Men! If you’re like me, you’ve been lied to. When told what to do to help overcome your lust, you have probably been given rotten advice that is not helping you, but hurting you. It is keeping you locked in cycles of lust and sexual frustration. Let me help you sweep the lie away so you can retrain your thinking and find greater and greater victory over lust.
I know you are going to be shocked when I tell you what the lie is. You have probably been told it is biblical advice. In fact, when I share it with you, I imagine you’ll even call to mind a Bible passage to defend the lie. But it is a lie that is not supported by the Bible.
Are you ready for it? Here is the lie.
The #1 Lie
You need to redirect your lust toward your wife.
We’ve all heard it. We’ve probably all said it. I know I’ve given people this advice. I’ve given myself this advice. The only problem is it is completely, totally, and in all other ways wrong. It is not wisdom from God. It is a lie from the devil and will keep you trapped in cycles of lust and sexual frustration.
Here’s the scene. You are on a sales call, walk into an office, and see the buxom receptionist wearing a form-fitting top with plunging neckline. It is all you can do to look her in the eyes and conduct your business. Your mind is racing in sexual fantasyland and all you can think about is sex. You are franticly trying to remember what company you work for and why you were even visiting this establishment. But you’ve read books on this topic and know what to do with this lust. Redirect it toward your wife. You know what you are going to be looking for at home tonight.
Or perhaps you are sitting in Starbucks. There you are, minding your own business, reading your paper or maybe even your Bible. In walks a college co-ed with spandex pants, an exposed midriff, and large upper body parts. Just one minute ago sex was the last thing on your mind. (Yes, ladies, despite what you think, there are indeed seconds, even entire minutes, when we men aren’t thinking about sex. It just doesn’t take much to get us to start thinking about it again.) But now it is the only thing on your mind. Desperately, you are trying to put your eyes back on what you were reading and get thoughts of that young lady out of your head. But you’ve talked to your preacher about this and are prepared. You’ll just take all this sexual desire home to your wife. That’s why God gave her to you.
Do these scenarios seem familiar to you?
All the Single Guys
Obviously, the first problem is what should the single guy do? Is he out of luck? Should he just go get married?
Guys, let’s imagine the proposal based on this thinking.
“Hey babe, I know we’ve only known each other for ________________ and we’ve only been serious about our relationship for ____________, but I’m horny. I keep seeing women that get my sexual engines running, and I assure you that you are one of them. I really need someone to have sex with. Will you marry me? Please?”
Do I really need to comment any more on this line of thought? If just thinking through the above proposal doesn’t demonstrate what is wrong with this scenario, you need more help than a blog post can offer.
Those Lucky Married Guys
But is this even a great piece of advice for us married guys? Let’s think it through. In fact, why don’t you ask your wife about this? Imagine the following radically honest request.
“Hey hon, I’ve been looking forward to getting home all day. I just couldn’t wait to see you. I saw this large-breasted, scantily clad, hot woman today and it just really got me turned on. I couldn’t get my mind off of it all day. Do you want to have sex with me tonight?”
What do you think her response to that is going to be? Let’s face it, the last thing she wants is for you to come home and try to have sex with her because you got turned on by some other woman. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate. I guess the last thing she wants is for you to try to have sex with some other woman because you got turned on. So, you’re doing better than I first thought. You’ve actually made it all the way up to the second to last thing your wife wants.
Sadly, some women have heard this lie as well and settled for this second to last thing, believing it is the wife’s duty to be her husband’s sex receptacle in order to keep him from committing adultery. I imagine if we conducted a poll of these good-hearted women, we’ll find that the sexual relationship in most of their marriages is not fulfilling and instead simply produces resentment, which makes it harder and harder to keep fulfilling this duty.
Let me assure you, this approach to marital sex is unhealthy and not God glorifying. Your desire to have sex with a woman you are not married to is not God glorifying and asking your wife to fill that desire is not going to produce God-glorifying sex.
But At Least I Can Lust for My Wife, Right?
Can we make a distinction between lust and sexual attraction? The reality is sexual attraction is natural. God made us sexual creatures. You can obviously be sexually attracted to your wife. In fact, I’m going to suggest you can be sexually attracted to all manner of people. Maybe “can” is the wrong word. The right word is “will.” You will be sexually attracted to all manner of people. You are probably never going to turn that off. But at this point we aren’t talking about lust.
By the way, spouses need to understand this point. The fact that your spouse feels a sexual attraction to someone doesn’t mean he is a pervert. It means he is a human. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. It simply means he is still a man. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be with you (sexually or as his life’s devotion). It just means he still has eyes and hormones.
While I readily admit the line between sexual attraction and lust is a very thin one, and I am not wise enough to know exactly where to draw the line, I assert that lust is different from attraction, at least as it is used negatively in passages like Matthew 5:28. In fact, I think we need to recognize that the condemned sexual lust is more than simply desiring sex. Lust, when pictured as a negative desire is about taking something. For instance, in passages like Acts 20:33; Romans 7:7 it is the word translated “covet.” It is the term translated “covet” in Romans 13:9 when listing some of the 10 Commandments. It is used in James 4:2 to talk about the desire that leads to murder because it doesn’t have what it wants.
When we put all these together, I think we see a bigger picture of this negative lust. It is more than simply wanting something you aren’t supposed to have or wanting something that isn’t yours. It is even more than having an overwhelming desire for it. What does “overwhelming desire” even mean? “I want it so much I can’t help myself.” Really? Or are you just making a case to justify your uncontrolled behavior.
Rather, this negative lust is a desire characterized by a self-centered objectification and entitlement. “I want it. I deserve it. I can take it.” Even if all you do is take mentally from some woman, the lust is a theft based on objectification and entitlement. You are taking from her a mental image that is not yours based on a skewed perspective of who she is, seeing her as nothing more than the sum of her body parts. And I want to share with you the shocking truth that you are not allowed to do this to your wife either. Even if it were allowed, I can almost guarantee your wife doesn’t want that lust or want to respond to it (at least as I’m defining lust as distinct from sexual attraction in this post). Further, women who do respond to that lust are usually either damaged and hurting or are using it to control, dominate, and manipulate in ungodly ways (even if they are doing it with their husbands) and ways you don’t want to experience.
But What about 1 Corinthians 7:1-5?
See, I told you you were going to come up with a Bible passage to justify this lie.
Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 again. Seriously. Read it now. Click that hyperlink. Go read it again before you make this flawed argument.
Is there anything in that passage that says, “If you got turned on and lusted for someone else, take that to your wife”? No. Instead, it says that instead of pursuing sexual immorality, you should pursue marriage.
I want to be careful, because an exposition of this passage could be a blog post all on its own and we’re already going on long enough. So let me make one point about this passage that I hope you will note.
Did you recognize Paul described sex as something you give, not something you take? The ESV especially highlights this. Husbands are to give conjugal rights to their wives, and vice versa. We are to fulfill our duties to our spouse. Sex is not supposed to be self-centered, but spouse-centered. Did you notice it did not even once claim a spouse could demand conjugal rights?
The shallow use of this text that men have used to force their wives to have sex with them any time they want or guilt their wives into having sex with them in order to keep them “fulfilled” so they won’t go looking elsewhere is reprehensible. Men, the only thing this text says to you is for you to fulfill your sexual duty to your wife. And I assure you that this is not the same thing as participating in the sex act anytime you want.
What is the conclusion then about lust from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5? Sexual attraction is likely very helpful in fulfilling your duty to your spouse. But lust, the self-centered objectification and entitled desire for copulation, is a misuse of sex even in marriage. Sex is not to be about taking, but about giving.
Sadly, too many Christians have allowed our views of sex to be molded by our sex-crazed culture. Sex in marriage is not about taking an activity from our spouse because of an immediate fleshly desire. Rather, it is a physical celebration of the oneness that a married couple develops spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and relationally. That is why the very first description of sexuality is becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), a term which means so much more than “go have sex.” That is why sexual fulfillment grows in marriage, because the oneness grows. And that is also why Cosmo has to keep rewriting the same articles about 101 ways to have mind-bowing sex. If you are going to abandon the appropriate place of sex, all that’s left is pursuing momentary pleasure through novelty in technique. That, however, always falls short of providing lasting fulfillment, so you need a new article once you’ve tried all the approaches in the last one and still don’t feel satisfied.
What Is the Truth?
I know what you are thinking. “If I shouldn’t redirect my lust to my wife, how on earth can I deal with this?” Redirect your objectifying thoughts to subjectifying thoughts. Redirect your entitlement thinking to thankful thinking. Redirect your self-centered thinking to God-centered thinking. Redirect your lust-filled thinking into blessing-filled thinking.
You see, the lie you’ve been told has subtly allowed you to hang on to your lust for that other woman all day until you get home to your wife. But that isn’t going to work, even if your wife will oblige your sexual urges. All it is going to do is feed the lust cycle. In fact, if your wife obliges you, it’s going to make eradicating lust in the future even harder. After all, what your mind and body were just taught is “If I think about sex with someone all day, when I get home, I’ll get to have sex.” And I guarantee you that will eventually lead to some resentment on somebody’s part in the marriage and ultimately produce some frustration, because fulfilling, meaningful, and God-glorifying sex does not happen in the bed governed by demands and resentment.
What you need is tools that will help you dissipate your lust so you can become free to have God-glorifying, marital unifying sex with your wife. If lust is a self-centered, objectifying, entitlement-based desire, then you don’t need to redirect who you are thinking about, but what you are thinking about.
Stop objectifying and start subjectifying. Objectifying treats a woman like an object. She is nothing more than the sum total of her body parts. She is a tool for your sexual taking (even if only mentally). Instead, start to subjectify her, which means start turning her into someone you can identify with.
She is more than her body parts. She is a person. She has hurts, fears, joys, pains, goals, dreams. She’s somebody’s daughter. She may even be someone’s wife and someone’s mother. In the past week, she has been afraid, hurt, pleased, blessed, cursed, disappointed, fulfilled, frustrated. She has expectations for her day. She has responsibilities in her day. She has fears about her day. She has goals for her day. Have you ever been in any of those places? How did you want people to look at you? As an object? As someone who was there as a tool to fulfill whatever desires they had going on in the moment? As someone to take one more thing from? Of course not. Subjectify her and identify with her.
Let me ask you. If you discovered that she had come to Starbucks to get a break from the hospital where her daughter lay dying, would your thought still be about what being in the sack with her would be like? I hope your thought would be, “Oh wow, I hope something can be a blessing in her life today to help her deal with that.”
[Addendum: As per a comment from a good friend on Facebook, if you simply stop with this, you run another danger, especially with women you actually have some relationship with (e.g. a co-worker, fellow church member, neighbor). With merely this point you are in danger of developing an emotional connection that you feel surpasses lust and makes you impervious to its temptations. Many have fallen prey to sexual temptation when they become convinced their relationship with a woman is based on real love and care even though they are not married to her. However, if you keep three things in mind you will diminish this danger. 1) As part of you subjectifying, remember her soul and yours. 2) Subjectify your wife as well, remembering that her hopes and dreams for today are that you will stay faithful to her. 3) Move on to the other three tools for thought redirection.]
Stop feeling entitled and instead start counting your blessings with thanksgiving. The fact is, you are not entitled to sex at the drop of hat from anyone, let alone the waitress who just took your lunch order. When your entitlement thinking starts filling you with resentment about what you don’t have access to and increasing your desire to figure out how to get it, start counting the great blessings you have.
Remember God who is with you all the time and has blessed you with every blessing in the heavenly places. Think about all the relationships you do have (not merely the sexual one) and how fulfilling they are. Think about the opportunities you have today to show real love to people, perhaps including your wife. If you are married, think of all the reasons you are thankful for your wife. If you are single, think of all the blessings that do accompany a single life (and there are plenty).
Stop pursuing self-centered thinking. Instead, redirect your mind to God-centered thinking. I know it is tempting to think spouse-centered thinking is best here. But it isn’t. Certainly, thinking about what cheating on your spouse would do to her might help you. But, here is what I mean by God-centered.
This principle has come from passages like Proverbs 27:7 and Psalm 37:4; 73:25. We need to grow in our delight with God above all other possible delights until we can say along with the Psalmist, “God, I want you more than I want anything else, including sex with this other woman.” When we are full of God, the bitter fruit of immorality will not tempt us. With all this in mind, I encourage you to redirect your self-centered thinking that promotes lust to God-centered thinking that realizes how God provides the greatest fulfillment and delight in all of life.
I once learned a prayer that helps me greatly in these moments. “God, help me find in You, whatever I’m looking for in her.”
Finally, as you work on these three other tools, you can redirect your thoughts from lust to blessing. Lust is an act of taking or treating others as someone to take from. Blessing is an act of giving or viewing others as someone to give to.
Instead of thinking of all the ways you might like to take from the woman who has excited your lust, think of all the ways she might need to be blessed today. (Surely, I don’t need to tell you that one of those ways is not your misguided idea that you are God’s blessing to women sexually.) You are already well on your way to blessing-filled thinking as you have subjectified this woman. You have considered the potential fears, goals, wants she has. You have thought about the relationships she might be in today or in the future. Why not spend some time praying that God would bless her in all of that? Why not pray for God to protect her from those who would take from her, even if only mentally? Why not pray that she can be a blessing in all her relationships and those in her relationships can be a blessing to her and not a threat?
Why not now spend some time praying God’s blessing upon your wife (or future wife)? Pray that you can be a blessing in her life and not a curse.
A New Scenario
You’ve dropped into a nearby restaurant for lunch. You look up from the menu when the waitress says, “Hi there, my name is __________, what can I get you to drink?” and you see a woman who is just your kind of cocaine. The sexual engines are revving up. The fantasy is starting to form. The lust is starting to kick in. You are moving beyond, “Wow! She’s pretty” to “Wow! I wonder what sex with her is like?” All this is based on nothing more than exterior attributes. You struggle to say, “All I want is water, please.” And she walks away.
But instead of feeding those thoughts by letting your eyes take in her entire walking figure and saying, “I get to dwell on this and take it home to my wife.” You say, “Wow! I bet this woman gets objectified by men all day. That must be a hard thing to deal with all the time. She’s probably even been tricked by the devil to play up on that in order to get bigger tips. That must make her feel worthless. I would hate for my daughter or my sister to have to deal with that. I’m sure glad my wife doesn’t have to deal with that. It must be tough for her husband to help her get past all of that when she gets home each evening. I know she can’t be making much money on this job. I hope she’s not dealing with financial struggles. That would be awful. I bet she’s using this as a stepping stone job while she is pursuing some other dream. I sure hope it works out for her. In fact, maybe I should pray for her.
“Dear God, please help me find in You what I am looking for in this woman and in sex. Be with this woman. Protect her from those who would take from her, even if only mentally. Fill her life with men who will respect her and treat her with dignity and blessing. Please let her potential husband, her employer, her customers, her potential children be a blessing in her life today. And help her be a blessing in their lives. If she is your child, please bless her to grow in your grace and knowledge. If not, please give her the opportunity to hear your gospel and respond to it. And God, while You’re at it, please bless my wife (or future wife). Give her the husband she needs who will respect her and be loyal to her, protecting her from hurt, and instead blessing her. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”
You may have to do this several times through the meal. And you may have to call a trusted friend to share what is in your head, shining the light on it so it won’t take over. Just keep redirecting your thinking until the lust dissipates.
Let the Truth Set You Free
Men, I don’t want to deceive you. Hearing this truth and acting on it for a day is not going to spell freedom from lust for the rest of your life. Because the line between sexual attraction and lust is a very thin one, you are likely going to face this battle for a very long time.
However, I assure you, redirecting your thinking about women, including your wife, will help you far more than redirecting your lust to your wife. As time goes by, you’ll be surprised at the victory over lust you are gaining.
Please, don’t let Satan’s lie enslave you any longer. Let God’s truth set you free.
Bryan Ellis says
Once again a pertinent topic for a fallen world. Too many think it is OK to look but not touch. These lies you mention are so prevalent everyone thinks they are gospel. Most of these attitudes towards sex and attraction are due to the common belief that we are simply more evolved animals and we still have animal instincts that have to be accepted and fulfilled. To show forth the image of our creator we have to move beyond irrational instinct and toward thought-based reactions disciplined by scripture. Thank you for your insightful words.
Ed Sanderson, Sr. says
Thanks. Good thoughts. I also like I Thessalonians 4, esp. 4:4-6 where sexuality is to be used recognizing the sanctification and honor of those involved rather than in “lustful passion.” I love that distinction. Strong desire in a realistic context about the souls involved. Sadly, many cannot process this idea due to bankrupt conceptualizations of sexuality and of human nature in our cultures today. Thanks again.
Justin Dobbs says
Edwin, thanks for writing the article on this much needed topic. I agree with the general point that men shouldn’t objectify their wives as ways to fulfill their fantasies of other women. I think you’ve said some helpful things here with which I agree, but I think on some things you’ve misrepresented a position which IS endorsed by the Bible. Essentially, if I want to put something out of my mind (desire for another woman), I must put something else in (desire for my wife). “But what if I don’t have a wife?” You may one day. Store up that passion for her (Song of Solomon 7:10). “But what if I never get married?” Whether you do or not, we should be passionate for the Lord (Eph 5:18; Rom 12:11). We need something to be passionate about, and this is part of the point of Proverbs 5, especially vv. 16-20, a passage you’ve neglected in your approach to men redirecting their lust toward their wives.
When I read Proverbs 5, for instance, I find that a man wanting sex with his wife is an obstruction to wanting sex with other women. This is not an objectifying thing. It is not a desire for sex only, as you have described it in the article, but it is a desire for sex with his wife. It is not an instinctual desire for some physical pleasure only, but rather a desire for his wife, for a person. So as you’ve stated it in the article, I agree that a wife is not a replacement sex object for a man’s fantasies with other women. However, as you’ve stated “the #1 lie” in the beginning, “You need to redirect your lust toward your wife,” I think you’re confusing the issue. Essentially, a man should direct his desire, i.e. “lust” toward his wife. That means desiring her, not treating her as a backup plan for his immoral thoughts. She becomes what he thinks about rather than thinking about other women. I think you’ve intended this idea, but I’m suggesting that maybe you’re confusing the issue to the point that you might be interpreted here to suggest that men shouldn’t desire sex with their wives as a delight for themselves. The Bible endorses the view that men should desire sex with their wives to please her and to please himself (1 Cor 7:3-5; Pr 5:17-19).
Lust as you’ve defined it is a bit of a tricky thing. You state that “condemned sexual lust is more than simply desiring sex,” and I agree that God gave us sexual desires, but I’m not sure how you’ve determined that lust is more than desire. Strictly defined, lust is desire. It’s a neutral thing. I understand the word is translated “covet” in some cases, but doesn’t it’s rightness depend on what is wanted and why? The fine line you’re describing between sexual attraction and lust is so fine I’m not sure it’s there. If I simply read “desire” in Mt 5:28, I’d understand that Jesus doesn’t want me to look at women with the intention of desiring them. I’m not sure I understand the difference between desiring and being attracted to a woman. Perhaps it’s simply best I not let that desire conceive when I add action to desire (looking at her) and commit sin. However, when right desire conceives—like a man’s desire for his wife—it is sweet: “The desire of the righteous ends only in good; the expectation of the wicked is wrath” (Pr 11:23). This is the same “desire” that is used in Ps 38:9 when David says, “O Lord, all my longing is for you…” It is also the same “desire” that helps make up the name “Graves of Craving” translated from Kibroth-hattaavah in Num 11 when the Israelites angered the Lord for the craving of meat.
Proverbs 5 teaches us to look at forbidden women, women we simply have no right to, for what they really are. I appreciate you getting to that idea in suggesting that we pray for them. However, for someone struggling with desiring a woman he has no right to, maybe praying for her stops short. He needs to see her as deadly (vv. 4-5), even if she’s not intending to be so dangerous (v. 6). He needs to save that desire for his wife and not let his passion, his thoughts, his energies be wasted on a stranger (vv. 10, 16). This chapter of Proverbs encourages a man to get carried away with desire for his wife. It’s right for a man to get lost in sexual fantasy land with his wife, and if I’m committed to storing up my passion for her, then I’ll not waste any passion on other women. This chapter invites a man to advance from his consideration of the women he can’t have to the lovely wife he should enjoy. He should let his desire for her be satisfied by her. That is rightful desire fulfilled rightly. Stop thinking about them and start thinking about her.
For single men (and women) if I’m struggling with God-given sexual desire, marriage is the only legitimate relationship for those desires to be fulfilled. But if a single person never gets married, marriage is the shadow not the substance. And this is where I really appreciate you writing, “Dear God, please help me find in You what I am looking for in this woman and in sex.” Spot on.
As a side note, though I don’t wish to be too critical, I wonder if maybe there was a better way to present your scenarios without helping us visualize the women? I’m not sure that strengthens your point, but I’m afraid it may cause some difficulties for some readers. I realize that’s really not what you’d like to do, so maybe that’s something consider.
Hey Justin, Thanks for chiming in. It seems to me that if we start bantering back and forth on this, we’ll simply be violently agreeing.
The disagreement I’m reading here is more in defining terms than in making the point.
I’m sensing that we agree that a man shouldn’t take his lust for other women home to his wife and expect her to be the outlet that lust. And that a man is allowed to desire his wife.
Justin Dobbs says
Right. I certainly agree with those two statements. I’m just concerned that the implication left here is that desire for my wife is not permissible as a right way to fight immoral sexual desire. That seems to be what your specific “lie” states when it is a Biblical strategy, right?
No. That is not the lie. As I said, we have here a disagreement in defining terms. But since I defined what I meant by lust, then in no way does it condemn desiring your wife sexually.
I may be defining the term incorrectly. And if you want to discuss the definition we can, but I don’t really want to just get into an argument over the word. However, since I defined my terms, you shouldn’t plow ahead, reading my post with your definitions.
If you agree with the two statements earlier, then you agree with my post because that is what my post is about.
I think you over thought this. Not sure if you have a daughter or not, but Edwin’s article will set this clear for you soon enough if/when she gets older. It’s time for men to see women as God sees them, sisters in Christ – that includes those called “wife”
Justin Dobbs says
John, thanks for the comment. I agree that I should see all women as God sees them. My wife is my sister in Christ (1 Cor 9:5), but there is also a romantic relationship I’m commanded to have with her for our good, and this is also how God sees her. She is my wife. If I fail to see that my desire should be for her, then are there not surely many negatives that result from that? To the point of this article, one negative that perhaps can result from this particular wording is that men begin to feel guilt for desiring their wives, thus creating additional problems for him and her. I don’t disagree with Edwin’s basic point, but I disagree with the wording and the one-sided representation here of directing sexual desire to a wife.
Good post. I would like to point out that it doesn’t just go for the man it goes for the woman as well. We are to be a giver of sex not taker and they too are too be a giver of sex. It’s the same as being being s servant to your spouse. Jesus was a servant and so should we both be. It’s not that she has to have sex because we want it but it should be her doing because she is a giver and she wants to please her husband and the same the other way.
Good stuff, Brother. I have never thought about it this way, but I believe you are correct! You didn’t spell it out, but you pointed at a problem with masturbating while focusing with all your might on your wife. Isn’t that another way of objectifying your wife? Masturbation is a way of taking–ain’t no giving there.
Yes. Absolutely true.
If sex is supposed to be about giving and not taking, then masturbating, even while thinking of our wives, is about taking. It is not about desiring our wives in any positive way. It is about merely desiring our personal satisfaction and using any means necessary to get it.
As one of the few single young men left in my congregation for now, I have been very frustrated when I hear “You need to redirect your lust to your wife.” There are too many people in the church I fear who are getting married essentially for sex. Now, I know the Bible talks about how it is better to marry then burn with passion, but I wonder if such statements are unintentionally encouraging people to get married for that reason. I won’t deny that dealing with sexual purity is difficult, especially as a single young man, but I also don’t want to hustle and get married just for that reason either. Edwin, this article has been very good for me to read, and thank you for taking the time to look at this subject with an open mind.