The Addiction That No One Wants to Talk About

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Douglas Weiss, Ph.D.

sad, ashamed woman

Many men struggle with sex addictions. But in the United States today, a growing number of women also are falling prey to pornography and perversion.

Marsha is a 32-year-old woman who appears to have a perfect life. She is the attractive, healthy wife of a successful doctor in town and the mother of a terrific little boy. She began our first counseling session by saying, “I have everything going for me, but I have a problem I am so ashamed of that I can hardly tell you.”

Through tears she told me her story, which included numerous rotating affairs and one-night stands with men. “I know it’s wrong, and I’ve tried to stop,” she cried. “I’ve repented many times, but I still do it over and over again.”

Some of us would classify Marsha as simply an “adulteress” while others would pass off her problem as “just sin.” But is it possible that Marsha struggles with sexual addiction? We’re quick to assume that sexual addicts are always men, but recent studies indicate that in the last decade more and more women, including Christians, are struggling with sexual addiction.

What is sexual addiction? It is using a sexual activity as a way of coping with or “medicating” the emotional pain of one’s past or present. This behavior becomes compulsive, oftentimes at the expense of loved ones or responsibilities. The sex addict, whether male or female, goes into a sexual fantasy or sexual behavior in order to find solace in his or her life.

Why would a woman need to escape? Many sex addicts—44 percent—are survivors of sexual abuse. Sixty-five percent say they were raped, and 53 percent say they were raped more than once. For 96 percent, their first sexual encounter had a direct impact on their sexual addictive behavior. Other statistics include the 79 percent who say they have had extramarital affairs.

The list continues: 48 percent have contracted a venereal disease; 59 percent have had an abortion; 52 percent have eating disorders; and 50 percent have alcohol problems.

Soul Pain
Female sex addicts are often women with severe emotional pain and low self-esteem. They view themselves as sexually damaged and feel as though they are limping through life. Their “soul pain” often begins in childhood or adolescence, and sex becomes the “medicine” for their hurting hearts.

There is also a physiological process accompanying their sexual behavior. Most sex addicts don’t realize that during sexual release the highest level of endorphins and enkephalins are transmitted to the medial preoptic nucleus in the brain. In essence, the brain gets a strong chemical reward that attaches to whatever or whomever the person is looking at—whether real or imaginary, pornography or fantasy.

As Christians, we can understand why God intended to reserve sex solely for marriage—so that husband and wife attach only to each other.

Often the sexually addicted woman becomes addicted to the sexual high from this fantasy. She becomes “hooked,” so to speak. This makes sense when we read Paul’s words, “All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18, NIV). The sex addict is setting up a biological device that is unhealthy for her and destructive to her faith.

Even a Spirit-filled woman who regularly prays and reads God’s Word can have a sexual reward system that moves her into desiring what she knows is wrong. Internal struggles occur as her body desires her conditioned behavior, even though her spirit desires purity. Some of these women may feel God made them defective and unworthy of any real love.

Setting the Captive Free 
Thank God for Jesus, who came to set the captives free! Many of the sexually addicted women and men who fly from all over the country to our office are Spirit-filled believers.

How can that be, you ask? Most of them need healing in their souls.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Paul encourages us to sanctify our spirit, soul and body. Sexual addiction can be rooted in any or all these areas within the body.

I remember vividly when I accepted Christ as my Savior at 19 years of age. He instantly delivered me from alcohol and drugs. Yet I continued to struggle with sexual addiction.

I was in Bible college, attending church and chapel several times a week. I memorized Scripture, prayed and regularly fasted for what I thought was just a spiritual problem.

Years later God started to heal me and showed me practical steps to take that would allow Him to begin healing my soul. As I obeyed these principles God set before me, I was able to break free and remain that way.

What does this freedom look like today? It is freedom from ongoing lust, freedom from the fear of someone finding out about the secrets, freedom to enjoy the real joy of intimacy with my spouse, and freedom of having a clear conscience before God and men. Plus, it’s my greatest joy now to be able to help others get and stay free.

God wants every woman and man to have such freedom in their lives. He wants them to be free from the kinds of secrets Marsha was struggling with.

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