More and more Christians are entering marriage with a sexual past. Couples need to be aware that virtually no one is entering marriage free of sexual struggle and sin. For this reason, Ellen Dykas explains how to begin talking about your sexual history and why it’s critical to discuss past and current sexual struggles before engagement and marriage. To learn more, read Ellen’s blog, “Sexual History: Why You Need to Address it Before Getting Engaged.”
What happens when a couple enters marriage, and they don’t really know each other? Of course, engaged and newlywed couples can’t possibly know each other to the degree they will after years of marriage. Wise pre-marital counseling usually addresses important issues like family history, faith, finances, children, sex, roles, etc. However, often people marry having avoided a critical component of their story: sexual history.
When a woman and man commit to marriage, it should mirror God’s eternal, exclusive, united-together relationship with his people (Ephesians 5:25-33). The unique one-flesh relationship (Genesis 2:241) of marriage refers to a concept broader than sexual intimacy. Marriage involves two people becoming one in sharing all of life and an intimate knowing of each other.
That’s why knowing your future spouse’s sexual history is so important. Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, with self, mediated through technology, sexual fantasy, etc. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what the struggle has looked like as far as length of time, frequency of giving in to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.
There are many reasons people avoid discussing their sexual history: fear, shame, and feeling intimidated by tough topics are just a few. Private sins like porn and masturbation sometimes seem to fade out when a dating relationship is going well. Some unwisely say things like, “Let the past be the past; move on into the future with this person you love and start fresh!”
Why it’s wise to discuss sexual history before you get engaged.
Most brides begin wedding preparation within days of getting engaged. It’s an exciting time as engagement communicates, I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say: “I know your strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you knowing what I know.”
When dating and engaged couples hide the real deal of their sexual history and current struggles from their loved one, they set the stage for broken trust and future broken hearts.
Jesus strengthens and comforts you in the process of sharing your sexual history.
This may feel scary, but you’re not alone as you consider honest conversations with the man or woman you’re dating or engaged to. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide or avoid.
Secondly, God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” His mercy comes through forgiveness, redemption, and providing friends to walk with you through this process.
Finally, Jesus is your eternal companion and spouse. He is with you for all of time and will never abandon you! Your relationship may or may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past, but Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.
General principles for sharing sexual history.
Here are some general ideas to help you think through this process:
- Remember, the goal is to be known as someone who needs God’s grace in this area, not to vent or dump all the nitty-gritty details of sexual behaviors. Ask a wise friend or mentor to pray for you and help you discern what you need to share.
- Next, remember that this will be an ongoing conversation, not an intense, one time tell-all. Cultivating patient listening and transparent sharing will set your relationship on a healthy trajectory for marriage if you move forward.
- When is the best time to begin these conversations? There isn’t a spiritual formula to figure out the exact moment when a couple should share with one another about their sexual history. Each relationship is unique; however, if both of you are seriously considering marriage, then it’s important to begin revealing parts of your sexual past.
- If you’re on the receiving end of hearing a dating partner’s sexual past, here are the important things you want to find out. Keep in mind that you’re not looking for perfection but integrity and commitment to walk in repentance.
• How is he/she seeking to walk in faith and repentance? Is it all-out or half-hearted?
• Does this person have solid friendships in his/her life, people who both love and ask the hard questions in light of knowing him/her?
• If sexual sin is a present tense reality, what is the trajectory of the struggle? Is there a decrease in giving way to temptation and an increasing strength to resist and flee?
If your partner is half-hearted, casual, and/or doesn’t see any of this as a big deal, STOP. Do not proceed forward in this relationship. Words of affection, promises to love you, and even a commitment to pray more are not enough! You need to see ongoing, intentional steps to flee sin and grow in Christ before you take one more relational step with this person.
Sexual history is an important and significant topic to discuss in dating relationships, especially if you are considering marriage. But remember, such history does not define or identify any of us; Jesus does! He’s the King of his kingdom and so as we trust him, rest in his love and grace, we’ll have the wisdom we need for our relationships.
This blog first appeared on enCourage, the PCA’s website for Women’s Ministry, but it has been slightly edited for this post.
Ellen talks more about sexual history on her accompanying video: Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
05 Apr 2018
I didn’t struggle with porn at first; I enjoyed porn. Porn promised satisfaction, uncovered secrets, and pretended intimacy. Then at a moment of spiritual crisis, I realized that porn wouldn’t ultimately satisfy me.
But though I saw the truth, living it out in my life was a much harder and longer process, one that took years.
What got me through that struggle? As “Sunday school answer” as it sounds, a Bible verse did. At the time, though I imagined a life free from pornography, it didn’t seem like I could ever get there.
Then I read Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (ESV). This verse transformed the way I began to look at my struggle with porn.
Before reading Philippians 1:6, I thought that I had little chance of me shifting from the way I was living to the way I should have been living because whether I succeeded was up to me. But what could I do? I was someone who regularly gave into the temptation to view porn, so the chances of success were slim. But Philippians 1:6 taught me this: Whether I succeeded in escaping from porn’s grip was not up to me, but up to God. And God always finishes what He begins.
Was God working in my life or not?
That was the question I had to ask myself. If God had begun to work in me, then He would finish it. If not, maybe I would never be free.
In my life, God gave me a sign. When I repented of my porn struggle and confessed it, God gave me half a year without porn. I had a decisive (though temporary) break with this sin. Looking back at that time, I knew that God had started something.
Then that initial success blew apart; I slowly began to look at porn again. A slow trickle of looks gave way to a flood of viewing. And once I fell back into repeatedly viewing porn, I started to doubt. Is God really at work in me? Maybe that’s where you are as you read this. But this is what I realized: The very fact that I was concerned about the question was a sign that God was already at work in my heart.
That meant something huge. Since God had started His work in me, I knew He would finish it.
Completing the Work
Maybe as you read that, you’re thinking, “Well, if God is going to do it, I don’t have to try so hard, right?” But that’s not the attitude that makes sense.
Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine you’re running a half marathon. You know that you can only win if you run the race faster than you’ve ever run, which seems impossible.
Now imagine that somehow, you know in advance that you’re going to win the race as long as you keep running. How will you now approach running this race? What are you going to do? As you run this race and find yourself exhausted halfway through, will you give up? No! You’ll run even faster because you know you will win!
When you have Philippians 1:6 in hand, and you believe that God’s “good work in you” was accomplished in Christ’s death on the cross for you, you have hope and encouragement to fight pornography and any other sexual sin. If you can see the value of the prize, the promise of success provides more motivation to overcome the power of pornography.
Winning the Prize
What is the prize? On one level, it’s freedom from the shackles of pornography. It’s also freedom from guilt. But most important, the prize you get from quitting porn is intimacy with God.
Right around the time I realized that porn really wasn’t worth it, I remember thinking, in a moment of inspiration, If I don’t get porn out of my life, I can’t draw near to God. I’ve never again felt the force of that thought quite in the same way (inspiration just never seems to last!), but neither have I forgotten it. How could I draw near to God when there was a huge part of my life that I wanted to hide from Him? How could I love God when my heart was wrapped up in pornography, in desires that enslaved my heart?
What about you? In your most sane moments, when sex isn’t anywhere in your mind, wouldn’t you prefer a life of sexual integrity and knowing God closely, to a life of sexual sin and distance from God and others? One type of life leads you to love others and delight in who they are; the other leads you to live for yourself and use others for your selfishness.
One leads to life; the other to death.
Perhaps you don’t feel any desire for God right now because you are so ensnared in porn. What then? Well, think about what you’re reading here: Even if you don’t feel a desire for God, maybe you at least wish that you had a desire for God. Maybe you just hope that someday you could wish for a desire for God.
I want you to know that even the smallest hint of that desire might be the first flicker of God’s work in you. It was for me. Then add to that the promise of Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.”
So run the race! Because of Jesus, we know that we will succeed. Fan that flicker of love for God into flames, and one day, you will be free from pornography. Then, on the day of Jesus’ return, we will all be free from sin forever, and we will know God, the deepest desire of our hearts, perfectly and eternally.
18 Jan 2018
One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.
As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.
God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.
As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say, “In this moment, what matters most is that I experience the most intense pleasure possible.” This is radically against the call of discipleship described above.
And there are practical considerations here as well. Even if it’s possible to masturbate without the use of porn or sexual fantasy, a single person is programming him or herself with a self-focused sexuality. If the Lord provides a spouse, this individual will not approach marriage looking to selflessly serve another. The focus of sex will be getting “my needs” met. Admittedly, all couples need to grow in practicing God-honoring, selfless sexuality, but masturbation places singles in a more challenging position.
Similarly, a married person is defrauding his or her spouse through masturbation. A healthy sex life takes work in marriage, requiring selfless emotional and spiritual investment, as well as learning to physically serve someone built very different from yourself. Masturbation selfishly takes the easy road of personal gratification at the cost of deepening oneness and intimacy in marriage.
And that highlights another problem. Many Christians justify masturbation because our culture elevates sexual desire to a physical “need.” But the hard truth is, no one has ever died for lack of sex (unlike oxygen, water, food, or shelter). This is not to say that living with unsatisfied sexual desires is easy! We should have great compassion for singles living in celibate faithfulness to Christ and couples languishing in sexless marriages. The reality is that sex is a wonderful blessing – a good gift from God – but it is not a source of life in and of itself.
The reality is that sex is a wonderful blessing – a good gift from God – but it is not a source of life in and of itself
Are Christians just too uptight about sex? Isn’t this repressive? Not at all. We believe God invented pleasure and gave us the capacity to enjoy it in all kinds of ways. But he also prescribed the ways certain pleasures should be expressed. All pleasures can entice our hearts to supplant the Giver of the gift to worship the gift instead.
Finally, most secular therapists agree that masturbation is a means of self-soothing and finding comfort. Here’s the problem: God declares himself to be the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He wants to meet us in our sadness, loneliness, and frustration. He promises to satisfy “you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). There is a danger when we turn to things of this world to soothe the ache in our soul. Jonah 2:8 warns, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (NIV). When we embrace the false and fleeting comforts of this world to satisfy the deep longings of our soul, we will not find lasting satisfaction or a balm for our yearnings.
We should seek comfort in ways that can facilitate deepening fellowship with God. A helpful gauge of whether your pursuit of comfort is drawing you closer to the Giver or not is the lens of Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Does whatever activity you are doing invite you to engage God and give thanks to him?
Wise Christians will tread this road carefully; we don’t want to heap shame on those struggling with masturbation. If we are honest, the issue is virtually universal for all of us at some point in our lives. This should mean we show compassion as those who can empathize. But we never want to shrink back from calling out sin for what it is. We want to invite people to return to their First Love, the One who has promised pleasure forevermore at his right hand.
David talks more about this on his accompanying video: Is Our View of Masturbation Outdated? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
28 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about what it’s like to live with same-sex attraction. But keeping this struggle secret will only isolate you and make your walk with Christ more difficult. Desmond talks about some first steps you can take to begin opening up and inviting other brothers and sisters in Christ into your life, and receive the care and friendship you need.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 2.”
28 Sep 2017
My previous blog looked at why men and women with same-sex attraction in our church still find it difficult to share what they struggle with. You can find that blog here, and my previous video blog here.
I’ll repeat what I said about disclosing this struggle with same-sex attraction: it’s difficult to do this, for both personal reasons and for reasons that might have more to do with the people in your life or the church you attend. You need to identify what your reasons are for keeping this a secret.
And then, you need to face what keeping a secret does to you, and any of us: it perpetuates your feelings of being alone, and in the long run, it weakens your walk with Christ because growth in faith depends on being increasingly open and honest with others and with God.
Hiding anything gives that “thing” a life of its own; it gives power to the secret to become larger and stronger in our lives. But God’s word tells us that living in openness and transparency is the key to intimacy with him, and with others. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Hiding anything gives that “thing” a life of its own; it gives power to the secret to become larger and stronger in our lives.
Now I want to talk about how to open up and talk about this. I want to talk about how we help men and women with same-sex attraction who come to Harvest USA take a few first steps in moving toward others in honesty and transparency. Once you are persuaded that keeping this matter a secret hinders your spiritual growth, knowing what some first steps to take can be helpful. Here are some practical steps in how to walk in the light with your struggle.
Find someone you know who is safe
Willingness to share is the first step. It is an important step, but that is not where it stops. Identifying someone with whom to share can be an even more fearful step. Who do I know well enough to trust this with? How will they react when I share a struggle that they most likely know nothing about?
Sometimes feeling totally “ready to share” may never come. Take your time, be patient with yourself. Pray about it. Don’t rush the process, but also do not back away from taking such a step once you are convinced that sharing your struggle is needed for your growth in Christ. Be willing to trust God for the right timing. A note of caution: Be careful of sharing prematurely (rushing through this), or sharing with someone who lacks spiritual maturity.
On a practical level, think small. Start with your immediate circle: a small group leader, a brother or sister in the church whom you have had some ongoing contact with, or an overseeing elder. The person who might be the right one is someone whom you have shared something else with and found that they handled it well.
Ask for mutual vulnerability
To grow in freedom means building and establishing mutual vulnerability. Trust is something that is built by being honest with someone about our struggles. But you want this growing trust with someone to be a part of a symbiotic endeavor. Mutuality will keep you from feeling like you are a ministry project.
The goal for mutual sharing and vulnerability is that you are inviting this person to grow with you.
It is important to keep in mind that the primary function of this relationship is not mentoring or counseling (unless that is the purpose you want). We’re talking friendship here. Look for someone who will also be honest about their struggles, even if it is not same-sex attraction. In fact, it’s safer not to pick someone who shares the same struggle.
As this friendship develops, see if it’s mutual. If it feels one-sided, share your need for mutual vulnerability. An open and honest relationship will develop healthy boundaries that can handle it. Sharing invites mutual sharing, so let it come naturally, but also express your need for it if it is not there. The goal for mutual sharing and vulnerability is that you are inviting this person to grow with you.
Sometimes, however, the other person is as afraid as you to talk honestly about their life struggles. Be okay with that. The relationship may not work out. It may be necessary to seek out someone else.
In the years since I shared publicly what God has done for me and is continuing to do in my struggle with same-sex attraction, it has been an encouraging experience. Being honest about how I got myself into sinful messes with my struggle, and how I am still learning to trust God, is only possible because brothers came alongside me and acknowledged their own brokenness and need of Christ. The mutuality of our sharing is what turns me from self-sufficiency to healthy interdependence. In this sharing, I experience God caring for me.
Ask for accountability
Without having others involved in our struggle, we’ll get stuck. Growth in holiness ultimately plays itself out in our day-to-day involvement with others.
For some, the struggle with same-sex attraction involves thoughts, fantasy, and desires about another person. They may never act out on their feelings, but Christ spoke of “adultery committed in the heart” in Matthew 5:27 as being on the same continuum as behavior. As believers, we should never minimize our internal struggles with sexual sin as being “no big deal.”
For others, the struggle involves actively acting out by looking at pornography or having sexual encounters. Both internal and external sexual sin is sin. The nature or intensity of the struggle doesn’t determine whether you need accountability or not. All of us need accountability because none of us are guaranteed freedom from the temptations around us or within our own hearts. As a ministry worker with same-sex attraction, I have learned the value of making accountability one of my top priorities.
Move toward sharing with more than one person
Finally, move toward sharing with more than one person. You need to widen your circle to include one or two others, because having only one accountability partner can be a tremendous weight on the person with whom you have shared. If you do not know how to best go about this, consider asking your men’s or women’s group leader if they can help you share your need for wider accountability.
I hope I have encouraged you to be bold in taking the necessary steps to share your struggle with others around you, and that you will find the support, care, and love I have found in doing so.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
21 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about your struggles. We feel weak and shame in admitting that we don’t have everything together. But for those who live with same-sex attraction, the struggle to be open and honest with others in the church is far more intense and scary. Desmond talks about this intense fear, and how it hurts both the struggler and the church.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 1.”
Walking away from an emotional affair is painful; it can feel like death. In fact, something does need to die: the unholy attachment between two people that never should have been. In my first two posts in this series, I shared how you can identify an emotional affair and how to take the first steps out of it. In this final post, I’ll share what healing looks like over the long haul for everyone involved.
After the confession of sin and the intentional breaking of all ties between the two people involved, the next step is both immediate and lifelong: what is Christ asking you to pursue and commit to so as to grow in relational, emotional and sexual integrity? Answering that question will be necessary to not just get through this pain, but to grow in and through it.
If you’re the single person
What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests. You now know in what direction those desires led you, so here are some things to reflect upon—and to do—to move in Christ’s direction.
- Focus on God’s grace for brokenhearted sinners. Turning away from our sin hurts, and this will be excruciating. I don’t want to sugar-coat this. But, see this pain as one that heals, freeing you from the enslaving pain of secret sin and an unholy, obsessive relationship.
- Steep yourself in Scripture and learn again how God’s word brings deep comfort.
- Learn about a biblical view of God’s design for singles in regards to relationships, including friendships with both men and women.
- Press into a study of what wisdom looks like in dating relationships, and what godly marriage is.
What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests.
If you’re the married person
- Same for you, drink deeply of God’s mercy for you, a suffering sinner who is desperate for God’s comfort.
- Actively turn towards Christ and your spouse in new and selfless ways will be your most important step. God is now calling you to cultivate spiritual intimacy and friendship with your spouse and to bear patiently with him or her in their healing process. Marriage counseling will help you find and repair the fractured connections between you and your spouse, helping you grow forward into a relationship based on trust and true intimacy. Your character is formed through the promises you make and the commitments you keep.
- Continue to close all paths and doors that can connect you to this person. And I do mean all. God never said to manage sin; he said to kill it. He doesn’t say kick the sin out of the living room of your heart, but you can keep it in the back guest room. But if it is impossible to cut off all ties due to circumstances, then you must have rigorous accountability about your commitments.
- Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled. 
- Don’t do this alone: get help and accountability. This should involve a wise counselor and spiritual friends who will remind you that one thing that got you into the mess was not being honest with God and others.
- Accept that your obedience in doing all this will hurt. The pain of letting go and accepting these losses will sting for a long time, most likely. This is normal, brother or sister! Anticipate it, and ask God to give you faith to believe what is true, and resolve to walk forward into wholeness and integrity. It is worth it.
Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled.
If you’re the spouse who was betrayed
- How will you handle being sinned against in a traumatic and trust-crushing way? Will you turn towards the God of comfort, strength, and healing, or find comfort in sinful ways? As your spouse turns away from the sinful entanglement of the emotional affair, will you walk forward with your spouse into a new marriage built on forgiveness, honesty, and trust in Christ as your foundation? These are critical decisions you must make early on when your hurt is greatest. Only you can make these decisions, and through the Holy Spirit, you can be led into a new spacious place of healing and hope.
- You, too, will need accountability. Besides a marriage counselor for you and your spouse, find a friend or two to be totally honest with. It will feel embarrassing to admit that your spouse was unfaithful to you. This betrayal was intensely personal, and while the affair was birthed out of your spouse’s sinful heart, it’s natural to “wear it” like a garment of shame. Ask God to lead you to the helpers and friends he has for you, and pray that your heart will be ready to receive his provision!
Is there life after an emotional affair? Yes, friends, there is! But only through following Christ through your own “Garden of Gethsemane,” one day at a time. Saying to God, Your will be done Father, not mine, but your will be done, will be your daily prayer. God is strong enough to get you to the other side of this affair and the wreckage it has brought about. He is your healer, redeemer, and will always be faithful to his word. It may feel impossible at this moment, but he can bring beauty from the ashes, comfort to your heart, and give you an amazing chapter of grace in your life story.
 For some resources to learn more about this, listen to my workshop at the Gospel Coalition’s 2016 Women’s Conference here: Cultivating Emotional and Sexual Wholeness; and I recommend two excellent books by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (for married couples) and Sacred Search (for singles).
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Ending an emotional affair is hard. It can be so hard that some choose not to end it even when it’s clear that the relationship is wrong and doesn’t honor Christ. But there are practical steps you can take to know how to get through this process—and come out stronger on the other side.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 3