How Do Christians Deal With Sex and Love Addiction? A Christian Therapist's Perspective

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Sex and love addiction is an issue that is stigmatized enough as it is.  But when you add in the complicated faith background of the typical Christian, sex and love addiction can take on an entirely different flavor.  It can carry greater levels of shame and guilt around acting out behaviors, lead to ostracism from the church, or leave those who are addicted with little place to go to find help.

While there have been changes in more recent years, sex is not regularly talked about in churches, unless it is to condemn sexual immorality.  Teenagers are taught about abstinence in a way that leaves them looking online or to their peers for information about sex.  Sexual integrity groups are popping up increasingly more frequently as the problem grows, but they are typically only offered for men.  Addicts are given the message to pray for removal of the addiction, and then are consistently disappointed by their own lack of faith when the behavior doesn’t just go away.

Where Does Addiction Come From? 

Shame-Based Identity

Most often, addiction stems from past experiences of trauma.  Whether it was a significant trauma like sexual or physical abuse, or a “little t” trauma of abandonment or neglect, these experiences have likely left the addict with a distorted sense of self.

This misunderstanding of identity can lead Christians down the path of addiction. The core beliefs identified in Carnes’ cycle of addiction as trigger points for the addictive cycle are shame-based beliefs about a core, fundamental flaw. When believers do not have a true understanding of their identity in Christ, these shame-based messages take control of their thoughts. 

The tool that best contradicts these shame-based beliefs is the word of God found in the Bible. For example, an addict whose core belief is “I am dirty” may act out of her addiction repeatedly, trying to cope with this distorted belief, but worsening her shame by her actions. However, the Bible promises that God has called believers holy and blameless, above reproach (Colossians 1:22).  A concrete understanding of this Scriptural truth can combat those negative core beliefs.

Faulty Theology Around Sexuality

When those shame-based belief systems become intertwined with shame surrounding sex, the addiction worsens.  Silence on sexual matters within the church has a detrimental effect on a healthy theology of sex.  The average Christian’s theology might involve believing God only designed sex for procreation, and enjoying sex itself is shameful or dirty. This drives curiosity about sexual intimacy into a secret, shameful realm, paving the way for addiction.

A healthy theology of sex based in Scripture includes the truth that human sexuality and sexual intimacy are good gifts given from God, intended for enjoyment and pleasure. Song of Songs is a Scriptural love song celebrating the blessings of marital intimacy.  Sexual intimacy within the context and commitment of marriage is character forming, and it is meant to reflect God’s commitment and covenant relationship to the church.

How does addiction develop?

While sexual addiction isn’t a phrase used in the Bible, there are many references to sexual immorality, indicating that sexual purity is an important aspect of relationship with God. The number of these references shows sexual sin is a common area to be swept up in. Yet sexual sin doesn’t always develop into a sexual addiction.  Sexual addiction usually develops as a habit of using sexual behaviors to cope with life’s difficulties develops into a pattern, then a dependence.  Noticing how the behaviors affect daily life can help to discern whether addiction is present. 

In Romans 7, Paul describes the hopelessness and pain of feeling stuck in sin patterns, which sounds relatable to addicts today. He speaks of how the knowledge of the law leads to an awareness of fleshly desires (v. 13-14). However, knowledge of the law and the flesh does not prevent Paul from acting in sin, as he states, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (v. 15). He has the desire to do right but is unable to carry it out (v. 18), instead carrying on doing the very thing he does not want to do (v. 19). This is the dilemma faced by many addicts and by all sinners. Paul’s solution is to recognize his own wretchedness, calling on the name and grace of the Lord (v. 24-25).

Idolatry

My personal perspective on a Christian view of addiction involves an understanding of the concept of idolatry.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites turned to worshipping idols instead of the Lord (Exodus 32). Though most Christians today do not bow down to golden calves like the Israelites did, idolatry appears in more subtle ways. 

Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods*, indicates that idols are those things that become more important than God to believers. They captivate people’s hearts and seem to say that they can give what only God can give. Psalm 115:4-8 describes these idols in terms of their inability to act, stating in verse 8 that “those who make them become like them.” As addicts place relationships and sex as more important than God, they begin to find their identity wrapped up in their addiction rather than the truth of their identity in Christ. 

The Good News

Fortunately for Christians, no addiction or problematic sin pattern exists beyond God’s power to save. First, there is a distinct difference between temptation and sin, as even Christ experienced temptation, yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). While temptation may become sin when acted upon, it can also serve as an opportunity for believers to seek to know God better and build spiritual strength. 

Jesus demonstrates compassion toward women caught in sexual immorality, rather than condemnation or rejection (Luke 7:36-48; John 4:7-26, 8:1-11). In Isaiah, God speaks of His power to set the captives free and break the chains of those who are in bondage, comforting those who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-3). This was a crucial part of Jesus’ ministry, as He proclaimed these truths about Himself as his mission to the world (Luke 4:18-19).  Addicts can find comfort in Jesus’ promise to help those who are in captivity to sin.

In 2 Peter, Peter emphasizes the promise that God has granted all we need for life and godliness (1:3-4), and Paul states in Philippians that we are able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us (4:13). Paul also mentions the fact that God, who began a good work in us, will carry that work on until completion (Philippians 1:6). 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 emphasizes that God is the One who sanctifies the believer, and as He is faithful to His promises, He will surely carry them out. Ultimately, the addict may be comforted by the knowledge that God has promised to do a work in them, and they can trust that He will be faithful and that He is able to complete this work.

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Have you been wrestling through sex and love addiction, constantly feeling shame and guilt about your behaviors? Do you have a hard time reconciling your continual battle with addiction and your relationship with God? At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services specifically targeting sex and love addiction with a Christian perspective. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can help.

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