Handling the Pressures
of Being Single
We will uncover the following reasons for sexual torment:
Even for virgins who never marry, sexual desires are a blessing from God. (See Singles: Celebrate your sexuality for an explanation.) The fact remains, however, that while a person is celibate, sexual yearnings usually feel like a curse. In this webpage we will examine why sex is such a source of torment for single people and explore ways of reducing the frustration.
We will uncover the following reasons for sexual torment:
Children today mature sexually long before they gain the mental maturity for marriage. We will consider whether this source of sexual frustration is by divine design or a consequence of human tampering with divine perfection.
The book of Romans opens with the revelation that when people reject the Creator of sex they slip into the quicksand of sexual addiction and perversion. Letting go of God, their lifeline, they slowly drown in their own filth, while desperately trying to convince themselves that life couldn’t be better.
3. The scars of our own past moral lapses can significantly add to our discomfort
Since this source of torment is avoidable, we’ll spend most of our time on this point.
The next few paragraphs provide fascinating insights into sexual pressures we face everyday. Although highly illuminating, this section is brief because what we really yearn for is to actually reduce our suffering. So we will quickly move to practical, personal solutions.
As singles, we can be sorely tempted to resent the fact that God has gifted us with sexuality. As highlighted in Singles: Celebrate your sexuality, however, the more we can foster a grateful heart for our God-given sexuality, the more we are lining up with spiritual reality.
Our sexual torment is not because of the way God made us, but because we live in a world that is in rebellion against its Maker. Don’t blame God, for instance, that children mature sexually long before they are mentally ready for marriage. Studies indicate that children are reaching puberty at younger and younger ages, thus increasing the time over which they must cope with urges that cannot find legitimate expression until marriage. Some people are affected more than others.
Early sexual maturation is part of the vast discrepancy between the way things presently are and the way they would be if all humanity had done things God’s way. In some places, pollution has been found to be releasing sex hormones into drinking water. It is claimed that some plastics and methods of food production also have the potential to expose children to hormones that cause unnaturally early sexual development.
I doubt if anyone knows every factor involved in sexual development outpacing their mental development, but I am confident that each cause can be traced to humanity as a whole falling away from God into sin. Humanity is ceaselessly affecting creation with little or no consultation with the Creator. Most people impact each other and our world like a fifteen year-old attempting unauthorized, unsupervised brain surgery and then arrogantly assuming the resulting casualties are due to natural causes. None of us can point the finger: we each have acted this way far too often. And the cold reality is that sharing this planet means we must all live with the consequences of the foolishness of others.
Anthropologists reported on a tribe in West Papua in which, beyond the necessity of procreation, there seems astoundingly little interest in sex. We, in contrast, live in a self-indulgent society infatuated with sex. If this comparison is accurate, it raises the question as to why a pagan tribe could be more in control of its lusts than our society in which not even the threat of AIDS restrains people’s suicidal commitment to depravity. The first chapter of Romans emphasizes that bondage to sexual depravity falls on people who have deliberately rejected what they knew to be true about God. One would expect our ‘post-Christian’ society to be in a greater mess than some pagan societies, because it has rejected a greater revelation of God. Historically, our society was once without the light of the gospel and now it has deliberately plunged back into the darkness it had been delivered from, acting like an immaculately scrubbed-up pig plunging back into filth. Scripture warns that people acting this way end up worse than before they were cleaned (2 Peter 2:19-22). Ezekiel highlights another factor in sexual degradation when he lists the sins of Sodom as being “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the needy . . .” (Ezekiel 16:49). As a society we, like Sodom, have abused our God-given affluence, turning it into an opportunity for arrogance, laziness and self-indulgent pleasure-seeking, which in turn has led to shameful sexual excesses. Even the mere act of working hard and keeping busy usually makes a person less vulnerable to sexual shame.
Like Lot living in Sodom, who “day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard,” (2 Peter 2:6-9) we find ourselves living and suffering in a godless, sex-crazed society.
We have the misfortune to live in the crossfire of commercial forces vieing with each other in trying to make a quick buck out of exploiting sex and inflaming sexual drives. Some of our sexual torture is due to such influences being forced upon us in a manner very akin to rape. Other pressures, however, result from us having surrendered to temptation in the past, such as deliberately satisfying our visual curiosity, rather than looking away, or exposing ourselves to ‘entertainment’ we knew full well was questionable. Those lingering memories can torment us for years afterward, and for these we have no one to blame but ourselves.
I have no desire to burden the single person with rules, restrictions or guilt trips. My longing is to increase our joy and liberty by exposing traps so cleverly disguised that many of us don’t even realize that much of our torment is avoidable. It’s pitiful seeing singles thrashing around in agony, caught in the jaws of one of these traps.
High on the list of practices that dangerously inflame lust and sexual frustration, are daydreaming, romantic fiction, porn (no matter how soft) and masturbation. The peculiar thing is that each of these brings temporary relief. They are typically seized by singles because they seem to help, but these practices are like drugs that initially make us feel better and yet end up compounding our misery. The obvious high that these practices provide so grabs our attention that we rarely realize that they actually produce the downer that follows, making us crave like a junkie the next artificial high.
Like treacherous enemies that make a big show of being a friend, these practices bring quick cheer, then undermine us behind our backs by magnifying the gnawing ache within. Fantasy, romantic fiction, porn and masturbation seem to fill the hole inside us but they are only froth that soon dissolves and then eats into us, enlarging the hole we thought they were filling.
Victims of these practices have been as cruelly tricked as people frantically trying to put out a fire than threatens to engulf them, using sabotaged extinguishers filled with inflammable fluids. We imagine these booby traps help us cope and yet they are sometimes the very means prescribed by sex therapists for intensifying one’s longing for sex. Despite the illusion, anything increasing our desires ultimately increases the pain of being single. We will discover, however, that the dangers extend far beyond this.
Soft porn seems like something just to tide a man over until he gets a real woman, but it actually ends up creating an insatiable craving for an endless array of artificial, touched-up images such that no human can ever satisfy the addict. When porn’s slimy tentacles begin to invade our brain, men are usually unaware that their longing for a real woman is being insidiously replaced by a dehumanizing bondage to artificial images. Porn reduces its victims to junkies addicted not only to perpetual youth but to endless variety and to airbrushed fantasies. Their lust for the unnatural grows to the point where even the sexiest woman alive could not quell their craving for longer than perhaps a few days. What seems a harmless pastime ends up being very damaging to long-term relationships. Even in those marriages not utterly destroyed by such things as leering, porn and live sex shows, it seems inevitable that such indulgence will at least detract from even the best relationship, such as lowering a man’s appreciation and enjoyment of his wife’s body. I frequently have married men writing to me lamenting the detrimental effect their addiction to porn and masturbation has had on their marriage. For a very helpful webseries about this, see Could porn ruin your sexual response?
Although it is not impossible for a woman to fall into the porn trap, the deception most likely to destroy a woman’s ability to have good relationships is romantic fiction. Just as no real woman can compete with the synthetic images of porn, no real man can compete with the fictional men typically portrayed in novels, movies and soapies. And no matter how good the marriage, the exhilaration of romantic love fades, just as surely and even quicker than the certainty that a woman’s beauty will eventually fade. Even research into human chemistry affirms this as a fact of life. Any woman repeatedly feeding a longing for the short-lived thrill of romantic ecstasy is setting herself up for heart-breaking disappointment. Moreover, if she assumes it’s her man, rather than her fantasy, that is at fault, she could end up staggering from relationship to relationship, wreaking havoc wherever she goes.
Does this seem cynical and pessimistic? The romantic illusion is powerful and there isn't space here to provide the supporting evidence to assist people under its spell, so I urge anyone with doubts to read the following two webpages:
People who surrender to porn or romantic fiction tease themselves like tortured people drinking more and more thirst-inducing salty water in a desperate attempt to quench an ever-increasing thirst. Moreover, they ruin their taste for normal sustenance.
It’s not just things of questionable morals that can make life harder for us singles. What seems particularly harmless is daydreaming about innocent things such as a romantic dinner with an unmarried person you are not dating, or at last meeting that perfect partner. Regrettably, even these daydreams have the potential to intensify our frustration. It seems that the more time we spend thinking positively about anything, the more we end up longing for it. And if what we long for is beyond our grasp, what starts as a comforting fantasy ends up tormenting us. Daydreams inevitably turn up the heat on passions that are already too hot to handle. Despite the temporary relief it brings, the more we fantasize, the more we burn with unfulfilled cravings.
Until my early twenties I had let my view of the joys of marriage build up to completely unrealistic levels. Marriage was going to solve all my problems and keep me on cloud nine for the rest of my life. Reality can be enticing enough without being tricked and tantalized by unreality.
Who regularly daydreams of meeting a tall dark stranger with pimples and bad breath, or of marrying a woman whose sunshine turns to PMS storm clouds every month? It’s hard enough missing out on a real person, but we unconsciously touch up the object of our fantasies, making him/her even more enticing than a real person. Even when wishing we were back in a past relationship we usually distort reality, highlighting the positives and forgetting the negatives.
We can calm the agitated beast by feeding it, but as we do, it grows. Even time spent wishing things were different slowly feeds the monster that will later turn and attack us.
Not even God can find us a human to match our fantasies. There is not a person on the planet who does not have physical and personality flaws we have edited out of our daydreams – even if we have based our daydreams on someone we know. Fantasies are like termites undermining the soundness of any future relationship we may have. And, as if it is not difficult enough to go through life without a normal, flawed human, how will we cope deprived of the unattainable relationship our fantasies create a craving for?
We are each unique. My experience must differ from yours, and yet I hesitantly share a little in the faint hope that you might glimpse something in my struggles that helps you feel a little less alone in your trial. Or maybe my prolonged groping for answers has uncovered something that could fast track your own journey to peace. I stress, however, that Jesus is your Lord. He alone has the wisdom and the right to tell you what to do. Seek him as to whether, and how, you should apply any of this webpage to your life.
I could save face by not confessing what I am about to share, but I am determined to offer you every bit of support I can. My life is no fairy tale and neither is yours. The Lord could have given me a struggle-free existence but how would that help you? To be truly Christlike is to gladly suffer so that others might be spared suffering. After all, that is exactly what Christ’s sacrifice is all about. For many obvious reasons, my suffering is not worthy of comparison to that of my Lord, not least of which is that much of my suffering is the result of my own foolishness. However, if any of it was beyond my control and through it you can be helped, then such suffering is not a waste but is highly meaningful and worthwhile.
I was perhaps four years old when I first discovered masturbation. I became a hopeless addict, later being unable to get through a day without indulging myself. Twice a day was the usual minimum. My desperate attempts at self-control were dismal failures until at age 21 I quickly and fairly easily broke free. The key was a year-long mission trip to an overseas country. I saw absolutely no television there. In that era television was far more innocent than today. Even so, being without its influence was like slamming the door in the devil’s face. It almost seems that no matter what the basic storyline, script writers will try to squeeze in sensuality and/or romance. And the cast is chosen with the hope that viewers will lust after at least some of them. Even before my dramatic lifestyle change, I rarely listened to popular music. If I had, however, I would have benefited from being weaned off it because, like television and movies, sex and romance tend to dominate the lyrics of secular songs. The entertainment industry has found a formula that makes money and they are too greedy to risk omitting these elements.
Another significant factor was that at home, upon waking, I would usually lay in bed trying to sleep but my mind would inevitably wander and I’d start daydreaming. In my case the danger was magnified because I had first discovered masturbation when in bed and it had remained the most common place where I indulged myself. While overseas, however, I usually got up straight away.
A lesser factor was that women dressed less sensuously in that country and I found the women less sexy anyhow.
I’m thrilled about the effects these life-style changes had on me. Of course, few people are able to escape to another country but it could be that many of us would find life easier if we refused even fairly innocent secular entertainment, changed our lifestyle to minimize daydreaming, avoided places, such as popular beaches, where we are likely to see inadequately covered bodies, and if we controlled our eyes at other times. Acting like this can cost emotionally, but the price of not doing it can be much higher.
I have no desire to crowd your life with needless restrictions. If, for example, you can subject yourself to the entertainment industry’s brainwashing without it making life harder for you or detracting from your intimacy with God, I am amazed, but you are free to indulge, provided you do not drag others down. You would need to be certain, however, that your indulgence is not like a slow-releasing poison, weakening you more than you realize.
I’m simply trying to alert you to things that might possibly be increasing your frustration levels. Check it out with God, but it seems to me that avoiding these enticing illusions makes life so much easier and more fulfilling that it is well worth the initial battle of weaning oneself from the deceptive comfort these practices offer. The satisfaction of bringing our body and emotions into submission and finally breaking free from slavish dependency on artificial highs and questionable habits is a thrilling experience. Moreover, choosing not to indulge in these practices has the happy side effect of enhancing the single person’s ability to have a successful marriage.
Although I am not trying to lay down moral laws, they sometimes seem to me as certain as physical laws, rather like the law of gravity which says if you step off the roof of a two storey building you will fall and it is likely to hurt. Holiness depends on Jesus, however, not laws. For purity and wisdom we must cling to him.
It will usually take some time after being freed from sensual addictions before we feel the full benefit. Not even then will life be a feather mattress. On the contrary, life’s unavoidable burdens are too heavy for us to let ourselves be bowed down by the weight of avoidable burdens.
I continued with my life-style changes upon returning from overseas. My sex drive was much more controllable but still strong. My most vulnerable times were Saturday mornings, the one occasion each week when I would stay in bed longer, hoping to catch up on some desperately needed sleep lost through having to get up early on the other days. Over time, the link between masturbation and being in bed weakened and attempts to catch up on sleep became less of a problem.
After a couple of years I felt challenged of God to make a special commitment that made marriage seem out of the question. Believing I would never in my life have marital relations made my aching for sex seem a bigger frustration than ever. I resented my sex drive as a useless source of torment. It was not until relatively recently that I finally realized the value of having to daily wrestle with temptation. Such spiritual battles make us stronger, more Christlike, and more able to stand in the day of severe testing.
As is typical of young people, saving myself for marriage had been a large part of my motivation for going beyond the bare minimum in trying to maintain the highest level of purity and innocence. The inadequacy of this motivation was exposed when I began to despair of ever marrying. I found myself floundering, not in the area of obvious sin – which I continued to avoid like a ticking bomb – but I was in danger of moving too close to the edge with the attitude that since there is nothing to hold off for, I might as well try to satisfy my curiosity and longings as much as I legitimately could. People can be similarly vulnerable if they find themselves single again or through some slip or tragedy are deceived into thinking they have little innocence worth preserving. I’ve been shocked to hear what some people have done who still call themselves virgins. Nevertheless, by Jesus’ standards everyone has failed to remain pure. Who has never lusted? When we consider our thought life, outside of Christ, none of us are virgins. In Christ, however, we have such purity that all of us all virgins. I’ve lusted more times than I can count. Being human means we could always have done better, but being Christian means we can do better today.
Rather than merely wanting to save ourselves for a partner, a longing to honor and delight the Lord is without question the higher and more dependable motivation. “So . . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” says 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Instead of having this attitude, I slightly relaxed my standards as to what I let myself think and see and do. By not being so brutally rigid, I let my degree of sexual interest return to perhaps an average of ten percent of what it had been prior to my missionary service. I was fairly pleased with that, but I now realize that even at that low level I was making life much harder for myself than necessary. Occasionally, I let myself slip even further. I was terrified of returning to my further bondage but although there were rare occasions when I certainly deserved that fate, that Lord graciously kept me from it. Except for times of special grace, I had so starved the beast that it was too weak to get a stranglehold on me. Nevertheless, I foolishly fed it enough to keep it alive. It had just enough strength to torment me. My situation was quite like that of the Israelites who destroyed most of the enemy but left enough alive to give them trouble. Because of the Israelite’s compromise, the Lord left the enemy there to teach his people warfare. Likewise, the Lord taught me spiritual warfare. (Scriptures)
To my annoyance, my pleas to God for a lowered sex drive seemed to be sucked into heaven’s black hole. I now believe that my feeding the beast the occasional crumb was a factor. Nevertheless, after very many seemingly endless years, my demanding libido slowly calmed. To my great surprise, this proved not to be the paradise I had been expecting. Not only did God’s slowness in answering my prayers for a lowered libido no longer seem cruel, I lamented ever praying that way, fearing that it was those prayers that had ushered me into my new torture chamber. My lowered sex drive left me feeling half dead. Moreover, it produced a whole new set of temptations that I was unprepared for.
I had become accustomed to using my rapid sexual response to a compromising situation as an alarm to alert me to the need to back off. This loss of my early warning system initially made me slow to take evasive maneuvers. I was more vulnerable until I eventually learned to take avoidance action before the alarm went off.
I used to worry that if I married, my wife’s sexual needs would be less than mine and that even in marriage I would be sexually frustrated. (Of course, I didn’t marry, but why let reality get in the way of a good worry?) Now the opposite worry took over. What if I could not satisfy a normal wife? I found myself regularly depressed over this possibility and was frequently tempted to stir up my dwindling desires to try to reassure myself that I still might have what it takes if ever the Lord were to open the door to marriage. I worried that through lack of use I was declining sexually far more rapidly than other men my age. At times I found myself tempted to have my last (and first!) fling. On other occasions I was tempted to seek little sexual feelings – perhaps by a fantasy or by looking the wrong way at a woman – to counteract my feeling of deadness. I was tempted to act like someone trying to grow potatoes who digs them up every couple of days to make sure everything is okay.
Whereas when I was younger the future haunted me – how could I survive year after year unmarried – now the past began to mock me, taunting me that what I had missed out on was now a permanent loss. It took me years to finally stop fretting and arrive at a couldn’t-care-less attitude to my libido. It is in God’s hands and that’s all that matters. In biblical terminology, I died to this concern. It had been a ridiculously prolonged and agonizing death, however, because in my foolishness I desperately wanted to keep my libido alive. Nevertheless, even I sometimes learn. I eventually let go and found peace.
Looking back, I think feeling half dead was partly due to depression caused by worrying about what was happening to me, and partly because I had become hooked on my libido reminding me of its presence throughout the day. When I finally took my finger off the panic button, I accepted the new me and the feeling of being fully alive returned.
My father, who was normally quite positive, one day blurted out at the dinner table, “Life isn't worth living!” I couldn't help laughing because all he was referring to was the fact that he had to cut down on sugar for medical reasons. Anyone who has had to reduce sugar intake knows that at first it can seem a great loss but our taste buds adjust until we are barely aware of our dietary change. This is rather like the adjustment I was making. And, once for about three weeks, I thought the Lord might be giving me a very special woman. It proved a false alarm but I was astounded at how my libido shot through the roof over that time.
I still ached to be hugged but although this was most unpleasant, the unexpected consequences of losing much of my sexual response made me too wary to risk praying for the removal of my need for touch. As it happened, the craving to be hugged gradually fell away anyhow. I’m not exactly sure why this torment eased, but the Lord’s grace no doubt predominates in the reasons, with probably a lesser factor being my doing even more to control my daydreaming and fretting.
I am still daily reminded of why celibate is not spelled celebrate. Being content still seems a distant dream, but it definitely more within reach than ever before.