There are a lot of resources geared toward Christian adolescents and men for guarding their eyes, minds, hearts, and bodies. Talks and conferences and books and apps for accountability to stay away from porn. Sermons about men not looking at women with lust.
And there are a lot of resources geared toward Christian adolescents and women for how to not have sex and to “protect” Christian boys and men from stumbling. From covering our bodies as teenage girls to consistently uncovering our bodies as wives, the general idea seems to be that men think about sex an awful lot. And women should avoid being thought of in that way at all—except by your spouse—and in that case, Keep him captivated, girl.
Here’s the thing. This teaching doesn’t do either gender any favors. It can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where guys feel powerless against their sin. It can distort the way girls think about their own eyes, minds, hearts, and bodies when it comes to men and sexuality. We overanalyze every interaction, worrying about coming off as flirtatious or suggestive.
It also ends up heaping a disproportionate amount of shame upon women who find themselves in need of help guarding their own eyes, minds, hearts, and bodies. If lust, porn, masturbation, and fantasies are men’s issues, women who struggle in these areas may wonder, What in the world is wrong with us?
Women and lust: It’s complicated
Let’s say it loud and clear for the folks in the back: Lust is not just a man’s issue. Many women struggle with images and fantasies both before and after marriage. Statistics show more and more porn users are women. And because of the aforementioned baggage, they believe their bodies are bad, their sexual desires unnatural, and they’re doomed to struggle with sexual brokenness in secret.
God made us as sexual beings. Our sexuality is designed to reflect something about God and our relationship with Him. It’s one part of the way we are also created to need community, connection, and intimacy—to know and be known, to enjoy and be enjoyed. The actual act of sexual intercourse in marriage is just one small part of what intimacy was designed to be. The fact that it’s what everyone is obsessed with, Christian or not, is why so many of us are confused, disappointed, or full of shame.
The obsession with sex and romance has diminished the language and possibilities for some of our deepest longings—to be seen, known, appreciated, and valued—such that people often confuse these for sexual feelings.
Sex has become a catchall for humanity’s deepest needs and desires. Often, the intimacy we look for in sex can and should be found in the nonsexual relationships with friends, family, teachers, or neighbors. We all need connection with other people, intimate connection. Our culture suggests a great place to look for that is through sex. And sometimes we believe it.
How do women combat lust?
The typical talk on sex for married women goes something like this: You probably never think about sex because you’re too tired, but it’s very important to your husband. In other words, think about sex more.
The typical talk for single Christian women on sex is, well, remain pure. Stay busy. Pray for a husband.
But some of us (okay, all of us), need to train our brains to think about it differently.
Romance novels and media have long been referred to as “woman porn.” Whether it’s the iconic moment a handsome, but withdrawn, man finally takes the heroine in his arms for a passionate kiss (or more explicit images of passion being depicted), these scenes become an unhealthy way of coping with our unmet desires or unhealed wounds.
What excites us about these images or people? The idea of being pursued? Desired? Taken care of? Both single and married women carry a lot of longings, and some of them seek expression through sexuality.
A married friend once confided she was struggling with feeling attracted to another man, guilty her thoughts were so often drawn to him.
My friend’s struggle isn’t uncommon. So for the women struggling with lust, what do we do?
1. Examine what’s underneath the desire.
After more processing, my friend discovered what she found most attractive about this man was where he lived. It wasn’t lust after the man himself, but lust after another place. The fantasies were more about a life that might be less stressful, less lonely.
What’s going on underneath is often less about sex and more about discontentment in some other area. We desire things deeply in our hearts that sex cannot provide. But because we’re physical beings, sometimes it really is a desire for sexual pleasure. In both cases, we can take these desires to God, who made our bodies and souls with longings and needs. Those longings are meant to push us toward Him for comfort in our loneliness, feelings of invisibility, undesirableness, boredom, or insecurities.
If our “sexuality is all about our desire to be known and to experience true intimacy,” as Juli Slattery said on a recent episode of Java with Juli, then we need to experience being known intimately not only by God, but also by others.
There is power in safe community to dispel shame, to give and receive the love our souls truly crave (that we often confuse or medicate with sex), and to live as flourishing human beings. We all need at least one woman who knows our struggle and temptations, can hold us accountable, and help us walk on a path toward freedom from lust or sexual sin. If there’s addiction involved, working with a qualified therapist may also be a necessary step toward freedom.
3. Know you are not alone.
You are loved and wanted by God and, in Christ, nothing can separate you from that love (Romans 8:39). Fight the urge to keep yourself hidden and isolated, because to be seen, known, and loved is precisely what you were made for and the real medicine you need.
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Laura Way serves with FamilyLife as a writer and lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, Aubrey, and their two vibrant young daughters. She and Aubrey lived in East Asia for seven years until relocating unexpectedly a couple years ago. She enjoys writing about becoming more fully human while sojourning through different places, seasons of life, and terrains of mental and spiritual health at hopeforthesojourn.com.