Years ago I (Phylicia) was a sexuality blogger. I wrote extensively about purity culture, boundaries, dating, and my own history of sexual sin and addiction. Though I’ve seen stopped writing about it (the blog posts are still there!) it’s still a part of my story and by association, part of my marriage. Josh also brings experiences from his past to our relationship. In this week’s episode of the marriage series, we discuss how those testimonies impact our relationship and what to do when your spouse struggles with sexual sin.
*We are not marriage counselors and don’t intend to be! We offer some resources at the end of the episode that are listed below, and we advise utilizing those plus seeking help from a same-sex leader at your church and a licensed counselor.
- Crystal Renaud SheRecovery for Porn
- Faithful Man Freedom Course
- Ray Ortlund: The Death of Porn
- Sex Chat for Christian Wives Podcast
Phylicia: Welcome back to Verity podcast, you guys. We are in the midst of our honest Marriage series. I, Phylicia, I’m here with my husband, Josh.
Phylicia: We are talking this week about walking through sexual sin in your marriage, or how to support one another when you are struggling with sexual sin. Whether it is your husband, or if it’s the wife, or both of you, either in the same ways or in different ways.
Now, before we start this, I want to be clear that we aren’t counselors, and we are not equipped to counsel people on their sexual struggles. So, before you email us and ask for specific advice, please keep that in mind. We would love for you to instead reach out to a licensed counselor and to your pastor, or your church staff, hopefully both, to get the support that you need. We’re going to just be very open and transparent about our own story but then also look at what Scripture says about sexual sin before and after marriage. We just want you to get the support that you need, and that can only come from a licensed counselor and a pastor. Hopefully, you can talk to both to get the support you need, both spiritually and mentally.
I’m going to start by reading Ephesians 5 again. Last week, we looked at Ephesians 5, when we talked about gender roles, but this week we’re looking at Ephesians 5 to talk about sexual immorality. I’m going to read Ephesians 5:1-8. It says, “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you as proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous, that is an idolater, has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words for because of these things, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not associate with them. For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light and the Lord, walk as children of the light.”
It’s pretty clear here that Paul is writing to the church of Ephesus. Ephesus was a city where there was a temple to Artemis. You might remember reading about this in the Book of Acts. The silversmiths basically go on strike, saying that Paul was removing God or their God from centrality of worship. And part of this cult to Artemis involved a lot of sexual behavior that was contrary to Mosaic law and contrary to what Jesus taught about sexuality, because Jesus affirmed the sexual ethic of the Old Testament.
When we look at the Old Testament, and look at the command, specifically in the 10 Commandments regarding adultery, that word for adultery meant any sexual act outside the covenant of marriage, which was between a man and a woman. This would include premarital sex. It would include, as Jesus articulated, lusting after a woman or man you’re not married to. It would include any range of sexual behaviors that are outside that holy covenant between a husband and a wife. When we see this word for sexual immorality here, we are basically looking at the base for anything that doesn’t fall in line with that covenant marriage relationship. As we talk about this– I’ve been talking a lot, we need to let Josh have a say, [laughs] as we talk about this, we are looking at sexual immorality as adultery encompassing anything outside of that covenanted sexual relationship between the husband and the wife.
Josh: Looking at this passage, it seems like the people of Ephesus, they had a misguided reverence. They made a statue to Artemis and went to great lengths for building the temple and all that. But obviously, there’s still just joking about sex and having crude humor and stuff. So, it’s all just a joke to them and so, they weren’t being reverent about it the way God made it a Holy Sacrament.
Phylicia: That’s a good point. I never thought about the connection between crude joking and sexual immorality that actually reflected their heart attitude towards sexuality, possibly. That’s a good point as well. So, before we get into some of the practicals, would you be willing to share a little of your own background with sexual sin, whether probably before we were married, and then when we were dating to present day? We’re not going to be explicit about this, but just general.
Josh: I stumbled upon pornography when I was 12. Being a homeschooled Christian, living in middle of the woods, I didn’t get a whole lot of exposure outside of my dad’s medical books or dialup once it came to our house. And it just was a seed that grew and I just began to explore it on my own. I guess I was just navigating it all solo.
Josh: Yeah. It followed me for the past, what, 20 years, and it played a big role in my marriage. When we were dating, it was a struggle for us to stay pure. I truly wasn’t saved until I was in college, but I think that seed had just grown so much at that point, that it was something that plagued me, but I just couldn’t find the right resources or the motivation to shirk it, and finally be rid of it. I finally was able to. I will say that they talk about it being a daily struggle, but it’s a daily decision to stay out of pornography. We will be tempted and we will face many temptations, but that doesn’t mean that we are sinning.
Phylicia: Yeah, that’s a good distinction. Similar to Josh, I was 12 when I was exposed to erotica, which is pornography in book form. I was also homeschooled in a great Christian home, but I found this book at a garage sale, and it didn’t have a cover, I didn’t know what it was, and, of course, was curious and started seeking out more of these books to piece together a better understanding of what was going on. At that point, shame really keeps you quiet, and so you don’t get the help that you need. I lived a very double life. I was saved in my teens, I was saved at 15. But part of the reason for that was my own understanding of my sinfulness and the shame I felt over the double life I was leading because I was secretly struggling with my addiction to erotica, but I didn’t know how to get free. That’s what really brought me to Christ. But even after I became a believer, I did not get free completely. I was still struggling and I struggled very much until early college when I met Josh, and then we really struggled to adhere to our boundaries and to honor one another sexually. We had never slept together when we got married, I will say that, but we still were really struggling to even adhere to those boundaries.
Even today, I still have to be on guard and aware of what I’m watching on TV, what I’m reading in books, especially fiction novels. For years and years and years, I did not go to the movie theater. I didn’t watch a lot of TV shows that I couldn’t vet beforehand because of the sexual content. I didn’t read fiction, unless it was classic fiction, because I just couldn’t trust that there wouldn’t be a sexual scene. We’ll get more into the boundaries in a little bit but basically, I’m trying to express that, like Josh just said, I do believe that it can be a daily victory. You probably will be tempted, I am tempted at different ways and times, but I don’t like the phrasing, it will be a daily struggle, because I feel like you’ve already spoken failure over yourself at that point.
Josh: Many people use the word struggle like, “I struggled the other day,” as a symbol of them failing.
Phylicia: Right. They say, “I struggled,” and what you mean is – you sinned.
Phylicia: You sinned against God, you sinned against your body, and you sinned against your spouse if you’re married. You have to be honest about that in order to actually confess the sin and move on. I think the phrasing really is important, because if you don’t say, “No, I didn’t struggle. I failed.” And then, before that happens, if you say, “I have an opportunity to be victorious today,” I think that is a huge mindset shift for someone struggling with this.
That’s a little bit of where Josh and I have come from. But now I want to shift over to talking about what does it look like to walk with your spouse when you know that they either struggle with sexual sin in some capacity, or have struggled in the past. This is going to look different couple to couple. The severity of somebody’s addiction is probably going to have a big factor.
Josh: Or even just there’s susceptibility.
Phylicia: Yeah. The trust that’s been broken, past abuses. If someone has been sexually abused in the past, that has a huge impact on the nature of their sexual addiction. Also, if a spouse has been sexually abused, and then their husband is the one addicted to porn, there’s a whole lot of trauma there that has to be dealt with. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this, but basically, what we saw on Ephesians 5 is sexual immorality and impurity should not even be named among you, is what he says, as is proper for the saints. We know it shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t. And that’s our starting place. What would you say, Josh, for husbands or men? What would you say in terms of boundaries or advice for men who are struggling with sexual sin? Husbands, I should say.
Josh: You can really get down to the details of like, “Oh, you struggle in this way, so you should cut X, Y, Z out of your life.” For me, as a husband to Phylicia, and having struggled with what I have, I currently am not on social media at all. That is because there have been some emotional failures in the past. It’s just an option that shouldn’t be there for reaching out an ex-girlfriend or messaging somebody I shouldn’t, or just perusing pictures on Instagram. I just removed that. I think there is a degree of willpower that you should have and trusting and leaning on the Lord’s strength. But there are also times when you have to remove yourself from a situation that you know is not a good situation.
Phylicia: Yeah. I was actually really bummed when he left social media because I couldn’t send him memes and funny Reels anymore. But if that is what is the most important thing for him to pursue holiness, then that’s more important, and it blesses everyone in our relationship, the Lord and us, by you choosing to take that step of obedience. What else would you say? You said we don’t need to get into all the details of what you can and can’t do based on the individual situations, but is there anything else that you would say to husbands who are struggling?
Josh: The biggest game changer for me was Scripture memorization. I went through a course that I was reviewing for my friend, Matt Jacobson, and it’s Faithful Man. He has a Freedom course, for pornography, essentially. That was really impactful for me. It got me over the last little hill that I was struggling up. The Scripture memory, there were five verses, and I would just recite them, whenever I was going into a situation that I knew would be a vulnerable one, where I knew I’d be tempted. I just recited the Scripture to myself, and it gave me strength to resist temptation.
Phylicia: That’s awesome and it’s super simple. It’s more simple than a lot of people realize they think that, like, “Oh, reciting a verse, that’s too basic. That’s not going to work.”
Josh: Well, 2 Timothy 2:15 was one of them. And it says, “To be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker that doesn’t have to be ashamed of correctly teaching the word of truth.” So, we don’t have to be ashamed, but we have to be diligent to get there. And diligence in relying on God is the real way to do it, and knowing the Word is what enables us to correctly teach it.
Phylicia: Scripture was big for me too but it may be not necessarily a specific memory verse. Well, there were a couple, 1 John 1:9 was really important to me. The passage is talking about Jesus as an advocate, and then says, “If we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That was a verse I held on to in high school and college when I was struggling the most with, is because I felt like, “Well, if I fail, what’s the point then? Did I repent for real last time if I fail again? Should I just give up and just get hard into it?” But what I read a book called A Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent, who is still alive, but he writes like he lived in 1750. I didn’t realize that he was still actually alive in pastoring. [chuckles] But thank you, Mr. Vincent, for this book. It was a little thin book about the gospel, and it had a whole section on repentance. What he said in this book was, it is not presumptuous to run to God and repentance immediately after you sin, it’s your only option.
That was the turning point for me, because I would, like, wait a few days after I failed it sexually to go to the Lord and ask for forgiveness, or I’d be like I have to pay penance in some way and feel miserable for a while. But what Milton Vincent was saying is, “No, Jesus died to cleanse you.” 1 John 1:9, “Don’t waste any time, run back to Him. And He will do that work. And when you accept that grace, and you live as someone under grace, you’re much more likely to continue to walk in that grace.”
Josh: It’s funny, you use the phrase ‘turning point’ for you, because that’s what repentance really is. It’s turning away from sin and running toward God. I think that it’s really easy for guys especially to just be– you mess up, and it’s like, “Sorry, God. I feel bad, I messed up again.” And there isn’t any true repentance because then you go right back to watching the movie you’re watching or doing whatever led you to that failure. It’s really about taking all the precautions that you can, realistically, of course, but learn in the Scriptures and being in daily devotion with the Lord so that you have put on the armor of God. Also, just avoiding situations that you know– you know, you always know, like, “I shouldn’t be doing this.” “There’s not going to be anyone else at the apartment with us, do you think it’s okay?” Like, “No, it’s not okay,” because you’re probably going to end up struggling because that’s what happened last time.
Phylicia: Right. There has to be an element of honesty about your weaknesses. And then, also ask the question, what is the most important thing to me? My freedom to do what I want, or the holiness and peace of God?
Josh: The devil will always make the picture look small, but big picture is what will bring you freedom because you see the eternal ramifications.
Phylicia: There are eternal ramifications, not necessarily that you sinned sexually and, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve lost my salvation because Jesus Christ secures our salvation.” But it does say here that people who live a lifestyle of sexual immorality, a lifestyle of impurity and idolatry, which I would argue that when you continually fall into sexual sin, over and over and over and over again, there’s an–
Josh: You’re addicted.
Phylicia: You’re addicted, there’s an idolatry issue there. There’s an idolatry of sexual desire. If you have this happening as a consistent lifestyle with either no repentance or very little repentance, then you have to ask the question, did you actually follow Jesus ever? Do you actually give your allegiance to Jesus or is your allegiance to your sexual desires?
Josh: Are you being guided by the Holy Spirit?
Phylicia: Or just guided by guilt? Are you sad that you got caught or sad that you know the Bible says it’s wrong? Or, are you truly, truly grieving in your spirit by this problem and will you do whatever it takes to eradicate it from your life? I think that’s the question. Both of us had to get to that point before anything changed.
Josh: Also, a lot of people, we touched on earlier, think that there is no escape.
Josh: There is like no way out, like it’s something you’re going to struggle with for the rest of your life is what we said. And it’s not true, because I’m looking here at, what is it? 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you, except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” He provides a way out and He’s not going to allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able at this point in time. So, if you are taking the necessary steps on your behalf, God’s doing the rest of the work, and you can be sin free from the temptation.
Phylicia: Right. I always say this, victory is a lifestyle, not a destination.
Josh: It’s a choice.
Phylicia: You’re not going to get to this– Well, you might, some people do, get to a point where they just aren’t tempted towards something anymore but a lot of people still will be tempted. So, they have to keep their boundaries, pretty consistent. For some women or men who struggle sexually, there is this carelessness with boundaries. It’s almost like, “It’s okay if I watch Game of Thrones, because my spouse is with me. It won’t matter.” But those images are stored away in your brain, and then later when you’re alone, there they are. Or maybe, “Oh, my book club is reading this fiction book. And, yeah, it’s got a lot of sexual content, but I’ll just flip through those parts. I’ll be fine.” But you have to be honest with yourself that if you are actually able to handle that.
We’ve talked a lot about the men’s side, but for the women, I think women make a lot of excuses for romance novels, including Christian ones. And I know that it’s not super– maybe acceptable to come down on these because people will say, “No, it’s not that bad. And I’m not reading a Harlequin novel.” Almost every fiction novel these days has a sexual plotline or one or more sexual scenes. If you know that this is a problem for you, if you know that you picture these scenes or you fantasize about them or you return to them in your mind, even if you’re not regularly doing that, they are shaping your view of sex. Just like visual pornography is doing for a lot of other men and women.
We have to be willing to say, “I’m not going to watch that show. I don’t care how popular it is,” or, “You know what? I’m going to be that nerdy family that goes and gets VidAngel and it cleans out all the sexual content.” That’s what Josh and I do with popular TV shows. We use VidAngel, and we clean out the sexual content, and that’s how we watch it because we want to take this seriously and it’s not prudish or babyish to do that. It’s choosing what you need to choose in order to walk in holiness.
We have to be willing to do what’s necessary and stop worrying about what other people think or how they joke about us, and care more about holiness than about being necessarily cool, [laughs] for lack of a better word. Oh, man. Okay.
As we’re wrapping up this episode, Josh, is there anything you would say, as a husband who has struggled sexually, what would you say to wives who maybe are in this position of having a husband who’s struggling this way? Is there anything that you would advise?
Josh: What I’d say to the husband, you want to be open with her about it as far as your sin goes, but you also want to be prepared for the hurt, that you’re going to bring, because it is hurtful, and just understand that and not let it derail you.
Phylicia: Or get mad at her for being hurt.
Josh: Yeah, use it as a motivator to bolster your efforts against it.
Phylicia: Maybe take note of how you feel, like confessing to her and seeing her face. Even really remember that moment, as a reminder that you don’t want to feel that way again. You don’t want to have that conversation again. To the wives, I would say it is not necessary to ask for details of what he’s looking at as a general rule. Now, maybe a certain marriage counselor, depending on the situation, might say, “Yes, you do need to know certain things.”
Josh: It becomes a comparison game.
Phylicia: If you’re asking for details of what specifically he was looking at, I don’t think that’s necessary or helpful. I think it is going to make it 10 times worse for a wife with a husband who is battling pornography. Also, we would agree, the wife can’t be the accountability partner, the husband can’t be the accountability partner for sexual sin. They should be made aware of the struggle, but they can’t be the person who is holding all the pieces together, because it’s very hard to be honest to your spouse because you hurt them every time. So, it would be better to have a same-sex accountability partner, whichever gender you are, to be holding you accountable.
And that might not be pornography. Again, that might be the romance novels you’re reading or it might be the movies you’re watching. Or it might be that you go on business trips, and you have an attractive coworker. This was the case for me where I worked with a guy very closely for several years, where there had to be boundaries in place because we got along really well and he was really funny, and things like that. I felt like, “Oh, he’s just like a brother.” Boundaries went down or walls went down, and that’s not a safe place to be. For me, my boundaries look different than what Josh needed. But we both had to have them in order to honor each other. What would you say though to a wife whose husband is struggling?
Josh: It’s really important for her to know that it’s not just a one-off. Like, “Oh, he’s struggled this one time, he repented. Okay. We’re all done with it.” Because it’s really difficult for him to come back and repent in the future, or for him to feel like– not that he needs allowance to do it, but he needs that ally, the support of you, his wife, and just seeing it as something he needs help going through because it’s not just one and done. It is a continual process of healing for most. I think that would be the biggest thing.
Phylicia: Understand that you’re supporting him in this instead of opposing him in this, which is hard.
Josh: Yeah. [crosstalk] -feels like he should repent to you, you may say, “I thought we were done with this.”
Phylicia: And he’s like, “I still am tempted in this way.” Some compassion and understanding, but it is going to be hard, because it is very hurtful. It’s very painful. And you have so many questions and thoughts spinning in your head like, “Well, is it me? Am I the problem?” And it’s not you. Certainly, there might be other marriage issues going on, but the actual battle with pornography isn’t because you don’t look a certain way, or you don’t do certain things in the bedroom. It’s an independent struggle of the spirit for him, or in a woman’s case for her.
Josh: In our culture, encourages it.
Phylicia: Yes. Actually, this episode is getting long, but there’s so much here. I noticed in watching Friends episodes. In the last year, I’ve seen a few I don’t actually like Friends, and this is one of the reasons. The show, Friends, pushed pornography into public acceptance. It pushed it if you notice how often they mentioned watching pornography, watching it together, pushing the acceptability of pornography as a healthy relationship choice, normalizing it for men. This was back in the 90s. And then now, here we are 25 years later, looking at the fruit and the studies that are coming out saying that not only is this damaging to the brain, damaging to sexuality, it’s also propagating sexual abuse and human trafficking.
When we look at the narratives that are pushed by this media from years and years and years ago, we actually get to see the fruit in culture today. It has to stop somewhere. It has to stop somewhere, we have to take seriously what we’re watching and engaging with and reading. And that’s not always on Pornhub, it’s sometimes just right on Hulu, and right on Netflix. It’s there. It’s everywhere. So, we have to be willing to do what Paul said here and be imitators of God, not imitators of culture, and walk in love, as Christ loved us, which means walking in holiness. I feel we could say a lot more about this, but I’ll cut us off there.
A couple of resources. I have a book for young women specifically called Christian Cosmo: The Sex Talk You Never Had. We have the eBook version and a print version available on the Shop portion of my website. This book is mainly for women who’ve walked through sexual addiction, or didn’t receive a sex talk from their parents that was healthy, and need to reframe their view of sex biblically. That book is available. But then Josh, you used the Freedom course from Matt Jacobson at Faithful Man. Do you want to share anything about that?
Josh: Yeah. It’s a paid course, eight weeks. It really takes you through all the steps of healing and achieving victory and breaks it down well, so I think that it was very impactful for me. He’s open to start some accountability groups as well in the future. So, there’s a community aspect that is definitely helpful as well.
Phylicia: Yes. Then, another resource that we both benefitted from when we were first dating and married is the Dangerous Men: Lust Free Living. And Unveil: Lust Free Living book for women. I’m pretty sure there’s not a whole lot in print, but they really are excellent and they helped us a lot. I will link all of these resources in the show notes which will be on the blog at phyliciamasonheimer.com. The episode will be Honest Marriage, Episode 2, on Sexual Sin.
I hope this was an encouragement to you wherever you’re at in this journey or if you know someone who’s struggling, we want you to get the help that you need whether you’re a man or a woman, or a couple together to really work to bring holiness and unity into your covenant and to heal from the pain of the past. That’s our prayer for you.
Josh: Thank you.