Not many of us can find strength to resist temptation, perseverance in purity, and lasting forgiveness without community. Shepherds, teachers, mentors, leaders: You have people under your care who are engaging in self harm and dangerous behavior to externalize pain, and contemplating suicide to end pain because they are being crushed beneath suffering and sin.
Female sexuality has historically made spiritual communities nervous, and women are now more sexually vulnerable than ever before. Besides exploitation, trafficking, abuse, violence, and rape, women also have an increased exposure to and use of pornography, erotica, sexting, and questionable dating apps. Add all of that to a partner’s absolutely unrealistic expectations of sexual prowess and you end up with a population of women who are confused, ashamed, broken, and addicted.
These same women experience acute loneliness because they’re too embarrassed and afraid to share their struggles with anyone, including (especially) friends and leaders in their churches.
Change the way you talk about sex.
We are further isolated by pastors who bring up pornography in sermons with a caveat: “This is geared more to the men here,” or “Guys, I’m talking to you,” or “Men are naturally visually stimulated so this applies more to them.” I have heard sermons like this all my life. And each time it would push us struggling girls and women a little deeper into the darkness, because obviously, there must be something horribly wrong with a woman who is engaging in sexual sin that is relegated only to men.
Men in churches are given time, space, and resources to confess their failures and victories, to hold one another accountable, and feel supported in their weakness. Women are not. It is a rare church or ministry that offers the same companionship and hope to women who are in bondage and shamed into secrecy.
How can we change the narrative? By starting a new one. One that invites women to be present, known, and loved. Where better to start than in the church? Women are craving judgment-free, compassionate, and empathetic relationships where they can be fully themselves and find sisters who will carry their burden with them as they’re limping toward freedom.
Share your own struggle.
If someone else—a pastor, teacher, or small group leader—is sharing their own battle for sexual integrity, it gives a woman the courage to bring it up herself. It gives her someone she can confess to and confide in. Pastors can lead the charge by researching the needs of the women in their flock and establishing workshops, retreats, small groups, and one-on-one mentoring.
Most importantly, they can mention women and sexual sin in their sermons. When speaking on sexuality, marital fidelity, and singleness, they could change their language to refer to men and women, highlighting the fact that women struggle with sexual brokenness, too. Women in churches everywhere are struggling with same-sex attraction, pornography, fantasy, masturbation, erotica, and much more. Please acknowledge that.
Make an accountability checklist.
Those of us with years of healing and victory under our belts should be having these conversations with the women we are leading and mentoring. Many small groups and mentors use an accountability checklist.
This might seem like an invasive sin hunt but the questions are not just about sexual temptation. It should begin with questions about the person’s relationship with God, such as “Which fruit of the Spirit have you had the hardest time living?” “Have you spent time alone with God this week?” and “Have your words built up or torn down people this week?”
Include two or three questions that pertain to purity and integrity. Find questions online and implement the ones that feel like the best fit for the person you are pouring into.
Using this with your mentee or trainee gives you an opportunity to bring up the subject along with other faith issues. Sexual sin isn’t just about sex, it’s not even mostly about sex. It’s about using sex for comfort and escape. It’s about a myriad of past hurts and present pain.
My struggling sisters who are desperate for deliverance, this is for you.
As women who face temptation in this area, there is responsibility on our part, too. We need to come clean. Sin kills community and confession restores it. The single most crucial step toward redemption is letting someone in.
In his letter to the 12 tribes, James makes healing sound conditional. If I want to be healed, I have to confess my sins to other people. So they can know me, know my weaknesses, know where it hurts. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16
Community is found in confession, it thrives on confession, and it is sustained through confession.
“In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a woman by herself. It withdraws her from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over her, and the more deeply she becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is her isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron. Confession is discipleship.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (I changed all the male references to female references to help make my point.)
If you want to be a truly committed disciple of Jesus, you have to make confession a way of life. Start small. Pray for the Lord to show you someone you can confide in. It doesn’t have to be someone who struggles with your exact sin pattern, but it does help. He will provide someone. Be patient in the meantime. There are online support groups. If your church doesn’t offer something, look for small groups at local churches.
These suggestions aren’t meant to seem overly simplistic, they are a way to make a small beginning.
You are not alone. You are not disgusting. Or abnormal. Or a freak. Or hopeless. You are loved. And forgiven. And delighted in.
Please feel free to contact me at riseup541(at)gmail if you’d like to talk.