Listen to Your Lust

Listen to Your Lust

by Jay Stringer February 14, 2019


For too long, the primary Christian approach to sexual brokenness has been lust management. Those struggling with unwanted sexual behavior—pornography use, infidelity, hook-ups, or buying sex—have been encouraged to bounce their eyes, stop lusting, find a hobby, pursue accountability, manage triggers, and install monitoring on electronic devices. However, as one of my friends recently said, “When I’ve been having the same conversation with my accountability partner for fifteen years, something isn’t working.”

I believe there is another approach.

It begins with listening to your lust.

Internet search bars, browser histories, and destructive sexual choices certainly expose sin, but far more, they reveal the unaddressed and therefore unresolved stories of your life. The sexual behavior and fantasies you’ve been trying to stop actually contain the first set of clues about where to begin your healing journey.


OUR WAY TO HEALING

I recently completed research on the key drivers of unwanted sexual behavior for my new book Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing. Over 3,800 men and women participated in the study. I can tell you, sexual brokenness is not random. The specifics of what you find arousing are shaped, and predicted by the parts of your story that remain unaddressed. The implication is this: if you want freedom, you need to identify the unique reasons that bring you to it in the first place.

Whether you find yourself in sexual shame due to a recent failure or you’re in an ongoing battle you don’t believe you’ll ever be able to conquer, I’d recommend not spending the best years of your life trying to manage something that was never meant to be managed. Allow your sexual brokenness to reveal your way to healing.

Let me show you how:


Jeff is a husband and father of two who has used pornography for over twenty years. In one of our first conversations, Jeff told me, “I acted out last night. I was really triggered and felt rejected by my wife. I couldn’t sleep, went downstairs, and ended up looking at porn. I haven’t been attending my recovery group very much, so I am going to reconnect with them on Saturday.”

What happens next with someone like Jeff will largely determine the course of their pornography use, marriage, and personal development.

STUDY YOUR LUST

Instead of giving him a strategy to conquer his unwanted sexual behavior or affirm his decision to pursue community as the solution, I asked about the specifics of his porn searches. A bit flabbergasted, he said, “I’ve never had anyone ask that.” He thought for a moment and replied, “It basically involves seeing hot college girls strip.” 

Within a few questions, I learned that Jeff had been pursuing some version of this fantasy since high school when he first saw an advertisement for videos of wild college girls stripping on spring break. Several nights a week when he couldn’t sleep, Jeff would go downstairs and channel surf until he found the advertisement for the DVDs or some other suggestive content.

Two decades later, his fantasy of pursuing college girls stripping when he was experiencing sleeplessness, emotional pain, and family conflict was essentially the same. His childhood television became his smartphone. Boredom in high school became purposelessness in his career. An avoidant mother became a disinterested wife. A brooding father became the man in the mirror.

In my first few meetings with Jeff he told me two significant stories about himself. One was about his father and the second was about his career.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

Jeff’s father would fluctuate between emotional distance and invasive, even humiliating engagement. Jeff recalled a time when he and his father were playing soccer in the backyard. His father used these rare occasions for play to drill into Jeff how poor his mechanics were. When Jeff didn’t implement a skill quick enough, his father would escalate his dominance over him. One match ended when Jeff’s dad defeated him by a score of ten goals to zero adding, “If you want to be anybody in life, you need to outwork your competition.” Jeff walked through the back sliding glass door defeated and angry. Feet away was his mother with her back turned stirring soup on the stove.  

As an adult, Jeff felt completely uninspired by his work within a large bureaucratic company. A few months ago, Jeff had a drink with a recently divorced friend who was part of a fascinating start-up. As his friend shared the details, Jeff could feel envy and dread rise up within him. He said to himself, “I’m just not cut out to be an entrepreneur. Being a cog in a job I hate is all I can do because I have to support a family.” The next day at work, his misery felt as tangible as ever. Jeff couldn’t care less for his job, his sex life needed resuscitation, and all that he looked forward to was a yearly guys camping weekend. Porn wasn’t helping his life improve, but it felt like a merciful consolation. Jeff, like the men in my research, were seven times more likely to escalate their pornography use when they did not have a clear sense of purpose in life.

BEING CURIOUS

With more than two decades of involvement in Christian communities, Jeff concluded that he had been in a lifelong slugfest with lust; therefore, it would be in his best interest to phone a friend for back-up in times of temptation, use Internet monitoring, and get into couples counseling so he could build healthy intimacy. The danger with this approach is that the underlying stories that drove and sustained his use of pornography were completely overlooked.

So many of us ask God to help us stop our lust, but how many of us have actually asked God to help us understand it? One week of deliberate curiosity about your sexual brokenness will take you so much further than a thousand nights of prayerful despair.

One of the fascinating findings of my research was that the specific pornography searches and fantasies we make are shaped by our life story. For example, men like Jeff who sought out pornography involving “teen” or “college” aged images, someone with a smaller body type or a race that suggested (to them) subservience, tended to have three key predictors:

  • A strict father
  • A lack of purpose
  • Shame

NOT RANDOM

As you can see, pornography becomes an appealing choice for those who have been powered over and don’t have a clear sense of purpose in their lives. Pornography allows us to flee the rigidity of a family system, the emptiness of a marriage, and the futility of a career. We return to it decade after decade precisely because it offers a world where we can reverse and reinforce what we expect to experience. Why give up pornography, when it’s the only effective way we know to reverse our powerlessness? And if we’re used to feeling stuck and terrible about who we are, pornography will help reinforce that too.  

When Jeff first saw the advertisement for the DVDs of college girls, something in his bored and defeated demeanour lifted. Pornography initially offered him passion and comfort. This needed to be honored and not pathologized if he was ever going to outgrow it. Rather than seeing the back of a woman working at a stove or a father ruining the potential for play, he merged with a fantasy where he could instantly find himself on spring break from the difficulties of life. Growth wasn’t about avoiding triggers, it was about knowing how to regulate his emotional life in the midst of them. Outsourcing the solution to pornography, his spouse’s sexual availability, and even community would never work because each became a means to evade the personal crucible in front of him.

ROADMAP FOR GROWTH

In our work together, I invited Jeff to consider this premise: sexual brokenness is a roadmap for growth, not a terminal illness that needs to be managed. Jeff allowed his sexual brokenness to reveal his direction for healing in four ways. I trust these will offer you guidance as well:

Listen to Your Lust

To find healing, connect the dots between your story and the specifics of your unwanted sexual behavior. Jeff saw that his pornography use was less about “acting out” and far more about re-enacting a familiar sexual script. The pornography searches he pursued had so much to teach him, if he was willing to listen.

More than Lust Involved

As is often the case for men, we want the subordination of women in pornography or reality rather than confronting difficult dimensions of who we are. Jeff recognized that the river of unwanted sexual behavior was fed by many tributaries, including anger. Pornography wasn’t just seductive to Jeff because of lustful erotic content. It was alluring because it gave him an arena to find power and to exact revenge against his wife for her rejection.

Confront Yourself

People who struggle with unwanted sexual behavior prefer to locate their problems as interpersonal conflicts (spouse, boss, friends, etc.) rather than confront their personal dilemmas. Jeff rarely pursued his wife, except for sex. He felt justified in his apathy toward pursuing his wife because of her apathy toward sex. Seeing a woman with her back turned without care or desire was what he expected to find. Rather than focusing on his wife depriving him, he took risks to know and be known by his wife outside of sex. When he did, he realized how difficult it must be for his wife to truly desire him when she would encounter a brooding man whenever he was disappointed.

Pursue Holistic Community

To find healing, connect the dots between your story and the specifics of your unwanted sexual behavior. Jeff saw that his pornography use was less about “acting out” and far more about re-enacting a familiar sexual script. The pornography searches he pursued had so much to teach him, if he was willing to listen.

God is not ashamed of our sexual brokenness, but understands it to be the very stage through which the work of redemption can play out in our life. We tend to think that all God wants from us is conformity; but the reality is, God desires a wild and beautiful transformation to take place within us. So instead of trying to manage your life, allow your brokenness to wake you up to the deepest desires within you for healing and flourishing. Freedom from sexual brokenness is too small a hope. Asking what you want to be free for will allure you to a radically different life.


JAY STRINGER

Jay is a licensed mental health counselor, ordained minister, and author of Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to HealingHe also partnered with The Heart of Man film to create  Journey into the Heart of Man, a 5-month online curriculum for men and women struggling with sexual brokenness. He holds an MDiv and Masters in Counseling Psychology from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and received post-graduate training under Dr. Dan Allender. Jay lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife Heather and their two children. 




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