Beyond the Label: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Identifying as a Sex Addict


August 15th 2023

#272: Beyond the Label: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Identifying as a Sex Addict

Can calling oneself a ‘sex addict’ serve as a stepping stone toward healing, or does it become a stumbling block on the path to sexual wholeness?

Join me, Josh Glaser, in an intense exploration of this provocative subject, where we dissect the benefits and potential downsides of adopting this potentially loaded label. 

Through the lens of my personal journey from sexual addiction towards sexual integrity, we address the humbling effect of acknowledging the addictive nature of sin and recognizing our own inability to conquer it alone.

Yet, we also highlight why our ministry prefers to avoid this tag, citing its capacity to hamper recovery and growth.

Venture further with me as we probe the dark side of the ‘sex addict’ label and its capacity to snuff out hope and deter us from taking healthy risks. As we peel back the layers, we’ll unmask the divine intent behind our sexuality, revealing its purpose as a mirror reflecting God’s magnificent design.

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You’ll gain a fresh perspective on how our sexuality and spirituality should be intertwined, driving us to point others towards God.

Brace yourself for an eye-opening discussion on the power of embracing risks, remembering that growth requires stepping out of our comfort zones and learning to view the world through the lens of love.

Ready? Let’s dive in!

Discussion Questions:

  • How does recognizing and acknowledging oneself as a sex addict impact one’s journey towards sexual integrity?
  • What are the pros and cons of referring to oneself as a sex addict in the process of recovery and growth?
  • Can labeling oneself as a sex addict potentially limit personal growth and willingness to take risks?
  • Is it possible to see one’s sexuality as integrated with spirituality, rather than separate and controlled?
  • How does God’s vision for us give motivation and hope in contrast to feeling like a sex addict?
Transcription: Beyond the Label: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Identifying as a Sex Addict

Josh Glaser [00:00:00]:

You. So you may or may not know this about me. You probably know, if you listen to this podcast at all, that I have been on my own journey out of sexual addiction, into sexual integrity for 25 30 years now. Gratefully, gratefully well along that path and enjoying sobriety and ongoing growth and sexual integrity and sexual wholeness. You may not know, though, that my journey has not all been with regeneration. I’ve also seen a Christian therapist and received a chunk of healing prayer. And I also, for a good season, went to a Sex Holics Anonymous meeting. There were two different meetings that I was involved in, two different groups I was involved in with Sex Holics Anonymous for a while.

Josh Glaser [00:00:44]:

And for those who don’t know what Sex Holics Anonymous or SA is, it’s a twelve step program much like AA that helps men and women who are wrestling with addictive sexual behavior. And like AA, where they start the meeting by standing up and saying, hi, I’m Josh and I’m an alcoholic. SA starts with people as they share, they’re sharing by saying something to the effect of hi, I’m Josh and I’m a sex addict. Or Hi, I’m Josh and I’m a sexaholic. Sometimes it might say I’m a gratefully recovering addict, sex addict. And I got a question recently from a listener and friend who was asking doesn’t that deny are we always an addict? Do we have to always say that we’re a sex addict? Doesn’t that deny the healing power of God? And I want to talk about that in today’s podcast because I think that there are benefits and there are costs to referring to ourselves and thinking of ourselves as sex addicts. And so if you or someone you love is dealing with addictive sexual behavior, I think this podcast will help you. So let me begin by saying that you may have noticed at regeneration that we don’t typically refer to ourselves as sex addicts.

Josh Glaser [00:01:56]:

We don’t typically talk about sex addicts. And the reason for that is because we tend to think that in our experience that referring to ourselves in that way, thinking of ourselves in that way, or thinking of others in that way actually makes things more difficult on the journey. And I want to unpack that, but it’s not without its challenges because there’s also some blessing and some goodness about referring to ourselves in that way. But let me start by saying this, that in general, when we talk about addiction in our ministry, we’re not thinking around psychological or neurological framework. We do think that way, but more broadly speaking, we recognize that sin itself is addictive. It’s the nature of sin to be addictive, to grab hold of someone’s life, to grab hold of someone’s brain and body and to wrap them up into something that they cannot easily escape. Where God sets us free and wants us to be free, to be free agents, to choose yes or no this or that. Sin does not want that for us.

Josh Glaser [00:02:59]:

Sin wants us to have no more choice, which is ironic, isn’t it? Because we live in a culture that suggests that freedom is to be able to sin all you want. But those who sin all they want recognize sooner or later that they actually are no longer free to say no to their sin. And Scripture backs this up for us. Think about Jesus’s words in John eight when he says he’s talking to the Jews who are kind of following him, and he says, Truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. That’s what happens if you practice sin, you’re a slave to sin. He goes on to say that if the Son sets you free, you’re free indeed. So that’s not the end of the story, but sin keeps you captive.

Josh Glaser [00:03:45]:

And then Paul in Romans six and hopefully, you know, Romans five through eight, just such a beautiful, rich tapestry of our new identity in Christ and the wrestling that we have done with sin and kind of the transfer from being in that place. But in Romans six, he says this. He says, do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? So if you present yourselves to sin, paul’s saying, if you present yourselves to obey sin, then you become a slave to sin. I think these passages are just kind of stating what we typically in our psychology, kind of drenched 21st century west mindset. We recognize this is addiction. I think Scripture teaches us that sin is addictive. So let’s just begin there. Now, let’s talk about is it okay to refer to ourselves is it helpful to refer to ourselves as addicts, as sex addicts, especially in our case? So I want to offer some pros, some positive reasons why and as I’ve talked to people and wrestled with myself why I think it can be really helpful to refer to yourself as a sex addict and to kind of recognize what you’re dealing with as a sexual addiction that you have.

Josh Glaser [00:05:09]:

The first is I think it gives us a degree of humility. It gives us a degree of humility. To go to a group each week or to say to somebody, I am a sex addict is a humbling thing to say as it is to say, I’m an alcoholic, even I’m a recovering alcoholic, a recovering sex addict. Because it clarifies for people that this is not just a one and done thing. This is not just something that I wrestle with a little bit. This is actually something that I’ve lost control over. And I think most people in our culture recognize that if you say you are an addict, they also recognize that you recognize, or as you’re saying that you’re recognizing, I cannot solve this on my own. That’s a really humble place to be.

Josh Glaser [00:05:51]:

And humility is good. Pride is the chief cardinal sin. It’s the doozy of them all. Humility is a beautiful thing. It’s actually a fruit of the spirit. And I think referring to ourselves as a sex addict and taking it that seriously is a humbling thing to do, and that will set us up for a good movement in recovery. The second positive of referring to ourself as sex addicts, if we’re on that journey towards sexual integrity, is that it acknowledges that there are, in fact, changes that have taken place in our hearts and our brains and our bodies that keep us going back to that sin. In the same way that these passages I’ve just referred to say, look, if you do these things, you’re a slave to these things.

Josh Glaser [00:06:35]:

And by the way, that passage in John Eight that I was referring to, part of what Jesus was doing there is he was wrestling with and striving with the Jews who were saying, we’ve never been slaves. What are you talking about? We’re free. We’re Abraham’s kids. And Jesus is like, no, you have to come to a place of recognizing that you are, in fact, slaves. And so I think referring to ourselves as sex addicts can, in a way, help us to acknowledge the real fact that there is something that’s happened in our being that is not free. And just neurologically speaking, when we’ve become habituated to viewing pornography or acting out sexually, it acknowledges the reality that our brains have changed. They are no longer able to just kind of flow without going to those things. The default mode is the grooves in our brain lead us automatically to our sin.

Josh Glaser [00:07:27]:

And so this also sets us up then, to say, I need to do something different than the average person around me. Other people may be able to go to the beach or maybe able to watch that R rated movie with nudity in it. I can’t, because there’s been a change in my brain. There’s a change in the way that I’m functioning because I’m an addict, because something’s happened. So I think referring to ourselves as addicts helps us to be sober to the reality that there’s been a change that’s taken place. And then the third thing is that sobriety thing. I think it keeps us sober to the real danger that we are in. So I’ve been sexually sober for a long time now, but there are still one way I’ve heard it described, is your brain.

Josh Glaser [00:08:04]:

It’s almost like a path that gets worn down because people are walking over it. Like if there’s a park and people walk over the grass in that park long enough in the same line, then eventually that grass gets worn down, eventually becomes even just hardened soil. And so although I’ve not acted out in a long time. That groove is still there. It may be grown over a little bit with grass. It’s not as easily visible, it’s not as automatic as it once was, but it can still be fired up. That old track can still come online pretty easily if I put myself in specific places of danger. And so I think acknowledging the addictive aspect there’s an addiction going on here helps us to beware of that danger and sober to that danger and to live sober, not looking at others around us and how they’re living, but saying, it may be different for me because I’m an addict.

Josh Glaser [00:08:58]:

Now, those are the positives to referring ourselves as an addict. As I said at the beginning, in general, we don’t refer to ourselves that way at regeneration because we think that there’s more negative to that than there is positive, although there is positive. So let me talk about the negatives of referring to ourselves as addicts. And as I do that, I’ll talk about the related positives of why I think it’s really good to not refer to ourselves as sex addicts. Number one, I think when we refer to ourselves as sex addicts, we are more prone to putting a ceiling on how far we can recover, on how whole we can become, on how much we can grow in sexual integrity. And I’ve seen this for people in my own recovery journey. I found that when I referred to myself as a sexual addict, that my expectation of how well I would do when faced with temptation seemed to drop. And so my primary goal was to avoid temptation because I didn’t want to sin.

Josh Glaser [00:09:59]:

And I think as God changes us and as our brain and body changes, as our spirits are renewed, as we learn to be empowered by Jesus, I think we can, instead of having that ceiling placed over our head, continue to yearn for, cry out for, pray for, and pursue becoming all that we’re meant to be, which is not just an addict, but is also a son or daughter of God. As I said in that John eight passage, if the son sets you free, you are free indeed. The slave remains is never really truly a part of the household, but a son belongs in the household. You are a son or daughter of God. That is more of your primary identity than sex addict. So we want to remove that ceiling, and I think letting go of the term sex addict can help remove that ceiling. Second, to refer to ourselves, a sex addict can add a loss of hope and a loss of aspiration. And this is related to what I was just saying a loss of hope and a loss of aspiration.

Josh Glaser [00:11:02]:

We all need hope. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Scripture says hope deferred makes the heart sick. And so if we believe once an addict, always an addict, and we lose hope that we actually might leave that part of our lives behind forever, then we lose hope, and that can actually make our hearts sick. In addition to that, it decreases our aspiration of becoming whole men and women. So our goal then may become to be sober, but not to become a full alive man or woman of God and specifically in the area of sexuality. So in this regard, what is our sexuality for? What is our sexuality for? Well, our sexuality is meant to convey something of God’s good, holy and beautiful design of Himself. It’s meant not his design himself, but his goodness, his truth, his beauty.

Josh Glaser [00:11:57]:

That’s his design in us. And so our sexuality is actually designed by God. And Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost. So if it’s been lost in us, he came to save that which is lost in us, which is our sexuality is actually meant to point to God. And if we always refer to ourselves as a sex addict, then do we continue to aspire that my sexuality, my sexual desire, my sexual expression, my sexual self control, the way that I view women, the way that I view men. The way that I carry my body can actually point people to God whether I’m in a library or on the beach or confronted with pornography on my computer or being hit on by a waitress at a bar. I mean, whatever. Can I aspire to be the kind of person whose sexuality actually exudes something about the heart and nature and purity of God, the love, the self giving love of Gods? And I want to hold on to that aspiration because that fires me up.

Josh Glaser [00:12:54]:

That does something different for my motivation and for my heart, because it’s what I’m made for. I’m made to be completely alive. I’m made to have my sexuality integrated with my spirituality, not something separate that needs to be restrained and controlled and just kept sober, but rather kept sober because I have a larger vision and God is breathing life into the truth of who I am as His Son, as his image bearer. So we want to get rid of that loss of hope and that loss of aspiration. And then lastly and this is related to the other two, I think sometimes when we refer to ourselves as a sex addict, it can actually decrease our willingness to take the kinds of risks that we need to in order to grow toward that aspirational vision of who God designed us to be. Okay, so case in point, like I just mentioned, the idea of being at a beach. I was at the beach earlier this year, and I was with a dear, dear friend of mine, Christian Brother, who is doing a great job. And I respect his journey towards sexual integrity tremendously.

Josh Glaser [00:14:01]:

I learned so much from him. So I say this with all due respect, but we got to the beach and we’re pulling down the road, and these two bikini clad young women walk across the road, and my friend began to lament right away, oh, my gosh, I forgot. I got to make myself aware to not look. And I said, Actually, what I want to do is learn to look and to see them as they really are and not to lust after them. And he said, not me. He said, Man, I’m an addict. Other people might be able to do that, but not me. I got to keep myself sober.

Josh Glaser [00:14:38]:

Now, I appreciated his humility there. But to me, and the way that I want to help other men to grow is to learn eventually, maybe at first, you need to avert your eyes. That’s the best you can do. To become the man you’re made to be. To become the man or woman you’re made to be, to become the person of love, self giving love you’re made to be maybe averting your eyes at first is the best you can do. But eventually, we want to move to a place where we are learning to look with eyes of love. And we can’t learn to look with eyes of love if we only ever avert our eyes. Learning to look with eyes of love does mean we take some risks, healthy risks, risks that are in the light with other people.

Josh Glaser [00:15:14]:

We’ve got to be honest about our weaknesses. We got to be honest that some days we’re stronger than other days. Some days I can look. Some days I just can’t. I know I’m just too vulnerable today. So we are still humble with that. We’re still sober to the reality we can go down a wrong path. But recognizing that Jesus is in us and Jesus looks with eyes of love, we look up and we say, lord, I’m looking at this person.

Josh Glaser [00:15:36]:

Brother, sister, I’m looking at this person. I want to see them with eyes of love. And if we notice that there are tinges of sin, tinges of temptation start to rise up, we may look away. But that’s the risk that we take as we seek to go. And it’s not a straight line. Sometimes it’s a little bit up and down, up and down. We do this in the light of community. We do it with sobriety.

Josh Glaser [00:15:57]:

We do it with honesty to the Lord and sincerity of heart. We’re not trying to sneak a peek so that we can lust and calling it taking a holy risk. But we are trying to move with aspiration and hope and faith in the Lord to become people who can see. That is a journey worth taking. So I hope you hear some of the balance between these two, some of the pros and cons of referring to ourselves as sex addicts and how, again, in our opinion, in this ministry, the net positive of letting go. Of that label that we wear of sex addict is actually leads us to greater good and to bear Christ’s likeness more fully. Or at least it can, as we hold on to humility and sobriety and the recognition of the condition that we’re in, taking honest assessment of those things. So we hold on to the good of referring to ourselves in that old way.

Josh Glaser [00:16:49]:

But we let go of referring ourselves in that old way for the greater good that God has for us. Because Jesus came to seek and to save God’s original design for you to be able to live a sexual life that bears God’s love image. That is awesome. Jesus, lead us on that path. Help us to become fully alive as you designed us to be. As men and women who bear your image in Jesus name we ask it. Amen.

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