How to Have Sexual Integrity in Marriage

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This post originally appeared on Sexual Integrity Initiative.

Dale (not his real name) was in my office, and through sobs of despair and shame, he said, “I don’t know what happened or why, but I cheated on my wife, and now she’s found out and is leaving me.”

I wish I could tell you confessions like that are rare. They’re not.

The question I want you to consider with me is this: Is illicit sex worth it?

In particular, are adultery and pornography worth the cost?

On a regular basis, I teach that sex is a gift from God, and it is. Regardless of the current level of satisfaction in your marriage, sex is a blessing from the Creator. He wants you to experience loving, creative, and exciting sex with your spouse. That’s God’s plan, and after over forty years of marriage, I can tell you from firsthand experience—it’s awesome when His plan comes together.

Few want to hear this, and even fewer believe it nowadays, but illicit sex outside of your marriage, including adultery and pornography, are costly. Tragically, we humans tend to focus on the “fringe benefits” of immorality rather than the high cost of our infidelities.

According to researchers:

  • 41% of marriages include either physical or emotional infidelity by one or both spouses.
  • 22% of married men and 14% of married women have strayed at least once during their married lives.
  • 74% of men and 68% of women say they would have an affair if they knew they would never be caught.
  • Over 30,000 people are viewing porn every second of every day.

Apparently, unfaithfulness is a relatively common issue, and immorality is far too widespread.

I’ve written about this topic before (find the article here at Charisma News), but let’s take a deeper look.

Why do so many fail?

There are many reasons, but here are some:

  • Sexual boredom (we think the grass is greener elsewhere, and that sex outside of our marriage will be better).
  • Unmet sexual and emotional needs in our current relationship.
  • The love of the chase.
  • The thrill of conquest.
  • Insecurities about our physical and sexual desirability.
  • The pleasure of sin (though momentary and fleeting).
  • Addiction to a feeling rather than commitment to a covenant.
  • Fantasies that we believe are better than our reality.

There may be additional reasons why some spouses wander, but perhaps the biggest reason is that we haven’t considered the high cost of our forbidden sexual exploits.

The costs of an affair that we forget or choose to ignore:

  • Damaged or lost relationships with your friends, children, and extended family.
  • Severe financial impact due to divorce.
  • Loss of your God-given mission and purpose in life.
  • Emotional damage and lost joy.
  • Loss of respect for yourself and by others.
  • Potential physical illnesses (STDs are still rampant).

A strong motivator toward moral purity is weighing the costs of moral failure. Ask anyone who’s been down that disastrous road and they will tell you, “It’s not worth it.”

In fact, many years ago, I had one guy tell me quite bluntly, “When it’s all said and done, an orgasm is just an orgasm, and my moral failure cost me just about everything I truly value.”

Wow.

We all know that drinking poison will kill us; we are aware of the cost of that irrational act. However, we foolishly toy with adultery or pornography thinking no harm will come, but it does.

Someone recently asked me, “Do you ever struggle with temptation?”

Without hesitation, I said, “I’m a male and I’m breathing. Of course, I’m tempted. But temptation isn’t the problem. Jesus was tempted in every way I am. The sin occurs if and when I stop resisting and give in.”

So what can we do?

As a husband or a wife, what steps can you take to help you delight in the spouse of your youth and to help you stay true?

  • Flee sexual immorality. Don’t linger or dawdle. Run from temptation! Stop reading the trashy romance novels. Turn off the TV programs that stir unholy desires.
  • Have the long view. What will your failure or unfaithfulness mean to you and your family in the years and decades to come?
  • Install accountability software and filters on your computer and smartphone.
  • Count the cost and imagine the worst not the best if you fail. (This should be sobering.)
  • Ask godly friends to support you in the battle and to hold you accountable.
  • Establish and maintain wise and holy boundaries. (For example, never be completely alone with an unrelated member of the opposite sex. It’s impossible to commit adultery if you practice this one relationship rule.)
  • Walk in the light and the power of the Spirit.

In hundreds (and maybe thousands) of conversations over my many years of life, it’s become clear to me that we all wrestle with the flesh. Frankly, every one of us is just one bad decision away from disaster. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re beyond the potential for a moral fiasco.1

Not now. Not in this corrupt world. Not on this side of eternity.

But the good news is God is faithful, and He will always make a way of escape for you.

You just have to take the God-given off ramp.

Speaking Out Against Slut Shaming

Today I was thinking about a conversation at the end of the the last school year. It surrounded the words “slut shaming.” Then I came across a video from a 20/20 interview that was done this summer. You can check it out by clicking here.

slutSlut shaming is defined as the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for engaging in certain sexual behaviors that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations. Some examples of behaviors which women are “slut-shamed” for include: dressing in sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control, or even being raped or sexually assaulted.

I first heard this term late last school year from a female student in one of the high schools we speak in every semester. She approached me as I was cleaning up my materials with a stern look on her face. She began by kindly introducing herself and then went into direct conversation about her thoughts on what we presented. The short version of what was shared was that she was surprised.

When teens hear that someone is going to come discuss abstinence they automatically think that the individual coming to speak is both a prude and cosmic killer of joy. I don’t blame teens or even young adults for this. Most are taking their cues from popular media and what they probably have heard at some point in their past about programs similar to Project Six19. However, most are surprised by our tone and approach, which is caring, honest and direct. When this young girl approached, I placed her in the same category I’ve seen time and time again:  A frustrated student who is unhappy with the way things are talked about when it comes to sex and relationships, and wanting a place to point their frustration and concern. She said that our presentation did a good job of sharing an important message while not shaming anyone in the classroom for other’s past decisions. She briefly talked of her past; a boyfriend she had slept with, regretted that it happened, and wanting to move on. She even mentioned that she considered calling in sick to our presentation because was afraid that we might “slut shame” her in front of her friends. She was thankful just the opposite happened that day. So am I.

There are a few things that I take from both the video and this conversation as they relate to this discussion.

sticks-and-stones1First, I applaud Katelyn (in the video) for her willingness to step up and be a voice for those that were marginalized. Or, at the very least felt marginalized which is very much the same. We need teens and young adults who are willing to make us aware of how words hurt. The old adage that sticks and stones will break your bones but words never will is not correct. Words are THE sticks and stones and although they don’t break bones they can break hearts.

Second, the media will always spin stories like this to make a message of abstinence look silly and wrong. Although I have no idea what was exactly shared during Pam Stenzel’s presentation I can speak to her heart. She wants youth to make a decision that is healthy and safe. Her own story speaks to this reality. Yes, I do think that she can be a bit brash but that is her approach and it has seemed to work well over the years. The number of people that invite her to speak backs this up. I also doubt she incorporated any talk on faith in the school setting. However, this does not negate our responsibility to be aware of how we speak on subjects of sex and relationships. Honoring those that we are speaking to while holding onto the convictions we share is a balancing act that takes great care.

Third, the language we use is important. Yes, we need to be honest and concise with the language we use but that doesn’t give us permission to shame. This is something that Project Six19 holds as one of its key values. Language can either build up and change minds or cause us great pain and become dogmatic. Specifically, I think it is important to realize the power of shame with this generation. It communicates that one person is a mistake. That is wholly different then guilt, which communicates that you made a mistake. Remember we have all been created in the image of God and He does not make invaluable or shameful things.

Let’s talk with honesty, building up those around us, holding onto our convictions while also being aware of how the words we use impact others.