Out of control

Every Man’s Battle provides Christian support for sex addiction

Fear thy rod and thy staff.

Fear thy rod and thy staff.

Somehow, the conversation kept coming back to porn.

“It started when I hit puberty. I started getting involved with what my generation was sort of dealing with: Playboy and Penthouse and some of those things,” said Doug Barnes. He had flown into Sacramento to facilitate a three-day Christian workshop on overcoming sexual addiction. Barnes’ addiction progressed from magazines to movies, and then, after he was married, to illicit affairs.

“I didn’t know how to get the help that I needed. So I got caught by my wife,” Barnes recalled. His struggle with sexual addiction began some 20 years ago. Now, he shares his personal battle and helps other men deal with their own addictions.

Barnes and Sam Fraser, both counselors with New Life Ministries, told me their stories in a hotel restaurant on a recent foggy Saturday morning. The two men co-facilitate the monthly workshops, called Every Man’s Battle, at different locations across the country. The exact location is disclosed only to paying participants—and to nosey journalists.

I had come to the hotel to learn about the spiritual aspects of sexual addiction. How do ministries like New Life address the problem of sexual addiction? But first, how do they define sexual addiction?

“Breach of integrity, from a biblical viewpoint,” said Fraser.

“Your life becomes unmanageable and this activity gets out of control. It runs your life, and you’re not running it,” continued Barnes.

“And a lot of the time, you don’t even realize that it’s running your life,” Fraser said.

The men attending the weekend’s workshop had paid a whopping $1,300 each, which included a two-night hotel stay, all meals and participation in the program’s large- and small-group sessions. For confidentiality reasons, Barnes and Fraser wouldn’t let me attend any of the sessions or interview any of the participants.

And while conference attendees were there for all sorts of sexual issues, pornography seemed to be the most pervasive.

“There’s a lot of Internet porn,” said Barnes, who claimed that one out of every six visits on the Internet is to a porn site.

“If I’m engaged in looking at porn, then I am giving my time and attention and talents to something that is inanimate, versus a real, live relationship. Because my focus and attention needs to be on real, live relationships as opposed to an inanimate object, it gives a false pleasure,” said Fraser.

I brought up a conversation I had with a psychologist. She had said that viewing erotic images wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and that couples will often use pornography to enhance their sex lives.

“Yes, from a secular point of view, a non-Christian, nonbiblical point of view, it’s more normalized and more accepted,” said Barnes. “With a Christian point of view, it does breach what intimacy is about, which is relating to people. So we have a different kind of standpoint about that.”

One point of the workshop is to create an environment where men can talk about their addictions.

“The whole idea is to create a safe environment where people can share these things that are very embarrassing, very humiliating, very shaming,” said Fraser. “Where do we go when we’re hurting?”

That’s why Fraser and Barnes share their own stories.

“We do talk about our own stories in our group. That’s real important from an identification standpoint,” said Fraser.

Like any self-help or recovery movement, the emphasis is on shared experience. But Every Man’s Battle has an added layer that combines the therapeutic and the spiritual. “As a Christian, there is a kind of moral mandate to act and behave in a certain way,” Fraser said. “Because we find more similarities than we do differences in sharing our stories of who we really are with the people who are around us.”