Cofounders Paul & Carol Cannon had strong roots in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They provided excellent insight into what many in the Church experience, and Carol wrote this article in September 2000 in regards to unhealthy guilt and sex addiction. 

Addicted to Sex

Have you ever been so intensely involved in a sexual relationship that you ignored other important responsibilities? Have sexual or romantic fantasies ever interfered with your family relationships? Do you look for sexually arousing articles or illustrations in newspapers, magazines, or other media? Have you indulged in sexual behavior that later frightened or embarrassed you? Do you keep secrets about your sexual activities or lead a double life? 

Steve could have answered Yes to all these questions. And because he was a well-respected family man, Steve lived in fear that someone would find out about his behavior and blow the whistle on him. Terrified that he would be abandoned, disowned, or excommunicated, he fought valiantly to manage his increasingly unmanageable sexual behavior— to no avail. He had no idea that he was a sex addict or that help was available. And even if he had known, he probably would have refused to seek professional help because he sincerely believed that he “should” be able to fix the problem himself, with God’s help. “Christians don’t have sexual problems.” 

Of course, we know better. And ignoring or sweeping sexual problems under the rug only enables them to grow worse. 

Research clearly indicates that there is a connection between religious repression and sexual obsession. This is not to suggest that religion causes inappropriate sexual behavior. Lonely, hurting people flee to religion because it holds out the promise of relief, and they bring all their assets and liabilities with them. The fact that struggling souls seek solace in the Christian community is good reason for churches and church leaders to gain both a scientific and a grace-based understanding of sexual addiction and compulsion. This will make them more competent to deal with problems in this area, and it will help them to be more capable of caring! 

Sexual addiction is not about relationships. It’s about non-relationships. Sex addicts do not have an emotional connection with themselves or with the objects of their gratification. They are obsessed with sex. They sexualize all perceptions and relationships. 

Dr. Patrick Carnes, well-known author and leader in the field of sexual addiction treatment, identifies four levels of addictive behavior based on the seriousness of the sexual acting out and its effect on others. (The term level does not imply an automatic progression from one level to the next. It simply refers to the seriousness of the behavior and its impact on others. Many sex addicts stay on one level.) 

Level One is obsession with repressing one’s own sexuality or the sexuality of others. It is characterized by frigidity, impotence, obsessive sexual purity, denied sexual obsession, sexual anorexia, and viewing others as sexual objects. Please note that this description alludes to obsession with repression—not with repression itself, which, from both a medical and moral standpoint, is necessary at times. 

Level Two is passive sexual behavior: excessive fantasizing and passive involvement with pornography and voyeurism. 

Level Three includes excessive masturbation, active voyeurism or exhibitionism, prostitution, telephone sex, Internet sex, and what one expert calls new age sexual freedom (indiscriminate “recreational” sex). 

Level Four is violent, criminal sexual behavior, including pedophilia (child molestation), prostitution rings, rape, incest, sadomasochism, etc. 

Many conservative Christians struggle with the first and second types of sexual addiction and experience tremendous guilt. The more conservative the religious beliefs of the addicts, the greater their guilt. Dr. Vernon Johnson, minister and pioneer in the field of alcoholism treatment, claims that unhealthy guilt is a major factor in perpetuating addictive behavior—part of a vicious cycle. In this sense, skewed religious beliefs may increase one’s tendency to sexual compulsivity.

Carol Cannon, Co-Founder of The Bridge to Recovery


• Originally published in Signs of the Times • September 2000