Before you hit play, take a deep breath in asking God for courage and kindness for yourself. Exhale to release anything you believe about sexual sin and shame.
This next hour is not your typical Christian approach to sexual brokenness. In our interview with therapist, author, and speaker, Jay Stringer pushes against the expected talk of repentance and sin. Instead, you’ll hear about honesty and honor. If you condemn yourself in what seems like an endless cycle of triggers and shame, then settle in. We will explore the power you have in facing the past and dig into beliefs that “shame convinces us that we are unwanted and we pursue behavior that confirms it.”
This conversation is startling and refreshing.
As hard as it sounds, facing your pain is the way to fighting for your freedom. So often, Stringer says, we want to skip to the part where God saves the day. The problem is we end up missing the gift of endurance modeled by Jesus.
This conversation is rich with wisdom emphasizing the importance of working backward to follow the roadmap laid out by your lust. Tracing the story back through your lust to find a way to honor you. It’s time to invest your loyalty in you.
We pray and hope this serves you as a companion to starting your own conversation, to connecting the dots on your past to bring healing into your future.
You deserve it.
Shifting the story on shame, this is your next step on “Becoming Whole.”
I can try and stop this behavior and try and white knuckle this thing and pray that the gospel would eventually change my heart or I can allow the gospel to actually allow me to be curious about things that I don’t want to have to face
give me my own way but also give me a place where I don’t have to feel the emptiness and pain of my life
In many ways, we create a court of law with all this evidence that actually supports the verdict against ourselves
Can you think of 1 or 2 people you can count on to help you challenge repetition and shame?
Think back to a time where you knew a lot of harm -whether that was abuse, bullying, or disengagement- does your heart break for him or her? Does your heart want goodness? Or is your heart still ashamed of what they did?
Try to answer these questions God asks to Honor your story: Why are you angry? Where do you come from? Where are you going? Jesus asks, “What is it you want me to do for you?”
Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing
Sexual Behavior Self Assessment
The Journey Course
“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
“If you don’t act like prey, they won’t treat you like prey.” – Andy Casagrande, on photographing sharks
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”- Matthew 5:4
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 19:14
Click for Full Podcast Transcription
Welcome to becoming home a weekly show designed for men, women and families seeking to draw narrative Jesus as they navigate topics like sexual integrity, relational healing, spiritual health, and so much more. If you longed for more of Jesus in these sensitive and important areas of life, join us on the journey towards becoming home. We are thrilled to have with us today Jay stringer. Jay stringer is the author of a book called unwanted, have sexual brokenness reveals our way to healing. He’s a licensed mental health counselor and ordained minister. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife and kids. And Jays work draws off of research he’s done on I think it’s over 4000 people. And it really helps to dive into the reasons that people are drawn to their fantasies. And so join us for this really illuminating wonderfully pastoral conversation today with Jay stringer. So Jay, can you tell us a little about Not everyone gets into this kind of content? What what got you interested in and exploring people as you’re dealing with unwanted sexual behaviors, sir?
Jay Stringer 1:06
So I think I’d say two things. The first is that just as a licensed mental health counselor, men and women were arriving in my office that had almost no understanding of what freedom from sexual brokenness had required. You know, a lot of times they had been trying internet monitoring, they had tried accountability. And yet, what they found was that so many of these pathways, so many of these paradigms just didn’t provide them with pathways into freedom. And so I think just kind of seeing enough of that repetition of people say that they want freedom, but then the things that they have been given, just keep them in the cycles of their unwanted behavior. And then I think also personally, probably when I was in seminary right after I finished grad school, really just having to come to terms with my own sexual brokenness. And kind of realizing that there were certain, you know, pornography searches, there were certain fantasies that my mind kept returning to. And I think I just had this realization that, you know, I can try and stop this behavior and try and white knuckle this thing and pray that the gospel would eventually change my heart. Or I can allow the gospel to actually allow me to be curious about things that I don’t want to have to face. And so I think I’m a deeply curious person in a lot of areas of my life and kind of just recognizing that sense of curiosity is not being applied to an area, my own sexual brokenness. So I think just kind of seeing the patterns of my own life but also the patterns of my own clients just having to recognize a new conversation is needed with the subject.
Hmm. Man and I gotta tell you, like you’re and I’ve heard you share this and other context too, but in your book, like your your love of curiosity in general, and you The use of that word is so helpful because it’s, it’s so non shaming, non judgmental. It’s, it’s inviting in a way and and i think that comes through and and the work that you’ve, you’ve done so,
Jay Stringer 3:13
yeah, yeah, one of my friends told me this week he said, Jay, I, you know, you talk about curiosity a lot. So I did a deep dive into kind of the etymology of where that comes from. And he just said, you know, curiosity comes from the cure. And then in Latin that basically all of the same root word have to care. So in many ways the care is in the curiosity, the care is in the cure is in the care. Beautiful. That’s great. That’s so much of what my work is trying to do is if we can be curious about where our sexual brokenness comes from, basically, any unwanted dimension of our life. What that’s going to corner us with is really this invitation to care for the parts of ourselves that have been wounded that have been Ma, and those places that evil has really sought to ruin.
Yeah. Let me ask you about that because I was, it caught my attention in your book your book is so there’s so much research in your book there. It’s it’s clinical. I mean, it’s very accessible to everybody. It’s written to the person who’s struggling, but, but at the beginning of the book early in the book, you talk about the reality of evil, and it caught my attention as I thought I just didn’t expect it to be there. I don’t usually find people talking about when they’re talking from a therapeutic perspective. They don’t usually talk about evil. Why did you feel like that should be in the book?
Jay Stringer 4:34
Yeah. So I think I follow CS Lewis who, who said, essentially, like, we either think far too much about evil, or we think far too little about it. I think he says, we think too much about the devils or too little about them. And so I think part of just, you know, theologically The reality is, is that evil is out to destroy something of the glory of God, but it can’t Because it’s finite. And so therefore it goes after that which most reflects God’s glory, which is in many ways you and I. And so kind of by the time you get to the New Testament, so much of that, you know, john 1010 says that evil is out to steal, to kill and to destroy. And that word destroy is probably closer to the word Mar. And so I think it’s, it’s far more the image of, you know, if you were to go into an art museum and just kind of see Van Gogh’s Starry Night, it would be the equivalent of just kind of taking a knife of razor blade to that bang, go to that piece of art. And I think that that’s really the intent of what evil is trying to do is to take something beautiful, like our sexuality, this piece of art, and really tomorrow so that when we see it, we don’t see beauty, we actually see something that’s unwanted, we see something that it’s repulsive. And so I think When I, you know, the invitation is never to kind of just say, you know, the devil made me do it. But I think as we begin to kind of go back to just even a simple question like when did you actually begin to lean on pornography? or What was your first experience of sexual touch? Very few of us would say, you know, this was something that was chosen by me. It was just such a great season of my life. The stories that you hear will break your heart. And so I think it’s that confluence of Yes, I had to, in many ways make a choice, but someone had to make that offer. And who makes that offer? I think it’s the evil one. So I think we have to hold the tension of I do have choice in all of this. But I also know that there is there are forces that are principalities in this world, that want to destroy beauty, that want to Mar something of just the stunning nature of the way that God has made us. Yeah. Wow. Absolutely.
And it’s interesting because I think in ministry over the years, sometimes we unpack and really kind of move with somebody through the places in their lives, the lives that have been attacked, in general, like issues like sexuality, but even sometimes we get more specific and find that some of the ways that they are most gifted or some of the places that become most beautiful in them have been places that that that were attacked when they were young that were that got marred and so I think, yeah, man, I just, I love what you’re saying. So, let me ask you, this you you write, I’m going to quote you a lot because I just love so much of what you’ve written in your book. You said, I do not believe that sexual fantasies are something to condemn. There’s another approach. I’m skipping over some here, but there’s another approach to dealing our sexual fantasies. It begins by listening to our last. Sexual failures, internet searches and browser histories expose our sin But far more their roadmaps. And then later you say one evening of deliberate curiosity for your sexual fantasies will take you further into transformation than 1000 nights of prayerful despair. Talk to our listeners about what you mean by listening to our lusts. And then even what does it mean that our our lusts are our fantasies? our roadmap?
Jay Stringer 8:21
Yeah. So I mean, I think for the listeners, I think part of what I would say is this is going to be a major paradigm shift for a lot of people. So I would kind of say, if you if you look at most kind of evangelical Christian approaches to this, you would have you would kind of I just refer to it as less management and this is the internet accountability, bouncing your eyes, cold showers, those sorts of things. So one paradigm that I would say is largely Christian is trying to manage your lust. In a more progressive city like where I am in Seattle, I would say the primary approach is about shame management. So shame is the primary issue. And if we could just kind of get rid of the shame, and the stigma associated with certain sexual choices, then people would be free. And, you know, basically a lot of my work with clients just showed me that both of those approaches are really dead ends. And so I think the reason for that is that they they missed the critical piece of actually inviting people to make meaning out of their sexual lives. And so I did some research for my book on about 4000 men and women to basically get a sense of how does a person story like their relationship with their mom, their dad, formative experiences like, you know, just bullying in middle school, sexual abuse? How did those things actually go on to affect someone’s sexual behavior and sexual fantasies? And when the research started coming back, what we found was that That, in simplest terms, sexual brokenness is not random at all. It was always a direct reflection of the parts of someone’s story that remained unaddressed. And so that was the implication is that sexual brokenness is not a roadmap or it’s not a life sentence to sexual shame. But it is a roadmap to healing. And so we started looking at kind of what clinicians referred to as an arousal template. And so basically, that is just a Patrick Carnes refers to it as a constellation of images, thoughts, sensations, times of day relational archetypes that we all find arousing, so if you were to think about the last porn search that you looked for, or someone that found their way into your sexual fantasies when you’re having sex with your spouse, that’s part of the arousal template and so my research looked at could a person’s arousal template, actually be predicted based on a parts of someone’s story. And just for one example, we found that let’s say you were a man who wanted to see a college student, maybe a barely legal teen. Someone that’s, you know, was from a race that suggested to you level of subservience. What we found is that that man actually had three dimensions to his story. One, he had a very strict father. The second was that he was dealing with high levels of kind of a lack of purpose in his day to day life, and he had high levels of shame. And so I think if you kind of work some of that backwards, you begin to see that here’s a man who has been powered over by a father, very authoritarian, very rigid. And then he’s also dealing with a lot of lack of purpose in his life in the present day, but also a lot of shame and so part of his arousal template is to find Someone that is subordinate to him that he is actually able to have authority and power over. And so I think that’s that’s what I mean by allowing your sexual fantasies to be roadmaps is to pay attention to what is the symbolism that’s playing out in the fantasy preference, and to be able to listen to that, to study it, to interrogate it long enough to understand what it’s trying to communicate to you. And I think that that’s a much healthier approach in the long run. When you can kind of understand what does this behavior What does this fantasy actually symbolize to me?
So much of what you’re saying Jay just speaks of such honor to the people that they’re that they know who they are, is not flawed, that they were, they were created in this in this goodness, but there’s a reason and not that they shouldn’t be held accountable for it. But there’s reason there’s understandable background for people to be able to make sense out of something that They can’t make sense out of. So I really love that I love that, you know, there is this how God would have it, you know, an honoring of beauty and how evil wants to market and how you help people see, there’s reasons for this, you know, I just think that’s got to be hugely powerful. And I can see it in the way we talk with people here to get there. This is a much different approach, and makes a lot more sense. And so I just really appreciate all you’re saying,
Jay Stringer 13:29
Yes, I mean that that sense of honor, I think is so so important. Just, you know, when we look at even the Old Testament, like when cain is angry, it’s not stop being angry. It’s like, Why Why are you angry or to Hagar, who’s just been, you know, immensely traumatized by the First Family of our faith. The Angel of the Lord arrives again, with an honoring question that says, Where do you come from? Where are you going? And so same thing with you know, Adam, it’s it’s not you Let’s have you bounced your eyes from that next tempting piece of fruit and just stop doing it. It’s where are you? What have you done? Yes. And so I think God honors us with a question and so how do we not also honor our own brokenness with with the voice of God that is always inclined to be curious to invite us to deeper understanding about how our sorrow and sin came to be. Oh, that’s beautiful.
Gosh, you know, I I remember back to some, some mentors of mine who were gracious enough to care about my story and i times where I’d come by tell me to my legs ready to confess my sexual false for the week. They heard graciously, and they would ask me questions about my life, my circumstances, including about my my family of origin. You know, at first I was I was kind of suspicious of them, like, Are you allowed to do that? Are you allowed not to kill you? But it was such a gift to me and I think part of what you’re you’ve done in this book and you’ve come out in your research searches. We like, they were asking questions in general and it helped me to uncover some some family of origin issues. But you really your research kind of connects that kind of connects dots and gets very specific in some ways. And I’m actually I have not yet but I’m, I’m going to take your your online and what its actual behavior assessment just to see what else is there for me. So this is it’s kind of astounding what what you’ve done with this work. So
Jay Stringer 15:26
yeah, thanks. I and I also, I mean, I think that that’s, that’s part of the the gift of kind of being able to build off of other people’s work. And just, I mean, it’s, I think of people that have come before us in this field. I would not be able to ask these questions if it had not been for the work of people like Dr. Patrick Carnes, Dan olander, Mark Glaser, who has recently passed yet, so much of what I feel like I get to do has to do with so many of just the pioneers that have been in this field.
I think it was actually Mark Lazar. And I can’t remember exactly how he said it. But he said something to the effect of and this was one of those early things that captured my attention. He said something to the effect of your, your fantasies or your heart’s attempt at healing itself or something like that. Which is kind of I was like, What? That was a brand new thought. Let me so let me press into something. You. You read in your book, you said, I’m asking you to consider the possibility that your sexual struggle is not random. Could there be dynamics in your family, community and culture that contributed to your contamination? And then, and then you you have a whole section on how did I get here where you talk about family dynamics, and I know we’re not gonna have time to get into to all of that. But can you just say a little bit about family dynamics and the role that they can play in the onset of unwanted sexual favors for people?
Jay Stringer 16:51
Yeah, yeah. And oftentimes, this can be a little bit tricky with a Christian audience because we are Bend, I would say in many ways to try and honor our parents, but in many ways that prevents us from being able to be honest about the way that their sin has affected us. And so that’s what I love about the scriptures is that we know that Abraham, you know, in Genesis 12, left the land that he, he left everything to go into the land that God was calling him to, but we also know that he trafficked his wife, and we also know that he had sex with a teenage concubine. So scripture allows for us to honor people exceedingly well, but to also be honest about what we have suffered right under their power. So I think that that would be kind of the initial step into our family of origin is that, you know, most of the time people try and tell me, you know, I had a really good childhood like they they definitely did the best that they could and they weren’t perfect, but in many ways ways they move the needle further than their parents. And so, although that’s true, it doesn’t actually ask us to step into the way that we have actually been harmed. And so what I find with I’d say most men and women is that it’s so much easier for them to talk about their sin to talk about the ways that they have done harm, versus actually being able to say the ways that they have been harmed against. And I think part of the reason for that is we know that we’re going to encounter our own powerlessness, we’re going to encounter what it was like to feel mocked, what it was like to be abused. And just that question of who wants to feel that we would rather kind of see ourselves as kind of deeply flawed and broken people. And so part of the the invitation in the book unwanted is to actually begin to face How have you been sinned against, and how has that sin that has been perpetrated against you really created fertile soil for your sexual brokenness to grow. And so I kind of talk about the role of family of origin, being, you know, sometimes people come from deeply rigid family homes. And so if you were to think about just your home was at a place of lots of rules, lots of regulations, maybe they had a belt, but maybe they didn’t use spanking at all, and would just kind of give you a glare that was really intended to mock and crucify you. And so when you kind of grow up in a very rigid home with,
again, the the sense that, you know, if you were to think about the Grand Canyon, there are barriers in the Grand Canyon that are really there to keep you from dying. But if they set up like a 12 foot wall around the Grand Canyon that would actually prevent you from seeing anything, an overly rigid structure. Well, yeah. And so When you think about kind of just the way that your mom, your dad kept the house, did everything have to be in perfect order? Did your kind of as one person said to me recently, I’ll just change the last name. But he essentially said, I’m My last name is Freeman. But the irony of my life is that I was never a free man. Because my family name needed to be protected at all costs. And so that’s really kind of what we have to step into is if there’s a lot of authoritarianism, a lot of rules, lots of regulations, you have to get a sense of you are really powerless within that structure. And so what ends up happening is you see a lot of the hypocrisy of the family system, you know that your dad might be the pastor, and yet he is accountable to no one else in his world. So he kind of rules with an iron fist and no one questions them. And so I think the primary question that we need to ask ourselves if we grew up in that type of rigid family home as well Is all of your anger going? Because it’s got to show up somewhere. And so I would say for a lot of people, that’s the first involvement into porn is, here’s a world where I can get exactly what I want, and no one is actually interfering with me trying to get anything. So again, kind of kit as you put it, like we need to have a sense of honor of what was the role of even our sexual brokenness as an adolescent, pre adolescent, to help us try and navigate through a pretty rigid world. And then I think the other type of family system would just be a disengage family home. And what we know from Patrick Carnes as research is that about an 87% of people who meet the criteria of sexual addiction come from families struggling, or that would be kind of characterized as disengaged. And so when you think about often say that middle school is a prototype of hell when you kind of think about back to when you were ridiculed when you were mocked when algebra wasn’t making sense and you came home? Did was there a parent there that actually could see the tenderness, the pain, the heartache on your face? Or were they working too much was kind of getting dinner ready, far more important than actually being able to kind of look you in the eyes and say something changed. From the time that you’ve left school this morning to the time that you came home today. How are you? What’s going on? And so that that sense of if you don’t have attunement, to so much of the heartache of what you’ve been through, I would say that creates the fertile territory for lust to emerge. And so for a lot of my clients, they begin wandering throughout the world, trying to lock eyes with a man or a woman, a mom or another dad. That actually actually seems like they will see them in the midst of so much of what they’re going through in life. And so, again that rigid family systems disengaged family systems create fertile territory for lust and anger to emerge. And to me, that’s what pornography is all about. That’s what sexual brokenness is all about is basically give me my own way. But also give me a place where I don’t have to feel so much of the emptiness and pain of my life. Mm hmm. Wow.
Yeah. Yeah, amen.
That is a lot right there. Some good stuff.
Yeah. I mean, even as you’re talking I just and Jay I think you’ve got just even though this by yourself, but I think you have an ability to communicate some of these things like even when you’re talking about the disengagement or the rigid families like there’s an Invitational and compassionate way that you talk about it. That stirs Mmm. I’m here listening to you. I’m thinking about my family and my parenting my kids, my family of origin. And these little snapshots just appear in my head as you’re, as you’re talking to these moments of either where they did or didn’t happen. And it produces a longing that I think is really helpful. So yeah,
that happened for me, too. So I think that says a lot that, Jay, that what you were just describing, impacted both Josh and I in a way that we were able to really reflect deeply on our own life as parents and you know, I think that’s, that’s really important that we’re certainly gonna make mistakes and not do it perfectly. But the whole, the Christian community could learn so much from some of this, right, we prepare it so much out of fear. And I don’t know how much this is just true for Christian parenting, but I just see a lot of it in the people I meet with, you know, things that have happened to them and those kinds of environments. And so what you’re speaking about I think is extremely insightful. For us as we navigate these these very real issues with the men and women that come here.
Jay Stringer 25:08
Yeah, so glad to hear. Yeah. And I mean, I was certainly seeing dimensions of my own childhood as I was talking. So, again, I, we have to kind of face our stories. And so, I mean, one of the things that I’ve had to do, you know, my middle, my nickname in middle school was donut, and I also grew up in the era of the Pillsbury Doughboy, which kind of that signature. Yeah, I’d get to the bus stop and just kind of have my people put their index fingers into my belly and just kind of make those noises. And so for me, so much of what I’ve had to do is, you know, there was a point in my, I’d say Late Middle School, early high school where I basically threw out every picture that I could find of that boy I didn’t I wanted to eliminate any trace of him ever being seen and kind of how I had condemned him as this obese kind of disgusting boy. And then at my grandfather’s funeral, someone was doing a lot of slideshows, and I saw myself as a 1314 year old and I was like, I thought I got rid of every photo. But it turns out, lots of aunts and uncles have photos of me as well. And it was just such a bidding ways, such a uncomfortable cornering gift for me to have to receive because I had to face him again, I had to face his pain and that’s where I don’t think it’s so much about, you know, asking your spouse to be the one that cares for you or asking in many ways, even a therapist to care for you. But far more that sense of can you look at yourself in a time where you knew a lot of harm, whether that was abuse Just disengagement. And does your heart break for him or her? Does your heart want goodness? Or is your heart still ashamed of what they did? And all I can tell you is that if you’re still ashamed, and of what that boy that girl participated in, if you are still just wishing they had done something different, all I can tell you is that you’re going to keep acting out because you have not found in many ways you have not cared for, where the wound where the origin story was. And so the more that we actually have integrity, not just with our sexual life and what we’re doing with porn or not with porn, integrity is about turning to face ourselves, where we want to run where we want to hide. And that’s really where integrity begins is having to face who we are. Yeah,
you know, thank you. you’re sharing that you’re just your vulnerability and willingness. And I, you know, I know that so many people that come through our doors have that. And this goes back to what you’re telling the beginning, just a sense of why do I need to go back there is that really important? I was talking to a guy just last week who was sharing about how in one of our programs they were talking about going like taking a look at where you’ve come from, and and just addressing some of the fears that and he started to do that, and even give permission for himself to do that. He started to weep at where he had been. And I think of the passage where Jesus, he in anger says to His disciples, who are trying to keep the children away, and maybe because they’re, you know, they they’re dishonored and that culture they are they’re messy, they’re they you know, they don’t know the rules. He says, let the children come to me and do not hinder them for such for such these blogs, the kingdom heaven and I think there’s, there’s a word for us adults as we think back on our childhood and who we were then I think Jesus is is saying the same thing to us. Yes. So yeah, I’m kind of I’m taking with your story. I think that this that the whole The, the freedom, the gift, the invitation to be gentle with ourselves as children and to not turn on them as they were turned on to not treat them with the the vitriol, the anger, the abuse, the rigidness the disengagement that they were treated with but rather to, to, to seek to honor them and to care for them and to allow Jesus and and good others to care for them.
Yes, that idea of kindness to ourselves is so important. So important.
Jay Stringer 29:41
Yeah. Yeah, I think I mean, just as you were talking, just that sense of, you know, Matthew Five, four as a passage I go back to a lot. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. So many Christians want the forgiveness of the gospel, but they really don’t want the comfort that it provides. So you know that that’s always that sense of do you do you want comfort for your story, and most people kind of approach it as I just need to grow up. And you know, you can even hear that tone well, whose voices that likely your mother or your father’s that sense of you are still loyal to a very rigid, disengaged system in the way that you go about thinking about your own sexual brokenness. And so I think that’s always kind of just the compassionate side of Jesus of saying, you know, let the children come, bless that are those who mourn for they will be comforted. And so I think that that’s the invitation to us is is to see ourselves with new eyes, not to have contempt for the struggles that we faced.
So let me let me I want to skip over the center of your book at not because it’s not Important, it’s actually I’ve been itching to talk about it, but just for the flow of our conversation, so we will invite you back to talk about because the center of your book is about why do I stay and such? There’s so many people like, how can I keep doing this? So maybe we could talk with another time, but for sure, but I want to, I want to hone in on the shame thing, because I think it is so so big for people and you actually say some things in your book that are utterly Well, they’re, they’re, they’re shocking, and I but I think there can be so illuminating for us. You say, that shame convinces us that we are unwanted, and we pursue behavior that confirms it. And your research shows that so for years, I’ve heard that, you know, well, we run to sexual behavior, when we’re feeling this and this and that, we’re trying to numb that or escape that. But part of what you really drive in this book and your research shown is that is that we’re actually moving towards something that confirms the shame that we feel. Can you talk about that what you found with that?
Jay Stringer 31:57
Yeah, totally. I’m glad you picked that up, guys. I just I feel like there’s so many, so much of the paradigms that we have been given, just are not helpful. Like, I feel like that’s part of what I had to kind of address in my own healing, but also as I work with clients is like, you know, we think that the primary issue is lust. And I don’t think that it is I think it’s far more anger. We think that the primary issue is that we feel shame and response to our sexual brokenness. And that’s what I’d say. Yeah, I don’t think that that’s entirely true. I think that whoever whatever our core belief is about who we are, we are going to kind of pursue behaviors that confirm that belief about ourselves. And so, I mean, just to kind of go back to even that donut phrase. Well, guess what I did in the evenings after they would kind of call me donut, I would eat a lot more donuts and I mean, I don’t shame, different types of food at all. I love donuts. I love Apple fritters. And so but that sense of if I believe Believe that I was a donut, well, what am I going to find? Well, I’m going to go and pursue behaviors that reinforce How disgusting I feel like I am. And so if you think that there’s something kind of deeply flawed about your sexual behavior, what you’re going to do is go and prove, go and pursue other behaviors that reinforce that. So in many ways, we create kind of a court of law where we have all this evidence that actually supports the verdict against ourselves. And so, you know, here’s Exhibit A, B, and C with regard to why I’m sexually such a sexually perverse man. And so, yeah, I think that’s the counterintuitive nature of shame is that it’s not just a response to the behaviors that we’ve participated in. But what’s really driving us is our core belief about who we are.
So let’s just I want to slow that down and repeat it again, because I think it’s going to be very new to a lot of people listening We are you said, we are going to the shame. We’re sorry. We feel shame we haven’t we have a message about ourselves and a belief about ourselves faulty belief. And we are going to behavior that reinforces that faulty belief in and using that the court of law, the evidence, we are actually trying to stack up the evidence that reinforces that thing that we wish weren’t true about ourselves. Is that what you’re saying?
Jay Stringer 34:24
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, it, you know, if we, we can talk further, you know, on another show about sexual abuse, just because it’s so important in addressing sexual brokenness. But one of the things that we know about perpetrators is that one of the things that they are always trying to do is to actually bring their victim to a type of pleasure, or at least to a type of choice. And so the amount of times that I’ve had a client tell me that basically their abuser said do you do you want to see my breasts? Do you want to touch my penis, so that That sense of they are inviting. And again, that sense of ambivalence of, in many ways, they might feel a level of arousal because they’ve never seen this body part before and the way that it’s being presented. So there’s something about them that is really curious that this abuser, may have been a much more engaged father mother than their own father and mother were. And so there’s a sense of I want this, and then at the same time, after they’ve been, you know, participated in it, they feel like they weren’t complicit. I don’t think that they are complicit at all, but the abuser invited them to their own complicity. Why? Because once they know that they have a victim that feels complicit, they’re going to tell no one and so what ends up happening for a lot of people is they might say, you know, I was I should have known better. I should have run I should have have told someone and so that sense of their condemnation, they can’t see the way that they were groomed. In many ways they can even bless something of their own heart’s desire for that particular behavior. They want to see themselves as like deeply flawed and broken. But in order to kind of get away from the heartache, the trauma, the horror of the abuse, they start going off into a lot of other forms of sexual brokenness, promiscuity, hooking up with random people buying sex, having serial affairs, and so by the end of the day, they can’t even see the formative experiences of abuse and heartache and trauma, all they see is their own kind of perverse sexuality. And so I think that that’s the invitation is to be able to say, Well, how did it even get there that you think that your shame is in response to all these behaviors, but in many ways, you formed a belief about your sexuality at a really critical point. As a 12 year old because of the abuse that you that was being perpetrated against you, oh,
yeah. Yeah. And I, that’s a pattern that we see over and over again that I think that illustrates it very, very clearly. So I I’m kind of speechless so
yeah, no, I’m just taking it all in it’s I’m thinking about all the clients that I meet with, I’m thinking about my own life, and how this kind of language and this kind of approach is just so much more freeing than you know, some of the other ways we’ve gone after this and and just this, you know, we do try to create safe places for people where they can bring all this all this stuff they’ve never told anybody but really face it. You said face our stories, we have to face our stories. And to be able to allow people to do that and then to say, and it’s okay, like, you know, be kind to yourself about these things. It’s just it’s so freeing. There’s just so much power in all of this. And I’m just grateful, Jay, for the ways that you’re teaching us how we can do this differently.
Jay Stringer 38:11
Yeah, thank you.
So you share your story in the book. And so just come back again to this, this concept of shame. About a shark photographer. Yep. Can you tell us about that? Because I think so if somebody is listening in there, and they are aware of shame, they’ve got like in a danger response to just pull away from it. What What advice you have for them?
Jay Stringer 38:34
Yeah, thanks for bringing that up. Josh. It’s one. It’s always one of those stories where I want to tell but I also don’t want to tell it all the time. Unless I’m asked.
I’m asking. Definitely.
Jay Stringer 38:43
Yeah, so the story again, I love the story. But Andy castle ground de is the videographer for the show shark week on the Discovery Channel, and so he’s the guy that basically gets into the ocean with Greg White Sharks without a cage, just completely crazy. And so he was interviewed a couple years ago and they said, Andy, what in the world do you do when you’re in the waters with a great white shark? And what he says is, you know, it’s really counterintuitive, but what you’re supposed to do is you take the camera and you swim right up to the shark. And so what ends up happening is the shark kind of bunks its nose up against the camera lens realizes that it’s not food. And then the shark has a fear reaction because you know, if you’re a shark, you’re used to everything in the whole entire ocean swimming away from you, except for maybe an orca in different parts of the world. But so that sense of what is this thing swimming at bay and what the shark does is it doesn’t know and so it freaks out and then it swims off. And Casa Grande de has this lovely, elegant, simple phrase where it says if you do not act like prey, they will not treat you like prey and To me that has so much to do to kind of teach us about the role of shame in our lives that so often the power of shame is derived from our, basically our attempts to try and run away from it. But when we actually turn to face our shame, the particulars of our sexual brokenness, the particulars of the ways that we’ve been sinned against, what we’ll find is that those great white memories, those great white behaviors that have tried to convince us that we are unwanted, the power of their force actually begins to lessen in our life because we’re no longer living as prey. And so that’s the invitation is to actually begin to turn and face those stories of heartache, because I mean, what I often tell my clients is that you basically have two choices. There’s the there’s the pain of sexual brokenness and all the debris that that causes in your personal professional life. Or there’s the pain of actually having to turn and face some really difficult things you you don’t get a ticket. That doesn’t include having to journey through pain. Yeah. So I think that that sense of can we invite people to turn and face our shame and realize that once we start turning to face it, it doesn’t mean that it becomes exceedingly less terrifying. But it does mean that we actually have just the experience of, I’m no longer living as prey, I actually have a type of power to begin to turn and face these things.
Yeah, that power issue is really important and also to be a companion for somebody if someone’s doing that for the first time. And so frightening justice, this invitation that you’re describing that, you know, you’re going to be there with them when they’re doing it and, and, and I think that’s a huge a huge thing that we can we can do is come alongside people when they’re having when going through this process for the first time.
Jay Stringer 42:01
Yes Kit, cuz I mean it just the reality of you know, we we cannot see our face outside of a selfie outside of a mirror. So I really need good friends, a therapist to actually reflect back so much of what they see. Because that shame, you know, it’s not just something that convinces us that we’re unwanted. The role of shame is to really face us like to literally take away our face, from offering that to the world, from being able to offer that to our spouses from being able to offer that to our communities. And so that that’s so much of the power of shame isn’t just this feeling of, you know, I don’t like myself. So therefore I’m going to hide shame is trying to destroy our gifts. It’s trying to destroy our creativity. And so as you put so well, we need other people to kind of be there. to actually see our face, to be able to challenge some of the accusations that we hear shame telling us
that the role of shame is to deface us. That’s, that’s one of the most beautiful expressions of that. And so true, I, actually and what you’re saying about nothing was here on faces. I immediately thought it was a moment in early recovery for me when I was sharing about something that I experienced as a child. And the person listening to me, God bless him. He said, Hey, Josh, can you tell me how you just described was really painful? How come you’re smiling? And I didn’t know that I’d been smiling. But he was. He was putting his finger on what under the surface was a deep shame and embarrassment about the about what had happened and it was such a gift for me to then have to begin exploring because I, I didn’t I didn’t know that that’s what was happening for me. Yes, yeah.
Jay Stringer 43:55
Yeah. I remember one. Basically a facilitator at a practice. Come that I was in during grad school, basically said, Jay, do you realize that every story that you tell has you spin into a dogmatic story of redemption so offended and yet
he’s so grateful, offended but grateful.
Jay Stringer 44:21
And she nailed it. I mean, it’s just I could tell a story of heartache but I needed to quickly go into but God You know, my tears in the bottle and now I’m great work and like, all the evangelicals sell millions of copies of it, but it’s like all that’s true. But when that prevents me from actually having to kind of just stay in the heartache and horror. That’s, that’s a that’s a Betty Crocker recipe that I’m mixing up so I don’t have to face my pain. And I think that’s that’s the importance of kind of Christian theology of, you know, getting into Friday. Saturday and Sunday theology that Friday is a day of horror. It’s a day it’s right. And Saturday is a day of hell and Sunday as a day of resurrection. And most of the books that are written are all Sunday books of conquers now, we almost have no theology of Saturday of what hell actually is. And then, you know, I’d say a little bit more than Saturday with regard to the horrors of what Friday are. But that sense of if you always have to rush to Sunday, you’re actually not becoming like Jesus, who endured Friday and Saturday as well. That sense of if you want to become like Jesus, you’ve got to find him on Friday and Saturday to
Brother preach. Oh,
my gosh, this is really good stuff
so important. I think you’re I mean, honestly, you putting your finger on? Yeah, I think what is the reality that we as a Christian culture, so much of our Christian culture, lives with a tremendous amount of shame. And it comes out in our teaching, it comes out in the way that we approach the Christian faith. And we were just kidding. I was talking earlier today about the reality that in order to know somebody’s heart, really know another heart, you have to be willing to, to explore your own heart and let your own heart be exposed. And it’s scary work to do. So good. I’m gonna, I’m gonna rewind that and listen to that.
Yeah, Jay, I really appreciate that. Just we talk about that a lot here just how we need to be more willing and help each other, be more willing to look at, you know, horror and hell and suffering and pain because it does it is the they are the places where we become like Jesus and there is resurrection and there is redemption. But we we’ve kind of through the years kind of gotten afraid of that. And we don’t want to go there which makes no sense at all because you can’t fully go to Sunday, like you said, if you haven’t been willing to go through Friday and Saturday. I just really love that very, very resonates deeply with me. Yeah.
Well, so let me let me. Let’s let me transition us to kind of wrap the conversation up. And I’m sad to do so. So I mean, I would love, love to come back. And yeah, let’s do it again. But let’s just in that note, think about all the people listening who are in accountability groups, or are walking with somebody who’s receiving unwanted sexual behavior, who aren’t clinicians. Or maybe they’re pastors, but they’re not sitting down in a therapeutic setting. Taking you just offered you some counsel for the for the layman, as you because the end of your book you talked about transformation, as in community. So can you give some practical things that communities can do friends can do parents loved ones pastors can do? Yeah, that would really be helpful. Totally.
Jay Stringer 47:55
Yeah. So I mean, I think you know, from a basic level if you’re in an accountability partnership. One of it he was actually one of my kind of old friends from college one of the things he told me as he said, Jay, like when I have been having the same conversation with my accountability partner for 15 years, something isn’t working. And so he had that sense of you know, got the internet report got basically talk about the times that he had looked at porn or had an inappropriate thought and kind of just that sense of Okay, and then that kind of awkward pause of like, okay, now what am I supposed to do with this next? But I think to begin with, again, being curious about what you know, being able to ask someone you know, you’ve struggled with porn now how many years 2025 10 When were you initially exposed to porn? What was the setting and then you might hear a story well, you know, my dad kept it in the garage. Or maybe we had a D scrambler device on our You know, home cable channels and I used to go downstairs to go and find it. And what you find in that is that you, you know, you this isn’t a blank slate that you came into with pornography. This is a family system that actually allowed porn in the home. So in the same way that you got bonded to hohos you you also got bonded to pornography, it was it was in the home. And so just to be able to kind of ask people where where did this story actually begin? So I would say the origins of it, and again, just most people want to tell you stories about how I was self medicating how I was bored how I was lonely. And so I think again, to be able to be a little bit incredulous, a little bit suspicious about the everybody’s story that they’re telling you is almost 100% wrong. Because we come up with we come up with cover stories, so I’m just lonely man. Really love man. So Part of what you hear is like, you know, a guy might make a bid for his wife to his wife for sex, she declines. And then he goes into the bathroom and starts looking at a porn Tube Channel. And what he’s going to tell you is I felt really rejected and sad. And is that true? Yes. But then when you actually start pressing, like, how did you feel when you were rejected for the 99th time this year? He’s like, I was completely pissed off. I was. And so that sense of how is that anger against your wife really playing out in your porn life? In that sense of, you know, you actually don’t feel present to her unless you’re wanting sex. And so she knows that the meaning of the sex that you’re about to have is basically about your own entitlement as a man. So tell me now, how is it possible for her desire to grow for you when this is the only place that you actually show up? And again, that that leads to a very different accountability?
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, It moves it from the I’ve gotten so kind of such a distaste for the the word accountability because it’s come to mean something so kind of maybe two dimensional and you’re really talking about, let’s talk about, are you like who you are, let’s talk about identity. And let’s talk about relationships throughout your life, including right now. Yeah,
Jay Stringer 51:18
that’s a. So one of the things that I created with this film team called the heart of man, with something called the journey into the heart of man. And this is an 18 week program that really invites people to connect the dots between their sexual brokenness and their life story. And so one of the kind of core concepts is that we don’t just think about freedom from sexual brokenness, but also that sense of what is your freedom for and so when we hear you know, just you know, it is for freedom that you have been set free, what is the sense of who you actually want to become? And so I think accountability, that’s actually asking Those questions are really significant as well of just inviting people to a sense of. So Annie Dillard has this amazing line where she says essentially, I never knew I was a bell until the moment I was lifted up and struck. And so I think good accountability is always kind of asking that question of when was the last time that you were lifted up and struck? When was the last time that you felt that bell of desire ring within you? When did that take place at work? When did that take place within your family and our community, and really inviting people again, to a sense of integrity of being whole when their desire and so too often, again, just people think about integrity as not looking at porn or being free from sexual brokenness. But integrity is about Do you know your heart? And are you are you pursuing the terrain of your heart with utmost integrity and if you find joy if you find life so many of the seductions to to a world of shame to a world of brokenness or just not nearly as appealing, because you have a clear sense of this is the glory. This is really the weightiness of who I’m intended to become.
Oh, beautiful. Okay, so you, you have both. I’m walking away with this conversation feeling very satisfied and very hungry for more brother. Thank you so much for what you brought. We. So before we wrap up, I wanted to say a couple things. One is, if you have not read Jays book, unwanted sexual brokenness reveals her way to healing we highly recommend it to you. He has also his an online assessment tool that will help you to take a look at your sexual history, not just your sexual history, your history and your circumstances. So you can uncover more of your story, along with an online a couple online resources, I think including the journey into the heart of man. We’ll have all that stuff in our in our show notes, so you can learn more about that. Jay, thanks so much for being with us today. Such a gift and We will definitely do this again,
Jay Stringer 54:02
Josh kit so good to be with you both. Thank you for this invitation.
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