The Spiritual Perspective of Sexual Addiction
The real root of sex addiction is found in the essence of sin. Sin by nature is the failure to be dependent on God, and it comes from the corrupted hearts of human beings. After Adam rebelled against God, this natural human desire turned into evil. This was based upon man’s self-centeredness. People choose to worship substitute gods by suppressing the truth of God. In the same way, sex addicts are tempted by their own desire and are led astray by individual choice; thus, they should take responsibility for their sinful behaviors. James explains the consequences of man’s evil desire as such: “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).
Even though sexual addicts take responsibility for their actions, their sinful conditions cannot be solved by personal willpower. Sin and sexual addiction are both uncontrollable and unmanageable. In Roman 7:21-25, Apostle Paul describes the despair of powerlessness and unmanageability as characteristics of sin. Sex addicts report that they cannot control their behaviors even though they desire to do so. By nature, they feel powerless, helpless, and worthless because of repeated uncontrollability and unmanageability.
Christians must believe the believer has already been freed from sin because all Christians have died with Christ. In Rom 6:2, Apostle Paul maintains that Christians cannot live in sin any longer because they have already died to sin. Their death to sin is not the present or future tense but the past tense. Death to sin is not something hoped for or resolved upon by the believer. This process has already taken place.
In Rom 6:11, Apostle Paul maintains that Christians must consider themselves dead to sin. What Paul presents is not Christians’ immunity to temptation but rather the fact that they are no longer slaves to sin. After Christians are crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised with Him, the old disappears, and Christians become new creations. However, their old nature still remains and seeks to dominate them. In Rom 6:11, considering oneself dead to sin is expressed through daily conduct, indicating a conscious effort to maintain the process of considering oneself dead to sin. Because of habituation to sin, the believer should not let sin reign over his thinking but should instead live with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Apostle Paul emphasizes that the believer should make a choice for righteousness by stating, “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin” (Rom 6:13). This is used as a present imperative, and it refers to an ongoing action to do right. On the contrary, he uses the phrase “presenting yourselves to God” in the aorist-imperative. To offer oneself to God as an instrument of righteousness means to make a one-time deliberate choice in that direction. Thus, freedom from sin is not automatic, but a conscious decision is needed as to whether or not the body will be allowed to become an instrument of service to God. There needs to be active and continuous obedience to God in order to live life in accordance with a new identity and status. By refusing obedience to sin’s power and authority, the believer can experience freedom from sin; therefore, sin cannot dominate the believer any longer.
However, not all human beings who have a sinful nature have a sexual addiction. Sexual sin is not equal to sexual addiction. Those who commit sexual sin do not necessarily become sex addicts. The effect given to the body also must be considered very important in order to understand sex addiction because humans consist of both body and spirit or soul. The Bible does not see body and soul as separate from one another. Humans are unified beings. The neurological perspective considers sex addiction to be a method used to satisfy a neurological need. Repeated experiences of association between sexual behaviors and pleasure or relief from pain form a type of learning known as conditioning. This learning is so deep and automatic at the physical level, and it forms a stronghold that is difficult to break down.
According to the psychological perspective, the root of sexually addictive behaviors is found in the dysfunctional family system. The addict desires to escape the helplessness and powerlessness that he experienced in the past. The addict seeks temporary and immediate relief by sexually acting out as a way to escape from emotional discomfort. In other words, sexual addiction is a destructive solution to regain control over helplessness and powerlessness. From a psychological perspective, the main root of sexual addiction is an abusive environment that provides the sex addict with emotional pain.
One single perspective does not fully identify complicated issues of sex addiction. The root of sex addiction has multiple aspects. Thus, a holistic approach to sex addiction is necessary for a Christian counselor to help sex addicts to recover. Mind, spirit, and body are not undifferentiated. At the same time, these properties are interconnected and linked to each other as parts of a larger network. Any attempt to deal with a single condition apart from other conditions will not be successful in recovering from sex addiction. It is essential for Christian counselors to discern how these three properties work in each individual sex addict. The understanding of sex addiction as a human’s fall must be a fundamental foundation for dealing with sex addiction. Sinners cannot be freed from the power of sin without Christ. Regarding the biblical foundation, Christian counselors’ approach to sex addiction should consider how psychological and neurological aspects reinforce sex addiction within a world that is vulnerable to sin.
Did you enjoy this blog? We think you’ll like the other blogs in this series, too! Be sure you check out what Dr. Lee has to say about the psychological and neurological perspectives on sexual addiction in his other posts.
Anderson, N. T., Quarles, M., & Quarles, J. (1996). Freedom from addiction: breaking the bondage of addiction and finding freedom in Christ. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books.
Harrison, E. F. a. o. (1984). Romans through Galatians. In F. E. Gabelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Witherington, B., & Hyatt, D. (2004). Paul’s letter to the Romans: a socio-rhetorical commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans.
Dr. Jong Cheon Lee, your blog post was very insightful. The root of sexual addiction is the root of sin; this could not be even more true. Unfortunately, every ungodly thing in this world is rooted back to sin. Thankfully we have a gracious and forgiving God. Yet our sins do not go unpunishable. It is relieving to know counselors are trying to help these addicts. Unfortunately, like you said, sex addicts arise from dysfunctional family systems and abuse. Reading your post has given me even more courage and grit to become a counselor to help those struggling with addictions and traumatic childhood upbringings.
Thank you for your reply. I hope it will help you understand this important topic.
No matter what someone is hooked to, addiction varies considerably from person to person. The biggest issue that worries me is how that person developed an addiction to something. The first of these is the link to sin, but there are other causes for sexual addiction as well. Sin and sexual addiction both contribute to a person’s inability to regulate their behavior and emotions. It is very difficult to consider therapy, or better yet, to really receive it, once someone has continual access to the fuel for their addiction.
Thank you for your reply. Yes, we need to understand the causes of sexual addiction deeply. When we address sin, it is important to grasp the complexity and gravity of human sin. Sin is not just a violation of certain behavioral standards or a package inside the heart of a single human being. Sin is more powerful and bigger in the world because it has infected the whole of God’s creation. Humans are influenced by the fallen world. Each individual’s sin negatively affects an entire society and world and breaks relationships with other people. Likewise, as the consequences of sin, the broken world again deeply damages each individual life. Christian counselors should empathize with the suffering of clients in relation to the consequences of sin in a nonjudgmental manner. But at the same time, counselors see the sinful nature of humans and the necessity of confession, repentance, and growth in godliness.
Hi Dr. Jong Cheon Lee, I really enjoyed reading your post. I feel that being mentally and physically dependent on sex is not good for us spiritually or relationally. I believe that sex has its benefits, sex serves a purpose and is a gift from God for us to enjoy in the context of marriage. If it is misused, there’s an abuse of it as well as a distorted view of how to have a healthy sex life. Thank you for your post!
Thank you for your reply. Yes, sex is a gift from God. We easily disregard the positive side of sex.