Getting Real about Sexual Struggles
About the Guest
Sexual sin isn’t just a vice for men. Women struggle just as much, but in different ways. Christian counselor Ellen Dykas explains that women are often taken with romance books and erotic literature that reel them in emotionally, although more women are discovering pornography in this age of technology. Ellen recalls her own exposure to pornography when she was a young woman, and now helps other women find freedom from sexual brokenness.
Sexual sin isn’t just a vice for men. Women struggle just as much, but in different ways.
Getting Real about Sexual Struggles
Bob: When the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, was first released, there were a lot of Christian women who saw nothing wrong with a little escapist entertainment. “After all,” they said, “if I’m not having an affair and I’m not tempted to lust after someone, why not read a spicy novel?” Here’s a response from author, Ellen Dycas.
Ellen: What you’ve just described is what we hear all the time. It shows how the body of Christ is so in need of discipleship about biblical sexuality. A lot of Christian women have not been discipled in even what a biblical view of sexuality is. So, they are going to see the Fifty Shades of Grey as kind of an amazing romance story.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. In a culture that has gone crazy, sexually, we’re going to talk today about what it looks like to take every thought captive and to make no provision for the flesh. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, we’re talking this week about the issue of sexual brokenness. Most often, when I think of how sexual sin is occurring in our culture, I think of guys. I think that guys tend to be more sexually sinful than women.
Dennis: I think we’re about to find out from our guest today that really both male and female struggle over sexual brokenness. Ellen Dycas joins us on FamilyLife Today. Ellen, welcome to the broadcast.
Ellen: It’s really great to be here.
Dennis: Ellen serves in the women’s ministry at Harvest USA, which is a ministry that works with people who are struggling with sexual brokenness—helps the Church—partnering with a church to really equip them to do a better job and creating a safe and secure place for people to get real and deal with their stuff. Ellen is a mentor. She’s a blogger, and she is an author; and she is the editor of Sexual Sanity for Women.
Let’s talk about Bob’s statement. Do women struggle, equally, around this issue of sexual brokenness as men do?
Bob: And let me just say, as we start here, I recognize, theologically, that’s true. It’s just as I look in the culture, I think, experientially, it doesn’t seem as obvious to me.
Ellen: Right. Women may be struggling in different ways—maybe manifesting sexual sin in little bits of different ways—but they are struggling in amazing proportions.
Dennis: Introduce us to a woman who you’ve met in the past year or so who was struggling out of this brokenness so we kind of get a picture of what we’re talking about here.
Ellen: Okay. I’ll mention two because they represent two different types of women or different age ranges. One was a young 20-something sister in Christ—just a dear woman—actually, studying to prepare for ministry herself. She heard me speak at her campus, and she was one of the women that came up and wanted to have a follow-up conversation. As it turns out, she has had long-time struggles with sexual self-gratification, as well as struggles with pornography. She had never had an opportunity to talk to anybody about those things.
Another woman came; and she, actually, had similar sorts of struggles. She was a good bit older. When she was telling me about her struggles with, basically, promiscuity and just craving the sexual attentions of men, she said, “Ellen, I guess, I’m just like a man.” I said, “No, sister, you’re just like a woman, who is broken in this area of your life.”
Bob: Is there a common thread between those two women? I mean—when you peel back the sexual brokenness in women, are there some commonalities that you find at the core?
Ellen: I do. I mean, I think one of the core threads that I see with every single woman—and I relate this to my own life—is that there has been deep, emotional pain—broken-heartedness—that they have never learned how to articulate, much less, how to bring that into their Christian experience—like how does Christ reach into the depths of who they are?
So, whether if it’s a woman struggling—homosexually, heterosexually, sex with self, sex through pornography-viewing—that, I could say, is 99 percent of the women who come to us are struggling to know how to really be honest and come to Christ in light of their own emotional pain.
Bob: There’s a stereotype—and I’m one of the people who has stood up in front of groups and said this—men tend to be visual; women tend not to be visual when it comes to sexual stimulation. So, have I been misstating this, or—just unpack this whole issue of women and pornography for me.
Ellen: Rather than saying, “…misstating it,” I think it can be misleading because look at the billion-dollar romance novel industry—which is generally what women are associated with. More and more, there is this genre of literature called erotica literature, which is basically pornography through words. I think of what a former colleague said, in light of this misnomer “that men are always more visual / women are more emotional.”
For the romance novel industry to flourish the way it has, among women, they need to be able to take those words and visualize them in their own minds, creating a fantasy world. So, I think the sexual response may be different between men and women; but I think women are just as visual—and in fact, studies show that women are more prone to actually take what they’ve seen in pornography and go act upon it in a real-life scenario.
And the last thing I will say about this is that pornographers—they’re also very smart at what they do. They know how to target a certain audience, whether it’s children or women. So, there have been increasing numbers of pornographic material available that have a more relational theme that actually bring in an aspect of romance to it. Women are being targeted, and they are being sucked into that as much as men are to some of the other genres.
Dennis: So, what percentage would you say of women today are struggling with pornography?
Ellen: One statistic, that’s kind of been around for a while, would say that one out of three visitors to a sexual website is a woman. Sixty percent of girls—18 and under—have viewed internet pornography themselves.
Dennis: Sixty percent?
Ellen: Sixty percent. And I can only assume that, as technology advances, those statistics are going to continue to grow and grow.
Dennis: So, you’re saying that, because of technology today and the accessibility of pornography—how easy it is to access it—that this is a growing phenomenon with women today?
Ellen: I would say, “Yes, it is growing.” I mean, I can’t speak to how much it has grown over the past, say, 15 or 20 years; but that it is now on the rise is absolutely true as more and more teen girls and more and more 20-something girls are even coming out into the open with their parents or with mentors and saying, “I’ve got a problem here.” As we all know, with the rise of technology, pornography has become something that is free of charge and completely anonymous.
I mean, I, myself, was one of those girls—as a 12-year-old, babysitting in my neighborhood—found some pornographic magazines in the towel closet. I had never seen porn. I don’t think—as best I know, I don’t think it was anywhere in my own home; but I found those magazines, and you can bet where I went every time I went to babysit that house. Then, somehow, after several months, they were just gone. I think that was the Lord rescuing me. This was before the internet.
So, with the accessibility of it, you can do it in the privacy of your own home or your car, with your phone. Unfortunately, it is going to continue to be something that is probably going to grow—in people accessing it.
Dennis: It’s not a matter of “if”; it’s really a matter of “when”. Even your daughter is going to see something—some kind of image—that, as you said, is unholy.
Bob: I had a friend of mine come to me a little more than a year ago. He said, “Are you and Dennis going to talk on FamilyLife Today about these books that are out this summer?” I said, “What books?” He said, “Women in our church”—he said, “The women in the church are reading”—and I didn’t know what he was talking about. Well, I found out what he was talking about, and you know what I’m talking about; right?
Ellen: I think I do.
Bob: The Fifty Shades of Grey books—
Bob: —that flooded the market and seemed to be this amazing phenomenon. There were not a whole lot of guys reading those books; was it?
Ellen: It’s been primarily women, as I understand it. In fact, this genre of, what I would call, pornography—it’s pornography in print—has been labeled erotica. It’s actually being referred to, in some places, as mommy-porn because it can be easily accessed on e-Readers.
What is most sobering—and you’ve already kind of mentioned this, Bob—is that many Christian women have been reading these books. It’s a trilogy that’s going to be made into a movie; and they’ve been finding no problem with it, in light of their Christian faith.
Bob: So, a woman that says: “Yes, I read it. It’s fantasy. It’s escapism. It’s—I mean, it didn’t do anything to me, personally. I still love Jesus, and I still love my husband; and I don’t want to go have an affair. So, what’s the big deal with it?”
Ellen: What you’ve just described is what we hear all the time. It shows how the body of Christ is so in need of discipleship about biblical sexuality. I’ll just—I’ll tell a story of, again, a blog post I read. Dannah Gresh, who has a ministry in Pennsylvania, wrote a blog post on why, “I’m Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey”. It took me a couple of hours to do a pretty thorough skim of all the posts and responses—
Bob: All the comments she got, yes.
Ellen: —all the comments. But one of the most disheartening responses was from a woman, who is married to a pastor. The Fifty Shades of Grey kind of highlight a type of sexual relating that is absolutely against God’s design for sexuality.
Bob: It’s abusive. Yes.
Ellen: It’s abusive. It’s utilizing pain, and violence, and things like that. This woman, in a very angry tone, was defending that she and her husband actually participated in this kind of sexual relating and were, in fact, honoring their marriage bed because they both had consented to it—with nothing, at all, of looking at how the sexual relationship in marriage is meant to image Christ and His relationship to His people.
And so, a lot of Christian women have not been discipled in even what a biblical view of what sexuality is. So, they are going to see this—the Fifty Shades of Grey—as kind of an amazing romance story of—“An amazing love story” is how it’s being publicized. I think that so many Christian women have been sucked into that—just shows the need for discipleship about, “What is God’s design?”
Dennis: And I’m thinking of these wives who have read this—who are moms of daughters—and it can’t do anything but hurt their relationship with their daughters, in terms of giving their daughters a biblical view of human sexuality.
What would you say to a mom, who is raising a daughter today in this sexually- pervasive culture of pornography and everything—what would you say to her about equipping her to do a good job of warning your daughter and yet, at the same time, creating a safe relationship for her daughter to share what she’s experiencing?
Ellen: The first place I would go would be just to talk with that mom. If she is open to this, before I’m going to want to give her parenting discipleship, I’m going to want to find out, “Where is she at, herself?” So, my first point with that mom is going to be just sister to sister—me to her—how does she need help—herself—in understanding biblical sexuality and maybe even just parenting principles? Then, stemming down from that, I’m going to want to help her begin to grow—and how does she communicate with her daughter, in age-appropriate ways, and not just the dos and don’ts.
So often, that is something that churches have tried to promote in their purity conferences, which is good—of just, “Wait until marriage,”—but what they are completely neglecting is the purposes behind that—the reasons behind that, the—what Paul talks about in Romans 13, 14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts.”
I think the way I would help a mom with her daughter is going to be:
How are you, first, going to disciple your daughter about being a godly young woman in Christ? And how does that relate to her, as a growing sexual being?
And then, what are going to be those protections that are going to be put in place to make no provision—helping in things like relationships, technology, entertainment?—all those areas where, I believe, parents have been given that mantle of responsibility to hinder temptation for their children—and then, to disciple their children how to make those wise choices themselves.
Dennis: And one thing you hinted at there—that I just like to comment on, from our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway—is, I think, we need to give our daughters and our sons, as far as that goes, a biblical view of what the purpose is—what God’s purpose is for sex in the first place.
We talk about it at the conference, Bob, you know? We talk about how it’s a part of reflecting the image of God in our sexuality. It is given to us for pleasure, for comfort, for propagation of the species—of men and women, coming together, to create another generation of godly men and women who form marriages and families, at that point.
If we give young people a biblical view of what sex is all about—to compare with the culture—that’s going to help them spot the frauds—those things that are counterfeit.
Bob: Ellen, you mentioned Dannah Gresh. I remember when she was a guest on FamilyLife Today. We talked about one of the reasons parents don’t want to have this kind of engagement with their sons or their daughters—and in fact, I think we’ve got a clip from the interview we did with Dannah, where she talked about how this was a challenge for her.
Dannah: I was listening to Dr. James Dobson. He was interviewing a woman—a mother, I believe—on the subject of raising sexually-pure children. He asked her, “What’s the number one question on a teen girl’s mind when a mother is talking to her about the subject of sexual purity?” Without hesitation, that woman said, “The number one question on a young woman’s mind is, ‘Mom, did you wait?’”
I had to pull to the side of the road and just allow ten years of incredible grief to engulf me for, really, the first time because, at the age of 15, I was a Christian young woman, at a Christian high school, serving the Lord through Child Evangelism Fellowship—loved the Lord with all my heart—really truly did; but I was in a Christian dating relationship. I thought I was immune to sexual temptation, but I found out that I wasn’t; and it grieved my heart deeply.
The day I was driving down the road, with my brand-new baby girl in the back seat, and I heard that question, “Mom, did you wait,” the dam broke. My heart broke. I had to sit there, and hold her, and cry, and realize that I needed to bravely go through a healing process so that I could mentor her effectively so that she would not know the pain that I knew.
Dennis: Would it have helped you if your mom, or your dad, or if a Christian peer had come to you and said: “Dannah, I’d like for you to be more specific. How far are you going to go, prior to marriage?”
Dannah: Absolutely. It’s vital! You have got to do that with your kids. I truly believe if somebody had sat down and said, “You know, let’s talk about this.” I would have drawn my line much sooner. I would have maybe had some of the self-control to stop, at that minute—just because it had been engrained into my mind. We’ve got to do this with our kids. The other thing I think is really important is that the standard is not virginity. I talk to the girls about: “Purity is not this virgin line. That’s not purity.” God’s standard is, “Let there not be a hint of sexual immorality in your life.” That line is drawn, way before the virgin line.
The thing that surprises parents, when I talk to them, is that the place they want most to learn about sexual purity is from their parents—not a book, not high school, not the youth pastor—their parents. Studies confirm this. One study of mothers and daughters—the mothers and daughters were asked the same question: “Are you communicating effectively about the subject of sexuality?” The mothers said, “Oh, yes, we’ve talked about it”—like 89 percent of the mothers said, “Doing great job.” Only about 30 percent of the daughters agreed. They said: “We’re not doing it! This isn’t how we want it to be.”
So, the interviewer said, “Well, what would make it better?” They said: “She needs to bring it up. My mother needs to bring this subject up more often.” They want to talk to their moms about it!
Bob: You know, listening to Dannah share her own experience in this, I think the thing that moms and dads have to keep in mind is that having a conversation with your teen about this subject is different than delivering a lecture to your son or daughter on this subject. We have got to learn, as parents: “How do we engage with our kids? How do we ask questions? How do we hear things that we may be uncomfortable hearing without flinching and freaking out, as parents?”
Ellen, you talked about having a conversation with a mom, first, about her own view of sexuality. I’m thinking, “If you sat with most moms today and said, ‘What are your thoughts on sexuality?’ they would say, ‘Well, I’m exhausted’—because she is a busy mom—
Bob: —life is busy. So, she’s tired. So, at the end of the day, she really just wants sleep more than anything else. And sex, as a priority in her marriage, is pretty far down the line. Is that an unbiblical place where she finds herself?”
Ellen: Well, it potentially is. I mean, what one of the things we teach, at Harvest USA, is that the biblical sexual ethic is, “Love your spouse selflessly.” When both husband and wife are seeking to live that out, in a Christ-honoring way, that’s going to radically influence how they are growing in their sexual relationship. We have many couples that come to us, that have a very absent sexual relationship; and that’s a part of helping them to even grow in their communication with each other: “How are they going to begin to rebuild trust and move toward each other in that way?”
Dennis: I really agree with that. I think—you just think about where women are growing up today in this culture. How in the world would you go all the way through adolescence into adulthood—whether you go through a college, or through service, or through the workplace—and come out unscathed? I mean, women have, for centuries, been the object of men’s lusts; and so, as a result, they are damaged. They are abused.
What we’re talking about here is, ultimately, women going back to the Book—to the Bible—and to a relationship with their Heavenly Father—and really reprogramming their minds to be able to think rightly about who they are as a women—how God made them and that, really, sex between a married man and his wife is good, within that covenant-keeping relationship. It was designed by God for all those purposes we mentioned earlier.
Bob: Yes, and when you turn to a passage like First Corinthians 7, you see some pretty clear instruction on the sexual relationship between a husband and wife—and the fact that you’re not to deprive one another, and you are to keep it in the bounds of the marriage, and that there ought to be a healthy, flourishing sexuality between a husband and a wife. If that’s not there, it’s a symptom that there is something deeper that is wrong in their relationship.
Dennis: Yes. Believers just need to know, “God’s not down on sex.” God dedicated a whole book of the Bible that is not just about some mystical imagery—
Dennis: —Song of Solomon is about the love of a husband for his wife, in a very graphic way. I think there is a reason why that book is in the Bible. I think He wants us to know—despite what we hear from the world—that God is not down on sex. He is very much for it. He created it; and He wants us, even as broken people, to be in the process of obtaining healing, and wholeness, and enjoying what He designed within marriage.
Bob: Well, that comes through, loud and clear, in the book that Ellen has written, which is called Sexual Sanity for Women. I’d encourage our listeners—this is a great book for women to go through together, in this culture, because I think we need to have a healthy, biblical understanding of human sexuality. There’s a companion book called Sexual Sanity for Men. You can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com for information on either of these books. You can order from us online. Again, FamilyLifeToday.com is our website; or call, toll-free, 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. Ellen Dycas will be here, and we’ll continue our conversation about how to maintain a heart of sexual purity and some sexual sanity in this culture. Hope you can join us back tomorrow for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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