Women of faith dealing with sexual addiction

Georgene Rice of KPDQ-FM interviews Marnie Ferree, licensed therapist and author of “No Stones, Women Redeemed from Sexual Addiction” .  Her book offers practical help for those who suffer from the addiction as she once did and advice for  those who want to help them reconcile their faith with this struggle.

Georgene: How did you come to title the book “No Stones”?

Marnie: I work primarily within the Christian community and the book is based on Christian principles. The title comes from a passage in the Gospel of John in the New Testament where a woman was caught in the act of adultery. The men wanted her stoned as Jewish law required. Jesus said, “Those who are without sin, cast the first stone.” The title comes from the shame that most women who are struggling with this issue experience and the hope that there is healing and help for women.   

Georgene: You are right. Jesus was speaking to her condemners but hearing His words gave her hope as well. Women who are struggling with sexual addiction is a concept difficult for many of us to comprehend. In your book you say it really isn’t about sex. You refer to it as an intimacy disorder. How does their struggle differ from their male counterparts?

Marnie:  Women with sexual addiction are foreign to many people yet there are thousands of women that we see in clinics across the country. For women, as well as for men, sexual addiction is not about sex and that is one of the greatest misunderstandings. Sex and intense relationships are simply the vehicle that they use to meet nonsexual mates in a hunger for intimacy, attachment, affection, approval, and connection. They use sex as a means to ease that ache in their hearts. An intimacy disorder is the best way to think about it because it is a false substitute for genuine intimacy and our culture encourages using sex as the vehicle to get love.

Georgene: What are at the root of this type of sexual addiction for women?

Marnie: The roots are as different as the women who struggle. Yet there are a good number of common denominators. Sexual abuse is a key factor for many women who struggle with this. One out of four girls in the United States are sexually abused by the time they are eighteen. When you set an individual up with a confusion about sex and love and intimacy, it becomes a huge common denominator.

Georgene: It seems to me that sexual addiction is very specific.  How does a women or girl know if she is struggling with that kind of an addiction?

Marnie: There are some characteristics of an addiction just as there are with alcoholism. There are two key characteristics. First, if she has a compulsion to continue with the behavior even if she is really trying to stop. Then, if she continues to engage in these relationships in spite of negative consequences she has crossed the line into an addiction.

For some women the behaviors may involve simultaneous relationships, or serial relationships, or affairs outside of marriage. The negative wake-up-calls may be a destruction of her marriage, depression or other negative emotions. Health issues with STD’s are a huge issue.

Georgene: Your book is written from a Biblical perspective and may be a surprise that some women within the body of Christ may be struggling with this issue. What unique challenges do women face in dealing with this kind of addiction?

Marnie: I think the hardest issue so far is just that no one is talking about. Since it is not widely talked about or understood women feel even more isolated than their male counterparts. There is not a prominent voice for women.

Georgene: This may be an important time to discuss why this is such an important issue for you.

Marnie: The book was the outcry of my own sexual abuse and sexual addiction. I personally struggled with sexual addiction from the time I was fourteen until I entered counseling in my early 30’s. I lost my first marriage due to addiction. It was also devastating in my second marriage. I know what it is like to feel the shame and isolation.

Georgene: Some may feel because you are referring to this as a sexual addition that you are removing yourself from the responsibility of this kind of habitual behavior.

Marnie: Particularly within religious circles we are reticent to call something an addiction that is clearly sinful behavior; feeling that we are trying to hide behind calling it an addiction. That is not the case at all. I take total responsibility for my actions. But, a woman must understand her behavior and understand its roots and the driving forces behind it before she can change her behavior.

Too often we try to make women change with a “just say no” campaign—telling her to just stop because she knows the behavior is wrong. When someone is at the level of an addiction the compulsions and forces take on a life of their own. Until you understand the rituals and cycles of your addictions and the wounds that are driving your behavior, it is almost impossible to just stop. There is much more work that needs to be done and the woman is responsible for doing that work.

Absolutely these behaviors are sin. There is no sugar-coating that. We must address this spiritually, but these behaviors are multi-faceted. There is an emotional component—these behaviors are medicaters to sometimes very painful emotions that someone doesn’t want to experience or know how to experience. There is a mental component—the lies we believe about ourselves, our relationships, sexuality, and what it means to be a women in our culture. There is a relational component—using sex as a substitute for the genuine intimacy that God intended His children to enjoy. There is a physical component—a neuro-chemical piece about behaviors. In our religious communities we often overlook that there is something addictive happening in our brains.

Georgene: You say a failure to stop acting out in spite of their good intentions only increases these women’s shame. To be judged as nothing more than morally corrupt woman adds to that pain of isolation, loneliness, and feeling of shame and that “I am not redeemable” because this is a struggle I cannot seem to control. What is some of the advice you’d give to women struggling with sexual addiction and how can the church come along side to help her?

Marnie: The most important, first step, would be to tell someone. This issue breeds in silence. She should look for a counselor who is well-trained in treating sexual addiction, hopefully a Christian counselor, but most importantly they must be clinically trained.

Churches must have these conversations and support groups within the church that will include women. I was thrilled to see that the University Press, a Christian publisher, has published this book. If the woman seeks someone within the church to tell, it is fine for them to ask her if she understands that the behavior is not acceptable and if she has tried to stop. But, when I told a “safe” friend, the most encouraging to me was when she did not judge me, but simply said she was sorry. That expression of love and acceptance propelled me to trust her and take her advice when she encouraged me to go to a trained counselor.

For the woman who is struggling, there is hope. Through my own journey my relationship with God was taken to a whole different level. When a woman is ready, God will meet her and provide for her the resources she will need.

Marnie Ferree is the Director of Bethesda Workshops in Memphis, Tennessee

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