Being a woman who struggles with lust can feel like being alone in a crowded room. You think you are the only one tempted when you watch that movie and read that book. Yet the opposite is true.
We’ve been told that lust is when a man looks at a woman (not his wife) and desires her. That definition is both misleading and incomplete. If women don’t begin to redefine what lust means for them, they will continue to isolate themselves from each other, their spouses, and, in so doing, cripple their chances of overcoming temptation.
Many Women’s Battle
In 2016, Newsweek ran an article on an emerging trend in the porn industry: feminist erotica. It told the story of a female director, who, irritated with porn made for men, began creating pornography for women. “Asked what specifically makes her films different, she explains, ‘Aesthetics, values, and the way it’s produced. I tell stories, create characters.’” The director goes on to explain why a female crew is necessary. “But when I have a woman behind the camera, she finds other things attractive: his face, her expression.” This director understands what too few women know about themselves: they thrive on relationships and emotional connections.
“We’ve been told that lust is when a man looks at a woman and desires her. That definition is incomplete.”
Despite the variety of specific addictions women face, there’s a common root: women want to be desirable and desired. This adds an emotional and relational layer to female sexual addiction. The stories we conjure in our minds usually require two people. It means that our lust can more easily hide behind the guise of friendship and story.
In Every Woman’s Battle, Shannon Ethridge describes her emotional affairs with male friends. “Even though I wasn’t having sexual intercourse with any of these other men, I was still having an affair with each of them. . . . Fascination with Tom’s wit, Mark’s maturity, and Scott’s verbal talents affected my marriage in a way just as damaging as a sexual affair would have.”
The emotionally and sexually charged stories we read or watch on television are some of the primary ways women face temptation. One woman I’ve spoken with recalls her gradual fall from young adult romance novels into a raging battle with hard-core porn. She reflects,
It was very light romance, but the seeds of lust were planted. I would fantasize about different interactions with the main character of the books. Nothing sexual. Just innocent at first. But I learned that I could conjure up these scenarios in my mind and make believe, and that led to other things as I got older. Once you’ve seen hard-core porn, you need something more and more perverse. And the perversion got worse and worse. I needed dirtier and nastier stuff to make me feel what I needed to feel.
Alone in the Fight
I recently did a survey of Christian women on the topic of lust and temptation. My results challenged the assumption that only men are tempted to sin sexually. Whereas men often face sexual temptations as much as every day, ninety percent of the women in my survey faced similar temptations.
“If lust is only described through men’s eyes, we won’t recognize it through our own.”
Through the stories these women told, I noticed certain trends. Since God-given male and female roles differ, it follows that we also gravitate toward different types of sexual addiction. Because female attraction functions less visibly than male attraction, it’s easier for women to dismiss sexual sin. If lust is only described through men’s eyes, we won’t recognize it through our own.
The most alarming trend on my survey was the number of women who were alone in their struggle. The majority of married women confided only in their husbands, and with no one while single. More than half of the single women had never spoken to another person about their addictions at all.
So, what can women in the church do to prevent further isolation?
1. Find a confidante.
Buying into the lie that you’re alone in this struggle creates a weighty fear of confession and accountability. You shouldn’t broadcast your struggle, but you should seek accountability from a trusted friend or more mature woman in your church. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
2. Be a confidante.
Do other women in your church know they can talk with you about personal struggles? If another woman approached you and confessed sexual sin, would you be disgusted? Try to be approachable, understanding, inviting, and a reliable source of accountability. “Encourage the fainthearted, help the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
3. Grow your affection for Christ.
Thomas Chalmers said, “The only way to dispossess [the heart] of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” It isn’t that we’re too passionate when entrenched in sin, but that we’re not passionate enough about the right things. It’s our enjoyment of Christ that’s weak. Replace your addictions with passionate affection for Christ.
Sexual addictions are ravenous leeches, intent on plaguing us until we have been drained of all resolve. Yet God is gracious, faithful, and powerful. Prayer is the path to deliverance from even the most resilient sin. Without his help, we are powerless to overcome sin. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).