radical nature of the problem. Eyes don’t cause lust. It is not the eye that literally needs to be torn out, but the heart and mind must be effectively dealt with because everything is at stake. Put to death what is in you! Paul knew the warning and states, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Putting to death sexual sin is the ultimate choice and we can’t afford to get it wrong.

I have spent the last 29 years counseling individuals, couples and families caught in the bondage of sexual sin. During the first five years I was a treatment coordinator for abusive families and specialized in working with incestuous families. The next five years was spent in a Christian counseling center where most of my counseling load consisted of referrals from Golden Valley Hospital where Patrick Carnes directed the first sexual dependency unit. For almost two years I worked as an inpatient therapist in a psychiatric hospital and the majority of my patients where classified as sex addicts. Since then I have devoted myself to the ministry of Stone Gate Resources, where I pioneered Brief Intensive Counseling, an eight day intensive program that addresses the problems of adultery, pornography, homosexuality, voyeurism, exhibitionism and prostitution. In 1990, I wrote False Intimacy, the first book written from a biblical perspective on the subject of sexual addiction. The book has been translated into Portuguese, Russian, Italian and Spanish. In the last seventeen years I have spoken on this subject at retreats, conferences, colleges and universities, and churches across America and in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. I say all that to say this:

  • The problem is not the Internet.
  • The problem is not pornography.
  • The problem is not a disease.
  • The problem is not so much an addiction, but a bondage to sin.
  • The problem does not originate from a dysfunctional/shame-based family.
  • The problem is not the result of nature brain chemicals, androgens or changes in brain circuitry.

The problem is:

  • A deep rooted self-centeredness in the heart.
  • An arrogant disregard for God and others.
  • An appetite to have and possess what is filthy.
  • A power that is beyond imagination.
  • A bondage to one’s own passions and evil desires.
  • A loss of control of our passions and desires.

In future posts I will develop these thoughts in greater detail to offer hope and real change to those caught in the slavery of sexual sin and to marriages being torn by the jagged claws of deceit, betrayal and mistrust.

Copyrighted 2008 Harry W. Schaumburg. For web posting, please link to this page on our website. Any exceptions must be approved by Harry Schaumburg.

21 thoughts on “Is It Sexual Addiction or Is It Sexual Sin?

  1. Dear Dr. Schaumburg: Thank you. Although not a “professional” for several years I have had the opportunity to work with husbands who for one reason (mostly sexual sin) or another had placed their marriage in severe jeopardy. I’ve always told the leaders of my church that I would commit to work with these men as long as it would take…and that the only therapy I knew that would work would be the Bible ,and that I would not discuss the marriage or what the husband was to do in regards to his wife–but that through the Bible I would attempt to show the husband who he is, why he was made and what his responsibilities are before God. Most of the time, the work has failed. The failed cases always included men who wanted a quick fix or absolution–they had repented (after being caught). The few times that “success” and reconciled marriages have taken place is when the men looked at themselves and their sin through the filter of Scripture and came to the realization of who they were, who created them, and what was demanded of them by a Holy God who loved them enough to pursue them and redeem them. A righteous God who, although always just, gave us a right way to live and the way–The Word–and the Power–Holy Spirit–to live in obedient triumph to the demands he places on our lives. Recently one of these men (we’ve met for a year now) sent me an email. He said. “Prior to starting to meet with you I had been in and out of counseling for two years. Nothing worked. For the past 12 months we’ve just been in the Word. No touchy feely stuff. No going into the past as to the why’s, but dealing with my here and now darkened heart. I’ve clearly come to see who God is, and who I am. I’ve come to see, understand and appreciate his holiness and to desire that holiness to define who I am. I’ve come to understand why temptation comes my way. But also to experience that through him, I can overcome temptation…that is victory! Through all of this, I’ve come to realize the beauty and godliness of my wife. Where a year ago, I wanted out, now I can not imagine one day without her. We pray together. We study the Bible together. There is nothing I know that she does not know. I thought you’d want to know.”
    I continue to meet with him…tomorrow 7:00 am breakfast as we look into Leviticus.
    All of this to say, keep saying what you’re saying…it is about who God is and what God says and what God demands…it is not about me or what I want.
    God bless you
    CH
    Grand Rapids, MI
    PS I know you know that your message is not very popular

  2. You teach so many truths and I am so glad you are starting this blog! May God use your wisdom with His word to continue to change hearts.

    This is such a serious issue that ONLY the truth of God can heal.

  3. Dr. Schaumburg: I appreciate your response to the article on sexual addiction. I comnpletely agree with you that to view things like pornography, adultery, etc as an addiction doesn’t provide a pathway to healing or restoration because it does not get to the “heart” of the evil. As you so well state, the issue isn’t about behavior, it is about the heart. As the bible clearly states, you can tell a tree by its root (the heart) and not it’s fruit (the behavior). Until the gospel of grace transforms a heart leading to repentance and surrender the behavior will never change. Thank you for bringing us back to the gospel as our only means of hope and help.

  4. Harry,
    Your words about sexual sin are clear, honest, and true. Glory to God for your response to this article.

    My dear wife Marquel and I are StoneGate alumni, having attended in December 2003. Marquel has faithfully stood for me, our marriage, and our family in spite of years of secret sexual sin in my life.

    The two of us have recently returned to ministry in our home church after a three year hiatus. The return to ministry has been both joyful and painful. We have had opportunity to share our story, and to the glory of God, we have been encouraged and encouraged others by it. The Lord is good, and His Word is true.

    Both my wife and I remain grieved by what we see as an unwillingness and/or inability of the church (all churches) to deal ruthlessly and honestly with the wickedness of the human heart, out of which flows all sin, sexual and otherwise. What we see is a therapeutic approach to all sin, not just sexual sin. We see a gospel that has become therapeutic. We hear it all the time in testimonies, (e.g. ‘Jesus healed my marriage, Jesus healed my addiction, Jesus healed my family, Jesus saved my job, Jesus healed my disease, Jesus fixed my kids,’ etc.). While there is certainly a place to give glory to God for stories such as these, the common theme is that Jesus did something to make my life better, to make my life work.

    The gospel is not about fixing life, it is about saving souls. The gospel is not about eliminating human pain and suffering, it is about the grace and mercy of God in the midst of suffering. Jesus is not our therapist, He is Lord and Savior.

    Personally, I hold all pastors (including myself) accountable for this. What is being preached in America today is an incomplete gospel. May God convict and give great courage, boldness, urgency, and brokenness to pastors to faithfully shepherd people in His way and His truth.

  5. Dear Harry,
    Thanks for speaking the truth concerning sexual sin. I had gone to 8 “Christian” counselors over the last 12 years or so…and not one of them dealt with the root issues of my idolatry and selfishness. It was only after reading your book, False Intimacy, and coming to Stone Gate that God did a deep work of repentance and deliverance in my heart. I thank you for your ministry and for how God is using you. Keep speaking the truth in love, Harry.

  6. Thank you for pointing us to the only real solution to this problem of sexual addictions–the gospel of grace. You refer us to the passage in Titus 2:11-12 where we are told that it is the “grace of God that brings salvation to all men.” Salvation in Scripture refers both to our past justification, present sanctification and future glorification. Later in 3:5-6 Paul explains this gospel of grace: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior so that having been justified by his grace we might become heirs having hope of eternal life.” It is this message that “teaches us” or “coaches us, disciplines us” to say NO to all forms of ungodliness.

    And here is the point that is so critical, Paul is giving us the answer we so often seek. We all know that sexual sins are wrong and many even want to stop but can’t! So what is the solution? It is in remembering that our hearts are like “idol factors” creating many kinds of idols to depend upon for power, control and acceptance. It is to believe that the only thing that will capture our wondering hearts is to bring our minds and hearts under the capturing power of His grace mentioned in this text. In remembering what Christ has done for us, is doing for us today and will do for us in all eternity, we are providing fuel for the Holy Spirit to ignite our hearts affections off of worldly passions back on to the only One who has truly loved us, who can fill our longings and who is worthy of our complete worship and praise. Here we are no longer motivated by the fear of being caught and suffering bad consequences; nor are we motivated out of a pride to protect our name, but out of a desire to love and honor the One true lover of our souls!

  7. Harry you are right on target with what you said. It ties right in with the following quotes. At issue is God’s glory (something He is very jealous about). Here is some John/John input (Owen and Piper):

    God will not be glorified if I am not accessing the Spirit’s power and not directing my faith toward God. God glorifying freedom can’t appeal to self-effort instead of faith effort. John Owen said in his work The Mortification of Sin, “All other ways of mortification are in vain. Men may attempt this work based on other principles, but the work will come short. It is a work of the Spirit, and it is by Him alone that we are to experience victory. Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, to the end of self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.” ( abridged version by Richard Rushing, introduction pg.3). John Piper adds from a message on Eph. 5:3-6 (Enthronement of Desire, Oct. 26, 1986) “It is utterly crucial in approaching a text like this that we see not only what the Scriptures forbid, but also HOW and WHY they forbid it. It is plain that Paul is eager to eliminate certain behaviors and attitudes from the Christian life. But HOW does he attempt to eliminate these things? If we don’t see the HOW, then we don’t see the gospel. And without the gospel, the prohibitions become the letter that kills instead of the Spirit that gives life. (2 Cor. 3:6). And this is true no matter how well we succeed in getting these things out of our lives. Success in morality without the gospel is suicide.”

    We are fighting faith suicide. Don’t shrink from the fight.

  8. I recently read this same article and it is very disturbing to see that now we have taken sexual sin, even addressed in a christian magazine, and have theorized that natural brain chemicals, androgens, or changes in neural circuits is the cause of sexual behavior. What ever happened to using biblical explanations? It would be reasonable to make such conclusions from a secular world, but from a christian standpoint, this is so far from the Truth that God has already revealed to us. The theory of blaming these actions on brain chemicals is ridiculous. If the brain produces chemicals during sexual activity and the person becomes addicted to that chemical or feeling, why doesnt the person that struggles with sexual sin just have sex with his or her spouse and produce that same chemical in a completely moral manner. It would be the same chemical, right? Or perhaps the brain knows that it is immoral so it produces a different unique chemical because it is an immoral act, absolutely insane!!!… No way that this is the cause! Remember, that anyone can come up with a theory. Harry is absolutely right on the money in stating that Sexual Sin is a Heart Problem. I have been through a 90 day treatment program for Chemical Addiction and have worked 12 step programs in regards to my chemical addiction struggles, and can testify to the fact that 12 step programs are purely performance based. It would be inaccurate to state that 12 step programs do not work. It just depends on how to define working. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Being able to avoid behavior ( such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual sin ) can be accomplished through 12 step programs. However, to experience Real Change, the Heart needs to be addressed. The sin needs to be killed and continually killed. It is imperative and it is life or death (not so much physical, but spiritual) so that real change can be accomplished in every area of life, not just the absence or success of abstaining from sexual acts or abusing drugs or alcohol. I have gone to a 90 day treatment program, then shortly after attended Stonegate, and i can tell you that real change is beginning to happen in my life since going to Stonegate. However, i was able to “stay clean” from my drug abuse since returning from treatment and working a 12 step program. However, there was not much change going on in my life except the absence of the drug abuse. After attending Stonegate, Real Change is starting to occur in my life. My Hope now is not in a sobriety chip or on working my program, or in a Higher Power. My Hope is in the Grace that God has granted me through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By living in Prayer and Providence, I am learning and looking to see what God is trying to show me each and every day through daily struggles and events. I am not here on earth to have hope, serenity, or for happiness in an earthly sense. I am here to try to glorify God in all that I do, to try to become God-centered and not me-centered. To glorify God is not always an easy thing for my mind to grasp, but John Piper puts this in an easy way for me to grasp. “Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satified in Him. And when we are satisfied in Him we are crucified to this World”. To tell you that since Stonegate life has been great would be misleading. I have had struggles, but now the difference is i dont need a hug from members of a group. I need to repent continually and i need to be one-anothered by my wife. I need someone to say “what are you doing?” I need someone that is looking for Fruits in my life. One-anothering is something that is a totally different concept then a sponsor or accountability partner, but it is biblical and it is truly God’s design. I thank Harry for Stonegate and his commitment to be a conduit of God’s truth. For someone struggling in Sexual Sin, Stonegate is the place to go for Real Change, not because Harry is so Great, or that Stonegate is so beautiful, although both are true. The Fact is that God is still Good no matter what and he is the ONLY ANSWER and this is the teaching that you will receive from Harry. God Reigns and not Chance! Harry, Thanks for your commitment to the Truth !
    Ted G

  9. A question for any of you:

    What are you seeing and hearing in churches today relative to this issue? I struggle with feelings of anger over what I perceive as an incomplete gospel.

  10. [moderated by site administrator: comment removed due to the fact that the provided email address is bogus. If you would like your comment to be reinstated, please contact us and provide a valid email address. Thank you for understanding.]

  11. @Kevin:

    I wrote you a lengthy personal email in response to your post but it appears that your email address is bogus. Email me and I’ll send you my response. In future posts I will address the critical issue of why a Christian struggling with sexual sin can’t get victory of his behavior after confession and crying out to God. The experience of failure does not justify new explanations of disease, brain chemical, or addiction. We need a solid biblical understanding for the failure.

  12. @Jim K.

    The existence of the incomplete gospel is both heart breaking and tragic. I believe it is so rampant in the church today because with over 2500 people coming to Stone Gate from 50 states and 17 countries, I see many who have the incomplete gospel. That phenomena , I believe, is why so many who come to Stone Gate say to us, “Why have we never heard this message before?” And then they say, “All you are teaching is the gospel.” They simply haven’t heard the complete gospel. It is shocking!

  13. Dear Dr. Schaumburg,

    The following is a letter that I wrote to Christianity Today about the sex addiction article. (They won’t print it because it’s too long.) I come to a similar conclusion as you, but I’m grappling with the role of the sex hormone system.

    What do you think?

    I think of sex addiction as a behavioral addiction, although I believe the diagnosis of ‘addiction’ is applied too casually and doesn’t really apply to many of the men and women struggling with sexual sin and brokenness.

    Recently, it has occured to me that what we frequently label ‘sex addiction’ is actually ‘stubborn avoidance’ of dealing with lust, pain and intimacy.

    I’m interested in hearing from you if you care to reply.

    Dorn Checkley

    March 11, 2008

    Dear Christianity Today,

    Your recent cover article, “Addicted to Sex”, shined light on the secret sin that is undermining men and marriages throughout society. Several key truths were clearly expressed — namely that shame and secrecy is the chain that keeps men locked in sexual addiction, that recovery begins with confession and sobriety is maintained through confession to accountability partners.

    However, I feel that one key issue remained muddled in John Kennedy’s article and that is the role hormones play in sexual addiction.

    Kennedy’s quotes and summaries of experts variously conclude that “sexual addiction is…a harmful behavior with a strong biochemical component”; “…sex addiction [is] is both a sinful choice and a biological disease”; “People can’t change the sin until they address the disease part, meaning the neurochemical craving that overwhelms them.”

    All these statements, and others, contain elements of truth but also some muddled thinking.

    God created our sexual hormone system and it is good. Sex is rewarded with extremely pleasurable secretions of dopamine. Oxetocin is also released during sexual activity and signals us to make deep emotional bonds with the source of our pleasure. It would not necessarily be an overstatement to assert that due to these hormones, and others, God intended us to be “sexually addicted” to our spouses. We overwhelmingly repeat behavior that is rewarded with pleasure. If God’s purpose for us is to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ then our sexual hormone system seems to be designed to make sure that it will happen. How then can we in any sense call the hormone system He created a “disease”?

    Sex addiction is only analogous to drug addiction because of the pleasure/reward of the hormone dopamine. Drugs are a third party alteration of normal brain chemistry. For instance, we now know that opiates trigger the brain into releasing high levels of dopamine. Most anyone would want to repeat that pleasure by taking the drug again. However, the brain naturally responds to this misappropriation of dopamine by starting to restrict its release when continuously triggered by opiates. Thus the need for increasing amounts of opiates to achieve the same euphoria reached in the early uses of the drug. There are even indications that the brains of addicts may be permanently damaged by opiates in the proper (God-ordained) release of dopamine for functions such as sleep. There is no evidence what-so-ever that anything similar to this alteration of brain chemistry happens because of sex — even a lot of it. The only thing that happens is what God intended to happen. (There are people with imbalances of sexual hormones, but the role of those imbalances in addiction has not been made clear at all.)

    Our key problem in sexual addiction is that orgasms and the natural release of dopamine are not morally cued. If orgasms exploded in pain rather than pleasure when we performed immoral sexual acts then there would be no sexual immorality or addiction. Keeping that thought in mind, we must conclude that sexual addiction is classic reward conditioning with antecedent factors such as family system issues, sexual abuse, stress and cultural cues, playing a strong causal and/or exacerbating role.

    The problem of cultural cues has become the most prominent factor in sexual addiction. For the past two generations ‘Ms. Centerfold’ has been the first lover of almost all Western men starting from around 12 years of age. We have been masturbating to a powerful and ubiquitous fantasy lover during the first 4 to 7 years of our sexual development before we have a real sexual experience with a human being. Further complicating matters is that the first real sexual experience for the vast majority of us is not in the context of marriage.

    Is it any wonder then that a large number of us stick with our first and most familiar lover? Or that we drag ‘Ms. July’ into our marriages? Or that we compulsively seek the pleasure of self stimulation when stressed or sexually cued?

    We also overlook (as Kennedy’s article did) and understudy (as most research psychologists do) the roles of envy and fear in sexual immorality and addiction. Pornography does not merely inflame sexual desire, it also subtly communicates powerful sexual values and standards. Porn pushes our envy button hard as it encourages us to constantly make comparisons of beauty, performance and sexual status — which leads to discontentment with our own sex lives. Further, I contend that one of the primary effects pornography has upon young men is fear. When a 12 to 16 year old boy measures himself against the exaggerated sexuality of pornography he frequently comes up short. Am I manly enough? Handsome enough? Big enough? Can I make love for hours? Will she have multiple orgasms? What if I fail? Will she reject me? Porn for many young men has the paradoxical effect of inhibiting their sexual confidence — and consequently keeping them locked in the sexually immature fantasy world of porn.

    What God has revealed to us in the Bible is that making proper choices for the context of sexual activity is the key to avoiding immorality and addiction. In this sense sexual addiction may be defined as the failure to learn sexual boundaries, and/or the abandonment of them, and then allowing the hormone system of sex to reinforce immoral and compulsive behavior. Until it is definitively proven that the sex hormone system of addicts is altered or damaged in some way, we cannot define sex addiction as a ‘disease’. Even as an analogy it is not helpful to understanding and healing this widespread problem.

    Sincerely,

    Dorn Checkley, Director
    WholeHearted.org & Pittsburgh Coalition Against Pornography

  14. While we agree on the fact that pornography is a sin, to deny that people do experience sexual addictions is not reality. It’s nice to say that sin and addiction can’t coexist, but the evidence demonstrates they do coexist; particularly in the believer who still struggles with the “sin.” There is plenty of clinical evidence to demonstrate that sexual addictions and gambling for example, do generate internal release of neuro-chemicals, many of which resemble and behave like addicting analgesics and cocaine. This doesn’t excuse the behavior, but rather strengthens the idea that addictions and sin are powerful forces that only God can restore and heal.

  15. I agree with Rick’s comment. Sin is absolutely sin and we should never water it down; however, the human brain is part of God’s incredible design and as we engage in sinful behavior it most definately has a huge impact. I appreciate the following:

    Buried deep in the center of the brain are several large aggregates of limbic structures and nuclei,
    which are preeminent in the control of memory, emotion, learning, dreaming, attention, pleasure,
    reward, and arousal. It controls the perception and expression of emotional, motivational, sexual,
    and social behavior including the formation of loving attachments. The limbic system not only
    controls the capacity to experience love and sorrow, but it governs and monitors internal
    homeostasis and basic needs such as hunger and thirst. This includes the cravings for
    pleasure-inducing drugs, food, sex, and other real or imagined needs. This limbic system is
    part of what the Bible calls the heart.

  16. I am not surprised at the responses. Some people feel it is better to have an excuse for sin, rather than to hold oneself accountable for the damage caused by sin.
    I was one of them. It was much easier to blame my spouse for her issues, then to own up to what I knew to be sin and how it had damaged my entire surroundings.
    If I didn’t know better or if I didn’t read God’s word, than I would agree that “God just wired me this way” and that I have no defense against the war within my mind. But that’s not what the word says. Paul said in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ”. Romans 12:1 “He calls us to offer up ourselves a living sacrifice”. (as sung by Keith Green lol)
    Resigning myself to my thoughts wouldn’t heal my marriage, it wouldn’t help me have “real” intimate relationships with those in my family. (spouse, children)
    Just as a child would justify the pleasure he got from stealing little things from a store, which the law says is illegal, but he enjoyed so much he kept doing it. Until he gets caught and suffers consequences. Only then could he reason the right from wrong, because of the pointing out of immoral misconduct and character shortcomings.
    And so, just as sexual sin is accepted by the world and is not technically illegal, it does not mean my flesh is not in a battle against my knowledge of right and wrong, my mind and my flesh.
    We have made such a mistake, not discerning the truth from a lie. We are making excuses for and have clouded our reasoning concerning disciplining our children, ourselves and our leaders.
    To come to a place in life, where we have grown so hard and cold to gross sin, that politicians and the media are glorifying adultery, making statements of justification for the people who condemn the same acts they perform. It is so delusional and it’s so hard to believe the statements (excuses) themselves, that when you hear them, your face is literally twisting. (ie.the NY senator)
    This includes the church, which I am apart of, that has made itself numb and justified by a false grace and mercy teaching that goes against the truth which Paul states in Roman’s 6:15 “What then? Are we to sin “because we are not under the law but grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourself to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.
    I liked the cushy gospel. It was easy to justify and cover my sin by false grace and false mercy and drag Jesus back through the mud of my sin in which I had been saved. By saying “my sin was like Paul’s thorn in his flesh”. Wow that was a stretch!! But I made it work every time I fell into temptation. Not truly knowing mercy and grace, I used it on my path to hell.
    Men of God rise up!.
    It hurts when we’re exposed, it’s embarrassing, it’s demeaning, it holds us in captivity and is painful and messy to clean up. It effects all of those that come in contact with us. It’s all that and more. It’s SIN that’s why Jesus came down from the thrown, to expose and break the works of the devil.
    …..If we don’t admit it how can it be forgiven?
    Sincerely, Andy

  17. Re-reading the article, something struck me, and it may be that I am just “slow.” and it is implicit within “False Intimacy.” The Gen. 6:5 verse is quite emphatic: every, only, continuously leaves no room for doubt as to all human motivation, apart from grace.

    Every choice of an addict, his/her only source of satisfaction, is continuously for self and sin, lust, and everything other than God’s commands. It can be no other way.

    So, as Abraham Kuyper pointed out over 100 years ago, the heart of man is either directed toward God or away from God. This is the core of most reformed thinking.

    So, one could make a case that addicts exist: sin addicts, and for this there is only one cure: changing of the heart by gracious intervention, redemption, and regeneration. Behaviors, outside influences, parents, abuse, etc. just are not the issue.

    It seems so simple, why has the church missed it? Deception, distraction, apostasy, BUT THE GATES OF HELL WILL NOT PREVAIL, even if they do in individual hearts of sinners, but not in the face of electing grace, which is love.

  18. The key to my freedom from sexual sin came when I took the words of Romans 12:1-2 to heart–“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

    Yes, 12-Step programs helped; counseling helped; and my connection to Battleplan Ministries helped.

    In the end, it was when I chose with God’s power to quit putting garbage into my mind through my eyes and heart of lust, that I found victory through the “Renewing of my mind.” Thanks be to God who gives us the victory.

    Rev. David Morgret

  19. What then is the solution for a wife who loves her husband and family, yet who’s husband does not believe he has a problem/addiction/sin issue? Yet he lives a secret life of porn, women, etc. Does she kick him out of the home until he gets help on his own? How does a wife urge her husband to want to “renew his mind”? Is a separation the only hope? Please help.

  20. Christians who work the 12 steps to overcome drugs and alcohol are able to grasp the idea that their problems are both sins AND addictions. I’m not sure why sexual sin, when that sin is compulsive, repetitive and overwhelming, can’t also be seen as sexual addiction. There is a fear that Christians who respect or use the 12 step method are soft on sin, and for many of us, that is a misrepresentation of what we believe.

    We despise our sin, we are humbling ourselves and asking God for his forgiveness, mercy, deliverance and power over this problem. I don’t see any violations of Scripture for a believer who follows that path, and it illustrates how the 12-step method can, in the life of the committed believer, reinforce (not contradict) what he has learned in Scripture. It is no different than my Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, which is a pledge of loyalty to my country but which in no case undermines my greater loyalty to God.

    I have spent long hours talking with Christians who work with inner city drug addicts, and they swear by the power of 12-step methods that are bathed in biblical principles. They call it the Christian 12-step method and have seen no other approach that works as well.

    A final thought: there may be some in the addiction community who will not tolerate the concept of “sin,” and instead talk of the problem as a “disease” to be treated. But the Christian does not have that luxury. He must call it a sin — but can he not also call it a sinful addiction? I say yes.

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