Why Do I Stay?
Is there more to your unwanted sexual behavior than just being tempted? Mental health counselor Jay Stringer, author of the book, "Unwanted," delves into the topic of sexual brokenness and shares what he considers to be at the root of the issue. While a person's problem may seem to be all about lust, Stringer believes it may actually be about anger or rejection. Indulging in our sin only makes us feel worse. Stringer assures those who are hurting that God has so much more in store for us, as long as we are courageous enough to look at our past and develop new ways to handle our anxiety.
About the Guest
Jay Stringer delves into the topic of sexual brokenness and shares what he considers to be at the root of the issue. While a person’s problem may seem to be all about lust, Stringer believes it may actually be about anger or rejection.
Why Do I Stay?
Bob: Sexual temptation and sexual sin are prevalent in our culture today and difficult patterns to break. Jay Stringer has some thoughts about why that is.
Jay: Most of us would say, “I want to be done with this area of sexual brokenness”; but until you recognize what would you do in difficult terrain without your most dependable getaway car, sorry, you’re going to keep remaining in those really pernicious cycles. So, that, to me, is so much of the feedback of what our sexual brokenness is trying to teach us—is that we really need to be able to develop new ways to handle our anxiety to work through marital conflict to pursue some of the deeper things within us.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 16th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson, and I’m Bob Lepine.
Getting to the root of stubborn, persistent sin patterns in our lives—including issues of sexual brokenness—can be challenging; but when we get there, there’s healing available too. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ve had many occasions—you have as well, Dave—at a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway to just address briefly with men the issue of lust and how lust is showing up in their lives and what they do about it. What you find when you talk with guys about this is that guys will often own—“Yes, this is an issue,” and “Yes, I’d like to get rid of it”—but here’s what they say, “I’ve tried. I’ve prayed. I’ve—it just doesn’t go away.”
Dave: Yes; they’ll say, “I’ve seen victory for a while”—could be a day, a week, a month, six months—“and then I fall, and then I spin back in.”
Ann: I think I deal with a lot of women that don’t know how to handle their husband’s problem that they—maybe, they uncovered—but now, I feel like more and more women are saying, “I have an issue as well.”
Ann: “I don’t know how to handle it.”
Dave: I would even add this—because Ann and I, when we speak at the Weekend to Remember, we’ll do a session or two on sexual intimacy in marriage; and then they line up—the couples.
Dave: Initially, we thought, “Oh, they are going to talk about how God meets them in this area.” No; it’s pain; it’s confusion; it’s hurt.
Dave: It’s 90-percent that. They don’t come up and say, “Man, our sex life is great.” They go—“Man, we’re struggling in this area.” Porn and lust and all that are a big part of it.
Bob: I find couples trying to address this issue by normalizing the behavior.
Bob: They are saying, “So, it’s okay since we’re married for us to lust together as a part of how we engage one another in intimacy.” We’ve got Jay Stringer joining us again today. Jay has written on this / done research on this subject. He’s a therapist and an author—written a book called Unwanted. Jay is married to his wife Heather, got two kids, lives in the Seattle area. Jay, welcome back.
Jay: Thank you for having me back.
Bob: This is a part of what you do clinically working with people who are battling lust and trying to understand, “Why am I battling it, and is there a strategy for dealing with it?” But you’ve talked with people who, as Dave said, have victory over the issue for a season; and then all of the sudden, something happens. They are on a business trip that has been three months. They slip and fall. Now, they feel like—“I can never be free of this.”
You did research with 3,800 men and women on this subject. You found in the research that the reoccurrence / the relapses—that is pretty common; right?
Jay: They are; yes. So, most of the current research out there would basically—they tell us that these recurrences are pretty common. We know that 57 percent of our pastors / 64 percent of our youth pastors are struggling with this.
Bob: Hang on.
Bob: Say that again.
Jay: 57 percent of our pastors are either struggling or have struggled with it, and about 67 percent of our youth pastors are struggling or have struggled—likely higher.
Dave: Yes; because they are probably not revealing—Wow.
Jay: Yes. So, I really wanted to get a sense of what is the why that’s actually playing out here. To me, this is one of the most faithful approaches to Scripture that we can have—is that—especially in the book of Genesis—when God approaches people who are in difficult places, God comes to Adam and says, “Where are you? What have you done?” It’s not—“Dart your eyes from that next piece of fruit that might tempt you.”
To Jacob who has been struggling his whole life with identity, God says, “What is your name?” To Hagar who has just been immensely traumatized by the first family of the faith, the angel of the Lord appears to her saying the two best questions that I think any of us could ask one another, which are: “Where do you come from? Where are you going?”
So, to me, this is what we need to begin to kind of change within our families / with our church systems is: “How do we allow sexual brokenness to be one of the primary stages through which the work of redemption plays out in our lives?” If we can actually begin to be honest of saying, “There is something about my heart that is able to be seduced every six months,” or “Why is it whenever I try and make a bid for intimacy with my wife—why is it, then, that I feel so drawn into pornography?”
So, part of what my research found—and definitely work with clients—is that it’s not random. So, the implication is if you want to find freedom today, you need to identify and transform the unique reasons that bring you to it in the first place. So, one of the key findings for men about why they continue to go back to pornography, in particular, was that a lack of purpose in a man’s life led him to increased involvement with pornography by a factor of 7. So, men without a clear sense of purpose increase their involvement sevenfold.
This is really, really significant of a finding, and it makes me think about Genesis 3. The curse for a man is going to be basically thorns and thistles. So much of what people are going through in life is: “Someone else is getting that promotion that I thought I deserved”; or “I try and make some movement within my marriage, but then it just goes back to a place of futility and emptiness.”
One of the reasons why pornography appeals to these types of men is that you can get exactly what you want when you want it in the world of the internet, and nothing else actually gives you that opportunity.
Dave: You know it’s interesting when you said the thing about men with purpose. I think you wrote about this in your book; but here is where I went immediately—David. King David, 2 Samuel 11—you know the precursor to his sin of sexual sin with Bathsheba was—what was he doing?
Bob: Everybody is out to battle—
Bob: —and he is home.
Dave: I mean there it is. In the spring of the year at a time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab and his servants, and he stayed home. He has no purpose. I mean he does, but he should be somewhere else. I’ve always said to men, “You’re going to get in trouble when you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing—you know?—when you’re not where you should be.”
Again, I never connected it to the purpose part that you get at, which is the deeper issue; but I’ve always said, “Be very careful with your leisure time because, in some ways, it’s purposeless time; and we live in a world where there it is—boom.” But we think it’s just—“Oh, I’ve got a phone, and I can access it. That’s the issue.” No; you’re saying it’s a lot deeper.
Jay: Yes; so that is one of those things with regard to pornography—is definitely a moral issue; but beneath is definitely this issue of who you are. So, if you want freedom, you really need to begin to identify: “How do I take over authority for my life in order for there to be change?”
Dave: What would you say—I’m going back to that statistic about Christian workers and pastors with a high percentage indulging in porn and different things.
Ann: That’s just scared a lot of people; didn’t it?
Dave: Yes; I’m sitting there thinking, “They know better. We know better. We know Christ. We know the richness of an intimate relationship with Him.” Yet, according to stats, there are men and women that are hiding something, and they are going somewhere else that they know better. Why would they go there?
Jay: Yes; so, one of the things about just maturity in general in life is that we are going to have to confront some really difficult emotions and really difficult relational dynamics in our marriage and in our work life. I think part of what happens here is that, if the only thing that we know how to do when we are in the midst of kind of stress / anxiety or marital conflict is to actually go to something that we outsource the solution to that anxiety / to that purposelessness to pornography, that’s where we are going to keep going back to time and time again.
So, that’s a really, really significant thing for us to ask ourselves. Most of us would say, “I want to be done with this area of sexual brokenness,” but until you recognize what would you do in difficult terrain without your most dependable getaway car, sorry, you’re going to keep remaining in those kind of really pernicious cycles.
So, that, to me, is so much of the feedback of what our sexual brokenness is trying to teach us—is that we really need to be able to develop new ways to handle our anxiety to work through marital conflict to pursue some of the deeper things within us.
Bob: You know what you are talking about is, again, getting to the root of this issue. I think most people, including the Christian workers and the statistics we talked about here, are not thinking, “How do I deal with the root of this?” They are thinking, “How do I manage this so that it stays”—
Bob: Yes—“It stays manageable, and nobody knows it’s going on; but it’s there if I need it.” What would you say to him?
Jay: So, I think we have to underscore, again, this point that, like, our sexual brokenness is not all about lust. Some of the other tributaries that feed our sexual brokenness involve anger. So, one of the classic examples in my own practice is that a man will come in and just say, “I felt really rejected. I made this bid for intimacy with my spouse. She said, ‘No.’ Then I found myself down on the couch / down in the basement, and I started looking at some pornography site.”
So, he will come in, and what he wants me to kind of catch him in is, like—“Look at my lust problem”—but part of my response back to him is: “How did you feel after your bid for intimacy was declined?” Part of what he might say is: “Well, I was a little bit frustrated.” I will say, “Well, tell me about, like, ‘a little bit frustrated.’” He’s like—Well, a huge fight began to ensue because that was a lot of their marital dynamic was that if he would pursue bids for intimacy, and his wife would turn him down. He would feel anger very, very fast.
So, part of what we had to do is—you’ve tried your whole life to have an integrity with your lust, but you’ve never once had integrity with your anger. So, that is often a very significant change for people—is when they look at—“Some of the times that I’m most drawn into pornography or wanting to have an affair are actually times when I am very angry with my spouse or I’m very angry with where my life currently is.” So, that just becomes this—again, I think, part of God’s knock on the door of our heart is to say, “Why are you so angry?”
Well, what this man eventually did was he went back to his wife and said, “You’ve known about my struggles with porn, but what you don’t know is that I haven’t had integrity with my own anger.” So, he went back to his wife and just said, “When I make a bid for intimacy, what do you feel?” Part of her response was: “This is one of the only places that you pursue me. I have had really significant steps in my own career that I’ve taken. You have not asked me one question about these things.”
So, what she opened up about was: “I don’t really feel free to say, ‘Yes,’ to sex because the meaning of the sex that we are having together is basically to abate or to diminish your anger, and that’s not the type of sex life I want to have with you.”
So, part of what they started working through, within a couple months, was: “How does he begin to pursue her with more integrity about what’s going on in her life?” In the moments where she was—didn’t feel free to say, “No,” he said, “Okay, I’m going to stay in this, and I’m going to deal with my disappointment. I’m going to read a book, but you have my commitment that I’m not going to outsource my anger to sexual brokenness and to pornography.”
That really began to change his whole trajectory in life because he was always seeing as this lonely, rejected man rather than recognizing the power that he actually had to change his marriage.
Dave: The cool thing about that is when you are sort of tracing back to the root with your spouse and get to the real heart of what she’s feeling / what he’s feeling—is you can negotiate through that. You can get to the most beautiful, intimate relationship that’s on the other side of that. You don’t get there without it—not just I get control of my lust, but the beauty of the relationship, including sexually, with your spouse gets a whole other level; right?—because you are getting at her heart, your heart, and then those two hearts are coming together.
Ann: Yes, there is a vulnerability of your souls and knowing each other which is beautiful. I’m wondering, as I’m talking to more and more women over the years, the rate of women using pornography seems to be really rising. Is that true? And if so, why do you think?
Jay: Most of the studies that I’ve seen say about 30 percent of all pornography users are now women. So, we are definitely seeing a rapid, rapid increase in female involvement with pornography. Part of what we know is that the average age of initial exposure is somewhere in the range of about nine years old for most of us.
So, when we have these smartphones / when we have all these devices, again, what’s going through the internet onto our screens are very—I mean it’s like basically having, as one person said, “The red light district in your own phone.” So, what’s happening to a lot of us is that former generations had to work really, really hard to find pornography. We have to work really, really hard to avoid it.
So, if, again, some of your first sexual experiences are—“Here is a sext,” or “Here is hardcore pornography”—that is going to set a sexual template for you that you don’t feel fully alive unless you’re remixing some of those original sexual experiences.
So, one of my female clients that I worked with—she—changed some of the story—but she was a nanny for a family while she was in college, and what she didn’t realize was that this family actually had a nanny cam installed in the bedroom, and they saw her rooting through the bedroom dresser and the side tables. They confronted her about it later on that night, and she was fired. What she told me was that I was really relieved that they thought I was just trying to steal valuables; but in reality, I was actually looking for sexual explicit material.
So, what I began to kind of work with her back was: “Why were you drawn to trying to find pornography in a random family home?” As we traced that story back, it was actually her grandparents’ house where she first found pornography. Part of the story with her was that during the summers she and her two siblings would go to their grandparents’ place. There were certain points where the grandfather would say, “Boys, I want you guys to go mow the lawn, rake the leaves”; but she was assigned cleaning the guest bedrooms and the guest bathroom.
Her grandfather was really specific about making sure that she would use his glass cleaner on the guest bathroom windows; and he told her where to find it. The first time that she went into the guest bathroom to clean it, she found his porn stash underneath the sink right next to the glass cleaner. So, she—her whole life had just kind of seen it as—“I’m just such a sexually broken girl and woman that I was even drawn to these images, and I don’t know why I am pursuing these things”; but in reality, it was her grandfather who set her up to find those things.
So, throughout her adolescence, those are the images that she kept going back to. Again, that’s the point for us—to say, “Was your first exposure to pornography something that you actually chose, or was it introduced to you?” If you happened to find it underneath the bed or in a bedside table, I’m sorry, but your family set up or your extended family or your neighbor set up the very, very high probability that you are going to find it.
Ann: So, then do you just blame them?
Jay: No; but it is about studying the conditions. For her, she wanted to kind of see herself as—“There is something deeply broken about my sexuality.” Again, part of the tears for her for that came was: “I’ve never had a choice within my sexual story.” So, if I’m going to reclaim authority, part of what God is inviting me into isn’t just to say, “No,” but it’s to stand against some type of perversion in my life.
Bob: I have to think there are people who are listening today who go—“That’s what I want, and I’ve tried to pursue it, and I haven’t known how.” Maybe, the conversation today has opened some new ways of thinking / some new understanding to go deeper to get a copy of Jay’s book and go through it as a couple.
Ann: I really think just asking each other some questions really leads to this great depth and intimacy of—“Honey, tell me your story”—could be a great place to start because that opens your life—and to be really honest about your story.
Bob: Like tell me the parts of your story you’ve been afraid to tell me in the past.
Bob: But here’s—if you’re going to do that, there has to be enough trust in the relationship that—and I’m not going to—
Bob: Yes—or shame.
Bob: Or any of those things.
Dave: And I would add—I could say this to men and women—I’m thinking men; but it would be: “Have the courage to go there.” I’ve been afraid to go there at times—“I’d just rather live in superficial intimacy; you know?”
Ann: This is an ongoing thing with us.
Ann: I want to go so deep with Dave. He’s like—“Let’s not.”
Dave: Yes. So, I’m saying to myself in the mirror—but every listener out there—“Tonight is the night. Today is the day.” What if you took a little baby step with your spouse or even with yourself to say, “I want to go deeper. I want to ask the harder questions and start that journey.”
What we’ve heard so far is—man—you go into that journey, it is going to lead you to the light. As we continue to talk, that’s where I want to end.
Dave: What’s that look like?
Bob: Again, we’ve got copies of Jay’s book, Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing, that will help answer some of those questions. You can order your copy at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book is Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing by Jay Stringer our guest today.
Order online at 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.”
You know reflecting back on our conversation, I think central to everything we’ve talked about today is being courageous; but the whole idea of acting not in fear, but acting and doing what we know we ought to do.
David Robbins who is the President of FamilyLife® is with us again today. You heard that as well; didn’t you?
David: Yes; I think all of us really are convinced that healing can come; and it can happen if we are courageous to really step into some the types of things we were talking about today; but I think we are also convinced about how terrifying it is to really go there sometimes. It requires courage, indeed.
Joshua 1:9 is often quoted when talking about courage, and that’s where God says, “Be strong and courageous.” But the reason Joshua could be strong and courageous can be found in the rest of the verse that—“For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” God’s leading presence is the thing that provides us courage to be able to go and take some risk into these hard places.”
I would just ask listeners. As you are listening today, is there something that occurred that you said, “That’s for me. I need to step into that with some courage?”—because here is the thing—in Christ God with you. You probably aren’t going to know how it all works out, but if He is leading, follow Him. He will provide as you are courageous.
Bob: Yes; and we have both heard over and over again that courage is not the absence of fear. It’s doing your duty in the face of fear; right?
Dave: That’s right.
Bob: That’s a good definition. Thank you, David.
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And we hope you can join us back tomorrow Jay Stringer is going to be here for a final day to talk about why sexual sin is such a persistent issue in the lives of so many people and how it’s becoming an increasing issue among women. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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