The modern-day church is brimming with the faithful and seekers of God who gather to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV). The church is also full of flawed men and women who “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
It can be easy to assume that an issue like sex addiction doesn’t make it’s way to the people in the church. Or if it does, it’s contained to the few outliers who aren’t regular attenders and hug the back wall during the service.
The reality is that according to the latest research, sex addiction is much more prevelant in the church than most faith leaders and congregants are aware of. And the person struggling is likely to be right next to you in the service, or even standing in front at the pulpit.
It’s important to know that sex addiction symptoms aren’t limited to desiring or having excessive intercourse. Hypersexuality disorder also can include addiction to pornography or masturbation andthe causes of the addiction vary, depending on a person’s circumstances.
Because of the unique nature of the disorder, it may not be surprising that there are difficulties addressing sex addiction in the church.
Sex Addiction and the Church
Many modern churches and Christian leaders aren’t equipped to help people with sex addiction. Though they have the best intentions to address a person’s compulsive sexual behavior, they’re not always experienced in or have a deeper understanding of what to do, said Matthew Wenger, the Clinical Director at Boulder Recovery.
“They make unintentional mistakes that can result in harm to those that come to them for help. To address this epidemic the church needs to, in a broad sense, change its approach so that more people feel safe to seek help and get connected to resources for addiction recovery.”
Missteps the church and Christian leaders make when addressing sex addiction include:
- Failing to Understand Sex Addiction. Many pastors treat sex addiction as sinful behavior instead of considering what causes the behavior. Sex addiction has deeper roots that often involve trauma earlier in life. An addiction is a disorder, not a character flaw.
- Discouraging Full Disclosure. Some pastors and church leaders might not want to hear a person’s full story about their struggles with sex addiction. Instead, they may encourage them to keep the addiction or information about it a secret.
- Focusing on Shame. Shame is making a person feel like they’re bad, not that they simply did something bad. Matt said this can be “damaging when a church leader sees the repetitive behavior as a sign that the addict is not a true Christian.”
- Public Shaming. Some church leaders may require the person struggling with sex addiction to confess to the church and ask forgiveness for their sins or they may remove them from particular roles within the church. Matt said having specific rules for the sex addict or their disclosure of their issue can spread rumors and even public denouncement.
- Insufficient Marriage Counseling. Marriage counseling that doesn’t properly identify and address sexual addiction may result in blaming the wife for lack of physical intimacy or requiring her to forgive before she is allowed to fully grieve. It may also encourage rebuilding of the relationship before safety and sobriety have been established.
- Believing In “Instant Recovery.” Some church leaders may believe that they can pray about an addiction and it will disappear. It’s unrealistic to think recovery from sex addiction will automatically happen without focusing on its causes.
- Relying Solely on Increased Prayer and Bible Study. While continued investment in prayer and studying the Bible are important aspects to healing, Matt said it’s unlikely to heal an addiction.
- Using “Purity Language.” Leadership resorts to teaching about the importance of purity as a substitute for addressing why the behavior is occurring.
- Excommunication. Matt said the church sometimes prohibits someone from attending church who doesn’t repent for their sex addiction instead of trying to help them. The fear of removal may also be why people are reluctant to go to the church for help with their addiction.
- Believing the Only Source for Help is Christian Leaders. Members of church leadership are equipped to handle many things but most aren’t experts in treating sex addiction.
- Relying Only on Accountability Groups. Christians can find support and encouragement through sex addiction accountability and recovery groups. Still, they might not address the root cause of the behavior or offer the mental health support they need.
- Ignoring Help From Outside the Church. Some churches might see the act of getting help from outside sources as misguided or even sinful.
“Addiction discovery can result in the felt loss of family, home, and sometimes even employment. On top of that, a loss of connection to their church can be devastating,” Matt noted. “This can also be felt as abandonment or disconnection from God, especially when their status as a Christian is called into question.”
The result of these behaviors is new pain and trauma for the person with the addiction and their partner, Matt said.
How Church and Christian Leaders Can Avoid These Mistakes
Matt stresses that the church is not bad or wrong for attempting to help members who are struggling with addiction. Sometimes an issue is simply out of their realm of expertise.
“It’s OK to ask for help,” said Matt. “Being a spiritual leader is not about knowing all the answers. It’s about having the humility to go and try to hunt them down for the people you care for.”
Ways for Christian leaders and churches to adequately address sex addiction include:
- Discovering the Core Issue. As with any addiction, treatment involves pinpointing its origins. It includes identifying the cause of the addiction which often is rooted in childhood trauma and attachment wounding.
- Love and Respect. A person with sex addiction is a fellow Christian and human being. They should be treated as such.
- Setting Up a Plan for Recovery. Healing from an addiction is likely to be ineffective without establishing a thorough, continuous treatment plan.
- Appropriate Training. Giving church and Christian leaders the tools to truly help those with sex addiction is part of equipping them “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
- Referral Resources. Church leaders should encourage people who come to them with addictions to get the help they need, even if it’s outside of the church. Healing should always be the desired outcome.
Why Boulder Recovery?
We at Boulder Recovery don’t justify or minimize sexual addiction and its behaviors. But we do teach that compulsive sexual behaviors are an addiction. Matt noted that this approach promotes healing without shame. He said:
“We utilize validated trauma treatments to cut to the core of why the addiction developed and equip our participants with new and effective tools for combating urges to act out. This is integrated with the life-giving Gospel of Jesus that affords a new identity as sons and daughters of God, not failures and disappointments who can’t get it together.”
Our signature program is the 14-Day Christian Men’s Intensive, a program that helps men with sex, pornography, and relationship issues. It encourages honesty, courage, and transparency to help men get to the core of their issues and address them thoroughly and effectively.
You’ll find acceptance and support at Boulder Recovery. Reach out to us to begin your road to healing.