This is the second in a special series on Sexual Health by guest bloggers Dr. Bill Bixler and Greg Hill, LPC (see their bio below the article). Click here to read the first installment.
Pastor John survived another Sunday, but just barely. Still awake after midnight, he stares at the bedroom ceiling while a host of stressful thoughts bear down on him—parishioners’ criticism of his sermon, worry about the budget shortfall, power struggles with the assistant pastor. He needs some escape, some respite from the pressure. Almost without thinking John slips out of bed without waking his wife, tiptoes to his study, and proceeds to view pornography on his laptop until 3 a.m.
This scenario is, unfortunately, not rare. Various surveys place the number of pastors viewing pornography between 30 and 54 percent in a given year. Also, these surveys do not include additional acting-out behaviors, such as participating in sexual chat rooms, hiring prostitutes and escorts, and affairs with church members or staff. If we included those statistics the above percentages undoubtedly would be higher.
Cybersex (the term used to describe all sexual activities on the internet) has three components, the three A’s, which make it so compelling. It is:
- Accessible– the click of a mouse or touch on an IPAD
- Affordable– most pornography on the internet is free
- Anonymous– it can be viewed in complete privacy
Many pastors exhaust their physical, spiritual, and emotional resources taking care of their flock. If stress and anxiety are not managed well and healthy relationships are neglected, pornography becomes a source of escape and emotional self-medication. The fantasy world of internet pornography becomes a substitute for real relationships and intimacy.
In addition, pastors who do not take the time to nurture their own marriages and friendships are at risk of cybersex activity. Marriage therapist John Gottman describes two types of couples: those who turn toward each other and those who turn away. Pastors who turn away may turn toward pornography or someone outside the marital relationship. An absence of genuine intimacy can lead to the false intimacy of extra-marital relationships or fantasy relationships via pornography.
As in the case of Pastor John from our introductory paragraph, cybersex can provide instant, but temporary, escape from the stresses of church work. In addition, some pastors seek to numb deeper emotional wounds: emotional or physical abuse from childhood, memories of a perpetually critical father or mother, constant fears of not being a good enough minister, spouse, or parent.
Various psychological strategies are employed to allow pastors to continue their behavior unimpeded by self-restraint:
- Compartmentalizing occurs when that part of the pastor’s life which is unacceptable to him/her is intentionally split off from the rest of life.
- Minimizing is a type of rationalization, such as, “it’s not that bad because it’s only pictures, not actual sex with someone.”
- Denial does not even recognize that there is a problem—“I don’t do it that often so it’s no big deal.”
But it is a big deal. Pornography-viewing and other cybersex activities generate intense shame and guilt, create emotional and sexual alienation in marriage, open clergy to accusations of hypocrisy, place ministerial vocations at risk, and severely weaken the spiritual vitality of the pastor.
In the next post we will examine how pastors can significantly reduce vulnerability to sexual acting-out, affirm healthy sexuality, and provide guidance to those who have tried many times to stop but have been unable.
-Bill Bixler and Greg Hill
Dr. Bill Bixler (above right), a clinical psychologist, and Greg Hill (above left), licensed professional counselor, have both received clinical and theological training and are co-founders of the Center for Emotional and Sexual Health in Cary. They are certified sex addiction therapists and specialize in working with: couples coping with infidelity; individuals caught in sex and porn addiction; teenagers struggling with porn, sexting, etc.; and spouses and families traumatized by the addict’s behavior. They are also available to speak to church groups on sex and sexuality. They can be contacted via phone: (919) 466-0770 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Image from wikipedia