Out of the Dark
About the Guest
Nancy Houston, author of the book, "Love and Sex," talks about the dangerous addiction of pornography. Houston explains that God created sex to be a bonding experience between a husband and wife. When a person watches porn, he/she gets a rush of dopamine, which makes it addictive. It also damages the relationship center of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex. "Porn is often used to medicate pain," Houston says, "But there are deeper issues that usually need healing." A necessary first step to recovery is to bring our addiction out of the dark and into the light.
Nancy Houston talks about the dangerous addiction of pornography. “Porn is often used to medicate pain,” Houston says, “But there are deeper issues that usually need healing.”
Out of the Dark
Bob: Nancy Houston says that healthy intimacy in marriage begins—not when couples are together in the bedroom—it’s when they are practicing sacrificial love for one another throughout the day.
Nancy: I think so many times we think married sex should look something like the movies—you know, where it’s just instantaneous and everybody’s in the mood. I think really great married sex requires a lot of discipline in it and—like, “No; this is who I’m going to choose to be,” and like Proverbs talks about—you know, she’s generous to her husband. I always think about, “She’s probably a generous lover to him; and hopefully, he’s a generous lover to her; and he’s thoughtful and kind.” If he’s not, then she’s saying, “Hey, we need to talk about this.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 8th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine.
Intimacy in marriage is one of God’s good gifts to couples. But a lot of couples aren’t experiencing its full goodness. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There are any number of things that can cause a husband and wife to want to put an end to a marriage relationship. I think, maybe more than anything else in our culture today, it’s the presence of some kind of sexual sin—whether it’s an affair, or pornography, or something that’s gone on in a relationship where the sexual part of the relationship is broken. That may be, as much as anything, a leading indicator for why so many people are saying, “This marriage is done.”
Dennis: You know Bob, I think people bring all kinds of issues into a marriage relationship. Barbara and I went to a training course led by Dr. Dan Allender a number of years ago. In that training course about sexual abuse, he made this statement—he said, “Sexual abuse is the hardest stone the devil of hell ever throws at a human being.” All the #MeToo—all of the things coming out about pornography / around extramarital affairs—are pointing us to a culture that is in desperate need of finding hope in the midst of their pain and their trauma. I’m pleased we can have this broadcast—
Dennis: —and offer counsel like Nancy Houston is offering folks in her book called Love and Sex: A Christian Guide to Healthy Intimacy.
Nancy, that’s what people are looking for today—is healthy intimacy.
Nancy: Yes; and oftentimes, we just want to get to that part without doing the hard work. Honestly, if we want healthy intimacy, most of us have to do, at least, some hard work and some of us have to do a lot of hard work.
Dennis: You’re a sex therapist. You have a lot of groups of men / of women who get together. I kind of—as I read your book, I kind of pushed back and I went, “This has to be really fascinating—to get a room full of men talking about how pornography found them or they found pornography as boys.” Have you found this to be at an epidemic level in our culture today?
Nancy: Oh, it is absolutely out of control and the most dangerous addiction that we are dealing with. It is a powerful drug. You know, we have to remember that God created human sexuality to be a very bonding experience between a husband and a wife.
When they start releasing all these feel-good hormones; and they’re powerful. They’re meant to bond a couple—a husband and a wife—for a life together.
And so, when pornography does something similar but different—it bonds you to these images. That’s why it becomes so addictive. Every time a person watches porn, they’re hitting that dopamine reward center in their brain; and they get a rush of dopamine—that’s what they get really addicted to.
People also don’t understand that pornography actually damages the prefrontal cortex—it damages the relationship center of the brain. I get couples, who come into my office—and like, “Yes; we don’t have sex,” or the wife is like: “I hate sex,” or “He never wants to make love to me anymore.”
I’m just—I’m kind of like an explorer—I get to start like, “Okay; well tell me, ‘How did sex start for you?’” I cannot tell you the men who say to me, “Well, I was exposed to porn at eight.” For some, they can be exposed and they are kind of like, “Aw, that’s not for me.” But for some, where maybe some of their needs are not being met in a home, then sex becomes sort of like a form of being nurtured or something. Pornography—it looks like “Oh, these beautiful women on the other side of the screen—they want me.” There’s usually some things in their lives that are not going well, and so they start using porn as a way to medicate pain.
I think sometimes in the church, we’re like really heavy on: “You need to repent if you’re looking at porn,” or “…going to strip clubs,” or you know “…having an affair.”
Yes, sure; but there’s deeper issues that need healing—that need the healing of Jesus—and need to put safe people around them so they can experience being able to tell their story to safe people, who will sit with them, and weep with them, and be present with them and say: “I’m so sorry! You should have never been sexually abused by that older neighborhood boy,” “I’m so sorry that your father wasn’t there for you,” “I’m so sorry that your mother could go into rages and neglect you.”
I think we just need to make it safe for people to tell their stories—to realize: “You’re not all alone.” We can feel so alone and so shameful—like, “I’m the only one.” People just hide and keep acting out. Statistically, they say that probably up to—maybe even up as high as 70 percent of the men in our pews are addicted to porn.
And the thing is—it has to escalate. Every drug has to escalate; right?—
—like people who can maybe get a little buzz with a couple of glasses of wine—eventually, it escalates into four, or five, or six. You know, there’s always this escalation. Oftentimes, somebody will start with some porn; then it will escalate. Before you know it, they’re maybe having an affair, or they’re looking at types of porn they never thought they would look at, or they’re going to strip clubs, or they’re acting out in some way that they thought they would never be capable of doing.
But the truth is—we’re all capable of everything—I mean, we have to remember that. We’re all capable of everything; you know: “But by the grace of God, there go I”; right?
Nancy: I think we just have to start digging into the soil of people’s lives and saying, “What got put into your soil?” and “How can we now start putting in some grace, and truth, and love, and compassion and walk you through this?”
I was over “Marriage Crises” when I was on staff at a church.
I just, statistically, started seeing what’s walking through my door—tons of porn addiction, affairs, some Christian couples who are into swinging—I mean, all kinds of things.
Nancy: I just thought: “Okay; well, let’s start meeting the needs. Let’s be practical. This is a reality. Let’s not pretend it’s not happening. Let’s provide some ways for them to heal.”
So, these couples—I had this great woman, who she and her husband had been through this—so mostly they ran this program. They would take them through this 14-week process, where people started telling their stories. Whoever had the affair would start getting honest / getting real; but we would give them a lot of support like, “You’re not alone in this.” We would just walk them through this healing journey. Then, honestly, like about 75 percent of those couples became some of our strongest marriage volunteers; because they had done the hard work.
Bob: I think it’s important—you said “Yes; there needs to be repentance / a change of behavior,”—but that word [repentance] really means “a change of mind” / “a change of heart.” We can scold and shame people, and modify their behavior; but we haven’t touched the heart if that’s all we do.
What I hear you saying, in the midst of this, is “We’ve got to do the hard work of digging through the soil, and getting to the roots of these, and saying, ‘This is what’s driving, at some level, looking at porn,” or “…having an affair,” or “…these other things.” These are symptoms of something that is buried deep that needs to be explored; and the Scriptures need to be brought to bear on the root issues, not just on the behavior issues.
Dennis: And Nancy, what I hear you saying that you do is—you bring it out of the dark and out of the secret into the light.
Dennis: And there’s a lot of things in our lives—as long as they’re dormant and they’re kept quiet, we don’t admit them—there can’t be the kind of repentance of the heart like Bob’s talking about.
Nancy: That’s right.
Dennis: And it’s as a group of people get together—in a recovery group—and they start telling their story, and other people are hearing your story, and you’re hearing their story of how they were impacted by their sin / the ugliness of this—I think is part of the healing of people repenting.
Nancy: I do too. It’s such a sweet way of repentance taking place; you know?
I love what you just said; because, even for my healing journey—you know, I’ve been taught not to talk: “Don’t talk, and don’t feel.” Here I am, going on this journey, going, “I’m going to have to feel, and I’m going to have to talk.” I kept thinking of that Scripture that says, “The truth will set you free.”
Nancy: I just clung to that—like: “Okay; truth is going to set me free. I’ve got to bring the dark into the light. That’s the only way for me to know the truth.” I didn’t want to know the truth, but I had to know the truth to heal.
I was just reading some Scripture—I can’t remember where it was; forgive me for that—but that said, basically, when we come to Jesus, it’s a total surrender.
We lay down our father, mother, our spouse, our children, and our own lives; but we have to pick up our cross. For me, my cross included this history of abuse—I’m like: “You know, if I’m going to grow myself up and become the adult I want to become, I’m going to have to deal with all this stuff. But Jesus is going to be there in it with me, and for me, and along with me.”
I think the most beautiful thing about going on a sexual-healing journey is—for me, anyway—I discovered who God was. I remember, in this process, being able to say to God: “I’m so angry with You God,”—like—“Where were You? Why didn’t You protect me?” He didn’t get angry with me. It’s not just a sexual-healing journey. I think our spirituality and our sexuality are so deeply tied; because our sexuality is such at the core of who we are, as God’s creatures.
We’re all sexual creatures by God’s design.
It’s not a glitch in our engineering, even though some may feel that way. That’s why I would challenge every one of our listeners—like: “If you have sexual history and baggage in your life”—which most people do—“please bring it in to community, and connection, and fellowship—but with safe people—not somebody who’s going to say to you: “You shouldn’t have done that,” “You need to get over that,” “You need to stop that behavior,”—but where you’re getting with safe people, who will love you.
Yes; you’re taking full ownership for your behaviors; right?—because you have to own yourself; right?—nobody is going to own that for you. Yes; we have to recognize that part of my healing was to go: “Oh, I was victimized; but I’m not going to live as a victim. I’m going to live as an overcomer. I’m not going to live this way!”
Dennis: And that can lead a person to healing.
I’m thinking of our listening audience right now. I’m thinking of two groups of people. I really hate to turn away from where we are exactly, but there’s two groups that are wanting you to speak to them right now—I’m convinced.
One is a group of husbands and wives, who ask, “How can I affair-proof my marriage?” And another group of people—who are moms and dads, looking at their boys and their daughters, growing up in this highly-sexualized world, who are asking a similar question, “How can we porn-proof our boys/our daughters?”
Bob: Our girls too; yes.
Dennis: Yes; exactly. First of all, address a married couple, who are really serious: “I don’t want to have any chance of lacking faithfulness to my spouse in my marriage.”
Nancy: Well, I think, first of all, you become great friends. The Song of Solomon talks about really being friends and lovers. I think it’s so vital that we never neglect being friends and lovers to each other and that we keep our sexual relationship with our spouse on the front burner all the days of our lives.
It’s important to God—in 1 Corinthians 7, He says, “…come together frequently”; right? “The husband is to please his wife; the wife is to please her husband.” It’s meant to be this mutual feast of pleasure, and it’s not something that we can neglect.
In very few relationships, where there are affairs, do I see couples that are really connecting, emotionally, with each other—really talking through / having the hard conversations—having the honest conversations. They aren’t keeping secrets from each other—they’ve developed emotional safety with each other. And then they have worked on keeping the sexual part of their marriage alive, and fresh, and exciting, and fun, and spontaneous—they work at that.
I think, so many times, we think married sex should look something like the movies—you know, where it’s just instantaneous and everybody’s in the mood.
I think really great married sex requires a lot of discipline in it and—like, “No; this is who I’m going to choose to be,” and like Proverbs talks about—you know, she’s generous to her husband. I always think about, “She’s probably a generous lover to him; and hopefully, he’s a generous lover to her; and he’s thoughtful and kind.” If he’s not, then she’s saying, “Hey, we need to talk about this.
Nancy: Can we talk about that? I love you; I’m on your team. I think for this to be a win, it’s got to be a win for you and for me. It can’t just be a win for you.”
I think one of the mistakes maybe we’ve made in the church is to make it sound a little bit like sex is a wife’s duty and a man’s pleasure. I truly think that’s a mistake. I think that women are as sexual as men are. We just have a little slower pathway to it.
You know, men have more like a super highway until they get older. Then women—we have more like a leisurely pathway, but I think that’s really purposeful. I mean if we were all like men, it would be very quick and instantaneous and over with. If we’re all like women, it might not happen very frequently [Laughter] or take too long for it to happen, and everybody gives up.
Nancy: But you know—together, it’s really perfect. We’re meant to balance each other. The man is meant to be sensitive to his wife and the wife is meant to be sensitive to him. Together, they meet each other; and they make love to each other. It’s something that’s deeply bonding.
You know, for Ron and I, who’ve been married for 44 years, the thought of an infidelity is like “Ugh”—it’s not on the radar, because we have those hard conversations. When sex isn’t working, we talk it through—
—even if it’s hard, even if it’s kind of embarrassing, or awkward, or shameful—but we try to do it in a compassionate, kind way.
Dennis: You know Nancy, I’m looking at the clock. I want to make sure we get to the mommy and the daddy, who are raising our sons, who are being preyed upon by the culture—and also, as Bob mentioned, our daughters as well: “What advice do you have for them?”
Nancy: Well, I say: “Start talking to your kids frequently and often about human sexuality. They were born little sexual creatures.”
Parents ask me, “When do I have the talk?” I’m like: “You don’t ever have the talk. You have a continual conversation.” It’s like that passage I think—is it in Deuteronomy?—where it talks about we have these conversations with our children when we’re walking around, sitting around, hanging out. I think human sexuality needs to be an ongoing conversation with our children. It really starts when they’re very little. You celebrate their gender—like: “Look at—God made you a little boy, and we’re celebrating your gender.
“We’re going to direct that. We’re going to direct your play, and we’re going to protect that and honor your gender. It’s a beautiful God-given gift.”
Then we start by naming their body parts with the medical appropriate names. When we call our children’s sexual parts silly dilly names, our kids, when they get a little older—they think Mom and Dad are kind of idiots—[Laughter]—like: “l can’t talk to them about sex, because they don’t know what they’re talking about”; right? So, [we] parents usually have to get over our own shame narrative about talking about sex.
Dennis: Right; right.
Nancy: I had one girlfriend, who had four little boys. She said, “Nancy, I cannot say the ‘P’ word.” I said: “Listen, you have four little boys. You’re going to have to learn how to say the ‘P’ word. You’re going to have to learn how to call their body parts by their appropriate names. So, I said: “Go home, stand by the mirror, and say that word until you can say it until you’re comfortable; because you need to start having conversations with your sons.”
She did it. Then she came in to see me, about a year later, and she said, “I’m so glad you made me do that.” I’m like “Why?” She goes, “Today, at school,”—or maybe last week at school—“my little boy came home”—and he’s eight years old—“and he said: ‘Mom, some of the boys were trying to show me pictures of naked women on their little readers”—you know, they get these little notebook tablets at school and on their phone—“and they’re trying to show me…” She goes: “Oh yeah, that’s porn. We’ve talked about that.” He goes: “Yes; I told them—I said, ‘Oh, my mom and dad have told me all about that. I’m not interested.”
Talking to our children, often and frequently, protects them from porn, and from predators, and just from locker room talk, and from stupid information that kids give out on the playground; you know?
Dennis: I’m glad you talked about it being a talk—it’s, actually, a lifetime’s talk.
Nancy: It’s a lifetime talk.
Dennis: If you look at the Book of Proverbs—and if our listeners haven’t read Proverbs 5–7 recently, they should look at it—it’s a father’s conversation to a son. We’re not told how old the son was—he could have been pre-puberty/puberty; he could have been in his 20s or 30s.
Dennis: Because the conversation, I promise you, is a very important one at that time as well.
Bob: Well, and this is something that we’re committed to try and help moms and dads with, here, at FamilyLife®. We’ve got resources in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center to help parents have the ongoing conversation with their children about sexual development. There are books available. There’s the Passport2Purity® getaway resource for parents with preteens—something you do together as you get away. There’s a whole lot more available. You’ll find information about these resources on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
And of course, we’ve got your book, Love and Sex, on our website as well. I would encourage our listeners: “This is an area that you need to be proactive in.
“Don’t just wait for the conversation to come up, but make sure the conversation is coming up with your kids.”
And make sure that it’s a conversation you and your spouse are having together, regularly and in a healthy way. I like the way that you talk about this in the book, Love and Sex: A Christian Guide to Healthy Intimacy. Again, these resources are available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY / 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, we think these kinds of conversations are important. In fact, I ran into some listeners, recently, when I was at one of our Weekend to Remember getaways. They told me about how much FamilyLife Today—which they listen to on their local radio station / some of them are listening to it through the FamilyLife app or as a podcast—
—they told me how much they depend on this daily radio program to keep them thinking rightly about their job, as husbands and wives / as moms and dads, raising the next generation. That’s our goal. We want to effectively develop godly marriages and families, who can change the world, one home at a time.
We need to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who are—not just listeners—but those of you who support this program to help keep us on the air, especially those of you who are monthly Legacy Partners, here, at FamilyLife. Your monthly partnership is vital to all that we do, here, at this ministry.
During the month of May, we’ve got some exciting news going on. We’ve had some donors who have come alongside the ministry and have put together a matching-gift fund. They have agreed that they will match all of the donations we receive during the month of May, dollar for dollar. So any donation you give is going to be matched with money from this matching-gift fund until the fund runs out.
If you become a Legacy Partner, these folks have agreed they will match your donations, dollar for dollar—any donation you make for the next 12 months. Every time you make a monthly donation for the next 12 months, it’s matched, dollar for dollar. Your giving goes twice as far as a result of the matching-gift opportunity.
And if you become a Legacy Partner this month, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a certificate that you can use to attend a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. You can either use it for yourself or share it with somebody who is getting married. Maybe send your adult children to a getaway. Or maybe there’s somebody in your community / somebody in your church that you’d like to bless with one of these certificates. The gift certificate is yours when you become a Legacy Partner this month. Again, your monthly donations will be doubled for the next 12 months. Find out more about becoming a Legacy Partner when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say, “I want to become a Legacy Partner.”
Of course, you can always make a onetime donation online.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Tomorrow, we will continue our conversation with Nancy Houston, talking about Christians and intimacy—love and sex in marriage. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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