Steven Fetrow is a Christian counselor who frequently meets with people who want to recover from compulsive sexual behavior. He responds to some of the most frequently asked questions about recovery—such as “Should I tell my spouse?” and “How do I handle recurring temptation?”—with candid and challenging advice. He takes a fairly strong line on steps towards recovery because of his own experience. After years of struggling with sexual temptations, he hit bottom and had to start over to rebuild his marriage and his career. His answers to the following questions may be the motivation you need to move towards recovery.
Question: Do I really need to tell my spouse about my problem with sexual temptations? Couldn’t that just cause unnecessary heartache?
Steven Fetrow: Confession is absolutely necessary. The book of James tells us that confession to each other brings about healing. When sexual temptation has a hold on a person and sexual sin has become a sad reality in one’s life, healing is necessary and will only take place through confession.
God created us for an intimate relationship with each other. To live in a relationship filled with unconfessed sin, secret struggles, and hidden failures is anything but intimate. Confession may lead to a period of profound pain and disappointment, but without full disclosure, the marriage cannot be authentic and will never become the type of relationship that God desires for us. In addition, your spouse can be one of your most valuable means of accountability and may provide you with significant strength and motivation to overcome these temptations.
In addition to confessing to your spouse, I strongly recommend that you find a mature Christian friend or mentor and confess your sin and your struggle to them as well. I believe the spiritual discipline of accountability between Christians provides a spiritual connection on earth that greatly assists believers in fighting the spiritual battles of life. I recommend that you not only share your struggles, sins, failures, and temptations openly with another believer but that you give that accountability partner power to intervene in your life. If Internet pornography is your struggle, be willing to allow your accountability partner open access to your computer at anytime, unannounced. Your accountability partner can check your Internet history and examine your computer to see if you are remaining clean.
Question: I’ve now stopped viewing sexual images online, but as I try to restore relationship with my wife, I just can’t get those old images out of my head. What can I do?
Steven Fetrow: Viewing pornography is like digging trenches in the mind and filling it with junk. God can restore and remove the junk and we can stop filling the trenches with more junk. But I believe there is another element. We need to fill the trenches with positive and godly stuff. A heart committed to Christ and a mind soaking in the things of Christ provides powerful, life-changing energy. My first recommendation is to fill your mind with the things of God.
The Bible is a great place to start. Christian music, devotional material, Christian magazines, regular attendance at worship services, joining a small group and reading Christian books, are also important. Doing things will NOT bring about healing—only God heals. However, making use of wonderful Christian resources can provide power and can assist in filling the trenches in our minds.
In addition to filling our minds with good stuff, we ought to do everything possible to avoid allowing the junk back in. That may even mean eliminating Internet access, throwing away magazines and movies, avoiding the video store, or canceling your Cable TV or Satellite TV subscription.
I know of a man who has tried to quit smoking for years. He keeps cigarettes stored in his garage “just in case.” Guess what, he never quits for long because he has easy access to cigarettes when the cravings get strong. If he ever gets serious about quitting smoking, he will have to get rid of his cigarettes. I think you get the point. If sexual sin has been your struggle you need to get rid of your stash and eliminate easy access.
Question: I can’t get away from sexual temptations—it’s in the video store, the grocery store checkout and prime time television among other places. How can I keep all those images from competing with thoughts about my spouse?
Steven Fetrow: This is part of the struggle of “living in the world” but not “being of the world.” We must face the reality that we are “strangers in a strange land.” Our society is fallen, imperfect, and sinful. Unfortunately, we will never be able to totally escape the temptations in this world. However, living in a sin-filled world does not doom us to live in sin. We can find victory and power over sin. We can discover the life-changing power of God. We can be cleansed and changed. In my opinion, the secret is surrender. . . surrender to God.
Let’s face it, we all want to control our world. Our constant attempts to control the people and circumstances of our world is one of the main reasons we turn to pornography in the first place. Unable to face the possibility of rejection or disappointment, we turn to the quick fix, the shortcut, the fast food version of love and acceptance. In order to overcome sexual temptation, we must learn to surrender control to Christ. There is no perfect formula, magic quote, or fast track—we cannot heal or change ourselves. Only God can heal! Only God can change! It starts with surrender.
The second most important factor in overcoming sexual temptation and finding fulfillment with your spouse is discovering the relationship that God has intended for the two of you to have. Once again, that means surrendering your desire to control your spouse. It requires being painfully honest and vulnerable. It requires learning to identify your spouse’s needs and finding ways to continually and purposely meet these needs. Discovering the joy of an intimate relationship with your spouse helps to inoculate you from desiring another man or woman.
Question: I keep hearing that sex on the Internet is not as fulfilling as sex with someone in the “real world,” but it was disappointment with my wife that drove me online to begin with. Am I just supposed to live without sexual fulfillment?
Steven Fetrow: Disappointment with a spouse is one of the most convenient and popular excuses used by those messing around in sexual sin. A cold sexual relationship with a spouse is NOT an excuse to turn to pornography. It is merely a rationalization used to vainly attempt to face one’s own responsibility and evil choice. It is the sin in our hearts and the choices that we make that drive us to sexual compromise–NOT a lack of sexual fulfillment.
Sexual fulfillment is a part of the intimate relationship of marriage for which God designed us. It is a PART of God’s plan and NOT the WHOLE of God’s plan. A marriage that fails to provide sexual satisfaction and fulfillment is a marriage that has yet to discover selfless surrender, tender vulnerability, loving and sacrificial need-meeting, and open, honest communication.
My advice to anyone who claims to have a poor sexual relationship with a spouse is to make the effort to work on the marriage instead of running to a quick fix that does not last, is not real, and shatters the marriage vows. Working on the marriage may require a lot of painful examination and intensive emotional effort, but the end result is worth it. Turning to pornography is the lazy way out. Instead of facing the real desires within us and risking the potential pain and disappointment of a real relationship, we take CONTROL and we dive into a fantasy world that is merely a shadow of what God created us to experience.