How Treating Sexual Thoughts as “Sin” Undermines Relationships

How Treating Sexual Thoughts as “Sin” Undermines Relationships June 2, 2015

As an evangelical child and adolescent, I grew up thinking that I would marry a man who would spend his entire life struggling with lustful thoughts—that he would need an accountability partner to help prevent him from cheating on me and that from time to time he would come to me and confess some “sexual sin,” whether that be sexual thoughts or pornography use. I anticipated standing by my man as he spent his life battling with sexual desire.

And then I grew up and married a guy who doesn’t even identify as a Christian. According to the ideas I was raised with, this was asking for trouble. After all, a non-Christian guy wouldn’t even try to guard against “lust.” For a while, I let this bother me—a lot. I would grill my husband, asking him whether he’d thought sexual thoughts about other women, and then telling him how much that hurt me. I was anxious, I was insecure, I was scared. I was also destroying my marriage.

Fortunately, I was able to turn things around fairly early on. I realized that my obsession with my husband’s sexual thoughts was getting in the way of our relationship, so I decided to take a step back and hear him out. He explained that he loved me, that thought I was hella sexy, and was happy to be married to me—and that the fact that he found other women sexy, too, did not change that. Over time I came to understand sexual attraction and sexual desire as normal and natural rather than sinful and dangerous, and I started to relax.

Do you know what I’ve learned over the past half decade? When you stop obsessing over sex, it’s really not that big of a deal. There is no lifelong battle to be waged. It turns out that the guys who tend to be obsessed with sex are the ones obsessed with not thinking about it.

I had no idea how liberating it would be to be married to a man who approaches sexual attraction as normal and natural and not something to obsess about. At first it worried me that he didn’t see feelings of sexual attraction to other women as a problem, but then I realized that he put feelings of sexual attraction in a different category from actually acting on those feelings. He could pass a woman on the street and think “mmm, sexy,” and that was it, just a momentary thought. He didn’t obsess over it, and he certainly didn’t track women down and ask for their numbers.

It is normal for human beings to find a wide array of people sexually attractive. It’s how our biology works. Finding others sexually attractive and appreciating sexual attraction in others does not have to get in the way of forming strong, healthy, monogamous relationships. Instead of worrying obsessively about perfectly normal feelings of sexual attraction, why not sit back and focus on enjoying life and bonding with your partner? It should be intuitive that a strong bond with your partner is a better guard against infidelity than an obsessive focus on your partner’s sexual thoughts and attractions.

Besides, if sexual desires and thoughts are sinful in and of themselves, the line between thinking “mmm, sexy” about a woman and cheating on your wife becomes blurred. If you already think you’re engaged in sexual sin all the time, actually cheating may not look all that different—especially in a moment of despair when you realize that all of your efforts not to think about sex are failing and you’re clearly a terrible sexual sinner regardless of your best efforts. Recognizing normal sexual attraction for what it is can in fact protect against infidelity.

There was tension in parents’ household growing up. My parents showed physical affection for each other in front of us children, but there was nevertheless underlying concern over the possibility that my dad might cheat on my mother. My father had an “accountability partner,” and there was a lot of emphasis on him guarding his thoughts and being careful about situations where he would be around sexually attractive women. Avoiding “sexual sin” was treated as a battle to be waged.

I cannot say how wonderful it has been to let go of all of this. I can walk down the street with my husband and pass a sexually attractive woman without obsessing over whether his mind will turn momentarily to sex. I can enjoy my relationship with my husband without worrying obsessively over the possibility that he might cheat, and I can be intimate with him without feeling threatened by other women.

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