The question …
I recently received an email note from a friend. She wrote:
"I am curious if anyone knows of some Christian articles dealing with internet flirting or cyber sex … I just can’t seem to find anything that I can relate to or identify with, and I know that there must be some other folks who have encountered the same thing."
Not just a guy thing …
Indeed, there are a number of articles online dealing with this issue. Reviewing them reveals something interesting, if not downright scary. Pornography usage and cybersex traditionally have been viewed as a "male problem," because men are thought to be more easily excited by what they see. But now women are at risk too.
Just searching for "cybersex" within the Christianity Today Library archives turns up over forty articles covering the struggle with and against various forms of sexual sin online. But this issue falls generally under other categories for which some very useful articles have been written. There are over 200 articles on addressing sexual immorality, 90 articles covering pornography, 70 dealing with adultery, 42 on lust, 9 dealing with fornication and three on masturbation and sensuality. In all, nearly 600 articles cover some aspect of sexuality and the believer. Most of the articles apply to life online as well as offline.
According to Dr. Mark Laaser, director of the Christian Alliance for Sexual Recovery, "Historically we would have said women are addicted to romance novels or women are addicted to chat rooms," but that’s changing. The number of women addicted to pornography and other "more behavioral ways of acting out" are dramatically rising. Our culture and what we spend our time thinking about are literally changing the way our brains are wired. As a result "women are getting rewired to be more visual and aggressive" and they’re "acting out in direct ways."
This rewiring — it happens for men as well as women — is changing us neurochemically and neuroanatomically, says Dr. Laaser. And it’s not only through repeated exposure to sexual imagery on TV, in advertising, or online — though that contributes. The primary agent of this mental transformation is due to how we are using our minds: what we spend our time thinking about, fantasizing about, and meditating on. Our brains and thoughts are molded by what we surf for, how we chat, and what we write. This negative transformation is the diametric opposite (and dramatic fulfillment) of the principles found in Romans 12:1-2:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will."
No solution in solitude
The good news is the rewiring works both ways. We can positively impact the ways our minds habitually work by employing spiritual disciplines, experiencing fellowship, finding an accountability group, and addressing the spiritual and emotional needs that make us vulnerable to temptation online.
Unfortunately, too many people struggling with the temptation to sin sexually, whether online or offline, deceive themselves into thinking they can resolve their issues alone.
Take the example of Scott, a popular youth pastor at the largest church in his denomination and an in in-demand speaker across the nation. In secret, Scott became addicted to cybersex, and his thirst for it was nearly unquenchable. His secret sin ultimately became a public downfall when sexual virtual impurity evolved into face-to-face sin.
Or consider Russ, a senior pastor with a plum assignment whose first exposure to online pornography came via an apparently innocuous email link — which he returned to again and again, leading to a furtive live of online exploration and, ultimately, an affair with a woman he met online.
The sin is a symptom
In these and many other cases, addictions to cybersex grow out of an emotional need and are catalyzed by an accidental glimpses of the fruit of the tree of forbidden knowledge. And they are sins nurtured in secret, with the sufferers believing that the price of revealing their failures will be too great and further convincing themselves they can deal with their struggle alone.
But, as noted, these compulsions for illicit and immoral sexual expressions often grow from deep spiritual and emotional needs that can only be met in loving relationship with fellow believers. As Laaser notes, "With sexual sin, if loneliness is one of the sources of the problem, then to think that you can do it alone sometimes increases the level of that loneliness."
Cybersex, affairs, inappropriate flirting, and so on, are symptoms. To be sure, they are sins in and of themselves, but as such, they are the outworking of much deeper problems. Laaser says, "All of these sexual issues. … they’re not the problem. They’re a symptom of loneliness, feeling disconnected, feeling depressed, feeling angry. There are deeper emotional and spiritual issues that need to be addressed."
And without confession, repentance and healthy restorative relationships, the entanglement only becomes worse.
More than just software filters
Clay Crosse, who has struggled with sexual temptation even while singing and ministering on the national stage, offers this piece of advice for young men, echoing Paul’s words from Romans 12: "I want to tell young guys that they need to start developing habits that point them in a way of morality and start enlisting a filtering system in their life that will keep them from lust."
That advice is sound, but it’s not just for young guys: women, men, pastors, elders, and business leaders all need to guard their minds and take Crosse’s advice to develop moral filtering habits, both online and offline.
Not only are healthy relationships curative for those already trapped in sexual sin online, simple fellowship and friendship are also excellent moral filters. As Laaser notes, "One of our teaching principles is that fellowship equals freedom from lust. We feel that if you’re in fellowship in your marriage, in your church, in your community of friends and if you’re experiencing fellowship, love, healthy touch, and nurture in those ways, you’re not nearly as vulnerable to these stimuli."
Those who hold a high pressure jobs and serve in leadership positions are especially vulnerable because they lack these filters. As Melissa and Louis McBurney note, those who are in positions of leadership, who are "isolated, under pressure to lead exemplary moral lives, and subject to intense on-the-job emotional stress are at greater risk to become addicted to porn."
For those who are currently struggling with sexual addiction, cybersex temptation, or a compulsion to view pornography, you can get help to break the cycle of addiction now. The CTLibrary articles mentioned above often include references to books or online ministries created to address this very issue.
You can find more resources here:
- Resources for the ensnared: Christ- centered help for those struggling with Internet pornography and sexual addiction.
- Pure Intimacy: Focus on the Family’s online ministry to victims of cybersex and pornography.
- XXX Church: Help and resources for anyone addicted to pornography. Also provides an accountability filter allowing a partner to review the sites you’ve visited online.
- Barnabus Christian Counseling Network: Provides sexual addiction counseling over the Web.
- Stone Gate Resources: a counseling retreat center in Colorado for Christian leaders struggling with sexual addiction.
- An Affair of the Mind: One Woman’s Courageous Battle to Salvage Her Family from the Devastation of Pornography, by Laurie Hall.
- The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography, by Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz.
- Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time, by Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey.
- Faithful & True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World, by Mark Laaser.
- Before the Fall: Preventing Pastoral Sexual Abuse, by Mark Laaser and Nils C. Friberg.
- Talking to Your Kids about Sex, by Mark Laaser.
Don’t flirt with your purity. Put your relationship filters into place now, even if you don’t feel you are susceptible to this temptation. We live in a sexually charged culture where sex sells everything. Every believer needs to have a strategy and a network of friends in place to keep themselves holy. Both online and off.
(Your comments and thoughts are welcome!)
(Note: Most of the articles linked above require paid membership at CTLibrary.com to view, but if you’re the kind of person who enjoys reading Christianity Today, Leadership, Books & Culture, or Christian History & Biography, it may well be worth it. Also, though I was once employed by Christianity Today, I do not personally benefit from any transactions through these sites.)
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