The words sexual integrity are something you’ll often hear when discussing topics such as porn, masturbation, and other unwanted sexual behaviors. And to be honest, I prefer using that phrase as opposed to the term “purity” because it is so much more than the end result that matters.

As I said in my book When Shame Gets Real

“The word ‘purity’ is not a dirty word. God calls his people to be ‘pure,’ but reducing the meaning of the word ‘purity’ to a checklist of dos and don’ts misses the bigger picture. And when applying this type of behavior-focused thinking to the concept of ‘sexual purity’ it can prove to be unhelpful and extremely shame inducing.

Regardless of the original intent, culture’s hijacking of the term purity has led many to believe that the path to righteous sexuality lies in the choices we make and the ability to say ‘no.’ As a result, the purity litmus test often comes down to how we answer questions such as:

      • Do I look at porn?
      • Do I have sex outside of marriage?
      • Do I masturbate?
      • Do I lust after or get sexually aroused by other individuals?

[The truth is], while looking at porn, masturbation, and sexual promiscuity are not traits that reflect sexual integrity, the absence of these behaviors does not automatically equate to having sexual integrity either. Sexual integrity is a much broader and deeper term.

Sexual integrity doesn’t just focus on behavior. It also factors in things like intention, motive, consistency, and more. It not only considers our choices, but the heart with which we make those choices.”

For the most part, however, when we say sexual integrity, we are talking about the merit of our decisions based on our expressed values and beliefs. Therefore, when we choose to act against our values, it is seen as an intentional choice to violate our “integrity.” 

But what if there is more to it? 

What if a lack of integrity is more about the state of our mental health than our “evil” choice to go against God and/or our convictions?

Hear me out.

If you look up the definition of the word integrity you’ll see this one, “The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” 

This is the definition we often have in mind when talking about sexual integrity. 

Yet, there is another definition offered for integrity. That being, “The state of being whole and undivided.”  And this definition is closer to the original latin word integer it was derived from, meaning whole or complete.

Consequently, I believe that when it comes to our unwanted sexual decisions, most of the time, our choices are more a product of not being “whole” than not being “moral.” Not to say that you or anyone else should let themselves off the hook for those decisions, but this viewpoint is more in line with my own experiences and the conversations I’ve had with men who struggle.

  • Why do men and women who struggle with sexual addiction often talk about not feeling in control when they act out?
  • Why do these individuals feel excessive shame and guilt because they keep going against the beliefs and values they hold sacred?
  • Why can these same people sometimes make the “right” decision with how they manage their finances or run their business but not with their sexual lives and/or romantic relationships?

Because if it’s just a lack of moral uprightness the answer to these questions is very evident. However, if it’s the byproduct of a divided mind, then the confusion and frustration these men and women experience makes perfect sense.

Understand that the human brain is a collection of parts that ideally work together as one synchronized unit. The key word there being “ideally.” But what happens due to past pain, trauma, and neglect our brains can gradually become undivided. In other words, our parts stop working together and at times even work against each other.

So when we face emotional challenges or threats, the primitive part of our brain tries to control the situation by any means necessary while the other part tries to reconcile our emotions and decisions with the value systems we have in place. And when the brain is unhealthy and divided, most of the time the more primitive side will win that battle, leaving you with that feeling of being out of control.

When we approach sexual integrity with this understanding, we get these benefits:

1. We afford ourselves more grace because while mental health certainly needs to be addressed, it is not something that we can simply fix with the flip of a switch.

2. We can make sense of our confusion and the choices we make that seem to fly in the face of what we want and aspire to be.

3. We can seek real help and emotional healing rather than wasting our efforts on hopelessly wishing for increased moral fiber. 

4. We can own our decisions and commit to seeking change with integrity, understanding that integration is an ideal we need to work towards.

Again, talking about sexual integrity in this manner may be new to you. It may seem uncomfortable or bizarre. But doing so does not minimize or excuse our behaviors and choices.  It just helps us make sense of them, so we can then move towards resolve, freedom, and improved mental health.

By the way, this month we are focusing our content and discussions in the Live Free Community around this topic. If you are looking for support and would like to dive deeper into this conversation, join our community today and take a meaningful step in your recovery.