Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

I Get By With A Little Help From My Readers…

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Oct• 26•12

I have a question for you guys—well, it’s actually more like a question that leads to a lot more questions. As I was reading When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography, this pesky question was swarming around my thoughts and I couldn’t swat it away. I don’t really have an answer, so I want to hear your thoughts on the matter. It has to do with the word addiction as it relates to sex and pornography.

When does a struggle with pornography and sex become an addiction?

I’ve heard people claim this label as soon as their sin is revealed. And then they are off to special programs, groups, and counseling for sexual addiction. Suddenly, they are speaking as a victim more than as a sinner. While I certainly don’t want to make light of the very real battle highlighted in the word addiction, and the physiological changes that occur in the brain when persistently involved in sin, I’m not willing to say that sexual addiction is a medical condition.

Doesn’t every sin carry this addictive seduction? Jesus tells us that everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). Sin enslaves us—isn’t that the picture of addiction? But we never hear someone say they are addicted to gossip or greed.

So I asked my husband. In one sense it is “every man’s battle” to be on guard against the proclivity of sexual sin. I would be devastated to find my husband indulging in one pornographic image. And I’m sure if he did that, it would tempt him to move on to another. That is the nature of sin—it never satisfies.

A person with an alcohol addiction knows they should never have one drink. But two fingers and three cubes are not going to hurl me off the wagon (are non-alcoholics on a wagon?). While drunkenness is clearly a sin, it isn’t necessarily a sin for me to have a drink to unwind tonight (although there are circumstances where it would be). Likewise, sex is certainly to be celebrated and enjoyed in the biblical context of marriage. But can a sex addict partake in one drink (and just to be clear, I’m not talking about alcohol anymore), even in marriage? What does that do to an addict?

So my next question is, given the power of lust and the enslavement of sin, is everyone who indulges in porn or has an affair addicted? And, how is this word helpful?

And that leads me to another question, which could easily be a whole article or more. Many of the women who I have talked to whose husbands are “addicted” to pornography/sex become very discouraged and convinced that all men have this problem. They begin to think that men are incapable of controlling their sexual impulses. Naturally, the feelings of betrayal and inadequacy that they have to deal with from their husbands’ affairs make them suspicious when their husband is around attractive women. While I don’t want my husband to be thinking impure thoughts, I think it’s perfectly fine for him to notice that someone is beautiful. But suffering wives hurt by their husband’s sin doubt whether that’s even possible. Can a man admire a beautiful woman without sexually fantasizing about her?

I think this is part of the addiction equation. If we label sexual sin patterns an addiction, what are we saying the cure is? Removing all temptations of beauty, or properly defining beauty? All sin seeks good from some other source than God. And we are all completely dependent on our Redeemer for righteousness. He is the only One who could propitiate God’s wrath for our sin, and he is the only one who can make us holy. He is not only the creator of all beauty, but is himself the beatific vision. We must look to him to transform our desires.  Without Christ there is no hope for a cure to our enslavement to sin—there is no outside antidote to addiction.

“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, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18).

So what are your thoughts? I know that some of you might think that I’m over-simplifying and some of you may think I’m over-complicating. Either way, these are some questions that need to be wrestled with.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Comments

  1. This is an unseemly subject that should not be entered into, though well understand that nominal Christianity, and its door of commitments, cannot help but go this way. Beauty is more than skin deep. The beauty of a person is that which lies within. Corrupt minds simply take beauty as a surface matter, even in nature.

  2. William says:

    Timely subject. I have a brother, professing Christian, that likes to dress up in women’s clothing, and to go out of an evening. Once caught him in bed with another man. He started off with porn mags and then all down hill from then on in, we now have him going to church in skirt and top, painted to the nines, eyeing up the minister. Not sure what to do over this.

  3. Aimee….I don’t have a lot of time to weigh in this morning, but I would like to point you in the direction of Ed Welch’s book Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave. The subtitle on the book is: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. In it, he redefines “addiction” , approaching it not as a sickness but as sin (a worship of self) and addressing it with truths from the Word of God. I haven’t read the entire book but what I did read was SO good that I went out and purchased ALL the books published/promoted by The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. I believe your assessment of the word “addiction”, given the modern day understanding and application of it, is correct and the IDEA of addiction is insufficient to adequately deal with the issue itself. More later….if I have time.

  4. Kim Shay says:

    I think the overuse of the word reflects our culture’s larger fascination with therapy and labels. If I’m an addict, does this make me more sympathetic? I’ve noticed that among young girls, it has become fashionable to say they struggle with an eating disorder, or anxiety, or panic attacks. This reduces those who truly suffer. I think the same thing can be said of addiction. I know someone who is an alcoholic. It ran the life of his family. It affected every nook and cranny. It caused financial hardship, emotional distress, and cost him his job. I don’t think it’s an addiction until it controls us significantly. People will struggle with a besetting sin. I struggle with being anxious. Does that mean I’m addicted to worry? I think the larger question is how helpful is the term “addiction” and ought it be used more as a diagnostic tool than a label for everyone?

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      That’s what I am getting at–the helpfulness of the term. I know that anxiety is a battlefield as well, and have seen people really suffer through it. I think we sometimes use the term “addiction” to be compassionate to the suffering involved (which we should certainly be compassionate), but I do wonder if it is a helpful kind of compassion.

      • Kim Shay says:

        I agree. For example, my son has a tendency to blow off his school work for video games. He knows he shouldn’t. If I say he has an “addiction” to them (and being controlled by video games is a valid concern) does that excuse him somehow? Do we soft-pedal the counsel because he’s “addicted?” It’s a worth while question. At the root of it all is self. We feed into those “addictions” because they are pleasurable, and anything pleasurable can control us.

    • I just sat through a mentoring/counseling team training session on abuse and one of the things my family life pastor pointed out was that using the term “abuse” is good for identifying harmful behavior and helping people to slow down and either realize what is being done to them is not right or that what they are doing to others is not right. However, the victim can tend to cling to the abuse as a label and then justify all manner of behavior because it just becomes their identity. I think the same is probably true of the term “addiction”.

  5. amariemarton says:

    I think this mentality affects even those whose husbands have never cheated. My husband is honorable and faithful, but because of the messages (both in the media and in the church) that men are sex crazed beings unable to control themselves, I have had a hard time trusting him. Christian marriage books/blogs don’t help this with their, “you must have sex this many times/week to avoid an affair because men need it that much.” I know this is a little off topic, but it was something that has been bothering me lately. The portrayal of men as animals hurts both the good men and the men who are struggling – and their wives.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      I know what you mean, Amarie (is it Ann Marie?) We can easily displace our fears or the behavior of others onto good men. And yet, we also need to be sensitive to the sinful proclivities that may be more prevalent to their gender. I get frustrated with the stereotypes given to both men and women when it come to sex drives though. And while men may be more visual, women need to be aware of their own weaknesses with sexual purity and identity.

  6. Lyndsay says:

    Aimee, in all honesty my response you your points (and I really like the thought behind them!) is probably going to end up as long as your post! I am going to take some time to thoughtfully respond – and then will email it to you.

    I think there is a lot of value in this discussion. It really sets out the challenge in understanding aspects of mental health, the social views of addiction, and the role of behavioural addictions in contemporary mental health. In addition, there is the perspective of what role a label can play in managing mental illness, dehumanizing someone with mental illness, or stigmatizing mental illness. Plus, when should we apply those labels? Lastly, there is the role of choice. If I am correct, this appears to be where your greatest struggle with addiction, and addictive labels lies. Does framing the individual choices as ‘addiction’ remove the accountability for their decisions, and the consequences of those decisions. Essentially does the label of addiction acknowledge that sin is a choice?

    So – I hope to shed some light onto these questions, provide you with some additional information, and likely challenge you a little :) Ultimately, I hope to provide you with something that helps you in your thinking on this difficult subject. By no means am I an expert, but I will provide you with my experiences, information from my education, and theological interpretation.

    I have an immense amount of gratitude toward you for thoughtfully raising these issues, as mental health is a valuable (and very difficult) topic within the Church.

    Lyndsay (Canada)

  7. KG says:

    is everyone who indulges in porn or has an affair addicted?

    Properly speaking there is a distinction between physical/medical addiction and behavioral addiction. What makes the discussion confusing is that often the kind of involuntary dependence associated with the first is improperly imported into the second. Pornography is of the latter type. In any case, it is a form of self-worship but the term addiction should be reserved for habitual weakness rather than singular events. Otherwise, as you say, all sinful behavior can be called addictive and the term loses its value.

    Can a man admire a beautiful woman without sexually fantasizing about her?

    Yes. While us men need to be very careful in our interactions with women we are not (by God’s grace) animals that are subject only to the bases instincts.

  8. Diane says:

    Aimee – I think you’ve made some really good observations here today.
    I believe that though a group like AA has helped many people whose lives have been in ruin because of alcohol they have done a great disservice to the last couple of generations by promoting the false notion that “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic”. This type of thinking has carried over into every so-called addiction to sin including “sexual addiction” and Christians have bought into it. To lay the blame for one’s personal decision to sin on something which appears to be outside of their control, is nothing more than a REFUSAL to first of all believe the Gospel, and second as a believer to walk in the spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. That is not said without compassion though because I realize that each of us have areas in our lives that may be a tougher fight than others and sometimes accountability is needed too. But “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it”.
    Can a man look at a woman’s beauty without mentally taking her clothes off if he previously had sinful sexual habits? ABSOLUTELY!!!!! It is called walking in the spirit. And what about the converted homosexual? Can they have victory too? ABSOLUTELY!! Why? Because the Bible says so.
    “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor 6:11

  9. Doc B says:

    To get to the medical aspects of the use of pornography as an addiction, you need to go to the literature within the American Psychological Association (APA) and their body of work on it; it can be found in summary in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the APA (DSM-IV; DSM-V will be published in May of 2013).

    The general consensus, as I understand it now, is that most use of pornography is habitual, and not a true addiction in the clinical sense. There are certainly psychiatric disorders where one becomes addicted to some form of sexual expression, including visual representations of sexual activity, but this is not the norm. The best analogy I can think of would be running; just as those who run a great deal become accustomed to the “runner’s high”, an endorphin-related behavior, so can many individuals, both male and female, get the same kind of “high” from viewing pornography. It is my opinion that most use of pornography, including most of the ‘addicted husbands’ in view of the book in question, fall into this category (habitual users).

    To be an addiction, in the clinical sense, the use of pornography must rise to a level above what most of us would imagine. First, separate substance addictions from process addictions. The former relates to chemical substances taken into the body. The latter relates to behaviors, such as gambling, hoarding, eating, or sexual activity including the use of pornography. Then understand that most medical definitions of addiction involve a physiological response to a stimulus (it is measureable in some way by a physical response in the body), tolerance (a certain level of the stimulus is required to maintain the response, and a progression of the stimulus is usually required over time to continue to elicit the response), and a marked or measureable set of signs or symptoms upon withdrawal. Because of the complicated nature of the definition, the difficulty in measuring some of the responses to addictive stimuli, and the wide variation in individual responses to similar stimuli, you can see why the question has no easy answer, at least from a clinical sense.

    There are some pretty good objections to the use of pornography as a type of addiction at all, and there are other good arguments over how it is spot-on as an addiction. I suppose you’d need to ask someone who had been addicted both to a drug and to pornography to get a good perspective on the similarities and differences as they were perceived by that individual.

    There’s a lot more that could be said, but I don’t want to write a novel in the comments area of your blog. I hope this is a helpful starter and a reasonable attempt to answer your primary question, Aimee.

  10. Aimee Byrd says:

    So while I was out getting my “runner’s high” you guys have offered so much to the discussion. Thank you, and keep ‘em coming.

    I like the distinction between habitual behaviors and addictions, although there is certainly a connection as well. And yet not all habitual behaviors are sinful. I also think we need to emphasize that all sin is enslaving whether we have a physiological response or not.

  11. [...] good in her bathing suit, is that being immodest? There’s also the question that I’ve asked before, Can a man admire a beautiful woman without sexually fantasizing about [...]

What do you think?