Elephants in the Room Part 3 - Addressing Broken Sexual Behavior with Jay Stringer - Jen Hatmaker

Elephants in the Room Part 3 – Addressing Broken Sexual Behavior with Jay Stringer

Episode 03

We’re back with another elephant in the room–one that likely has affected us all at one time or another either personally or within our circle of friends, family, associates. Society’s struggle with sexual brokenness–whether that’s pornagraphy use, paying for sex, or engaging in infidelity–is a real issue, and it impacts us in many ways, sometimes to the point of being devastating. But it’s time to bring this problem out of the dark and begin to look at the roots of where sexual brokenness begins. Our guest this week has made finding a way to wholeness in the aftermath of sexual brokenness his life’s work. Jay Stringer is a therapist, author and speaker who has done countless hours of research with over 3800 people to offer practical guidance rooted in clicnal evidence that is helping people discover their way to sexual wholeness. If you grew up in a conservative environment, you might remember being a part of the purity culture movement—a set of beliefs that Jay believes instills an unhealthy fear of sexuality among its followers. Jay and Jen discuss the harms there, and how this movement is still negatively impacting the sexual lives of the adults who were taught this set of beliefs in their teenage years. They also discuss a way forward from the tangle of shame sexual brokenness leaves in its wake and how there can be forgiveness and understanding for those who have engaged in it or have been hurt deeply by it.  Jay believes that when we pay attention to our unwanted sexual desires and identify the unique reasons that drive them, the road to healing is revealed. This conversation helps us see light at the end of this brokenness, and those who are willing to unpack their stories can live a new story, one filled with hope and a future. 

Episode Transcript

Hey everybody, Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love podcast. Welcome to the show you guys. I hope that you’ve been enjoying our Elephant in the Room series because it has been quite a ride. We knew as a team going into it that we wanted to knock out some hard topics that we struggled to wrap meaningful conversation around, things that we struggle to face, to admit, to discuss, to examine.

So when we started putting the series together and talking about what those things are, this topic today, fell right squarely in the center of it. So I’ll start by sharing maybe just a little bit of my experience growing up in a conservative, traditional environment and what was taught to me about sex. Basically, I mean, if I’m going to just sum it up here, on one hand, sex was good and holy and lovely. We were also told that outside marriage, in any iteration, even just located in desire, it was heinous. And of course, mind you, all this teaching came at us while we were at the peak of the hormonal swirl of adolescents, where sex was all we could think about, right? Where sexual images are coming at us from all sides.

Not only were we told that we need to be in utter sexual lockdown, but even our thoughts about it was bad. I mean, message received. The amount of instruction I got on sexual thoughts and how desire felt in my body, I mean, I got it: dirty, disobedient, bad, perverted. I got the message, right? We all did. That’s where the purity movement came in, all the purity rings, the true love waits campaigns. If you’re one of my fellow evangelically raised brothers or sisters, you might remember all the literature and the content and material around this, the programs at our church. 

The absolute proliferation of super young marriages in the church, getting married at 18, 19, 20, is a great idea. It is if you’re young and you’re told you can’t have sex until you do, so your frontal cortex isn’t even knit together by the time you’re 21, but you know what? Go ahead and get married and have babies because having sex before marriage is worse than that, right? Make these consequential decisions in your life at that age as a way to at least in part, invite sex into your life in a way that is not mired in shame, and then build a life on that.

We weren’t encouraged to talk about sex much, at least in my world. I know some of you have exceptions. This was not a taboo subject and you were raised in that way. But for me, in my world, we did not talk about sex except in the context of how to avoid it. That was it. Because also in purity culture, was the idea that everybody’s purity was the responsibility of the girls, right? That it was the girl’s fault that the boys were having feelings in their loins. And in fact, the feelings that they were having are perfectly normal, absolutely good, developmentally appropriate as were any feelings of desires that us girls had. But because it was so wrapped in shame and “thou shalt nots,” a lot of the responsibility was laid at the feet of girls.

It’s a lot to unravel, it’s a lot to walk back, and it’s a lot to relearn. And so many of us moved into adulthood out of that context and then wondered why sex always felt broken or why there was still shame wrapped around it. Even inside the holy grail of marriage, right? Even there, why were we still self-conscious? Or why were we still inhibited? Or why did we still feel bad or even obligated? Or, I think for a lot of listeners, why did it go absolutely dormant, right? Where did it go?

You’re going to hear some things today that maybe you’ve never heard, and the sense of liberation and permission it’s what I wish we had when we were all 14, honestly. So our guest is going to guide us and lead us toward hope here. So today I have on the show therapist and author and speaker Jay Stringer. So Jay has done some real groundbreaking research around what it is that leads people into sexual brokenness, going way back to the origin story of it all. So we’re going to get into some topics here that could be triggering for you.

We talk a little bit about what it means when you’ve suffered sexual abuse or exploitation at young ages and how confusing that was for our bodies, that we’re awakening on purpose and for a good reason, but then corrupted by addiction, by some somebody else’s unwanted sexual behavior, and then trying to figure out how to work that out in our brains. We’re going to get into some of that. You might’ve engaged in behaviors that stemmed from a broken place in your own life and now you see these sexual behaviors in your life that you’re like, “Who am I? Why does this have mastery over me? What is under this?” Having come from a religious camp myself, I mean, I can’t count the number of pastors who’ve gone down in flames over this, right?

Not many of us ask, “Oh, where did this begin?” I don’t mean like a year ago in his or her life I mean where did this begin in childhood? Where did this begin in somebody’s experience? How could this person maybe be helped instead of scorned? So Jay asked that question to a lot of the people that he talked to during his vast research. And he came away with some surprising, honest, sometimes heartbreaking, but I think ultimately hopeful answers. So all that in the context of these statistics that he unearthed: 3 to 5% of all Americans are addicted to sex.

And addicted is a weird word and it’s loaded. And so, let’s wrap that around the concept of engaging in unwanted sexual behavior, or compulsive behavior, or out of control sexual behavior. So that’s 9 to 16 million people. This is just Americans. By the time kids become teens and adults, 62% of them will have received at a sext, a sexually explicit image within texts, and 41% will have sent one. 64% of 13 to 24 year olds intentionally watch porn at least once a week. And porn sites actually receive more monthly traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. And these are hard things to hear, and it breaks my heart that an industry that has perpetuated so much harm has become legitimized to the extent that now we think it’s not a big deal. I feel like the pendulum has swung too hard and Jay and I talk about this today, that what maybe was locked down too tight around sexuality and coming of age, and desire, and arousal, has gone so far the other direction now that it let everything in, right?

So he’s going to walk us through all of this today. He’s done really good work here, you guys, that he builds connective tissue in here for us. He is kind, he is generous in his assumptions, he is hopeful for what you and I, even those among us who have had the most devastating sexual experiences, even there, there is hope. 

So I think this is a powerful conversation today. And so, just for you to know, Jay Stringer is a certified mental health counselor, a minister, an internationally acclaimed public speaker. He works with men and women to help them understand where their sexual pain and brokenness stems from, how it is impacting their current life, and how they can walk the road toward healing. His book is called Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing, and his research draws from more than 3,800 people and really offers us guidance to find our way to wholeness. It was powerful today you guys. This is a powerful conversation. Thank you for staying in it, even if it’s triggering to you. Wherever you are right now around this conversation, I think this episode is going to serve you well. I couldn’t possibly be more pleased to bring you this incredible conversation to confront yet another elephant in the room with Jay Stringer.



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