Q&A: Is Masturbation a Deal Breaker for My Relationship?

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Can you spot what's wrong with this question? 

Should I break up with my boyfriend or take a break in our relationship until he overcomes masturbation and walks in consistent victory? Or is it okay to walk with him through it?  Should I expect him to be free from masturbation for a few months before we get engaged?

Jonathan Daugherty from Be Broken Ministries shares two concerns he sees within this question and also suggests two healthy ways to address issues of sin within a relationship.

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  • Gordon Baker

    Gordon Baker

    What a great answer Jonathan! Appreciate your wisdom!

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1
Breaking Free from Sexual Addiction
by Dr. Juli Slattery Sometimes I joke about things I am "addicted" to. Coffee and dark chocolate are definitely on the list. Honestly, we are all addicted to something—there are things in life we just can't seem to get by without. You may be addicted to your husband's affection, a daily workout, talking to or texting your best friend, or spending time in prayer. At the most basic level, we are all addicted to things like food, sleep, human interaction, and oxygen. We simply can't live without them. Any addiction (even a seemingly harmless one) has the potential to put something in the place of God. One wise woman concluded that we are all walking toward the “final addiction” of being addicted to the presence of God. Until then, we cling to our creature comforts and routines. Why are some addictions manageable and others deadly? Why is it okay to joke about my need for a daily soy latte, but there is great shame surrounding a daily need for sexual stimulation? It’s because sexual addiction is no joking matter. It has ruined millions of marriages and keeps Christian men and women shackled in chains of self-contempt and fear. The roots often begin with children as young as eight or nine. When Satan gets a foothold, it seems as if a lifetime of struggle and failure is certain. Yet, many men and women have discovered freedom from sexual addiction.   What is sexual addiction? A neuropsychologist could give an eloquent detailed explanation of what happens to the brain during sexual addiction. In layman's terms, your body was designed to experience pleasure. There are areas of your brain and body that are wired to bring excitement, euphoria, and feelings of peace and elation. Some people call these the "reward" centers of your brain—God wired your body to reward you and motivate you toward certain actions. For example, after exercising, your body often gets flooded with endorphins that release stress and make you feel great—a.k.a. the "runner's high." A lot of your body's natural rewards are associated with sexuality. The body's response to sexual excitement and passion is stronger than practically any other natural experience. I believe God designed powerful sexual feelings and rewards to draw us into relationship. If we never had sexual drives and feelings, who would ever want to get married? As Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 7, sexual desire is a primary reason why we are drawn to marriage. An addiction occurs when we learn to go after the reward without doing the work that the reward is designed to be linked to. Sexual pleasure is designed to be a catalyst and reward for the hard work and risk required in relationship. Enjoying great sex over many years of marriage requires commitment, communication, humility, and effort. Pornography, sexual chat rooms, and erotic novels all allow for a person to experience the physical euphoria without the effort and vulnerability of relationship. They provide a "shortcut" to the powerful reward that God designed for marital intimacy.   Why is sexual addiction a problem? The desires that lead to sexual addiction are not wrong. Both men and women who find themselves caught up in porn, reading books like Fifty Shades of Grey, or in a sexual chat room got there because their healthy God-given desires have been twisted. You are supposed to desire sex, intimacy, an escape from stress, and so on. . . . But the enemy has offered you a shortcut that has now taken over your life. A hallmark of addiction is tolerance. This means that what brought excitement and euphoria last month isn't enough. Now you need something more. Perhaps you began with romance novels. That led to erotica, which led to Internet porn. Now you want to act out on what you've seen and read. You recognize that your appetites are getting out of control, but life without the reward feels dull, empty, and even hopeless. The tragedy of sexual addiction is that it steals your ability to enjoy the natural rewards God designed you to experience. I've talked to committed Christians trapped in sexual addiction who have no sexual desire for their spouse and can't enjoy simple things that once brought great pleasure. One woman put it this way: I became more unsatisfied in our marriage. I was not satisfied by my husband sexually. He couldn't satisfy me, and it was my fault. And I cannot tell you how much I love my children. I have always wanted to be a wife and mother—more than any career life could offer. But I began to feel like my life was boring and mundane. I had thoughts of packing my bags and living a different life.   How do I get over it? The first step to addressing a sexual addiction is to bring it to the light. For you, that might seem more like a giant leap. "Tell someone? Are you serious?!" I've talked to missionaries, homeschooling moms, and others who love the Lord, but are all hiding a sexual addiction. The shame of admitting the struggle is enough to keep them silent. You will never find healing while hiding. God works in light, not in darkness. The enemy wants to keep you isolated. He will tell you lies that keep you stuck in secrecy—lies like, If anyone knew what you did or looked at, you would be a disgrace. Your husband/boyfriend/ family would disown you. Besides, there's no hope. You'll just fall right back into it! You may also be unwilling to take this step because you don't want to let go of your addiction. Telling someone means accountability. Accountability means that you won't have access to the reward. The "reward" has come to represent life, even while it brings death. My friend, I can't tell you the chains that are broken when you bring the secret into the light. Please pray that God will bring into your life a counselor or wise friend with whom you can share. It is important for you to realize you are not alone. Men aren't the only ones struggling with sexual addiction. Because of the stereotype that sex and porn are guys' problems, women feel even greater shame to admit their battle.   Where is victory? I sometimes wonder if the apostle Paul had an addiction. Perhaps his "thorn in the flesh" (which he also calls a messenger from Satan) was some sort of addiction. In Romans, he certainly describes what it feels like to have an addiction: I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can't. I want to do what is good, but I don't. I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don't want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:15–20) An addiction makes you feel like you are unable to honor God—that no matter how hard you try, you will fail. Paul doesn't end his monologue with his statement of self-contempt, "What a wretched man I am!" He goes on to say that Jesus Christ has saved him from his sinful desires. This doesn't just mean that Jesus forgives, but he also has the power to free us from all bondage we have. I believe God can work incredible victory through an addiction, and I've seen it. To admit the struggle of addiction requires humility and repentance. To develop the daily self-control to say "no" to the shortcuts will require absolute dependence upon God. 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3
What's the Purpose of Your Sexuality, Really?
(Presione aquí para leer en español). If someone asks you, “What are your thoughts on cohabitation?” or “Do you believe God is ok with gay marriage?” how would you respond?  To answer those questions, you will (without even realizing it) tap into your underlying beliefs about the purpose of sexuality.  Every opinion you have about sexual issues is rooted in a larger narrative of what you believe about sex—and ultimately, God. Your sexual narrative is the background that helps you make sense of sexuality. It’s the backstory on why our sexual experiences and choices should matter.  Our culture’s changing views on issues like living together or gender fluidity come from an evolution in our sexual narrative. 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To understand the fuller picture of Christianity and sex, we need to start with the premise that sexuality isn’t just about what happens here on earth. It was created by God as something sacred. Sexuality is fundamentally linked to intimacy. As much as our culture tries to push the concept of “casual sex,” there is nothing casual about it. Sexuality, as created by God, taps into our deepest longings and vulnerabilities.  Sexuality must first and foremost be understood as an earthly aspect of humanity that points to a heavenly truth. That truth is that we were made for intimacy. We were created with deep longings to be known, embraced, and loved eternally by a God who will never leave us nor forsake us.  We cannot understand marriage and sexuality until we understand what they were designed to point to. Our sexual longings symbolize the experience of being incomplete. A sexual encounter at best provides a momentary taste of what we were created to experience for eternity. Even within marriage, we continue to have these longings because marriage was never meant to fully satisfy them. C.S. Lewis eloquently states the angst of desire and disappointment: “The longing for a union which only flesh can mediate while the flesh, our mutually excluding bodies, renders it forever unattainable.” Marriage is the metaphor for the answer—not the answer itself!  God created the covenant of marriage to be an earthly experience that points to the eternal reality that Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom of His Church. He pursued her, sacrificed to make her holy, and was united with her through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are most fulfilled when we abide deeply with God. We get glimpses of that intimacy here on earth, but we are still left wanting! As Paul says, all creation groans for Christ to come and claim His people. 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The greatest sex in marriage is a wonderful thing, but still a temporal pleasure meant to point to deeper longings. This is why the New Testament holds singleness in such high esteem. The ultimate good for a Christian is not a happy marriage but surrender to and unity with Christ Himself. Marriage and sexuality are holy metaphors to be honored but should never become idols that overshadow our longing to know God Himself.  Over the past several years, I’ve been studying and “unpacking” this biblical metaphor. The deeper I press into this mystery (and it is a mystery!), the more I’m understanding God’s heart for our sexuality. It helps me put into context my struggles as a wife, the disappointments I see and experience, and also why everything sexual is such a massive spiritual battlefield. My heart for you is that as you engage with Authentic Intimacy materials, you are not simply learning the Christian “rules” about sex, but are encountering God’s heart for you. Sex is not just about sex. It is a physical way that you experience what you were created for… eternal intimacy with a faithful God.    Read the first and second blog in this series. You may also find these follow-up resources helpful:  Java with Juli #218: Rethinking Sexuality in Your Life (member exclusive) Java with Juli #160: Why God Created You to Be Sexual Java with Juli #166: We Are All Sexually Broken  Java with Juli #182: Your Generation and Your View of Sexuality