“Just save sex for marriage” is often the sole encouragement offered in conversations about sex and purity, but there are many other more specific struggles in this area.
Countless teens battle pornography addictions, wrestle with masturbation or erotica, or deal with lustful thoughts. Introduce these topics and the conversation about purity gets more complicated. How do we biblically handle these struggles?
At the Root of the Problem
Thankfully, Jesus offers more insight than “just save sex for marriage” because He understands the real-life battles we face in this area and how desperately we need clarity and direction. Jesus took the conversation of sexual morality to another level: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27–28).
Lust is at the root of every sexual struggle. Porn, masturbation, erotica, out of control thoughts—lust fuels them all. So, with Jesus’s words on lust, He covers the whole gamut of our struggles. The overarching call within His words is to a higher standard of purity and a greater definition of love.
Today’s Porn Epidemic
Let’s consider pornography. Porn is an epidemic of massive proportions. Forty million Americans say they regularly visit porn sites, and 65 percent of men ages eighteen to twenty-four view porn at least once a month. And it’s not just a guy’s problem either. One out of every three visitors to porn sites is a woman. Porn is becoming acceptable to the point that only 43 percent of teens believe it’s bad for society. Pornography distorts God’s plan for sex and intimacy and turns countless individuals into objects to be lusted after instead of souls to be cherished.
Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal, founders of Girl Defined Ministries, explain, “Sex wasn’t created for viewing; it was created for experiencing. It was created for relationship. That’s why God made sex to be a covenant celebration between a husband and wife within marriage. . . . Porn is devoid of everything true intimacy was designed to be.”
Comparing porn with Jesus’s words, we see that looking lustfully (the point of porn) is no different than the sexual action. Porn is destructive to healthy relationships, true intimacy, and a God-glorifying vision of sex and sexuality. It also creates a cycle of addiction that’s hard to break.
If you struggle with porn or masturbation (or other forms of lust), please don’t brush this aside. While breaking free from any addiction is a journey, no addiction is impossible to break. I encourage you to take several practical but intentional steps.
1. Run to people who can help.
Share your struggle with a trusted friend or family member and ask them to check in on you regularly. While sharing deeply personal struggles is difficult, please don’t let feelings of shame hold you back. Satan wants you to hide your sins because they can rule you in the dark. When you bring them out into the light, they lose their power over you (see John 3:19–21). You need people in your life to help you along this journey. Freedom from shame is found in uncovering the secret.
2. Identify points of temptation and remove access.
For example, if you typically look at porn on your phone, cut off access on your phone, whether by locking apps, setting limits on when you can use your phone, or even ditching the smartphone and getting a simple flip phone instead. This may sound extreme, but is it worth it to hold on to something that causes you to sin? Jesus challenged us that it’s better to get rid of things that cause us to sin—even if it means radical decisions—than to remain bound by the sin (Matt. 5:29–30). You can also install internet filters on your devices that block questionable content and give other trustworthy people full access to your devices. Whatever it takes, remove access to the temptation.
3. Set manageable goals.
Relapse is probable if you simply decide today to never look at porn again without having a solid plan in place. With the help of someone to keep you accountable, create a treatment plan and set goals, such as abstaining for one week or one month. As you successfully complete each marker, continue to lengthen and extend your goals with the help of an accountability partner.
4. Seek intentional healing in your mind and in your perceptions of sexuality.
Consider reaching out to a wise Christian counselor or someone who can mentor you on both the mental and spiritual effects of porn. Since porn and other addictive forms of lust can alter and affect the brain, you may need outside help to heal, as well as someone to help teach a better, more God-glorifying perspective of sex and to share practical strategies to fight lust and walk in sexual purity.
5. Pray for help and seek God’s strength.
This is the most important step. We can’t fight these battles alone. We need His help. The good news is that through the power of His Holy Spirit, we can break free from addictions. Seek God for strength to guard your eyes, thoughts, and actions. You are not powerless to fight sin. You have the power of Christ’s shed blood on your side. If you are in Christ, “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made [you] free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
These struggles are real. They’re hard. They’re not just a guy struggle or a girl struggle but a human problem. But God’s truth illuminates even these nitty-gritty areas. God’s design for sex goes way beyond simply “saving sex for marriage” and extends to our heart attitude, lifestyle, thought life, and the way we use our bodies to glorify God.
No one is sexually sinless, and we all need Christ’s forgiveness and redemption. There is no condemnation for those who come to Jesus with a repentant heart asking for strength to obey Him and follow His design. Christ’s blood and forgiveness cover and heal our sexual brokenness. You’re not too far gone, and you can change.
This is a modified excerpt from my new book Stand Up, Stand Strong: A Call to Bold Faith in a Confused Culture. Grab your copy for more practical help. Reprinted by permission of Baker Books.