There are those who would say I am the last person who should write anything about sexual immorality. I, like many men before me, have struggled to keep my thoughts and actions pure. In recent years I have made improvements in the area of sexual purity, and I don’t think it is just because of a decreased libido. In all the years I have been married to my wife, I have been faithful to her – in the literal sense. In my mind, I have become more faithful to her. I have lost much of the lust that would have captured my thoughts early in our marriage.
There is a different mind-set I have now. When I consciously think about the area of sexual immorality, I acknowledge the following six truths. At the same time there are three actions I consider taking.
- Acknowledge what sexual immorality delivers
Sex is attractive because it delivers positive feelings. Of course, there is the rush of sexual stimulation. Beyond that, there is the intimate connection of being accepted and known. If we pretend sex is ugly and delivers nothing, we create people who are phobic about sex. Sex is a wonderful thing. It is a gift to be opened within marriage.
- Acknowledge that sexual immorality exploits
Sexual immorality exploits on a number of levels. The man in the back of the car manipulates the woman into performing sex acts by telling her what she wants to hear and making promises he will not keep. A woman mocks a young man for being unmanly because he won’t sleep with her.
The exploitation reaches its crescendo with sex-trafficking. Modern slavery moves victims around the world to be used sexually by people who care little for them. The porn industry uses trafficked people. Porn sex is becoming more aggressive and lacks any of the gentleness and care sex was created for. In some ways the exploitation is unmasked, but people don’t seem to care.
- Acknowledge that sexual immorality is a pathway
Jesus once said that people should not congratulate themselves on abstaining from adultery when they have no problem looking at each other lustfully. He was outlining that sexual immorality is not a single act but a pathway.
There are many on-ramps to the sexual immorality highway. Magazine racks in England were a problem for me as a teen. Recently, adult magazine covers in Europe have been covered so people don’t have to see them. When I saw them, as a teen, my mind would race. I would imagine exactly what the producers of the magazines hoped. I would imagine what was inside. I had to be careful whenever I was near a news stand. I had to be aware they had an on ramp for immorality.
Understanding that sexual immorality is a pathway and not an act provides an answer to the frequent question asked in youth group. “How far can I go?” The answer is that the question itself is wrong. There is nowhere to go down the wrong highway. The right question is “How can I respect, honour, and cherish my date?”
- Acknowledge that sex is for a relationship
The movies acknowledge that sex is for a relationship. In the movies the first or second date ends with sex. Subsequently the couple attempts to build a relationship on the back of the sex.
It is better to establish a relationship without sex first and to add sex later. If the relationship lasts forever, there will be periods when sex is not available due to sickness or distance. A relationship entirely predicated on sex will fail at these times. However, if the relationship is built first, and sex is reserved for a committed marriage, the security of the marriage relationship provides a basis for great sex.
- Acknowledge that sexual immorality addicts
Addictions provide a high and they compensate for what is lacking in life. Addicts self-medicate because something in life – wellness, emotions, acceptance – is not available. Sex is often used to fill an emptiness in a person’s life. When sex is used this way it provides a rush of excitement, but it ends in sadness, isolation and despair. Like any addiction, the problem is that the addict needs increased fixes for ever diminishing returns.
- Acknowledge that sexual immorality consumes
In our production-consumption society, sex has become a commodity. Unfortunately most of the products that we consume and don’t ‘need’ eventually consume us. ‘Sex sells,’ we are told. However, we are now sold on sex. Advertising campaigns cheapen sexual attraction and create sex-objects for us to idolize. It is a trophy to be a sex-symbol. New ideas are promoted as ‘sexy.’ Sex enters the daily routine as part and parcel of ordinary life. We are saturated with sexual images on T.V., billboards, and movies. We hear sexual innuendo on the radio or on our iPod. The saturation causes some kind of indifference. To make sex so common is to make it vulgar. In fact, the way we use sex as the basis of our swear words and coarse joking is the definition of vulgarity.
So how do we address our behaviors in the light of these acknowledgements?
- When tempted refocus
To focus on sex in order to defeat sexual immorality doesn’t work. Many well-meaning people spend a lot of time talking about sexual immorality and wonder why their minds are so full of it. The way forward is to focus on something else.
Isn’t there anything in our lives which grabs the imagination as much as sex? For me, it has been sports and computer games. The immersive nature of these activities consumes my mind. I can’t think about sexual immorality and catch a cricket ball that has been hit toward my head. I can’t fend off waves of mutants in a computer game and also let my mind wander down other paths.
Ideally, sports and computer games might give way to heart-deep conversations with God or family. We don’t want to replace one potentially destructive addiction with another. However, in the short run, try to identify what might be something powerful enough to help you refocus.
The power of habit is strong. To break a habit the trigger for the habit, and the common response, need to be identified. Either the trigger is consciously avoided or the trigger needs to lead to a different action. Addicts call a sponsor when temptation comes. Which leads to the next point.
- Talk to a mentor about sex
Sometimes we need a person to talk to about sexual immorality. We need someone who isn’t horrified and contemptuous at the very mention of sex. We need someone who can be sympathetic with our cause and who has pathways and strategies to get to healthier living. Such people exist in our lives as pastors and counselors. If you are confused about sex in your life make an appointment to talk it out.
- Look to honour the opposite sex
If you want to date my daughter, I will want you to honour her. She is a beautiful girl and she will be a beautiful woman. That I allow you to date her is an act of grace and trust on my part. If you abuse that trust and use her for your own pleasure, expect grace and trust to be replaced by justice and pain.
Seriously, though, my daughter is created in the image of God – and so is my son. If my son is manipulated by a girl to take away his innocence, I will not be pleased. If a girl comes into his life who sees his potential for service to God and draws that out of him, I would be delighted if they got married. I would love to see the kind of children their union would produce.
These thoughts were written upon reflection on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
This is a subject that could lead to a very long and varied conversation.
You mention four actions that would consider taking but only list three.
The one point I most certainly agree with is being able to talk openly about sexual matters at an appropriate age (whether inside Church or within the family when growing up). This is particularly important if your own views and desires are different from what might be “expected” of you. Suffering in silence, not being able to talk about your emotions or feelings for fear of ridicule or punishment can be very damaging to people growing up.
Being able to re-focus your desires is not easy, especially when outside of a relationship. It is very true it would not be healthy to have an over-fixation on sexual matters but I do see it as being perfectly natural to have strong desires, not just when young but at any stage in life.
You should honour and respect any partner, regardless of gender.
There’s something scary in the realization that there is no way to surgically separate healthy God-given gift from an atrophied nature. I think the difference is easy to spot, but we can’t shut down our sexual faculties to all but one specific permitted pattern. We can try, but the war in our minds stays there.
I believe that most of us men (I feel inclined to include women, but I can only reference my own experience and that of my “band”) find it difficult to adopt a positive view of sex in light of the attraction we experience towards unhealthy, immoral aspects of it. Let’s be honest for a moment; when we broadly talk about immorality it focuses mainly on the issue of timing. We grow up being told that somehow everything sex-related must be pushed all the way to a distant future in which all planets align and the moral compass rests assured we’re in the clear to “open the gift” with our wives, and then “everything goes”. We don’t talk about how much that is probably the easy part of an ongoing journey. Getting to the end line morally clear is not a good goal when you fail to acknowledge the other set of challenges on the other side of “timing”. You did well mentioning how you have “become more faithful” to your wife because it shows precisely that our understanding of morality cannot remain within the scope of “sex within marriage – ok”, “sex outside of it – not ok”. There’s more to it than remaining within the zone of righteousness running around to remain within the zone of play in a multiplayer first shooter. There are ways in which we can be in the clear literally speaking, but missing the blind spots morally. That’s an important remark.
I think it also necessary to ask for grace from our family of followers of Jesus, a pool from which we will eventually draw a pick for our partner for life. We have placed much value on keeping our record clean, and rightfully so. But in a society indoctrinated by shiny consumerism, we sometimes have expectations that can’t be met. We all love the feeling of being the first to walk off that Apple store with a sparkling bag and hermetically closed box. To remove the screen cover and power up our device for the first time. I’ll be honest, I love that. But I’m also a work in progress, well aware that I’m far from being that perfect purchase for someone else. Maybe, if we acknowledged how “refurbished” we are in the eyes of God we can be more encouraging and accepting of each other. We weren’t perfect from the get-go, but we’re good as new.
I thought this response was thoughtful and articulate.