Behaviors matter. Behaviors have consequences. And sexual behaviors especially have consequences. But for those who are struggling here, putting your primary effort into behavior change stops short of bringing the lasting transformation you want and that God wants for you. Many think it’s a sex problem, but there’s a deeper issue at play.
You may have discovered this for yourself. Attempting “lust management,” trying harder to behave “right”, only serves to wear you out and breeds a sense of failure or fear of failure. And if you’re in a sexless or disconnected marriage, trying harder to just have sex is a dismal failure as well. Whether it’s porn, affairs, or any other kind of sexual acting out or brokenness, there’s something deeper going on.
In my recent address to the Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit I addressed what’s underneath what we usually think of as the sex problem. I’d like to share that core idea here.
Plenty of data shows that things are not good when it comes to Christians and sexuality. Just a few examples:
- Pew Research reported that half (50%) of Christians who were surveyed said they felt casual sex between unmarried consenting adults is sometimes or always OK.
- One of many statistics Christian sociologist David Ayers unpacks is his book After the Revolution is that more than half of adult evangelicals have cohabited with someone not their spouse at least once, often multiple times.
- Barna reported that, among practicing Christians, 13% of young women and 41% of young men actively seek out porn at least monthly. Many suspect that the true numbers are higher, and pastors are not immune.
As a doctor I know the importance of a correct diagnosis. Treating your fever with Tylenol might help you feel a little better. But if I miss the deeper infection that needs IV antibiotics, that infection could still kill you. I’d like to challenge the diagnosis that the problem is primarily, at its root, a sex problem.
To consider what might be the underlying issue, just a couple additional statistics:
- Data from a large study commissioned by Cigna showed that more than half, 58%, of Americans are lonely. And the health implications are significant.
- The American Perspectives Survey reported that nearly half of Americans, 49%, reported having fewer than three close friends. 12% of interviewees claimed to have zero friends today.
The sex statistics and the loneliness statistics are not unrelated. I’m not making specific claims of direct correlation or cause-and-effect because I don’t have data to prove that. But psychologically, anecdotally, and theologically, I can back this up.
It’s an Intimacy Problem
We’ve confused sex and intimacy both in culture and in the church. Christian psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson writes, “Sex is everywhere. … Our problem is that far too often we assume that the arousal that sex generates is mostly or only about sex, when in fact it is most often about our deep desire to be seen, soothed, safe, and secure.”
You may have discovered for yourself that going to sex (especially illegitimate sex) to meet intimacy needs leaves you disappointed, perhaps hurt. It’s not that sex is unimportant, but you can live without sex; Jesus did. But Jesus needed and sought intimacy. You and I need that too.
In this context when we say intimacy we’re not talking about sex; we’re talking about seeing and being seen, knowing and being known. Some have said a good way to think about intimacy is into me see.
The deeper underlying issue is all about intimacy. God created every human being with the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy. This is a true need, not a want. Telling married people to “just do it” or single people “just don’t do it” does not address this true need for intimacy.
Evil has hijacked human’s need for intimacy with countless ways intimacy has gone wrong. The enemy presents sex as the way to get intimacy needs met, but sex without intimacy only leads to destruction. When we become wounded in this pursuit, especially wounded sexually, a natural response is to close off our hearts to real intimacy with others and with God.
Helping people pursue intimacy is the key to wholeness – for ourselves, for others, for marriages and relationships, for the body of Christ, and beyond. This is something each one of us, and the body of Christ as a whole, needs to put real effort into.
As with everything, Jesus is our best example. While here on earth Jesus experienced all the struggles we have. The people around Him had no trouble believing He was human; He got tired and dirty, bled real blood, had real emotions. Their challenge was in coming to believe that He was God.
Our struggle is more often believing that Jesus was, is, fully human. He had all the sex drives any other human being has. And He lived Fully Alive without ever being married or having sex. How did He do that?
As a human being, Jesus needed intimacy. First, He experienced true moment-by-moment intimacy with His heavenly Father. That was the air Jesus breathed. He couldn’t make it without that. And that’s the only way you and I will make it too – deep connection and intimacy with God.
But there’s a real sense in which intimacy with His Father wasn’t in itself “enough” for Jesus. As a human He truly needed connection with a few others. He sought intimacy with a few – with Peter, James, and John. With Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He sought intimacy at the risk of being hurt, and He was hurt! But He sought it anyway.
That’s the paradigm you and I will have to follow if we’re going to find the kind of wholeness and transformation that we need and that God has available for us.
So let me challenge you; how’s your intimacy life?
- What walls are up in your heart, that you need to diligently find healthy places and ways to take them down?
- Who really knows you? Who are your Peter, James, and John? Your Mary, Martha, and Lazarus?
- How’s your intimacy with God? Are you pursuing a relationship with Him that lets you experience being truly seen and known by Him?
Your Turn: The intimacy questions at the end of this post; how does your heart respond? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
Want More? On the podcast this week I share more of the core presentation I gave at the Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit on intimacy.
Why not share this post?
- Many have diagnosed the problem as primarily a sex problem. But at a deeper level it’s all about an intimacy problem. That’s where to put your efforts. Tweet that.
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