I was twenty years old before I became aware that lust was something that I dealt with. It’d been drilled into my head that lust was a man’s problem. Lust, in my mind and as I’d heard it discussed, was all about enjoying naked bodies. Since I didn’t mentally undress men as they walked down the street, I assumed that meant I couldn’t have a problem with lust.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I believe this misconception kept me bound for a lot longer than I needed to be.
Which is why I get serious about talking about lust–with both men and women. Lust is an issue for both sexes–even if it might take on different forms.
Merriam-Webster defines lust as “intense or unbridled sexual desire.” Ultimately, lust is sexual desire that has not been bridled or controlled. Let me make clear–all of us experience sexual desire. It is how God made us. But God designed sexual desire to be expressed in a specific way, within certain boundaries. God intended that the sexual desire of a man be directed towards his wife, to give her joy. God intended that the sexual desire of a woman be directed towards her husband, to give him joy. Lust turns that sexual desire inward towards oneself or outward to someone who is not one’s spouse, and makes the goal one’s own pleasure.
Pornography, female and otherwise
My mom mentioned pornography in her guest post a couple of days ago. She talked about porn being more than just sexually exploitative pictures. And she’s absolutely right.
Merriam-Webster defines pornography as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement, material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement, or the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.”
Do you notice the common theme among those definitions? Pornography is something that arouses a sexual or emotional response. Ultimately, pornography is something that is intended to arouse lust in one’s heart and mind.
Check out the etymology of this word. Merriam-Webster says it is from the Greek “pornographos, adjective, writing about prostitutes, from pornē prostitute + graphein to write”. Written prostitution. Sleeping with someone who’s not your spouse through the power of an image or a written word.
Ultimately, I believe pornography is marked by two basic characteristics. First, pornography is like using a prostitute. It is inherently selfish. It is all about fulfilling me, accomplishing my pleasure, without any regard for the other person. Second, pornography involves a fantasy world, whether that fantasy world exists on a page or a screen. It alters the world from the way God intended it to be and instead insists that wrong is right and right is wrong.
This is true of pornography whether it be in the form of explicit photographs, movies, or books. But, like my mom mentioned, we should be aware that directly sexual images and words are not the only potentially pornographic images and words.
Case Study: Movies
For example, the most pornographic movie I’ve ever seen was… (drumroll please)…
Yes, that’s right. For me, “Twilight” was downright pornographic. It didn’t have any sex scenes, it didn’t have any nudity. I don’t even remember if there was any kissing. It was a “clean” move.
But I found it absolutely pornographic. It has all the elements of porn for me. It pulled me into an alternate reality, a selfish reality. It awakened in me a lust for an “Edward”–a man whose life centers around me, a man who wants nothing more than to be near me, to see me, to watch me sleep. It awakens in me unbridled sexual desire–focused upon fulfilling me.
Last night, I watched “Moulin Rouge” with a friend. Despite its PG-13 rating for sexual content and the pervasiveness of sexual scenes, “Moulin Rouge” wasn’t pornographic for me. Not even close. I felt sympathy for Satine, but that movie awakened no untoward desire in me. I did not enter into an alternate reality as I watched that movie.
It’s tricky, because porn isn’t always as easy as checking the nudity ratings of a movie. Yes, this can be useful–especially if nudity or sexual content is an issue for you. But we can’t assume that because a movie doesn’t contain a sex scene that it’s “safe.”
We need to be always on the alert–guarding our eyes, guarding our ears, guarding our hearts. And when the Holy Spirit speaks, we need to obey. Not rationalizing His voice away. Not worrying about what God’s saying to someone else. We just need to obey.
My sisters love the movie “Twilight.” And that’s okay. My job isn’t to judge them because of what God has told me. Nor is it to make excuses for them. My job is to be obedient to what God has told me to do. And God has told me not to watch “Twilight” again.
Maybe God has convicted someone else that “Moulin Rouge” is sinful for them. My job is not to judge that person. Nor is it to try to convince them that it’s all good because I don’t have a problem with “Moulin Rouge”. My job is to be obedient to what God has told me to do–and to encourage them to be obedient to what God has told them to do.
Case study: Romance novels
Confession: I was a romance novel addict. I lived in a fantasy world with a thousand fantasy men–prostitutes engaged to fulfill my desires, sexual and otherwise. I read Harlequin’s “Blazing Hot” novels, Christian romance novels, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. All of them were sinful and pornographic for me at that point. They took me to an alternate world that was all about me and fulfilling my lusts.
You know what? I still read romance novels today. But I no longer live in that lust-filled fantasy world.
When God convicted me about my romance-novel porn, He didn’t tell me to swear off reading. He didn’t even tell me to swear off romance novels.
He did convict me that I was not to read the Harlequin’s with explicit sexual scenes. Period. To read those would be sin for me. End of story.
The other stuff is different. Sometimes it is porn for me–and sometimes it isn’t. I don’t have specific rules for my reading. I have to listen to the Spirit. Believe it or not, sometimes the book that was just fine for me to read a week ago is not appropriate for me to read today. I have to listen to and be obedient to the Spirit. He knows my weaknesses and knows exactly when I should and should not read certain things.
I do have one general principle that I follow when reading that enables me to walk in purity. I vary my reading. I make it a point to read a great variety of books–fiction, nonfiction, classics, children’s, whatever. I don’t let myself read more than one romance novel in a row. One might be entertainment, but two too often becomes a fantasy world of escapism. I can’t let myself escape to a world of selfish sensual desires. I have to stay in reality and focused on pleasing God and serving others. Varying my reading enables me to do that.
Maybe that’s what the Holy Spirit will lead you to do. Maybe He’ll lead you to completely give up romance novels like He led my mom to. It doesn’t matter which (or if He tells you something completely different.) The important thing is that you are listening to and obeying the voice of God.
Studs, Hot Guys, and Sex Objects
One of the primary objections that even the secular world has against pornography is that it objectifies women. And they’re absolutely right. Porn, in its classical sense, turns women into an object whose only function is fulfilling the sexual desires of men.
But porn isn’t the only thing that objectifies women. And women aren’t the only ones who can be objectified. Women can objectify men as well. And that objectification itself is inappropriate and sinful. It is not acting in love towards the other person.
I know women who would loudly object to men carrying on a conversation about how “hot” a certain actress is and how that plunging neckline…
But these same women think nothing of “ooo”ing and “ah”ing over how hot Taylor Lautner is when he takes of his shirt in “New Moon”. (Sorry, I wasn’t intending to pick on Twilight here–it’s just that he’s the latest fellow I’ve heard objectified.) And then there’s the more subtle but no less inappropriate objectification–swooning over Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, for example.
I say I know these women–but it’s even worse. I have been one of these women on more than one occasion. And that’s just not right.
When I objectify a man, I sin against God, against that man, and against all my brothers. What’s more, I (often unwittingly) encourage my younger sisters who look to me as an example to look at men in this same sinful way.
I encourage all of us to think carefully how we speak about the opposite sex (even among our closest friends). They are not sex objects–and we shouldn’t act or speak as if they are.
O Lord, set a guard over my tongue that I may honor You and both my brothers and sisters in how I speak about the opposite sex.
I cannot end my discussion of lust without at least mentioning a topic that has heretofore been taboo in the church, especially among women in the church.
Masturbation is a pervasive problem in today’s culture and within our churches–but it is a problem shrouded in confusion and secrecy.
There are many different opinions on masturbation–but mine is clear. Masturbation is intrinsically a selfish sexual act. It is taking a pleasure intended to be shared between a man and his wife in the context of marital relationship and mutual submission and instead making it all about fulfilling one’s own lusts and desires.
Just like these other lustful things, masturbation is selfish and creates an alternate world–a lie of sexual pleasure devoid of relationship.
Masturbation is ultimately a false lover. It will not fulfill your desires, nor will it promote healthy relationship between you and your spouse (whether current or future.)
What to do about lust
Lust is sin–and it’s a sin that both men and women deal with. Because lust is often a secret, private sin, it can become a huge stronghold in our lives. Many Christian men and women despair that they will ever overcome in the area of sexual sin.
I come with good news. The cross of Christ is sufficient not only to cover over your sexual impurity of thought and deed–it is also sufficient to free you from the power of sin and death.
I think many who are caught in sexual sin can identify with Paul’s words:
“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
We’ve felt trapped, ensnared, prisoner to our own lusts.
But the cross offers hope.
“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! ”
Jesus Christ our Lord has conquered sin–and through Him, we also are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).
So let us begin to walk in freedom from sexual sin. Some first steps in walking in freedom?
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,”
- Listen to and obey the Holy Spirit
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
I Corinthians 10:13
- Take practical steps to avoid sin
- Meditate on Scripture
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
- Flee from temptation
“Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
II Timothy 2:22
- Seek accountability
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”