What is proper for the Christian marriage bed? I can’t tell you how many times this question has come up through the years as I counsel couples that are dealing with the aftermath of sexual sin.
Sin Has Marred What God Has Intended for Pleasure
This question arises because sin has marred what God intended for pleasure. Our society has reduced sex to a selfish, lust-filled desire. It has become twisted and deformed from the purity that God originally created it in. But I want every couple to know that God can restore purity, even when a spouse’s sexual sin has brought added confusion, guilt or awkwardness into the marriage bed. My own testimony is that He can indeed make sex pure again. Sexual intimacy is a beautiful experience for the couple who sees it as a God-given gift and as a means to bless one another.
When God created man and woman He looked at all He had done and it was pleasing in His eyes. The Bible says, “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) The word “everything” includes the way He made and designed our bodies, does it not? I say that because I want you to clearly understand that God intended for us to enjoy sexual relations in the covenant of marriage. Sexual relations were designed by God for procreation, but also to be a time of giving and expressing our love to one another through the giving of our body to bring pleasure and delight to each other.
This Isn’t a Behavioral Issue, It’s a Heart Issue
The question that inevitably comes up is, “What acts are considered acceptable before God to bring that pleasure to my spouse?” Of course, the Word of God is clear about certain acts being sin, such as bringing pornography or another person into your marriage bed. But beyond these blatant violations of the biblical standard, what is permissible? I’d rather not try to convince anyone that particular acts are right or wrong. What I intend to do is to provide the biblical basis for establishing purity in your marriage bed. This isn’t a behavioral issue, it’s a heart issue. The truth is, if your heart is right, you will be able to discern for yourself, with the Spirit’s help, which acts are right and which acts are wrong for you as a couple.
The Scriptures admonish us to, “look out not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others.”(Philippians 2:4). Paul also instructs the husband to “render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:3) Lust and self gratification are self-centered, whereas true agape love is others-centered. Giving, not getting, is what should be in the heart of each spouse as they come together. Love-making should be a time of giving and blessing the other. Our times of intimacy should be expressions of love, not lust.
The apostle Paul wrote, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (Romans 14:12-14). The context here was the eating of certain foods but the principle applies to the marriage bed. Approached from this standpoint, doing things that would violate your mate’s conscience or cause a stumbling block to either spouse is automatically precluded. Let me just say that anything out of the ordinary can prove to be a stumbling block to either spouse, especially a person coming out of sexual sin.
Nurture Openness and Communication
I encourage couples to have open communication about their love-making. Both husbands and wives need to be able to ask questions about what is pleasing to the other, and they also need to be sensitive to things that might be uncomfortable for their partner. I realize these discussions can be awkward for many couples at first. Most of us haven’t nurtured the kind of openness that is required to address sexual issues in our marriage. My wife and I had to go through all of this ourselves as the Lord led us through the process of restoring our marriage after my sexual sin. It meant honestly evaluating what we did in our marriage bed through prayer and using the Scriptures as our guide. As a counselor, I often recommend that couples go through the book Intended for Pleasure by Dr. Ed Wheat. This book can help Christian couples identify and work through some of their sexual intimacy issues.
Putting the needs of our spouse before our own truly is the way of blessing. When God is in the midst of our love-making, and we are focusing on pleasing Him and our spouse, there is a oneness involved that is beautiful, fulfilling and lasting—the very opposite of lust which is fleeting, unfulfilling and ugly. God desires married couples to enjoy sexual relations as a divine blessing. Couples need to bring godly convictions into their sexual intimacy but they don’t need to allow the past or the devil to rob them of the blessing and sanctity of the marriage bed.
Jeff and Rose Colón held various leadership positions during their 22 years with Pure Life Ministries. Jeff holds an MDiv and BA in Biblical Counseling, and Rose a Masters of Ministry from Master’s International School of Divinity, in Evansville, IN. Jeff and Rose recently branched out on their own and founded the Lighthouse Biblical Counseling Center and the Lighthouse on the Rock Fellowship in Dry Ridge, Kentucky.
It was the late 1960’s. The skirmish in Vietnam was escalating into all-out war. The Beatles were being displaced by hard rockers like the Rolling Stones and the Doors. Flower children were advocating “free love” in San Francisco. And a young man walked to the balcony of his hotel room and, convinced that he could fly, plunged ten floors to his death on the sidewalk below. He had come under the deadly spell of L.S.D.
L.S.D. lied to this young man. L.S.D. stole years of life from him. And finally, L.S.D. murdered him. Several months before, he had been seduced by the euphoria it offered him, not realizing that once he partook of this deadly potion, his days were numbered.
L.S.D. is an apt representative of sin. Like the devil who employs it, it deceives, steals and destroys. Satan uses man’s natural propensity toward sin to lead him down a path of destruction. The victim is enticed down this trail by promised fulfillment. But even while the seducer dangles the intoxicating carrot in front of the person’s lust-filled eyes, it is picking the person’s pocket and leading him right to a cliff.
Sin Is the Greatest Liar Mankind Has Ever Known
Well did the writer of Hebrews speak of “the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13 NASB) Sin promises much and delivers just enough to keep its victim returning for more. It employs the same successful strategy time and again. It presents the act of sin in such a way as to infer that it will bring about tremendous satisfaction. As a master deceiver, sin suppresses thoughts of possible consequences while glamorizing the pleasure it offers. Memories of past consequences fade in the glitter of the proposed act. Typically, a lying devil is moving the process along, keeping the person’s focus fixed upon the object of desire. J.C. Ryle captures its utterly deceptive nature:
“You may see this deceitfulness in the wonderful proneness of men to regard sin as less sinful and dangerous than it is in the sight of God and in their readiness to extenuate it, make excuses for it and minimize its guilt. ‘It is but a little one! God is merciful!’
Men try to cheat themselves into the belief that sin is not quite so sinful as God says it is, and that they are not so bad as they really are… We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colors, saying, ‘I am your deadly enemy and I want to ruin you forever in hell.’ Oh, no! Sin comes to us, like Judas, with a kiss, and like Joab, with an outstretched hand and flattering words.” (1)
Sin Is the Greatest Thief Who Ever Ravaged Man
Consider some of life’s most valuable elements that the sinner must forfeit. Sin cheats a man of his honor. Every time he gives in to some temptation, he is depleting his character. He lacks the conviction and strength of character to resist his passions. Little by little his honor ebbs away until, in the end, he is a shifty, weak-willed jellyfish who nobody respects.
Sin also destroys relationships. A person given over to a sinful idol usually loses interest in loved ones. Spouses are often confused about why their mates seem so aloof, not realizing they are addicted to some secret sin. Sin has a way of making a person’s life extremely tiny. The greater the addiction, the less room there is in the person’s heart for anything or anyone else. The beloved sin demands and receives his complete devotion.
Sometimes sin will even rob a man of his freedom. How many times have I heard a sad story about a guy caught looking at child pornography and sent to prison? After doing his time, the unfortunate soul is eventually paroled back into the community where he is branded as a sex offender. He often must wear this label for the rest of his life.
Worst of all, sin strips a man of his relationship with God. Every time he indulges some temptation, he sets himself up as a defiant rebel to the King of Heaven. With every transgression he aligns himself with the evil one. Before long, he has completely set up house in the enemy’s camp. All the while he convinces himself that he is a Christian when actually he is as just as deceived as the man who jumped off the balcony. Rightly did Jesus exclaim that, “The thief comes only to steal…” (John 10:10 NASB)
Sin Is the Greatest Killer that has Ever Stalked Man
Most people who indulge sin do not receive such swift retribution as the young man who leapt to his death. For most, the death process is long and painful. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: “…when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:15 NASB)
The Apostle Paul said it this way: “the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption…” (Galatians 6:8 NASB) The NIV says the person “…will reap destruction…” while the Amplified Bible says he will “…reap decay and ruin and destruction…” (AMPC) All three translations are correct in their interpretation. The Greek term (phthora) employed by the venerable apostle is sometimes used to describe the corrupting influence of sin, while at other times it describes the process of death.
The truth is that the same sin that defiles the human soul with its vileness also breaks down the life within that person. It is typically a long term process. Little by little everything good and decent is eaten away. The horrible moral decay that the hobbit Smeagol experienced after finding the dark lord’s ring in The Fellowship of the Ring is an apt picture of what occurs within a sinner.
Physical life may remain, but spiritual life ebbs away. In the end, it has given way to spiritual death. The hounds of hell drag the person away into everlasting torment. Those who think they can continue in sin and enjoy some imaginary divine protection are only deluding themselves. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7 NASB)
Yes, in the dark corridors and caverns of hell, Sin is heralded as the Great One. It does a tremendous job for its dark master of deceiving, robbing and destroying people.
(1) J.C. Ryle, Holiness, Evangelical Press, England, 1879, p. 7.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
We received an email from a young man, twenty one years old who is struggling with his sex drive – no surprise for a twenty one year old – and I guess someone has suggested to him that psychotropic drugs may be a solution to his problem. How would you respond to that?
Well I would respond from scripture, like I would with any kind of an issue that comes up in life like this. In 2 Peter 1, Peter made a couple interesting statements that I think we should take a look at. He said this:
“seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”
OK now that’s a mouthful and I understand that. But I do want to say a couple of things about this. First of all, I need to say that I believe this statement is true. With all my heart I believe it’s true, not only because the Bible says it, but also because it’s my testimony. It’s something that I have experienced and I’ve seen lived out in the lives of many people. God has what every believer needs. That’s not just cheap preacher talk or something, it’s the reality of anyone who has a life with God. Peter promises us here that God’s power will provide everything we need to make it in life. We have to decide do we really believe that. I mean that’s really what it boils down to. When we hear these kind of promises made in Scripture, we have to decide “Do I really believe what the Bible is saying.”
Personally, the idea of a Christian needing to take drugs to live in victory is absolutely preposterous to me. It shows me – and it’s not surprising for a twenty one year old – but it shows me that this young man does not yet know what it means to have the power of God in his inner life. If he will a establish a strong devotional life, not only will he find that there is power to live victoriously in Christ, but it will give him a wonderful opportunity to ask God for a greater infilling of the Holy Spirit.
One of the things that I see in his email is that he is so focused on the sex drive. Of course most guys that are twenty one years old – I mean probably in their teenage years and up – very often, that is exactly what they’re focused on. So there’s more here that Peter is saying about that focus isn’t there?
Well he’s overwhelmed, you know? And like you say, a lot of young people do become overwhelmed when their hormones are raging inside. But you know, I want to say this, that when God becomes large in a person’s heart and in his daily life and in his mind – large in the sense that he’s spending time with him; he’s connected to the vine – then problems become much smaller and much more manageable. And you know, when you’re just kind of living in the flesh, of course your problems are going to be overwhelming.
Now in his email he said that he wants to reduce the sex drive. So are we saying that if he develops that relationship with the Lord – if his focus is on his life in the Lord – are those going to go away?
No, his sex drive is what it is. I mean it’s a physical thing that he has to deal with. But what does come into play is the power to be able to deal with it in the right way. You know, that’s what he’s missing now. All he’s focused on is the sex drive, but he’s not seeing the power of God at work in his inner-man.
Of course one of the things that fights against young men who want to go on the right path with this issue is that the culture is saying that you are a captive to these desires, that you can’t possibly not give-in to these desires. In fact, the culture teaches you’re abnormal if you don’t give-in to these desires.
Right. Also one of the problems that is raised is the fact that really they’re more plugged-in with the world and the pagan culture we live in than they are to the things of God. So of course when you’re more plugged-in to that strong heavy message coming across television and the Internet and so on, that’s going to shape your thinking and your belief system; and it’s going to strengthen the unbelief that’s already in you.
And for a young man or even for a young woman, this really is – if you look at it right – a wonderful opportunity to prove the faithfulness of God in your own life.
Yes it is a wonderful opportunity to glorify God in your body. You know, what a message it sends to young people around you today who are just totally given over to the things of this world, the flesh, sex, and all of it; and to be able to stand strong and say “Listen I’m not into that. My life means something more than that.”
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
This letter is written to you from my perspective as a child within my home. These are my memories and I share them hoping to open your eyes to the incredible damage that has been done.
The picture is of a family who was about to catch their father in a terrible online affair with you. These kids had no idea the events that would unfold over the next few weeks. The brave lady sitting in the middle had no idea how hard life was about to become and the two decade fallout that you would have to endure.
My father ran off with you, and abandoned his family. He tried hiding it and the problem got so much worse. He took you to very dark places and got caught. You revealed his selfishness. His actions robbed him of the four most valuable things he has ever had: Ryan, Adam, Savannah, and Diane. They were supposed to be his treasure but along the way they became worthless to him in comparison to his own wants and desires. Pornography was a physical manifestation of his infidelity. You are not the sole reason to his harm and destructive behavior but you compounded and multiplied the attitudes already within him.
Every single night, we knew that dad stayed up late. We could hear him walking the halls, or going through the house. He was pretty quiet for the most part, but each night we knew he would be in the corner of the office on his computer. We all knew not to bother him, that was his space. Every now and then I would wander in there wondering what was going on. If you ever surprised him, and walked in the room, you would hear urgent clicking on his mouse, as flashes on the computer would close. Once I must have been pretty quiet because the glare I got from him was completely unnerving. Much of time after that the door would be shut and the only thing you would see is the colors of flashing lights coming from underneath the door. I learned that whatever dad does in there is something only for him, and it is best to leave him alone. Little trips downstairs for a drink of water would make my heart beat fast as I hoped he wouldn’t get mad at me for interrupting him by coming too close. As we were to find out, he was in a sexual relationship with pornography, and although he was trying to be sneaky, we all knew something was going on.
Pornography, I hate you. You had a huge part in turning my father’s heart away from his family. You had his heart when we did not. I am so jealous of the relationship you have with him that I never had. He would change his schedule for you, and some days he would spend more time with you than with us. I am so ticked off from all the late nights he spent with you instead of me, the mornings he would sleep in to recover from your wild nights were mornings he was NOT eating with his kids. You curbed his appetite for real relationships by giving him superficial fake ones to feast on. I curse you for having been the one that my father ran to instead of us.
Early every morning my mom would have a full breakfast ready, and some new book to read us. Even when I was a teenager she kept up this practice. I had to act like this wasn’t cool, but the stories always taught me something, and made me feel like I knew God better than before. She loved to talk to us about Jesus, and the lives he wants us to live. On more days than I could count, my siblings and I planned how we could get dad to do these devotions with us. We had to wait as he would almost never get out of bed till around noon. When he would get out of bed, we would be waiting to ask him if tomorrow he would read these awesome stories with us. We got a soft “no,” for a little while. Later we got more heated responses that sometimes followed with terrible comments about our mom. He was so intimidated at her love for Jesus that all he could do was lie, shout, make comments, and try to ruin her reputation in front of her children. At the end of the day, my father did not want anything to do with us and our journey through these spiritual truths each morning because he is, “Far too tired to wake up that early.” Pornography, you had a hand in this, you were there keeping him company in these early hours of the day. I hate the grip that you put on your slaves.
As my dad’s heart grew colder, his patience grew thinner. I believe that his online pleasures brought him more joy than I ever could. He made it clear how much he was annoyed by us, and we all saw how happy he was to retreat to his time alone. I grew to hate that my dad had his own company. He would rarely go to work, which mean that when he was grumpy, he would spend the whole day playing video games, and being otherwise occupied by his computer. Eventually we would go to bed and the office door would shut. While all my other friends had dads who worked, mine would leave the house rarely and we had to deal with the abusive way that he treated us, with no reprieve of him leaving us alone. It also meant he could stay up till the early hours of each day which robbed us of time with him. Sometimes he was going to bed as we were waking up in the morning. We thought it was video games that took our dad’s mind and heart away from us but it turned out to be a long standing affair with the countless porn stars that visited him through the screens in our home.
When I was in elementary school pornography was called out on the carpet, as the secret affair was caught red handed. This led to a sequence of events that is quite dramatic and does not have a place in this particular story. It wasn’t just porn, it was the years of deception, deceit, lies, and the crazy ways that my dad was trying to cover up the extent of what he was involved in. Not only that but reports started coming in from young guys saying that he was showing them the porn he had, and was trying to get them to watch it with him. Pornography became the gateway drug to his own selfish behavior. This began the downward spiral that led to my parents’ divorce. My mother was instructed by her pastor at the time that she was not allowed to divorce him. That the abuse, pornography, deceit, and threats of violence were not grounds for Biblical divorce. She was told that no matter the danger she was in, she was forced by God to stay. What a heartbreaking thing for a pastor to communicate to a hurting wife with little kids. Pornography at that moment was addressed, but never fixed. The spiritual leaders that were involved never again checked up on Diane Baker and her three little kids. They were left to suffer at the hand of an addict who was harming his family. We were forgotten about and abandoned by the people we were counting on. My father learned a big lesson through this dark time for our family. He learned that if he was going to keep his love affair, he had to do better about hiding it.
My father grew more and more distant from us as we got older. The abusive way he treated us got worse, and terrible things started happening. I always wondered why he was always so mad at us. I wondered why no one else was treated the way we were. It was like something was going on behind the scenes and it was up to us to keep dads big secret. Who we are in public is not who we are at home. We don’t talk about what we are going through, we don’t question dad. He is allowed to do, and say whatever he wants because he is in charge of the family. A few misinterpreted Bible verses later and he would convince us that he is allowed to do what he wants because he is “the head of the home.” “Children obey your parents” became, -I will hurt you and there is nothing you can say or do because I am in charge-. Pornography is not to blame for all bad behavior, but I believe with my whole heart that had it not been in my dad’s life, he would have had more room in his heart to love us, and treat us the way we deserved. I believe pornography siphoned off his ability to passionately pursue others because he was too consumed in loving his addiction.
Selfishness is the most common form of pride. We all have this in abundance, we all are selfish in some way or another. Unfortunately pornography is one of the most selfish things you could do. To sacrifice your marriage vows at the feet of a porn star, is never worth the cost. I was told over, and over again by my father that, “all guys look every now and then.” This is a cop-out, and a terrible excuse. To say, “I saw porn but its ok, because other guys do it too.” Is completely asinine. We all need to man up and call it what it is, “I cheated on my wife with my heart and mind because I wanted to.” Stop making excuses, stop giving yourself a reason that it is ok. Your kids might just find out about this hidden world of immorality, and all the things you have been hiding. I can tell you from my experience, the cost of hiding this from the people that love you is dangerous. The things that were open, and discussed, and talked about was ALWAYS worked through. The things that were hidden by my dad were permitted by him to stay in our home and grow to illegal proportions.
Pornography seemed to be one of the things that my dad ran to in order to whisk him away to a world that he liked better than the family he had. We were not the priority, his online mistresses were. His cold eyes were hungry, always looking for the next visual link he had to the world he enjoyed in his mind. The affairs were worse than real, they were portable, and accessible everywhere. The porn stars he loved got more time with him than his kids did on some days. The industry of porn had a huge part to play as I lost my relationship with my dad. To be very clear, it was more than porn, but the immorality pushed him into some VERY dark places that he had yet to recover from. His pornography addiction is directly linked to the abuse in our home, and the wicked things he did to the ones he was instructed by God to protect.
Pornography is a manifestation of the selfishness within mankind. It does not make people selfish, it reveals the selfishness that is already there. Porn is the essence of lies, as it states that it is more satisfying than the warmth of a spouse. It shows the pride that creeps from the heart as it prioritizes self-pleasure rather than the morality that is found in purity. Pornography whispers in your ear to hide what you have done rather than to be Humble, Open, and Transparent about your failure. The worst part of pornography might be the way it turns reasonable, rational, and decent human beings, like my dad, into people that hurt, abuse, threaten, cause harm, and seek to destroy those around them.
I have had heart wrenching conversations with Madison over my selfish behavior on this subject. I have had to dig out the dirt on myself and reveal what I had chosen over her. I have had to watch my wife’s heart break over my wicked choices. My wife has cried many tears through the conversations where I told her what I have done. It is so much better to own my own terrible choices than to have been caught later and dealt with the fallout. The hours of therapy we have had is one of the largest factors contributing to our healing and restoration. I refuse to hide what I have done for the sake of being afraid of the consequences.
To be very clear. Pornography is not the unpardonable sin, but it is the equivalent of playing with a nuclear bomb. It will go off and set a chain of events where you could lose everything important to you. It is sexual immorality and should be treated as such. I am not condemning anyone, simply sharing my memories and feelings about a sinful pattern that was a key player in the separation I have with my father. I beg you as a son, please do not knock on the door of pornography, it is a terrible mistress and will rob you of everything you have. Pornography will convince you that it is a better lover than your spouse and will take you away from the things in life that you should truly value.
Pornography, you have lodged yourself everywhere. You are ready to crawl into the bed of anyone willing to have you, and you have turned thousands of people from their families as they try to hide their struggle. I rebuke this in the name of Jesus Christ. I pray that all kids, teens, adults, married, and single people in the world would NOT HIDE their struggle, but bring it to the surface to the ones who love them. If we would just stop hiding this, we would make progress to rid it completely from our life. The solution is simple. Take what is in hiding, bring it to the light, and own the consequences BEFORE things get out of hand.
Posted with permission from Ryan Baker
Worth the 30 seconds ….
There was a snake that crawled over a sharp saw and was cut. In anger, the snake wrapped the saw with its thick body and proceeded to squeeze the life out of the saw. (Its natural defense.)
With each angry squeeze, it felt more pain but continued because it wasn’t going to let the saw get away with the pain it caused it. The more he squeezed, the more he bled.
The snake, refusing to let go of the saw, eventually died. Not knowing the whole time, he needed to let go of the initial pain, stop the bleeding, and focus on his future and where he was going. Instead, the snake lost his life and didn’t even see it coming. He thought he was winning.
Let go of any offense in your heart, forgive those that hurt you, and don’t give the enemy an open door to torment you.
It will eventually kill you.
Not sure where I found this, but was worth reposting. If the author is known, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org for proper credit to be given.
How do you handle the solo sexual stuff? How do you deal with masturbation and pornography as a Christian?
I’m writing about this because you asked. You send me questions about this almost every week, and you deserve an answer. As both a Medical Doctor and Doctor of Ministry, I’ll do my best to offer you both truth and hope on this topic.
For starters, if the gospel isn’t big enough to have answers for this kind of touchy stuff, what good is it? There is no problem in our lives for which God does not have an answer. The answers may not be simple or easy, but that’s why we’re talking about it.
Pornography and masturbation are not the same. I don’t believe God judges them the same. I’m addressing them together because they often go together; masturbating while watching pornography.
If you’re struggling here I encourage you to read all the way to the end of this article. I’ll share with you a dramatic story of how one person found amazing freedom from her private sexual hell. I know Jesus can do the same for you!
How you are affected
Here are some of the people I’ve heard from:
- The husband whose wife is physically unable to have intercourse, feeling guilty for masturbating occasionally
- The single woman feeling an overwhelming spiritual oppression that keeps her compulsively masturbating
- The wife who feels lonely and rejected because her husband spends hours watching pornography in the basement instead of spending time with her
- The husband filled with shame and guilt because of watching pornography while sleeping in a separate bedroom from his wife
- The Christian minister struggling to stay free from pornography while he and his wife wrestle with marriage issues
- The single woman addicted to pornography, wondering if she is the only one
- The man wondering if it’s a sin to masturbate as a way to relieve sexual tension because his wife is unwilling to engage in sex
- The couple struggling with sexual intimacy who want to try viewing pornography together to see if it would improve their relationship
These are real people with real names who I have either spoken to personally or received written messages from. Your story may be different, but it’s certain you are not the only one wrestling with the issues you are facing.
I answered each of these individuals personally, and my answer was not the same to all of them. I hope you’ll see why as you continue reading.
What’s the Problem?
Here are the primary issues pornography and masturbation bring up for you as a Christian.
Shame and Guilt
There’s not one person I’ve heard from on these issues who is not wrestling with some measure of shame and guilt about them – some more, some less. This fact in itself should confirm that we need to bring the gospel to bear here.
But simply saying “Ask God to forgive you, and don’t do it anymore” is not enough. You’ve tried that, and nothing changes. You desperately want and need forgiveness, but you need something more too.
The world’s answer is, “Just don’t feel guilty about it. This behavior is normal.”
Yes, there is true guilt and false guilt. But if you’re reading this, I don’t have to tell you that saying “It’s all OK” doesn’t satisfy. And it’s certainly not what God would say.
So what’s OK? What’s not OK? What’s sin in this area? What’s normal? What can God bless? What does He realistically and truly expect? And what do you do about it?
I’ll attempt to answer those question below.
God built into human beings a biological/psychological drive for sex. He must have thought it important, because He certainly also knew how much trouble we would experience over our sexuality. This need is connected with, but different from, our need for intimacy.
The Bible is clear; God intended sex to be ravishingly enjoyed between one woman and one man in a life-long commitment in marriage. Sex outside of that boundary brings all kinds of trouble including guilt, pain, broken hearts, and more.
But not everyone is, can be, or wants to be married. And not every marriage is healthy sexually. What are God’s children to do in those circumstances?
If you’re wrestling with masturbation and/or pornography as a way to deal with sexual needs, keep reading.
The research is clear and your stories are clear. Pornography and compulsive masturbation have the power to insert their claws deep into your brain, controlling you without regard for your wellbeing. They make an exceptionally cruel taskmaster.
Not everyone who masturbates occasionally or comes across a pornographic image becomes addicted. I believe there is a biologic propensity here that leads some people to become almost instantly addicted, while others are not.
It’s not unlike alcohol. Some people can celebrate with an occasional glass of wine and leave it at that. Others cannot. Like Donald Trump refusing to take even one drink, if you’re at risk the only safe thing is to not even try it once!
That said, if you think you can control your consumption of pornography, you’re fooling yourself. This is one reason I believe viewing pornography is always sinful. (There are other reasons also.)
If masturbating has become compulsive, you also know the power that it can hold over you. (More on that below.)
Pornography damages marriages. Pornography damages your soul and spirit. Period.
Pornography provides an experience of sexual stimulation and release without connecting with another human being. It’s always taking rather than giving. That’s another reason I believe pornography is always sinful.
Each experience viewing pornography lessens your ability to become sexually aroused by and connect with a real live person – your spouse. Regular use before marriage can lead to serious disappointment with one’s spouse when marriage does happen. Use while married takes away from the sexual intimacy your spouse deserves, and from your determination to pursue your spouse. Viewing pornography together with your spouse does not bring you closer together physically/emotionally/spiritually.
Compulsive masturbation does the same when it lessens your sexual connection with your spouse and makes sex only about meeting your own physical needs.
I can hear some of you right now: “My spouse refuses (or is unable) to engage in sex. So I’m not taking anything away. Intimacy is impossible.”
If you’re married, your job is to continually seek to connect with your spouse – over and over and over again. That holds true regardless of how “cold,” unreasonable, or frustrating that becomes. Your spouse’s refusal or inability to engage in sex is absolutely no excuse to indulge in pornography.
What’s Sin? What’s Not Sin?
You’ve realized by now that I believe pornography is always sinful. Here’s why:
- Pornography always exploits someone. The person photographed/videoed is always being used for the sexual pleasure of someone they have no relationship with, often under extremely abusive circumstances.
- Pornography always damages your ability to connect with your spouse, taking the sexual/emotional energy you should invest in them.
- Pornography is seriously addicting. It makes you do things even when doing so harms yourself or others.
- Pornography sears your brain and damages your soul.
It’s difficult to NOT be exposed to pornography in some form. That’s not sin to the person who is unexpectedly exposed. It’s the second look, the choosing to go back, that becomes sin.
Is masturbation sinful? I tread cautiously here. This is where true guilt and false guilt can become confusing.
There’s no question that compulsive masturbation is sinful. It controls you, damages you, and takes sexual/emotional energy from what you should invest in your spouse.
Dr. James Dobson recounts a conversation he had with his father as a young boy. His father told him (my paraphrase), “I want to relieve some guilt for you ahead of time. Masturbation is something you are certain to face. I could wish you wouldn’t do it, but you will. I don’t think it has that much to do with your relationship with God.” Some will disagree with this, but it’s an important perspective for you to know about.
Biologically, God created both men and woman with a way to relieve sexual tension outside of intercourse. Men may call this “wet dreams.” Women may experience something similar. Occasional masturbation can simply be part of this mechanism.
I’ve had some men tell me that they could never engage in masturbation without sexual fantasies or viewing pornography. If that’s the case for you, then it all needs to stop. Easy? No. Possible? Yes!
Here’s my bottom line as a “Doctor-Doctor”: periodic release of sexual tension through masturbation may be OK for the single person, or the married person whose spouse is unable to engage in sex. Compulsive masturbation is sin. Masturbation accompanied by sexual fantasies or viewing pornography is sin. Occasional release of sexual tension when you don’t have a spouse may not be.
It’s dangerous for me to say that because it’s fuzzy. It risks lessening the guilt someone feels who is being convicted by the Holy Spirit that their compulsive masturbation needs to stop. Like alcohol, if “occasionally” works for you, talk about that with Jesus. Just be aware that for many, “occasionally” turns into “compulsive.”
It’s also dangerous because it doesn’t answer the question “how much?” Clearly several times a day is dangerous, sinful, and compulsive. Beyond that, I can’t give you a number. I’ll leave the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. If He is telling you to stop all masturbation, listen! Please let Him speak to you!
Someone feeling guilt over occasional masturbation needs to find freedom right here. Your guilt may be false guilt. If this troubles you, take it before the Lord. Let Him speak to you and heal you from false guilt.
Freedom from Pornography and Compulsive Masturbation
Jesus can set you free! That’s always the case. And it’s the case here.
Deborah was set free, and Jesus can set you free too. She gave permission to share her story (slightly edited for space), and I think you will find it inspiring.
I am from Senegal, born in a Muslim family. In December 2002 I came to America to study and met with some Christian friends but I did not want to hear about Christ. Sometime later I started watching pornography and self-masturbating. As a result I started experiencing an ongoing daily supernatural and unwanted sexual relationship with a demon – a “spirit husband”.
One day I was just sick and tired of my life and asked God to show me the way to follow for my life, even if it meant Jesus. I went to bed, and when I woke up I could hear, “Jesus”, “Jesus”, “Jesus”. My friend gave me the number of a pastor who used to be a Muslim. He led me to Christ that day and I told him about that spirit husband. He prayed over the phone and commanded that spirit never to touch me again and I have not had that kind of encounter again.
As soon as I said the prayer of salvation, I felt a huge load being taken off my shoulders. It was physical, like when you are carrying something very heavy on your shoulders and someone stronger just picks it up for you. The Lord delivered me effortlessly from so many fears. I now can look at tombs without being afraid of death. What a relief!!! The Lord also delivered me from the spirit of pornography and masturbation.
When my family found out I had become a Christian they disowned me. For four years they completely ignored me but Jesus has started to work things out. I have a much bigger family now since I joined God’s family, so many people who love and care for me and I have never lacked anything.
Remember, what He’s done for others, He will do for you!
How to Find Freedom
I hope Deborah’s testimony makes you hungry for freedom!
You may wonder why you have not experienced freedom even though you’ve prayed for deliverance many times. Remember that God works in every person’s life in a unique way. The important thing is that you don’t give up!
Deborah is right: freedom is part of salvation. Sometimes it comes over time, but it’s there for you!
If you want deliverance from pornography or compulsive masturbation, know that God has it available. Here are three important steps.
1. Give God permission to work on your heart.
Don’t hold anything back. Nothing. No excuses. The most lasting change comes when God makes you Fully Alive – from the inside out. When He brings up something painful for you to deal with, face it. When He tells you to do something, do it. When the Holy Spirit puts His finger on something in your life, let Him have it.
Don’t underestimate this step. You can’t expect God to set you free in one area if you are holding back in another. That does not mean you’re perfect in other areas, but it does mean you give everything to him; your time, your money, your body, your job, your future, your marriage – everything.
2. Get in community!
Shame thrives in the dark. Bringing it into the light disarms its power. You do that by joining with other believers who are also committed to experiencing freedom.
If you’re married, enlist your spouse. No secrets! None at all! But you must also connect with other same-sex believers who can understand and support you and help hold you accountable. If you have Christian friends who you can be open with, do so.
3. Keep Fighting Spiritually
Finding freedom from pornography or compulsive masturbation is a matter of spiritual warfare. Jesus wants to set you free! And your role is to live out that freedom.
Plead the blood of Jesus daily over your mind, heart, and life. You dare not take one more step without the covering of His blood! The enemy will try to shame you into giving up. By continuing to place yourself under the blood of Jesus and walking out His victory in your own life you are demonstrating to the enemy that Jesus has won – and that you are standing on His side.
We have a 30-day devotional email series Toward Sexual Wholeness to help you begin this journey.
I hope this has stimulated you to choose to fight for the freedom from pornography or compulsive masturbation that Jesus has for you. Let me know by using this confidential form. I read each one personally.
I’m a rescued, thriving, joyful human being because of Jesus, and I believe you can experience that kind of transformation too!
I’ve experienced how God can take everything and miraculously transform it into growth, meaning, and joy. For me, that included past years of mental/emotional torment, and then the journey of grief after my loving husband’s death.
Professionally, I’m an author, speaker, personal coach, licensed OB-Gyn physician, and ordained Doctor of Ministry.
I practiced medicine as an OB-Gyn physician and Reproductive Endocrinologist for over 29 years. While continuing to practice medicine, I also obtained an M.Div. (Master of Divinity), and then a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry) from Oral Roberts University, focusing on Christian leadership. My husband Al and I together produced a regular radio program “The Dr Carol Show” from 2009 until not long before his death in 2016.
Many people struggle to find the help they need in church for thorny issues such as broken relationships, issues around sex/sexuality, mental/emotional problems, and toxic religion. I’m privileged to help people find the transformation Jesus offers in those areas, so they can experience the Fully Alive life He came to bring.
I live near Austin, Texas, where I get to enjoy being Grandma Carol to four wonderful grandchildren.
“It’s not the real thing.” … “It’s not like I’m fooling around on her.” … “Besides, she’s the one who doesn’t want to be intimate.” … “I’ll just ask God to forgive me, and she won’t be the wiser.” These are all justifications you might use when looking at porn. But the question of “Why is porn cheating?” requires being real with yourself about your pornography habit.
When you indulge porn, you are:
- Exploring Sex Without Your Wife. When you took your wedding vows, you promised to be true to her, probably saying the words “forsaking all others,” which included doing so in a mental and emotional capacity.
- Hiding Your Viewing Habits. A husband and wife share everything, not just their cars and access to bank accounts. This sharing includes being forthcoming and honest and doing nothing behind the other’s back… especially involving something as personal and private as sex.
Why is Porn Cheating?
The Scriptures share admonishments about why viewing porn is a form of unfaithfulness to your wife. For example, the last of the 10 Commandments is crystal-clear about desiring what doesn’t belong to you:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…” Exodus 20:17a, LXX
Covetousness is an important, yet often forgotten, commandment from God. When you look at pornography, don’t you ultimately desire what and who you’re watching?
Also, lust is the byproduct of viewing pornography. The Lord Jesus fulfilled the commandment about adultery (Exodus 20:14) in His Sermon on the Mount:
“…I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28, NKJV
Pornography leads you to lust and covetousness, which pulls you further apart from God. You are instead called to “…put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14)
This call includes putting away fantasies, masturbation, and similar behaviors.
Being ‘Servants to Each Other’
In a Christian marriage, a man’s sexuality is tied to his wife’s sexuality and vice versa. The Apostle Paul distinctly spelled this out in his first epistle to the Church at Corinth:
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” 1 Corinthians 7:4, NKJV
This mutuality of marriage and equality of commitment the Apostle Paul spells out here shook up the meaning of Christian marriage in his day. It also should undergird what a Christian marriage is in the present day.
Deceit is a Sin
The Scriptures are full of passages regarding God’s attitude toward lying and deceit. He said to the Israelites through Moses that they were to “…not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.” (Leviticus 19:11, LXX) This Old Testament verse still rings true to Christians today.
When a Christian man indulges in negative actions and habits his wife doesn’t know about, he essentially lies to her. Again, the Apostle Paul:
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him Who created him…” Colossians 3:9-10, NKJV
This verse applies to spouses, who are to be Christlike to each other and others in general.
Porn Viewing and Addiction
When you decided to follow Christ, you chose to live a different life. But you weren’t promised to be completely free from the world’s temptations. Though pornography is just one of them, it’s serious, and it can lead to addictive behaviors.
And even when you repent of your sinful lifestyle, impure thoughts can randomly infect your mind. These thoughts can ultimately turn you back to sin and lead you away from God and those you love.
Although you may have tried countless times to break that cycle of addiction, the guilt and shame that comes with it don’t easily go away.
You may need to seek professional treatment for your pornography addiction. Doing so will help you heal the root trauma that likely causes the addiction, stop harmful behaviors, and restore your relationship with God and your wife.
Originally Published at Boulder Recovery
Edward Tilton, Boulder Recovery, COO
Edward Tilton is a proven behavioral healthcare leader with an established track record in the recovery industry space. As an accomplished healthcare leader, Ed has diverse management experience including clinical and business operations, expansion of program development and clinical service offerings.
Prior to his role at Begin Again Institute, Ed held a leadership position at Valiant Living, a gender-specific program focused on helping men with fused and co-occurring disorders find recovery.
During his time at Valiant Living, Ed established and managed operational, clinical, and financial objectives to grow the program to encompass all levels of clinical care including a concierge detox, inpatient care program, partial hospitalization services and an intensive outpatient track.
“The worst thing you can do with (people involved in pornography) is lecture them about praying more or asking God for help. They’ve already done that, often to the point of despair.”
Such were the blasphemous words of a “Christian” therapist who went on to assert that the only real hope for sexual addiction is found through psychotherapy.
There is no mistaking the inference here: God is not trustworthy. You can cry out to Him until you’re blue in the face and nothing is going to happen. Such sentiments are extremely poisonous to one’s faith and paralyze the hungry soul from believing God for deliverance.
How contrary such thinking is to the truths found in Scripture! The writer of Hebrews directly addressed this very issue when he wrote: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:15-16)
When a beggar comes to the door of a rich man known for his benevolence, he comes forward with a certain degree of confident expectation. He is driven, not by arrogant presumption, but by need. It is this sense of desperation to which the wealthy man responds. A sense of one’s need coupled with a belief that the other person is willing to meet that need is the basis of all believing prayer. God delights to see people come to Him with this kind of trust and faith. C.H. Spurgeon put it this way:
“How very small, after all, is this demand which God makes of us. Ask! Why, it is the least thing He can possibly expect of us, and it is no more than we ordinarily require of those who need help from us. We expect a poor man to ask; and if he does not, we lay the blame of his lack upon himself. If God will give for the asking, and we remain poor, who is to blame? Do you know what great things are to be had for the asking? Have you ever thought of it? Does it not stimulate you to pray fervently? All heaven lies before the grasp of the asking man; all the promises of God are rich and inexhaustible, and their fulfillment is to be had by prayer.”
Come as You Are
Consider the story of the “woman with the issue of blood.” (Mark 5:24-34) Though driven to Jesus primarily by physical need, her situation is very comparable to the person who struggles with habitual sexual sin. In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time, this woman was considered unclean. In fact, anyone who touched her would have to undergo an elaborate ceremonial cleansing.
For twelve long years, she suffered with her affliction. Having already visited all the “professionals,” she had tried every remedy offered by man. Her story closely resembles those of sexual addicts who typically exhaust man’s wisdom before finally turning in desperation to God.
One day, she heard that the Healer was in town. It should be noted here that her day undoubtedly began the same way as hundreds before it. She would have long since lost any hope—destined to remain unclean the rest of her life. She had no indication that anything would be any different this day.
I was there once myself: unclean with no hope that anything could ever change. I too tried the “experts” with letters behind their names—all to no avail. Once my uncleanness became real to me and I realized man could not change me, there was nothing I could do but throw myself on the mercy of God. It was then, in my spiritually weakened condition, that I reached out and took hold of His garment.
Believe for the Impossible
As she approached, she saw a vast throng of people surrounding the Savior. In her weakened condition it must have seemed impossible to reach this Man. Imagine if, in the process, this poor woman would have come across someone like the faithless therapist mentioned above. She probably would have been told, “There’s no sense in going to this Jesus. He can’t help you!” Perhaps these words of empty counsel would have provided just enough discouragement to paralyze her. Isn’t that exactly what the devil would want?
But she had heard the reports about Jesus and she believed. Having tried all the self-appointed specialists, she instinctively knew that only God could help her. A singular thought compelled her: “If I can just touch His garments, I will be healed.” It was faith that drove her to the Redeemer, something this therapist apparently could not understand.
Desperate people like this woman learn not to be denied. She was determined to persist, regardless of the obstacles. It’s very possible that the prayer of the Psalmist energized her that day: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) This is the kind of determination that men in habitual sexual sin need to find their deliverance. By simply refusing to be denied, this woman both learned and demonstrated the secret of tapping into the power of God: faith. Charles Spurgeon speaks of this:
“If it had not been for faith, she would not have been earnest and importunate. Faith hangs on to Christ in the dark, it holds to a silent Christ, it holds to a refusing Christ, it holds to a rebuking Christ, and it will not let him go. Faith is the great holdfast that hooks a soul on to the Savior…
“Faith is like the Greek in the days of Xerxes, who seized the boat with his right hand. When they chopped off the right hand, he seized it with the left hand; when they cut off the left hand, he laid hold of the boat with his teeth, and did not let go until they severed his head from his body. Soul, if thou canst lay hold of Christ with thy right hand, or with thy left hand, it will be well with thee. Cling to Christ, and say to him with that holy boldness that is the result of faith, ‘I will not let thee go except thou bless me.’”
The truth is that this woman was too frail to press through that mob, but there was an unseen Hand which made a path for her—the same Hand which will always help the sincere prodigal find his way home. It was her faith that caused her to hold onto that Hand.
Take Every Opportunity
Finally, she miraculously made her way through the vast throng of people to the Savior. She had one chance. One second longer and He would be gone—along with all her hopes. But she seized her opportunity. The quivering hand reached out and touched His garment. Instantly, she felt the warm flow of God’s power rush through her body. It wasn’t a mere superficial remedy, either. The Lord’s healing power went right to the root of the problem.
Perhaps your soul has uncleanness clinging to it, just like this woman’s body. Following her example of perseverance, you too must press through the obstacles to lay hold of the Master’s robe. Your healing will most likely take place over time—as you hold onto His garment. The secret is persistent, believing faith. Keep crying out to Him for your deliverance! Look upon that Face which radiates the intense love of God and listen to that Voice brimming with compassion.
Yes, it is true, you have sinned. You have no right to come before Him. And yet, what is also true is that He awaits you there. God’s throne truly is a throne built upon grace. Humble yourself before Him. Throw yourself upon His mercy. And you will find help in your time of need. I will conclude with a passage from my book, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry:
“I once thought that all of the trips I made to the altar crying out for God’s help were a waste of time. Then as I re-examined those isolated incidents, I came to realize that those trips to the altar were instrumental in bringing about my deliverance! If you really want to be set free from the bondage of sexual sin, cry out to God daily. Do it today! Do it now! Your cries will be heard!”
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
Today while working away at my desk, I get text message, most times it requires me to stop and take action. Today, I got a text message from a young man in our program who forwarded a text from his Father.
Here is the text:
My Dad sent this:
“If you love God, and are living as one who is called according to His purposes, then He has promised you that all things work together for Good, even if it may initially look like failure.
FAILURE simply can mean:
Walk with God Today, look to Him for direction, then let Him direct you. Ask Him specifically for answers you are looking for. If He says Wait, then wait. If He says Yes, step forward. If He says No, then move on. Because a NO from the Lord can simply mean: Next Opportunity
Wait when He says Wait. Step forward when He says Yes. Look for the next opportunity when He says No. Knowing that our Father loves you, has your best interest in mind, and is working it all out for good.”
Make it a great day,
I think we can all learn from this Father. What a great way for a Father to show his support to his Son in recovery. As a Father myself, I tip my hat to this Dad and say, “well done Sir!”