By Rusty Rustenbach, as published in Upfront

Over the past ten years, the People Resources Team has witnessed increasing numbers of new staff experiencing heightened struggles in the area of sexual purity.  After some specialized training five years ago, we began to lead men’s groups focused on recovery from compulsive sexual behaviors such as pornography use, same sex attraction, having an affair, etc. In this period of time more than 20 men have taken part in five different “Into the Light” recovery groups. This article is a compilation of anonymous quotations from an interview discussion with some of these staff men. We are also finding sexual purity to be an increasing struggle for young women and plan to lead women’s groups in the not too distant future.

The Breadth of the Struggle
I know of nobody who does not struggle with purity to some degree. Some may struggle more deeply than others, but everybody that I talk to battles with lust.

There is overwhelming pressure on Christians in the military to view pornography, to go to strip bars, and do the things that soldiers are supposed to do. There’s a constant hazing, harassment, and pressure.

On the college campus I often feel like I am surrounded and inundated by porn and it is increasing difficult for me not to give in.

If you’re over 45, you had to go out of your way to get a hold of pornography. Due to the Internet, for young people today it’s like you have a pornography magazine rack in your bedroom. Worse yet, the magazines are falling off the rack and onto your desk.

On the Effects of Pornography Use and Acting Out Sexually
Pornography robs intimacy … it robs you of the ability to be a one-woman kind of man or of a one-man kind of woman.

When I talk to students I am ministering to I say to them that often our society thinks that sex is like post-it notes; a man and a woman come together, they pull apart, they come together with another person, and they pull apart, etc. But it’s really more like duck tape.  You put duck tape together and you’re not going to be able to pull it apart very easily. As you bond yourself to another person sexually, even if its images, there’s something that happens at an emotional level, and I believe even at a soul level, that takes away the ability to be totally united with your spouse (present or future). You become scattered and shattered rather than truly and wholly intimate.

In addition to that, if you’re single and you go to pornography, it often becomes an addiction ... a way of dealing with the pressures of life … that is extremely difficult to pull away from later.

The whole other thing about whether you’re single or married is that pornography sexualizes people … so it hinders normal relationships with the opposite sex … it sexualizes them so that you can’t really see them as people. It changes. You relate to them more as sexual objects … everything becomes sexualized.

Marriage and Purity
I thought that getting married would resolve my struggles with purity, but no, it didn’t.  The attraction to viewing pornography is that the women pictured don’t have periods, they don’t have demands, and they don’t have bad days. Sexual images are unrealistic and unrealistically available … it’s easier to go to an image than it is to go to your wife because the touched-up image is always there for you.

Pornography robs you of the devotion that sex was designed to give … that level of intimacy and commitment that leads to that “one-flesh” union.

Triggers that Lead to Acting Out
For me the times when I am most inclined to ‘act out’ is when I am experiencing aloneness.  An even a larger trigger would be when I feel overwhelmed like when I don’t want to tackle a project, whatever that may be, whether it’s fundraising, a big event I’m in charge of … sometimes there’s feelings of overwhelmedness.

The acronym H.A.L.T. captures common triggers: Hungry. Alone. Lonely. Tired.

How Sexually Compulsive Behavior Begins 
I call them Pandora’s box experiences. I was innocent to something, and then I’d be exposed or expose myself to something, and from that point on forevermore it became an option or temptation that I would struggle with.  And so whether that was masturbation, or finding some pornography on the Internet, or having sex with a girlfriend, or any of those different experiences … once the box was opened it was like I couldn’t get the lid back on it.

It was like I struggled with lust from time to time but it wasn’t an addictive pattern until I purchased my first pornographic magazine, or the first time I went cruising for pornography on the Internet. Once I crossed that line it was like lust took root and became very difficult to control.

For me as I asked God were lust first took root in my life and I remembered reading one of my mother’s romance novels. There was a scene described in one of her books that I can still remember. Lust seemed to take root there and from that point on became an increasing problem in my life. When I became a Christian at age 21, the problem went into recession for a period. The same happened when I got married. But it later re-emerged. Healing Prayer, Covenant Eyes, and being a part of an Into the Light group have really kept my struggle in check.

How Taking Part in a Sexual Purity into the Light Group Has Helped
Just having a group of guys who I know aren’t going to judge me, and yet who won’t let me off the hook, that I can open up with about my sexual struggles … is very motivational and encouraging. You know. It’s been said, Sin, like a fungus grows best in darkness. So sometimes just dragging the struggle into the Light causes it to wither and die. And so, to a large extent, being able to talk about my struggle with a group of other guys is extremely helpful. We’re only as sick as our secrets.

In the atmosphere that our group experienced with worship, inviting the Lord to be present in our time together … the Holy Spirit was there facilitating the healing process. For me, specifically, this was a time of listening: God used those moments to speak to my heart. It’s amazingly powerful.

Healing Prayer has helped me get to the roots of what made vulnerable to sexually acting out. Inner healing has been extremely helpful, but did not set me from continuing to act out sexually.  It’s not the silver bullet.  I realized that the habit of sexually acting out developed a life of it’s own apart from the roots because of the endorphins that are released in the addictive cycle, as well as the power of shame that addictions produce. If you experience yourself as shameful, you end up doing shameful things. So I came to the realization that the Into the Light group was something that God could use to break the addictive cycle and dismantle the power of shame. The combination of inner healing and meaningful involvement in an Into the Light group was what was needed!

Regarding the Use of Covenant Eyes on My Personal Computer
As far as Internet pornography, for me it has stopped it. On my computer Covenant Eyes shows up on my desktop as an eye. I sort of dread the eye. It’s like I know someone is watching what I do on my computer.  Someone will get a report of everything I look at on my computer. And knowing that my accountability partner will see everything I am looking at stops me from looking at stuff that I shouldn’t.
That’s one of the things I like about Covenant Eyes; it’s not something that blocks you. You have a choice each and every time. You could go and look at stuff, but because you have somebody who receives a listing of everything you have looked at, I think it helps you to make the right choice. It’s like having your friend with you in the room: you are not alone on the Internet.

In a sense it strengthens your will to resist visual sexual temptation. Knowing that others are going to get a report of my Internet use is a better deterrent for me than a filtering system.
It takes away the illusion that I am alone when I am using my computer and has eliminated it as something I turn to try to get a sex fix.

Regarding Accountability
“Accountability” is a misnomer because another person really can’t hold you accountable. A performance-based accountability can actually be counterproductive to the healing process.  A better way of viewing this might be a relationship with someone with whom your struggle in the area of purity is fully Into the Light.

It seems that accountability needs to be grace-based because shame-based relationships or accountability only promotes hiding. The reality is that most Christians struggling with purity don’t need any more shame. You already feel enough shame yourself, so you don’t need someone who finds out you’ve had a fall to treat you in a way that says, You’re just a loser ... when are you going to finally shape up and perform as well as I do?

Advice to the Emerging Generation
There’s a term I’ve heard called radical amputation. It’s like where Jesus said, if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.  I’m not advocating mutilation but I am advocating radical steps. Don’t treat your struggles with impurity passively by saying, Well, I’m sure I’ll stop soon enough, or I’m sure that’s the last time, or This really isn’t that big of a problem. Instead, if you are wise, you need to take radical steps to meet with somebody, get some help, get rid of your computer or put Covenant Eyes on it and have your report sent to several people who will help you along the way. Get into an Into the Light group. Meet with someone for counseling or Healing Prayer. Do whatever is necessary to get free. Don’t live complacently or in the dark or defeated. Bring other people into the equation. 

You know a verse that comes to my mind is from Song of Solomon mentioned three times in the book. Do not stir up or arouse or awaken love until it pleases. If you are not into it (pornography or some aspect of addictive behavior), do not arouse it.  And if you are into it already, then take the precautions or take the steps necessary to keep from continually arousing it.

Sexual Purity Resources
Covenant Eyes ( Special discount for Navigator staff.
  • Training in leading Sexual Purity Into the Light Groups
  • A study you can use with others: Sexual Purity Into the Light 
  • PRT Counseling & Staff Care Network
  • Sexual Purity Into the Light video presentation with Kirk Franklin on DVD.
From Bob Reehm (Navigator Staff)
Jack & Marcia Deal (Navigator Staff)
  • Collegiate field resource