The evangelical community’s preoccupation with combatting lust has over-simplified and trivialized a far more complex issue within human sexuality. We exert tremendous effort attempting to stop our sexual fantasies, but neglect the critical task of understanding what these fantasies might be communicating. Efforts to eliminate lust set us up to manage our sexual life with a tourniquet. We end up spending the best years of our life battling the flow of lust, darting our eyes away from attractive people, and taking drastic measures to stay accountable. I think we can all agree this is not what God had in mind for desire, sex, and community.
Our inability to “succeed” in purity only compounds our pain. In our pain, we default to the same, ineffective treatment plan. We spend time in prayer, pursue accountability, occasionally hide, and hope that God might change us. The complexity is that these well-intended efforts fail to engage the underlying issues that drive our sexual lust and anger. A much better approach might begin by asking God to help us understand our lust.
This year I completed research on the key drivers of unwanted sexual behavior, be that pornography, an affair, buying sex and the like. Over 3,600 men and women participated in the study. What I can tell you is that sexual struggles are not random or capricious. They develop in the formative emotional and sexual soil of your childhood and flourish in the unaddressed dynamics of your present life.
In my first blog on sexual fantasies, I addressed sexual fantasies where men had power over women. I received many requests to take a closer look at the other most common sexual fantasy of males–being pursued by an older or more powerful woman, and that’s what this follow-up article speaks to.
Your Sexual Fantasies Are Not Random
Jeff was in his late 20’s when he began experiencing a season of painful depression. The majority of his friends were married and Jeff’s career had seemingly plateaued at his company. He had no idea what to do next. In his paralysis, Jeff found himself caring less about the things he once worked so hard to maintain–integrity, a healthy lifestyle, and ambition. In a moment of distress, he e-mailed a mentor from college asking if they had a referral to see a therapist for depression.
When I met Jeff, his pain was palpable. He stared out the window and looked long into the gray Seattle horizon. What he eventually disclosed was that he picked me as a therapist because of my focus on unwanted sexual behavior. Jeff did not believe he was a sex addict, but did believe that pornography was playing a role in his life that he did not want. Additionally, his pornography use led him to believe that he was unwanted.
There is a glut of information out there that tells us Jeff’s struggle with pornography is a common problem in our society. But this data tells us little about the ‘why’ behind our collective drive for pornography. My research found that the type of pornography and sexual behavior you pursue can be predicted by the major themes and significant relationships that have marked your life.
Jeff disclosed that his struggle with pornography would often escalate during periods of depression. He remarked, “The more I feel pain and hopelessness, the more I seek out porn.” Curious, I asked Jeff how he curates his porn searches based on his emotional pain. He paused for a moment and asked, “So you think the specifics of my porn searches are associated with the particular pain I am experiencing?”
I responded by saying that each of us have an arousal cocktail. This is a mixture of thoughts, images, stories, and fantasies that influence the pornographic content we find arousing. When we find ourselves depressed, angry, bored, or lonely, we will often seek out a particular type of pornography apropos to our situation. If we want to outgrow our need for pornography, we need to gain a sense of what it symbolizes for us.
My research showed that the majority of men pursued sexual fantasies where they had power over women. This often involved men seeking out women who were younger, had a smaller body type, and had a particular race that suggested (to them) subservience. The other primary category for men however dealt with men who wanted the woman in the pornography to have the power (or at least for it to appear that way). These men fantasized about older women, attractive mother figures, and women in positions of authority over them (boss, teacher, etc.).
Jeff disclosed to me that his primary pornography searches tend to be for attractive mother figures. The videos that appeal to him the most involve a plot where a friend’s mom or a teacher single out a male student or young adult. The mother or authority figure sees the man’s charm, or need or sadness, and eventually seduces him to sex.
Sexual Abuse Shapes Pornography Preferences
After Jeff disclosed this, he remembered a movie he saw in college about an older woman who cares for a teenager in a state of distress. When the adolescent is nursed back to health, the woman seduces him. As a college student, he attempted to find the specific sex scenes from this film on the Internet and he pursued pornography portraying similar themes. Jeff thought for a moment and said, “This is really interesting. I definitely seek out a lot of variety in porn, but the main theme is definitely about wanting to be pursued, cared for, and eventually seduced by an older woman.”
In our following session, Jeff wanted to continue to explore why older women captured his sexual fantasy life. I reflected to Jeff that many of his fantasies entailed the use of porn or film, but wondered if this fantasy preference was mirroring anything that had happened to him personally. Jeff thought about it for a moment and then revealed that his first “sexualization moment” came in the context of someone about six years older than him.
Jeff was in 5th grade, when his parents began going on dates once or twice a month. His babysitter was a 16-year-old family friend named Christina. A typical evening entailed Christina cooking dinner for Jeff and his two little sisters and then getting the girls down to sleep. When Christina came back downstairs, she would take out a game like Uno for her and Jeff to play. At first, Jeff felt tremendously shy around her, but the more games and laughter they shared, the more he grew to love their time together.
Jeff remembered coming home from a rough day of school where he was made fun of for wearing “whitey tighties” instead of “boxers” like the other cool classmates. Although he felt shame, he also found himself anticipating time with Christina later that night. He fantasized about her laughing with him and how she would often tap his leg with delight when he would win a game or say something silly. He learned in that moment that fantasy could reduce pain.
One Friday night in early December, Christina proposed a new idea. She would take off her shirt and let him touch her body if he won the game. Jeff’s body shook with anticipation and fear. Christina read him well and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll guide you. It’s going to be fun.”
Jeff’s sexual abuse continued until Christina got a job the following spring at a store that required her to work weekend evenings. Jeff felt so ambivalent about his relationship to his babysitter. He loved Christina’s attention, her touch, her high school status, but he also felt so abandoned and used when she left her babysitting post.
What Your Porn Searches Might Say About You
As you may have noticed, Jeff’s formative childhood experiences of sex had to do with being emotionally pursued, aroused, and eventually abandoned by someone six years older than him. The question then must be asked–how could he expect his sexual struggles as an adult to not be reflective of this story? His pornography use was an attempt to find a familiar sexual story, but also to be in control of how it played out. In this way, unwanted sexual behavior does more than expose your sin, it reveals the portions of your life that are unaddressed and therefore unresolved.
My research showed that men who fantasized about mother figures, larger body types, and women who appeared to be in a position of power had three key drivers:
A history of sexual abuse
A father who confided in his son about his difficulties with his personal life or marriage.
Once you dive deeper into the ‘why’ of your sexual fantasies, you quickly enter the stories that await your engagement. Sexual brokenness, if you listen to it, will reveal your way to healing.
Listen to Your Lust
My hope is that as you read this post, scenes were coming to mind. I am not asking you to draw hard and fast conclusions between your formative sexual experiences and your present day sexual brokenness. Instead, the point is to reconsider stories you may have long ago dismissed as irrelevant to your struggle with pornography.
The irony of unwanted sexual fantasy is that it will be the most honest portion of your life until you begin to address your past wounds and the difficulties of your present life. Apart from sheer willpower and militant surveillance, Jeff would not be able to stop using pornography until two core issues of his life were confronted.
For one, Jeff needed to address the reenactment occurring in pursuing a pornographic world where older women would pursue him in similar way to the erotic and harmful abuse he experienced. Secondly, Jeff’s depression stemming from his career plateau allowed pornography to take up residence like a squatter. His pornography use offered him a surrogate experience of “care,” but it only furthered the judgment against himself for his inability to move out of paralysis. The antidote was to take responsibility for his own care by pursuing therapeutic and professional guidance.
Sexual fantasies are messengers. You may not like the news they bring, but they will knock on the door of your life until you listen to what they need to tell you. In my experience, talking to your accountability partner or therapist about the possible meaning within your sexual fantasies will take you further into transformation than a hundred nights of prayerful despair.
Sexual Brokenness Is the Stage of Redemption
Porn searches await your curiosity and invite your kindness. Romans 2:4 is clear that the kindness of God is what leads to change. Very often it is our self-hatred that blinds us from seeing the kind face of God. It is my firm conviction that God is neither surprised nor ashamed of our sexual struggles, but understands them to be the very stage through which the work of redemption will be played out. If sexual struggles are not grounds for judgment, they are the very geography where we come to know the kindness and transforming power of God.
A few questions to consider:
What are the specific pornography searches that tend to arouse you the most? What might these sexual fantasies symbolize?
What age were these sexual fantasies established? What was going on in your life at the time?
Think of a time in the last 6 months when you used pornography to provide you relief and simultaneously find power amidst depression or futility.