Women & Sexual Temptation: Learning to Talk About Lust
For as long as I’ve been in church, I’ve known that sexual sin is a guy's struggle. Lust, sexual fantasies, pornography, masturbation. These were all things common to man, not common to woman. So what was I to do when my mom's Victoria’s Secret catalog arrived, and I secretly ogled over the pictures wishing I looked like those women? Or when I replayed intimate and sexual scenes from Titanic in my head? Or when I discovered certain parts of my body felt great when touched in a certain way? A Christian girl ought not to deal with such things. But the truth is lust is a temptation common to humanity, not just men. Lust is a desire for something that isn't yours to have. And plenty of women, myself included, have lusted for the pursuit and intimacy of a husband way before it was ours to have. We might not struggle in all the same ways as our brothers do, but every one of us knows the pull of lustful temptations. For most women, the lust battle is birthed in the emotions. Give us a gushy romantic comedy or a sensual book like The Notebook, and it can do us in. For women, the idea of emotional intimacy and sensuality can be a lot more tempting than a naked body.
But regardless of where the temptation arises, giving into lust is sin. And like all sin, we need to confess it and be reminded of the blood of Jesus shed for it. But I'm afraid far too many women leave sexual sin undealt with because they believe the lie that lust is a man's struggle. This is my reason for even bringing up such a sensitive and somewhat controversial topic: Unconfessed sin inhibits the healing our souls need and keeps us from an experiential reality of our forgiveness in Christ (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9).
Start the Conversation
When was the last time someone in your prayer group confessed to looking at pornography? Or masturbation? Or entertaining sexual fantasies? Or replaying certain sensual chick-flick scenes over and over again? Guaranteed, these sin struggles are happening in your church. (I know they are in mine.) But when we don't talk about them, a subtle message is conveyed: Sexual sins are unacceptable among women.
My husband and I lead the college home group at our church. Every year I make it a point to bring up sexual sin issues when just the ladies are together. I share my hope that our home group would be a safe place for them to bring sin into the light, even the “messy” ones like masturbation or fantasies or pornography. I briefly share that I struggled in silence with masturbation and fantasies for years. Learning to confess my sins to God and others was the beginning of my victory through the Good News of all Jesus has done for me. I remind our college girls that we all carry the filthy stains of sin and that Christ can cleanse them all.
Every year many young women confess hidden sexual sins and battles with lust for the first time. Some share that lust became a struggle after they were abused. Some were simply curious children when they discovered the parts of their body that felt good when touched. Some were exposed to movies and books that opened the door to lust far too early in life. Some were sexually active before they were saved and, though now remaining abstinent, still battle an intense desire for sexual intimacy. Others have been so sheltered they didn't know the weird things they did in the shower had a name. All of these women knew these things were wrong but didn't know how to stop or who to talk to.
Frank and straightforward talk can take away the "power" these sexual sins seem to have. These conversations open the doors for the cleansing flood of the gospel to wash over all our filthy stains. Until we feel the glorious truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ, we don't find the confidence to run to our Savior for victory over sexual sins.
Whether you have battled these sexual lusts yourself or not, you can help start the conversation many of your sisters in Christ need to have. Share your own story, or briefly mention how the passage of Scripture you're studying together applies to lust or sexual temptation. And when lust is mentioned, don't discuss it as just a guy struggle.
Helping Women to Fight Lust Well
Because of my hidden struggle with lust over the years, I entered marriage with a wall of shame around my sexuality. I had no category for good sexuality that is part of God's design. Yes, I knew it was good in marriage, and I knew I wanted to experience it. But since I never heard other women wrestle with such struggles, the fact that I longed for sexual experiences made me feel dirty and gross. So now, as a married woman, how was I supposed to jump into this without shame, to pursue sexuality freely?
Fighting sexual sin must start with understanding the purpose and place of our sexuality. The same is true for understanding the purpose of food in fighting gluttony. Or the purpose of money in fighting greed. Food, money, and sex are not bad in and of themselves. But an improper use of them, for the wrong reasons or in the wrong ways, is sin.
So what is the purpose and place for our sexual expression? The Garden of Eden is the location of the first moment of pure and shameless sexual expression. In Genesis 1, God commands sexual expression: “Be fruitful and multiply.” And in Genesis 2 we see it is natural and normal for a man and wife to be sexually intimate, “they shall become one flesh,” and that this carried no shame at all, “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” This reminds us of two important truths:
Sex is good.
Sex is for a married man and his wife.
We must have those two truths in our framework as we fight sexual sin. Here is why: Most sexual sin is not a desire for a bad thing but the desire for a good thing expressed prematurely or in an inappropriate context. We cannot call the desire for sex in marriage bad. This is a good desire. But if God has not provided the spouse, then His clear answer is not yet, not now.
When I talk to single women who struggle with their desire to be sexy, to be romantically desired, I first remind them, “If God gives you a husband that will be such a gift to him and to your marriage!” This prevents the attachment of unnecessary shame to the desire for sex and upholds it as a gift of God for marriages. Knowing these truths can give women the courage to talk to God about their desires and struggles and to fight sin without unnecessary shame.
Biblical discussion about sexuality can also prevent women from carrying shame into marriage. It can prepare them to be sexually confident wives who understand the purpose and place of sex and to enjoy it appropriately in God’s good design. They can then use it to serve their husband and live in healthy oneness with the man God has given them.
Chase the Greater Good
God is the source of all good gifts. If sex in marriage is something you see as desirable, how much greater is the Giver of that good gift! He is enough for the long-suffering of unfulfilled desires. He is the greater good. Sex, like food, is pointing to the greater reality of Himself. Jesus said He is the Bread of life. He is what good food is pointing to. Paul said the mystery of sex is talking about the unity we have with Christ. Union with Christ is what good sex is pointing to.
Turn your energy to chase after Christ with all that you have. In the meantime, keep creating a safe space for women to confess their struggle with sexual sin, so God's daughters might find repentance, healing, and restoration in this area. And that through the power of the gospel, we might become more equipped servants of our One True Love.