December 7, 2023

Soothing Trauma with Sexual Sin

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. 46:1)

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18:2)

Trials come into the life of every human being. When trouble comes, we were created to find shelter from the storm and peace for our souls. Scripture is clear that God is the person we are to run to amid storms; he provides a level of peace that is incomprehensible to humanity (Phil. 4:7).

Unfortunately, we often miss out on the peace that surpasses all understanding by running to the false refuges of passing or poisoned pleasures. Trauma compounds this struggle in two primary ways. First, the severity of suffering one endures in traumatic experiences is extreme and cries out for an equally extreme level of pleasure to counter it. Second, trauma leaves a mark in one’s memory, so the suffering repeatedly intrudes into one’s experience. These frequent intrusions of past experience, coupled with their severe nature, drive people to seek quick relief and not enduring peace.

The False Refuge of Passing and Poisoned Pleasure

Passing pleasures and poisoned pleasures promise to satiate our desires temporarily, but never truly satisfy. Passing pleasures are not inherently sinful pursuits. Many passing pleasures are good things that we misuse to alleviate or distract from pain. Sex is a wondrous, delightful gift from God in its proper context. But, when used as a salve for the traumatized soul, sex (even within marriage) will never address the whole-person problems faced in trauma. It can give a momentary relief in physical pleasure, but it will never address or heal the soul’s wounds. It is a hollow, temporary, passing pleasure, not the true peace and soul solace we need.

Finding our refuge in God soothes the whole person instead of simply distracting through physical pleasure. 

Poisoned pleasures are even worse. These are the inherently sinful pleasures we seek to alleviate our pain. Fornication, adultery, pornography, masturbation, and any other type of sexual sin are poisoned pleasures. They provide momentary physical pleasure, but they will always leave us worse than we were to begin with. The pleasure from sexual sin fades quickly, then heaps guilt and shame on an already hurting and burdened soul. The insanity of sin is that we keep going back to these pleasures, sometimes even to soothe the pain and emptiness they left us with the last time. These sins easily entangle and enslave those who are running to them with the hope of finding relief (Rom. 6, Heb. 12:1). The intensity and recurrent nature of the struggle can speed the enslaving process as someone is driven to find refuge from the intense and frequent storms of trauma.

The rightful compassion one feels for a person disoriented by trauma can also complicate matters. Knowing the intensity of someone’s struggle, we can dismiss sinful responses as “understandable” or fear that addressing sin will be seen as unloving or ungracious. We must provide compassion and confrontation to people who are making sinful choices, even if those choices are fueled by trauma-induced pain.

Our True Refuge

As we speak truth in love (Eph. 4:15), we shouldn’t simply condemn sinful choices; we must also point people to the true source of the hope and healing they genuinely need. The Psalms repeatedly remind us that we find that shelter and peace in God. The psalmists call him our “refuge” 47 times, “stronghold” seven times, “fortress” 14 times, “shelter” five times, “rock” 25 times, “shield” 15 times, and “strong tower” once (ESV). The message is clear—when the going gets rough, run to God. He is the source of true comfort and peace amid all kinds of suffering.

There are many ways to run to God as our refuge: prayer, lament, meditating on Scripture. None of these offer the quick physical sensation of sexual gratification, but they offer deeper lasting peace. Finding our refuge in God soothes the whole person instead of simply distracting through physical pleasure.

When we fail to endure suffering, seeking pleasure instead of God, our salvation is secure because Jesus suffered perfectly for us.

Our Savior sets the perfect example of how to deal with trials, tribulations, and trauma. When Jesus learns of the execution of his cousin, John the Baptist, his first impulse is to go be alone with the Lord (Matt. 14:13, 23). What Jesus experienced would certainly be classified as a traumatic event—his cousin and ministry herald had just been beheaded. Clearly, Jesus was affected. Clearly, he was grieved. He wanted comfort from the pain. Where did he turn for that comfort? He turned to his heavenly Father. 1 Peter 2:23 tells us that Jesus “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” In the context of Peter’s letter, this continual entrusting took place during the torture leading up to the crucifixion and the crucifixion itself. No human being has ever endured suffering like Jesus. Amid the worst suffering humanity has ever seen, he gives us an example to follow. And his righteousness is our hope. When we fail to endure suffering, seeking pleasure instead of God, our salvation is secure because Jesus suffered perfectly for us.

When suffering comes, when trials abound, when trauma strikes—run to God. When you’re hurting, cry out to him. When there are no words to cry out, turn to him and know he cries out for you (Rom. 8:26). He is there, and he is your refuge. He is your shelter in the storm. He is the source of true peace—lasting peace.

Put Pleasure in Its Proper Place

God does not require us to abandon or forsake the pleasures of sex. He doesn’t forbid us from seeking pleasure from sex in our suffering. Genuine pleasure and relief from pain can be found in sex as part of pursuing refuge in God. Of course, that is limited to sex within the relationship of marriage between one man and one woman and is not to be a substitute for refuge in God. If one is running to God—casting one’s cares on him, knowing he cares for you (1 Pet. 5:6–7), seeking solace in his Word, drawing near to him in times of trouble (Heb. 4:16)—then one can freely enjoy the good gifts of the good Father (Matt. 7:7–11).

In the right context, sex can be part of God’s kind love and care for us, but only if it’s part of our pursuit of him, not a substitute for him.

True, proper sex is an act of worship (1 Cor. 6:18–20) and should lead to further worship and praise toward God. Illicit sex, pornography, or selfish sexual gratification (even in the context of marriage) will offer fleeting physical pleasure, but it cannot offer the whole-person positive results of the act of true sex as God designed it.

When we face trials and suffering, God wants us to run to him for comfort. We too often miss the opportunity of experiencing his incomprehensible comfort because we seek comfort in his good gifts or in sinful distortions of those good gifts. Sexual sin or sexual pleasure can never provide true, lasting peace or satisfaction. In the right context, sex can be part of God’s kind love and care for us, but only if it’s part of our pursuit of him, not a substitute for him.

This guest post is by Curtis Solomon, PhD., Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and Program Coordinator for Biblical Counseling at Boyce College. Solomon is the author of Redeem Your Marriage: Hope for Husbands Who Have Hurt Through Pornography and I Have PTSD: Reorienting After Trauma.

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