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If you’ve grown up in the church or been exposed to church culture for any period of time, one concept you’ve undoubtedly heard when talking about matters of sexual integrity or purity is this idea of a “battle.”
To be more specific… You’ve probably heard the phrase, “every man’s battle” borrowed from the book written by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker titled “Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time.”
With over 1 million copies sold worldwide, it is the most well-known publication dealing with matters of lust and porn in the evangelical church today and so, consequently, many of its concepts and teachings have become deeply engrained in the church’s discussions surrounding the topics of sex, sexuality, and lust.
But is this a good thing?
To be honest, I’ve made it no secret that I am not a fan of this book in any way. In fact, I would say Every Man’s Battle is a prime example of what I was talking about in my post a few weeks ago when I said,
“[The problem with being silent on the topic of sex] is we open up a void in teaching that then can be filled by those who communicate a message that’s ineffective at best, and damaging at worst.”
Why do I say this?
Well, today I’m not going to jump into all the issues I find with Arterburn and Stoeker’s teachings because that would be a very long post, but I do want to focus on one primary theme that I believe is central to the problematic nature of this book’s message, and it can be found right in the title.
Every Man’s Battle.
Here’s a simple and dumbed down summary of the book’s thesis statement…
All men lust and that falls short of God’s standard (i.e. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity – Ephesians 5:3) so we need to create coping tactics to avoid the trap of perversion that all men will inevitably fall into if left to their own devices.
Super encouraging. Kind of a buzzkill, you might say. 🙁 🙄
But playing devil’s advocate here… Just because something isn’t encouraging doesn’t make it less true, right?
But let’s look at the message this sends.
First, lust is not just a man’s issue. Not even close. In fact, I can’t tell you how much this type of dialogue has hurt and shamed women who also struggle with unwanted sexual behavior because it doubles down on the condemnation of their choices.
See this view says, as a man, it’s part of our DNA. We are all just hopeless would-be perverts that need help. But as a woman, it’s way worse because not only are you perverse, you are succumbing to an issue that’s just inherent to the opposite sex. We get these comments all the time from women seeking help and answers.
But more importantly, Every Man’s Battle presupposes that a man’s decision to lust is a foregone assumption. To put it another way, unless you use certain behavior modification tactics, you will just do it.
That’s not really accurate, or is it?
Yes, it can feel that way for a guy – especially if he struggles with porn and masturbation. But the truth is lust is just an option we can all choose to pursue or not.
It’s not a battle.
It’s a decision.
And like all other decisions we make on a daily basis, some make the wrong ones and some don’t.
Contrary to popular belief, all men do not struggle or “battle” with lust on a daily basis. In fact, my friend and author Sheila Wray Gregoire surveyed 3,000 men and asked, “Do you have a daily struggle with lust?”
Admittedly, 75.5% of respondents answered “yes’ which is high (but well short of “all”). However, as she noted in this article, when they dug in further, they found that most men were classifying their noticing of an attractive woman as “lusting” when in fact, they were just recognizing that they saw someone they found visually appealing. Consequently, this little caveat severely skews the numbers of men who are actually truly “lusting” on a daily basis.
Because looking is not lusting folks. That’s just the truth.
But why does it matter? 100%, 75%, or 15%…. What’s the difference? If guys (and girls) struggle with lust, then why not paint it as a battle that we need to win?
There are three main reasons I believe this type of language and messaging are extremely unhelpful and even harmful, especially to those who find themselves on the recovery journey.
First, the very idea of being in a daily battle is discouraging to say the least.
In fact, it’s extremely defeating and offers little hope for something better. Honestly, if over 10 years ago the best I could have hoped for was a daily battle and some eye distracting tactics I could use to avoid the pitfalls of lust and fantasy, I’m not sure if I would be here today as a man free of his unwanted sexual prison.
Listen, freedom doesn’t mean you won’t ever have to make a tough decision. It also doesn’t mean that the option to go down the wrong path will eventually go away.
That’s not reality.
That’s not life.
But seeing yourself as someone who is stuck in a perpetual battle for his sexual integrity does not scream freedom. And it really doesn’t seem consistent with Jesus’s assurance of rest (Matthew 11:29).
Rather, our decision to lust is a choice. That’s all. And we are presented with that choice any time we see someone who we find attractive and/or notice. The fact that option is always present does not constitute a battle.
I have the option to lie every single day, especially when faced with conversations that may get uncomfortable if I tell the truth. The simple fact that lying is always an option at my disposal does not then mean I am in a “battle” for my honesty. It just means I need to choose to be honest whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Ladies and Gents, lust is something anyone can choose to do or not. It’s not just a struggle for men; and it’s certainly not a battle you can’t win without some behavior modification hacks.
It’s a choice.
It’s a decision.
And it’s entirely within your control to choose for the better or for the worse. A battle gives you no options other than to fight.
Second, because this book is written to specifically address the area of lust and answers those concerns with hacks like “bouncing your eyes,” it tends to distract the reader from the deeper and more impactful issue.
Mainly, is the problem where I cast my stare, or what I choose to do afterwards?
I’ve written about this before here and in my book, but the problem with lusting is that when we do, we treat people as objects to be used and consumed for the purposes of our pleasure.
This is a problem we all face. Sexually speaking or not.
When we view human beings as an asset or commodity to be used for our getting ahead (or in this case, gratification), we objectify them and reduce them to something other than what God created them to be.
Again, this is a choice we all have to make on a daily basis.
Do we love and serve people? Or do we use them?
Do we choose to honor and uphold people? Or do we exploit and take advantage of them?
The notion that every man has no option but to “consume” a woman for his sexual pleasure and therefore must flee temptation whenever he is in the presence of an attractive woman devalues the real issue, and it also robs men of any agency or authority when it comes to their ability to choose better.
Not to mention, it’s still objectification, because even though you may not be looking at a woman as an object for sexual gratification, you are now viewing her as an object of sexual temptation.
Lastly, when you buy into this idea that every man by his very nature is up against a hopeless battle with lust, one that can only be won by avoidance and retreat, you buy into a very low view of men as a whole.
This type of assertion stirs up more shame for guys in particular. After all, what is a guy to think of himself if his gender is genetically predisposed to lustful consumption? Culture already communicates the message that all men are “dogs” and only out for sex. This book shows that some in the Christian community agree with that conclusion.
Look, maybe this book helped you. Maybe it was the only thing you’ve read on this topic and has enabled you to go to the beach or gym without feeling like a lecherous perv because you now have an assortment of tactics in your back pocket to help you avoid falling for the lustful gaze.
But I would encourage you to open up your mind and vision, and see that we as men (and women) can live in a way that celebrates our agency and values, rather than simply settling to mitigate unsolved or unaddressed heart matters through avoidance strategies and the like.
And if you are a man who needs help making better decisions when it comes to your sexual behaviors and feels overwhelmed at the prospect, check out the Live Free Community, a private community for men seeking freedom from porn and lust.