Often, when a man* begins a journey of recovery from porn and sex addiction, he will be counseled to abstain from all sexual activity (even with his wife) for a period of time. Usually the period will be anywhere from 30 to 90 days. In addition to abstaining from sex with each other, both spouses agree that there is to be no…
- Use of pornography
- Sexual touching
- Intense kissing
(*I’m referring to the man as the addict here because more times than not, this is the case. However, there are certainly many cases where the wife is the one who struggles with addiction.)
As you can see from the above list, some of these activities should be avoided at all times, but some of them are obviously good and healthy in the context of a husband and wife’s relationship with each other. So why should a couple abstain from sex with each other, especially if the husband is diligently working to remove the unhealthy sexual outlets that have been a part of his life for so long? And why should a wife – who may be trying to help her husband adjust to life without pornography – withhold herself from her husband? As counter-intuitive as some people feel a sexual fast is, there is a clear purpose and benefits for both spouses.
There are, no doubt, many reasons for men and women to participate in a sexual fast. Here are some of the ones that have come to light as Stacey and I have done this ourselves.
A fast from sex is part of the process of resetting his brain following the removal of pornography.
Many men don’t realize that their misuse of porn and sex have actually produced a physiological change in their brains. In chapter 10 of his book Surfing For God, Michael John Cusick explains the chemical goings-on inside a man’s brain. He writes that when a man is sexually stimulated his brain releases dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that fuels his sense of desire. When a man sexually climaxes, his brain releases not only dopamine, but also serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine. This release is as powerful in the brain as heroine. Excessive use of pornography, over time, trains the brain to release levels of dopamine that are too high and that overstimulate the brain and create neuropathways that make the man feel hooked. He goes back again and again because his brain (and consequently his body) feels the need for sexual stimulii. A man who is has decided to remove porn and the misuse of sex from his life still experiences the strong tug that has developed and has to “reboot” and “rewire” his brain. Rebooting is where a sexual fast comes in. It’s the harsh, cold-turkey removal of sexual stimulation for a time, that helps the brain begin to carve out new and healthy chemical pathways.
A fast from sex allows a man to find opportunities and ways to express love for his wife outside of sex.
Cusick writes of one man he counseled. “As he realized that sexual intercourse had become a substitute for emotional and spiritual intimacy with his wife, he made it a point to pursue nonsexual physical affection, which became a blessing to both of them.” (Surfing for God, p. 161) Many men have no idea how easily they have slipped into and stayed in a habit of using sex as the primary or only way they express tenderness and intimacy with their wives. When our wives see two different husbands – the “normal one” in most contexts and the “caring one” when it’s time for sex – they will get the message. She is an object, her husband’s live action sex toy, existing primarily to give him pleasure. Although most Christian men don’t actively try to convey this message, it comes through loud and clear if we don’t find other ways to show our wives they are special and that we care for them. This time allows the “rebooting” process of his brain to transition into a “rewiring” of the brain; now believing and functioning as a person who doesn’t need sex to be complete, or to be close to his wife.
A fast from sex exposes ulterior motives for serving his wife.
One of the marks of an addict is that he is constantly manipulating people in his life in order to get what he wants. Sometimes this manipulation is purposeful, but sometimes it can be inadvertent. It’s just become second nature, and so often even when he is serving his wife – helping with the kids, cleaning up, doing chores around the house, etc. – he’s doing it to bank sexual credit with her; and he plans to cash it in later. When sex is temporarily not an option, he will probably realize that he no longer feels like serving because it doesn’t get him anything in the immediate. This is an opportunity for him to acknowledge his selfishness and begin to learn how to make new habits of serving with no strings attached.
A sexual fast helps him settle into a healthier practice of sexual fulfillment.
If a man has had a lengthy struggle with porn and misuse of sex, it’s likely that he has no idea what a healthy sex drive looks or feels like. Years of experience have taught him that whenever he feels like having a sexual release, he is entitled to it either through masturbation or sex with his wife. Most men have never developed the discipline of channeling our desires into other expressions of intimacy with their wives. They believe that sex is something that they need every 3-5 days or so, and are not used to going without it for much longer than that. If they do, it’s perceived as a problem that is usually blamed on the wife for being unresponsive or uncaring. But a time of fasting can help the man discover a fundamentally important truth:
Sex is a want, not a need.
Granted, it’s a very good want when expressed in marriage, but it’s a want nevertheless. Jesus Christ was fully God, but He was also fully human, and He never experienced sex. This simple reminder can help a man to realize that sex is not about getting his needs met, but rather a loving expression of his relationship with his wife.
Don’t miss the next post in this series: Resetting Your Sex Life; For Her