It may or may not surprise you that the majority of men seeking help from Harvest USA are married. The majority of these husbands are not coming to us because of their own conviction over sin but because they were caught. They were living, often for decades, in darkness, and now they’ve finally been forced into the light. They usually come to us with a mixture of pain and relief—the pain of the consequences of their sexual sin and its accompanying deception, and also the relief of no longer living as hypocrites.

This initial exposure is freeing and provides with it real opportunities for change and transformation. While there are many dangers and snares along the path towards marital restoration, none is more common and more deadly than going back into the darkness.

For any of you familiar with twentieth-century American poetry or Christopher Nolan’s brilliant film Interstellar, you probably know the poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” In his poem about death, Thomas provides incredible wisdom for a husband tempted to go back into hiding. He writes,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Husbands who are battling sexual addictions are not only wrestling against the allure of sexual sin. They are also facing the constant temptation of lying about it to their wives. I’ve heard all of the major excuses for going back into the darkness:

“I love her too much to hurt her by telling her.”

“I know how she’ll react; she just can’t handle this.”

“She’s not supposed to be my accountability partner; I have men in my life I confess to.”

“Confessing to her doesn’t help me; she’ll just use that as fuel to punish me later.”

“I’ve already confessed it to the Lord.”

While we recognize that there are rare and extreme situations where it may not always be prudent or loving for husbands to confess their sexual sins to their wives, the general rule we find to be most beneficial for marriages is called “the 24-hour rule.”

What is the 24-hour rule?

The 24-hour rule is when a husband promises that he will confess, within 24 hours, any time that he engages in behavioral sexual sin—including masturbation, pornography, fantasy indulgence that lasts for minutes at a time, and anything worse than these behaviors. This includes any active pursuit of these behaviors, even if he is unsuccessful, such as seeking ways around internet filters to find pornography.

What the 24-hour rule is not

The 24-hour rule, misapplied, has the potential to become very detrimental to a marriage, which is why clear, objective expectations are essential. It is unhelpful for a wife to be privy to every single battle a husband faces with sexual temptation. We believe she deserves to know the battles he clearly loses, but not every battle he faces.

While every couple requires a nuanced approach, we generally try to steer couples away from certain scrupulous standards of confession. We generally do not encourage couples to adopt the following types of confession as a rule:

  • Every time a husband takes a second look
  • A sexually suggestive image appears on his device apart from his active pursuit of it, and he immediately flees from it.
  • Tempting thoughts that come into his mind but against which he has fought and upon which he does linger for minutes at a time.

It’s important that couples understand the difference between a “rule” and Spirit-led confession. The purpose of the 24-hour rule is to build trust, as I will explain later. Understandably, breaking the rule has devastating consequences in breaking trust, but a husband can also freely confess as the Spirit leads. So, while it is not a rule that a husband confesses every battle with temptation, he may share about specific temptations with his wife from time to time, which can have very positive results for both of them. She can encourage and pray for him, and he can continue to learn how to trust his wife and be more vulnerable with her.

Expecting a husband to confess every temptation or lustful thought is often a grasping for control and only leads to a further breakdown of the fragile trust they are seeking to rebuild.

Why the 24-hour rule?

An entire book could and probably should be written on why this kind of rule is so helpful in marriages seeking restoration after sexual betrayal, but here are just a few reasons why we find this guidance so crucial:

  1. Often in these situations, the greatest damage done to the marriage is the loss of trust and the difficulty of earning it back. Succumbing yet again to the snare of pornography does great harm to a recovering marriage, but the difference between confessing openly and being caught in covering up sin is worlds apart.
  2. Wives usually want to know when their husbands have been unfaithful with pornography. It hurts them to know, but they still would rather know than be left in the dark. The most common response I hear from wives to their husbands is, “I’m hurt that you did this, but I’m grateful that you told me.”
  3. Committing and being faithful to a 24-hour rule takes the burden off of a wife to be a detective. Wives often feel scared when weeks or months have gone by without hearing from their husbands how they’re doing. In this scenario, no news is sadly often not good news. Faithfulness to the 24-hour rule guards wives against fretfully wondering what is true.
  4. The 24-hour rule forces husbands to live in the realty of their decisions. One of pornography’s greatest lies is, “This isn’t hurting anyone.” Needing to confess each instance kills that lie very quickly. I’ve heard many husbands talk about how great their marriages are apart from this one issue. Men have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize and downplay the impact of their sin on their marriages. Hiding this sin and never talking about it creates a very powerful illusion that things are great, but this backfires in the end. The more a wife believes her husband is being faithful, the greater the disappointment, hurt, and sense of betrayal once she finds out that’s not true.
  5. Confession creates opportunities for genuine relationship. Whether a husband knows it or not, keeping this sin hidden forces him to put up his defenses. He can’t be his true self around her. He’ll need to hold some of himself back from her. The two of them can’t truly be naked and unashamed, but being open with his wife provides the foundation for truly knowing one another.
  6. Confession gives his wife an opportunity to forgive him and for him to receive her forgiveness. This is a beautiful display of the gospel, reminding them both that we only have a saving relationship with Jesus because of his grace! Our marriages should point us to the gospel every day, and living in the darkness kills that opportunity.
  7. The 24-hour rule upholds the great responsibility, dignity, and honor of the marriage covenant. Most couples take vows at their weddings, and many will vow to “forsake all others.” Pornography breaks this marriage vow and tramples upon it. The offended party not only has the right to know but also needs to be involved for proper restoration to occur. A commitment to the 24-hour rule is an outworking of your commitment to your vows.
  8. Willing confession of sexual betrayal in a marriage is scary for a husband to do. Confession takes all of the control out of his hands, forcing him to entrust himself to the Lord. This is such a critical step in repentance. He must lose his life in order to save it. Sin so often seeks to make life work on our own terms. Hiding your sin is a prime example of a refusal to let God be the Lord of your life.

On more than one occasion, I’ve sat with wives in tears as they come to realize their husbands have been hiding their sin. Their faces show their embarrassment, shock, disappointment, and confusion. But what is perhaps most heartbreaking is watching them plead with their husbands to come back into the light. They aren’t asking their husbands to be perfect, only honest! These women are willing to forgive, to help, to pray, but they feel completely shut out, disregarded, and unsafe when they realize they’ve been deceived. Deception virtually wipes out any growth a marriage has made, leaving wives feeling like they are back at square one. But the enemy is so crafty in telling husbands the very opposite lie—that confession will take them back to square one. Deception, not confession, is your enemy, brothers! Fight it; put it to death. Entrust yourself to Christ because he will never forsake you! Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The following is meant to help those who are weary in their battle to overcome sin and need help knowing how to pray and cry out to God for a fresh start.

Two thousand twenty one. 2021. Lord, I’m not sure what to think or how to feel as this year begins. There has been so much upheaval, loss, and pain around me. The turmoil of 2020 stirs fear in my heart and anxiety for what may be in front of me this upcoming year, but here I am, coming to you for help, for hope, for comfort.

Lord, I say with David that I do love you, that you are my strength. You say that you will be my rock and my fortress, my Savior, my God, in whom I take refuge. So I call to you now, Lord Jesus, and ask for you to give me a fresh start this year with my battle.

My longtime struggle with sexual sin. I have done this before so many times, God—making a resolution every January: This year, I’m going to beat this thing. This year, I’ll get help. This year, I will have the courage to actually tell _______ about this. O God, help me! I’m scared, weary, and so tired of the shame and sinking down into despair. Can this year be different? I need a fresh start; I need you! My prayers echo Psalm 18:1–3 and 40:1.

You are my only hope, Lord Jesus. As Peter says to Jesus in John 6:68, where else can I really go anyway?! You alone have the words of life, truth, and rescue that I need so desperately. Help me to hear you, to believe you. Help me to obey you with a fresh start for this longtime sin. I name it again before you now: ______________. Thank you, Lord, that there is no shame for those who look to you and honestly tell you their real, raw thoughts in anguish and suffering (Psalm 34:4–5).

I bring my heart to you, Lord, because I know that I’m proud and stubborn. And as much as I hate the consequences of this sin, I don’t want to give it up. So, there…I said it. I hate it, and I love it. I hate feeling guilty, like a bad Christian. The mental assault of all that I’ve stockpiled in my mind from having this sin control me for so long is torment. However, I love escaping the stress of my life for a few minutes or hours; I like the intoxicating pleasure I get. I know it’s wrong, but it feels good. Why does it have to be that way, Lord? That sin feels good and life-giving, while obedience can feel boring, painful, and deathly? Why?! (Psalm 51:1–2)

God, your Word says that my heart is the source for all of this, the choices I’ve made, what I’ve pursued and run away from. So, I’m asking you today for fresh faith to believe that you can change my heart, including my desires, to long for what you long for and to will what you will. Will you change the appetites of my heart, calm my cravings, and bring peace into the turmoil of my thoughts, please?! It all seems like an uncontrollable monster inside of me—can it be different? Change my heart, O God…change my life! (Luke 6:43–45, Psalm 34:8, Philippians 2:13, Psalm 51:10)

Father, I need your comfort for all of the mess and pain that this sin has brought into my life and others’ lives. Even if _________ doesn’t know about it specifically, I know they have felt my detachment, disinterest, and distraction. I haven’t been involved in relationships with honesty, engagement, or love. I know I’ve hurt so many people, and, honestly, Lord, I know I should care more about their pain than mine, but I’m hurting, too. Please, Father, will you let me feel and believe in your mercy again? (Psalm 139:23–24 and 2 Corinthians 1:3–4)

And I do ask you to comfort _________ and __________. Wow, Lord, I guess you are at work already! I’ve not prayed for them for so long, so thank you, Father. As you help me to bring my feelings to you now, I can sense that you are softening my heart—a heart that has felt so hard, so cold towards these same people. Yes, God, cause your work in me to go deep, cut through my self-deception and self-preoccupation, and break my heart over this sin! You’re kind, not mean-hearted, and I need you to lead me into repentance one step at a time. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 and 7:10, as well as Romans 2:4)

Lord, I’m not sure what steps I need to take first. Do I read that book? Call that friend? Should I try to find a counselor? You call yourself the good Shepherd, so if you’re willing to guide a weak sheep like me, please lead me; show me who to reach out to for help. Who do I need to confess this to first? Give me courage, Lord. Even as I pray about this, I’m so scared of what ______ will think about me. Help me believe what you say about me more than anything else, that I am holy, loved, and chosen by you and that, even with this mess of sin in my life, none of these things change. I’m yours, Lord. Period. (Ephesians 5:1–2 and Colossians 3:12)

God, help me to trust that you can do in my life what David said you did in his: You sent help to him from heaven; you took him and drew him out of many waters. I’m drowning, Lord; draw me out of this place! This sin is too strong for me, and I finally am willing to admit that to you, Lord. This sin isn’t a friend; it’s an enemy, my enemy and yours, so please, be my strength! Rescue me and bring me into a place of freedom, of spaciousness, rather than this prison I’m stuck in now. Yes, God, because you love me, and your Word says that you not only love me but also delight in me. You love me, are with me—you’ll never let go. O God, thank you. (Psalm 18:16–19 and Matthew 28:20)

Lord, I’m in. I commit to walking forward in this obedience. I rest in your power that enables me to obey. To obey just one step at a time. Today, then again tomorrow. So, before you now, I want to commit to taking these steps in the coming week. I know that I need your Word, Lord, so this is my first step: to read the Bible and to pray it, to really take in your truth again as I’ve been so lazy—just going through the motions if I even bothered to open it. No more! Just one step at a time. Truly, Lord Jesus, help me to seek to please you in these steps. Encourage me and help me to not grow weary or give up. I want to trust you! (Galatians 5:13, Colossians 3:16–17, Galatians 6:7–9, and Proverbs 3:5–6)

I put my trust in you, Lord, even in the midst of my fears and weakness. You are worthy of my praise, worthy to be trusted. You will be merciful to me and will care for me as I take refuge in you. You are holding onto me and will never let go. Rain down your faithful love over me, over my feeble faith, and fulfill all your purposes for me. Thank you, Lord Jesus. (Psalm 56:1–4, 10–11 and 57:1–3)

The Harvest USA Direct Ministry staff are available to help you take steps of faith in overcoming your struggle with sexual sin. Please reach out for help if we can serve you in this way by emailing info@harvestusa.org.

“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” (Psalm 90:8 ESV)

Sexual sin is not easy to speak about. And yet, in my experience, the key to overcoming it is to bring it into the light, in spite of that innate push to keep it hidden.

My first memory of my own sexual depravity reaches back to my earliest memories in childhood. I couldn’t have been any older than five years old, but even then I knew what I desired when I picked up a pen (maybe it was a crayon) and drew a picture of a naked woman.

One of my parents, I can’t remember which, saw my drawing and spanked me for my “artwork”. I still remember not understanding the reason why I was being punished. What I did learn was that, if I wanted to draw or see pictures like that again, I was going to have to keep it a secret.

Although I wasn’t hooked yet, the seeds of sexual sin were already beginning to take root inside of me. Growing up, there began to be occasions when I would sneak onto the computer when no one was around to look at pornography. When I hit puberty, my struggle became a consistent one. I was a pudgy pre-teen with a lot of social anxiety, terrified of women. With no confidence in myself, I didn’t think a girl would ever want to be with me. It was an awkward time that fueled a desire for escape, so I turned to virtual women—women who wouldn’t say “No” and would never reject me.

Pornography became my escape—even before I’d ever attempted to pursue a girl in real life. To this day, that low view of myself and fear of rejection has continued to fuel my sexual sin. As a man I still struggle with my fear of women, feeling much like that same pre-teen of years ago, without confidence or hope.

Pornography became my escape—even before I’d ever attempted to pursue a girl in real life.

Before finding the men’s biblical support group at Harvest USA, I failed to realize that there are other sins in my life which also need to be addressed—like anger, envy, and even gluttony. It was here at Harvest that God began to shine light on these other sins in my life as well, in addition to sexual sin.

Harvest has also helped me see that I’ve bought into a lot of lies about God. At my lowest points I have accused him of wanting to destroy me; in the midst of prolonged temptation, I have struggled with his provision. And I still struggle to find pleasure and joy in him, making my Christian experience more of an effort than the easy, personal relationship with God that I’d expected. Not until I came to Harvest was I able to identify these aspects of my struggle that had gone unrecognized beforehand.

Harvest was the first place where I felt comfortable being open about my sexual sin. And it was the first place where I met other men who admitted to struggling with the same things I do. Although I was nervous beforehand, I left my first meeting filled with hope and praise. I’ve learned that a temptation shared with others facing the same issue means you struggle together. This has enabled me to confront my own sin in very positive ways. My new friends are praying with me and for me, because they want to see me through this as much as I do.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”  (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10)

Harvest has taught me how to fight sexual sin. One of the most important things you can do is to confess it with someone you trust. Harvest is where I’ve connected with several brothers in the faith who are willing to hear my confession. Always willing to offer help when I seek it, they have never given up on me, even when I’ve wanted to give up on myself. There is power in numbers when fighting sexual sin.

Another habit essential to my fight again sin is to literally voice my heartfelt lament to God. I love reading the laments of Scripture. The Bible contains lots of them, many generic enough to apply not just to my personal struggle against sin, but to a plethora of other life difficulties as well. This encourages me, knowing that God still speaks into a world that is difficult and imperfect, just as he spoke long ago to people facing difficulty and despair.

I’ve begun thinking of a lament as what happens when theology meets reality—not that theology is pitted against reality, but my theology often gets ahead of my reality. At Harvest they refer to this as ‘formal’ theology versus ‘functional theology’. I lament when the two don’t line up perfectly. And when the way I live doesn’t fit the way God calls me to live, that’s when I experience self-inflicted pain. That’s also when God wants me to recognize the weakness in my functional theology and return to him. God would rather me come to him with weak theology, than not at all.

And a lament to God should always be accompanied by praise. In its entirety, the Book of Psalms progresses from lament to praise. And that is where God is taking me right now. He is moving me to praise because he wants me to delight in his work in this world, especially his saving work through Christ. My temptations feel surmountable when I move from lament to praise.

Reflecting back over my time at Harvest, I appreciate the tremendous amount of personal growth that has occurred in my own life. But I still see a long road ahead. Slowly but surely, God has been peeling back the layers, showing me that sexual sin is intimately connected to other struggles in my life. Often, my battle against pornography is the result of other areas in my life which I’ve neglected. As I address them, my fight against sexual sin becomes more effective, which is also when I am able to see more fruit in other areas of my life.

If you desire change in your struggle against sexual sin, confession is a great step toward freedom.

If you desire change in your struggle against sexual sin, confession is a great step toward freedom. Be encouraged that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6). You are not alone. God is with you, and he promises to sanctify you and conform you to the image of his Son.

Editor’s note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because he has chosen to remain anonymous.


To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.


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