By / Feb 13

We used to blush about it. We used to keep quiet about it. It was personal—too personal and not at all “lady like.” For the most part, it stayed tucked away in the recesses of our inner world—or at least in a dresser drawer away from view. However, after the 2011 summer debut of the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, all of that changed. E.L. James’ novice attempt at erotic fiction became an overnight success, selling more than 100 million copies and, most recently, being made into a film opening nationwide this Valentine’s Day.

Despite the book’s glorification of what is truly degrading (never before has the acronym “BDSM” become so mainstream), 50 Shades seemed to fill a void for many women. It spiced up their marriages, eased the ache of loneliness, helped them escape the discontent of lost intimacy, masked resentment over singleness, or just relieved stress. But this pop-culture phenomenon reveals a problem even bigger than the book’s content: Many women are dissatisfied. And they still haven’t found what they’re looking for.

Women are now the fastest growing consumers of pornography. One out of every three visitors to adult websites is a woman. Twenty percent of women say they’re addicted to pornography, and 60 percent of Christian women say they have a significant struggle with lust.

In the same way that visual pornography is a distortion of God’s design for male sexuality, mental pornography (i.e. fantasizing) is a distortion of God’s design for female sexuality. Taking a mental vacation from your husband, casting yourself as the leading lady in a steamy movie scene and nurturing an intimate or sexual relationship in your imagination—all are expressions of lust. Enter online pornography, personal pleasure tools, and books like 50 Shades of Grey, and hidden habits become all-consuming addictions.

An endless cycle

After a while, the temporary high of escaping into the forbidden wears off. Like any out-of-control desire, it’s just a matter of time before women are searching for more.

The best kept secret behind 50 Shades of Grey is that it will never be enough. Women will still be dissatisfied. They still won’t find what they’re looking for.

In his book Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is), Joshua Harris says it this way: 

“Lust is always an unholy desire for the forbidden. Its goal is the very act of desiring. The result is that lust cannot be quenched. As soon as the object of lust is attained, lust wants something more. Even when you indulge in every kind of impurity, you’re still filled with a continual lust. You won’t be able to fantasize enough to quench lust.”

No matter how small, insignificant or innocent it may seem, lust will not—cannot—be contained. That’s why Paul describes those who have indulged in impurity as having “a continual lust for more” (Eph. 4:19). Its very nature is to devour, distort and destroy. First Peter 2:11 says that fleshly lust actually wages war against the soul. Tragically, millions of women are becoming casualties, captive to their own desires, craving the very poison that’s killing them and caught in a downward spiral of addiction and shame.

Here’s the simple truth that lust doesn’t want you to know: Only Jesus satisfies. He is the One you’re looking for.

An identity check

Does any of this describe you? Are you stuck in the self-destructive, self-perpetuated cycle of lust, gluttonizing yourself on the very thing that is rotting you? You need to know that it will never be enough. And that’s because you were made for so much more.

First, you need an identity check. Do you belong to Jesus? If so, then you don’t belong in the cycle of lust, and you definitely don’t belong to the demands of your desires. Romans 6 says that, in Christ, you have died to the power of sin and are no longer enslaved to it (vv. 2-6). Even more, it has no right to control you any longer (v. 14). You’ve been changed from a slave of sin to a slave of righteousness. If you really are in Christ, this is who you really are (vv.17-18). And this simple truth is the beginning of breaking free.

The One who made you loves you far too much to share you with any competitor (Exod. 34:14). He knows that, unless he has complete control, desires become destructive. His own desire is to make you holy and conformed to his image (Eph. 1:3-4, Rom. 8:29). And he will not give up until he has all of you.

A reality check

We can only have a reality check about what we do after an identity check about who we are. In the battle of the mind, every woman has trigger points—circumstances that make her vulnerable to stumbling. Do you know your trigger points? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them, then set up boundaries and barriers to help keep you from veering off the path of holiness and over the cliff of impurity. Here are a few suggestions on where to start:

  • Set up filters on your computer. Also, consider an Internet Accountability Software (Covenant Eyes is a great one). Move the computer out of your room and into an open space. Ask a trusted friend to keep you accountable.
  • Cut out the noise. What girl doesn’t love a reality-defying chick-flick? But if we’re being honest, they leave us feeling pretty dissatisfied. Discontent is emotional enemy number one in the fight for authentic purity. Try cutting out all secular media (movies, TV, music, magazines) for 30 days. These things don’t have to be sinful to cause you to stumble. Feed your heart and mind with what directed it toward Christ, not away from him.
  • Ditch the books. Just get rid of them. If they are on your Kindle, delete them. If they lead you to stumble, remove them from your home. Give a trusted friend permission to ask what you’ve been reading lately. And, please, don’t give or sell them to someone else. Throw them away.
  • Don’t be alone too long. If you’re a single woman, consider finding a solid Christian roommate. Coming home to an empty apartment can be downright depressing (trigger!) and makes the temptation to escape into lust all the more appealing. You were created for meaningful relationship…with real people. Go cultivate them.
  • Replace, refuel, renew. We can’t just stop thinking on the wrong things. We have to replace them with the right things. God’s Word cuts through lies, delivers from temptation, and satisfies the soul. So keep it in front you. Write Scripture on note cards and tape them to your bathroom mirror, car dashboard and computer. Carry them in your purse. Refuel your mind with Word: Psalm 84:11, 1 Peter 2:11, Romans 6:21, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 and Galatians 5:16-17 are some great ones to start with. Don’t forget that it’s a process. We have to constantly fill our minds with Scripture if we want them to be renewed.
  • Get connected. You don’t have to go on this journey alone. One of the biggest lies about lust is that you’re the only one struggling with it. Don’t let the fear of vulnerability keep you shackled to a defeated enemy. Perhaps you’re pursuing the temporary fill of lust to mask a deeper wound or outrun a plaguing pain. If you need someone to walk alongside you, find a biblical counselor ( is a great resource for this) and start the healing process.

You were made for so much more than the never-ending cycle of lust. You were made for the Lord Jesus. He will still satisfy your soul. He is the One you’re looking for.

By / Feb 13

In the early 2010s Unilever launched its “Dove Real Beauty” campaign. The effort included a video production entitled “Dove Real Beauty Sketches.” Forensic sketch artist Gil Zamora produced sketches of women whom he had never seen based solely upon their self-descriptions. He then drew sketches of the same women based upon descriptions provided by third parties. The self-descriptions were uniformly more negative and unattractive than the third-party descriptions. The closing line, “You are more beautiful than you think,” voices Dove’s concern: that upbringing, socialization, advertising, and other aspects of our society have rendered American women incapable of seeing the beauty that they possess. When it comes to beauty, something about us has gone wrong.

In the same period of time, British author E. L. James published her soft-porn fiction bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. The book tells the tale of a rich, older man who woos a young, inexperienced woman into a relationship in which he dominates her and uses her for sex without obligating himself toward her at all. Original and imaginative, isn’t it?

Although E. L. James wasn’t trying to do so at all, she has made the same point that Dove made: When it comes to beauty, something about us has gone wrong. Upbringing, socialization, advertising, the Internet, and other aspects of our society have rendered an enormous number of Americans incapable of seeing the beauty in romantic love as God created it.

This is the true price of pornography. Yes, pornography normalizes the bizarre, but the flipside of the coin may be the darkest aspect of it at all: It bizarrifies the normal. If one were to create a pornographic website that featured average couples who had been married twenty years or more engaging in sex as the average married couple experiences it, who would watch it? And yet study after study has shown that the greatest satisfaction in romance comes to people in just that kind of a relationship. There is beauty there; our culture just doesn’t condition us to see it. What would we see if married men and women described their marriages to a sketch artist? What would we see if their friends described their marriages? When it comes to beauty, something about us has gone wrong.

This weekend the book Fifty Shades of Grey comes to movie theaters in its film adaptation. A lot of my pastor-friends are reminding people that the film is inappropriate for Christians to watch. I don’t disagree, but as true as that is, I’m not sure it addresses the root problem. What’s more, as we warn people that the film is inappropriate, a large percentage of our population (and a larger percentage of our congregations than we’d like to admit) reply with a single word that captures the zeitgeist more succinctly than I ever could: “Whatever!”

Drawing lines seems such a bother. We don’t like to be inhibited. Moral rules seem like a set of shackles. Whose business is it which movies I watch?

Are you open to seeing this in another way? Each time you choose to read a book, choose to watch a film, or choose to DVR a television show, you are revealing something about what you find to be beautiful. Rather than imposing a set of shackles, God is trying to free you to crawl out of the muck and mire and to learn beauty.

Line-drawing exercises exist not to restrict you, but to inspect you. The biblical word for “temptation” is also sometimes translated “test.” Yes, tests are hard work, but without them you never have any good measure of how much you are learning. Yes, a medical test can be expensive, but how else will you know whether you have the flu? In the same way, our modern world of media choices, with all of the temptation that it brings, gives you a constant measure of whether your sense of beauty is healthy, allowing you both to diagnose yourself and to keep up with your progress.

When you are tempted to watch an inappropriate movie, instead of saying, “Whatever!” why not give yourself a different “whatever”: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8, ESV). These things are beautiful! What is wrong with us that they do not appeal to us as they should? Why does bondage and exploitation appeal to you? Why do you prefer stories in which people are destroyed over stories in which people are reconciled? What do your media choices reveal about what you find beautiful?

Aesthetics (the study of beauty) lie at the heart of the human rebellion against God. God created a beautiful world with beautiful people in a beautiful garden. They enjoyed peace, productivity, and prosperity. Eventually, an advertiser was able to convince them that their paradise was too plain. He sold them a beautiful fantasy about how knowledge would make them like God. He successfully enticed them to exchange the truth of God for a lie and to exchange idyllic beauty for a curse. The German Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said it (forgive me) beautifully when he wrote, “Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.” In other words, when you lose sight of what is beautiful, you will inexorably also lose sight of what is true and what is good.

Paul’s prescription is Philippians 4:8 is to call us to seek beauty with our minds. It requires resolve and effort on your part. We all need to go to Beauty School. What makes a painting beautiful? What makes a book delightful? What makes a film worth watching? What makes a person attractive? What makes sex healthy? Just as the women in the Dove Real Beauty Sketches needed to be trained to see the beauty in themselves, we need to be trained to see the beauty in truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, excellence, and praiseworthiness. Doing so will, by the way, help you to see beauty in what Christ is making of you, as well.