Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing

Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing

by Jay Stringer

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Outreach magazine 2018 Resource of the Year—Counseling & Relationships!
Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing is a ground-breaking resource that explores the “why” behind self-destructive sexual choices. The book is based on research from over 3,800 men and women seeking freedom from unwanted sexual behavior, be that the use of pornography, an affair, or buying sex.

Jay Stringer’s (M.Div, MA, LMHC) original research found that unwanted sexual behavior can be both shaped by and predicted based on the parts of our story—past and present—that remain unaddressed. When we pay attention to our unwanted sexual desires and identify the unique reasons that trigger them, the path of healing is revealed.

Although many of us feel ashamed and unwanted after years of sexual brokenness, the book invites the reader to see that behavior as the very location God can most powerfully work in their lives. Counselors, pastors, and accountability partners of those who experience sexual shame will also find in this book the deep spiritual and psychological guidance they need to effectively minister to the sexually broken around them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631466748
Publisher: The Navigators
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 152,255
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Jay Stringer is a licensed mental-health counselor and ordained minister. He Lives in Seattle, WA, with his wife and two children.

Read an Excerpt



Have you ever wondered why God made us so sexual, especially when it often seems to plague us with shame? I've wondered the same thing. What I am struck by is the reality that sex was God's idea. And I have to believe that because he invented it, he knows the power it will render in our lives.

Let's think about that: God is the designer of erotic pleasure. The clitoris, for example, is the only organ in the human body that serves no other function except for providing an avenue to sexual pleasure. God's mind, like ours, is sexual. We are made in his image and therefore don't need to feel ashamed that we are sexual beings.

Contrary to what we often conclude at the height of our sexual brokenness, our sexuality is not an impediment to knowing God. Sex shows us just how much he is committed to giving us beauty and pleasure. Sex, if we allow it, will awaken us to the deepest reservoirs in our souls for pleasure and connection. There will be times we experience the madness of our sexual desire, but there are also times when we allow the passion of sex to lead us to imagination of how God desires us to pursue all aspects of our lives. Sex is one of the most important means through which we will discover the heart of God.

Rather than fearing we're too sexual, we should be more concerned that we have not yet become sexual enough. When I spend time with people experiencing lifelong struggles with unwanted sexual behavior, especially pornography, I'm always struck by how little they enjoy sex. God gave us the most remarkable minds and bodies, specially designed to experience the fullness of fantasy and pleasure. If we move out from our hovels of sexual shame and meaningless hookups, there is so much more awaiting us as children of God.

Central to Christian theology is that men and women are sexual beings who are made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says, "God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them" (NLT). Bearing God's image is the essential feature of our identity. No affair, no addiction, and no sexual shame can destroy it.

The concept of an image bearer has been used throughout various empires around the world. Typically, leaders or dictators would construct statues or manufacture coins that bore their images to remind their people about whom they served. Israel's God, however, is not satisfied with stone statues and manufactured coins; he has something much more beautiful in mind. God creates men and women to reveal his glory — to show the whole world what he is all about.

We see the image of God in one another when a friend pursues us in a season of heartache, when we spend time at a barbeque with friends during an endless summer night, and when we laugh heartily at a good joke. But we see our image-bearing potential most vividly, yet mysteriously, in the stunning experience of sex.


I am asking you to consider the possibility that evil has been plotting against your sexuality throughout your life. The evil one, Satan, wants to destroy the glory of God, but he cannot. Therefore, he goes after what most images this God: women, men, boys, and girls. In the same way that a terrorist might attack the children of a president because a direct attack is too risky, the evil one seeks to mar the distinctive beauty that God gives to us as his children. If you were to set out to attack the image of God, you would need to do more than ridicule how worthless a human pinky toe appears. Instead, you would plot after the most vulnerable, beautiful, and powerful dimension of who we are: our sexuality. This is the mind of evil.

According to John 10:10, the intention of the evil one is to "steal and kill and destroy." If this is true, I think it is safe to assume that evil would be working deliberately to ruin our sexuality with this threefold approach. C. S. Lewis, in the preface to The Screwtape Letters, wrote,

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

Throughout this book, I intend to keep the line of tension between these two poles taut. Acknowledging the role of evil never negates personal responsibility to mature, and in striving for integrity, we can never underestimate the intent of evil to sideline us.

Evil hates the beauty of sex, and because it cannot abolish its existence, it works to corrupt its essence. Evil succeeds every time we think of sex and subsequently feel damaged, ruined, and out of control in lust. It has completed massive research on us and knows we are far more likely to pursue shameful sexual behavior when we are experiencing difficult emotions. It also knows we are far more likely to be at war with our desires than to pursue greater beauty for our sexual stories. We may find ourselves longing for marriage or a better marriage, but disappointment is all that ever seems to pass. In our loneliness and anger, we may not choose the maturity of growth; instead we accept the invitation of evil to pursue pornography. Evil seduces us away from personal growth and into an escape that will paradoxically inject us with greater shame.

The evil one's work may appear in overt ways against our sexuality through something like childhood sexual abuse, but his tactics are also more covert. In 2017, the Boston Globe released an article titled "The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men Isn't Smoking or Obesity. It's Loneliness." We live in a day where we have never been so lonely and, at the same time, had such access to pornography. I have to believe that the evil one has schemed for this association.

The way I see the work of evil is like this. For those who have known loneliness, evil seduces them to pursue sex as their most important need. They find sex to be a cheap consolation and in the end discover the original ache of loneliness to be even more intensified. For others, evil will use childhood sexual abuse to steal their ability to be fully present to the pleasure of sex in adulthood. And for millions of men who live with a baseline level of futility, evil baits them with the promise of power within pornography. When they try to get unhooked, their futility is compounded. Evil's tactics are diverse, but the wreckage of shame often looks the same.

Evil's Achilles' Heel

When we see the power of sex at work in the world, we often hear about it destroying society, not creating thriving societies. But sex is about the flourishing of creation, not the release of tension, the medication of pain, or the power to control another. The ancient Greeks used the word eros to refer to the power of sexual (or erotic) love and understood it to be the spark of creation. As the story goes, the world was formless, a black hole of nothingness. But then eros entered in. And when it arrived, the whole world had to transform. Mountains rose up, rivers and streams flowed with living water, and flowers blossomed in a brilliant display of color.

The creation-forming power of erotic love highlights the Achilles' heel of evil. Evil cannot create anything out of nothing. It can't clothe a tree with an abundance of beautiful leaves, it can't make hops or grain for beer or spirits, and it can't create the beauty of a human life. But what it can do is promote deforestation, seduce us to drink to the point of alcoholism, and through the production of pornography degrade women and dissolve the integrity of men and women.

The kingdom of darkness is extremely clever, maniacally focused on efficiency. It's been scheming longer than any human empire to mar the things that most reveal God. It wants to destroy the rain forests, promote systems of greed, and pit nations against one another in killing sprees. But worst of all, it wants to destroy our bodies, to mar the very qualities that make us most like God: our beauty, our ability to give and receive pleasure, and our desire to know and be known.

Unwanted Sexual Behavior: Sin or Addiction?

Approaches to healing that are centered on what is wrong with us will never lead to the type of transformation we desire and deserve. The gospel teaches us that we are beloved before any sexual sin or addiction entered into our lives, and we remain so, even at the height of our brokenness. When sin and addiction language overshadows this belovedness, the inevitable outcome is clinical and theological approaches that rely heavily on behavior modification. When sin and addiction language helps reveal and connect us to our belovedness, the desire to change comes from our pursuit of beauty, not our self-contempt or latest strategy to combat sexual desire.

One of the growing realities in our culture is that we use the word sin less and less to describe problematic sexual behavior. The preferred word, if we recognize any disorder at all, is now addiction. There are aspects of this shift that I find deeply encouraging. This shift is forcing us to exchange our intellectual laziness for a more curious engagement with the origins of our sexual brokenness. What I am discouraged by, however, is that Scripture uses the most beautiful and wise words I have ever read to talk about sin.

I believe we need a model that integrates sin and addiction. I've found that the more I understand what the Bible says about sin, the more I understand the nature of addiction, and the more I understand what science reveals about addiction, the more I understand the nature of sin. These concepts need not be pitted against each other. As we will come to see, they dovetail beautifully.


I follow the brilliant Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, in her two propositions related to sin:

1. Discussion of sin should serve the strengthening of Christian faith, not the weakening of it. "Our concepts of sin should never be fashioned or deployed in a manner designed to harm people, to break their spirits, to marginalize them, to destroy their sense of belovedness, or to constrain the conditions of their flourishing."

2. Sin is a relational category highlighting our separation from God. "To be in sin is to be alienated from God." When sin is discussed in our culture, we often imply that it occurs when we do "bad" things. A proper biblical understanding of sin, however, recognizes the relational separation that drives our unwanted behavior.

In the Heidelberg Catechism, a Protestant confessional document, there is a question about how human beings know their misery. It's an odd question, until you understand that the German word for misery is elend, meaning to be out of one's native land, with a deep sense of homesickness. Sexual brokenness can feel so miserable precisely because deep within us is a belovedness that aches to return home. The gospel tells us that our belovedness will never change according to our wanderings. But our belovedness is intended to change our wanderings.

In the New Testament, sin is understood to be an organized economy or even a type of regime. Paul, the Bible's chief theologian, discussed sin in reference to what it is against. Sin is anti-law, anti-righteousness, anti-spirit, anti-life, essentially anything against the regime of God. According to Cornelius Plantinga Jr., former president of Calvin Theological Seminary, "In the biblical worldview even when sin is devastatingly familiar, it is never normal. It is alien. It doesn't belong in God's world."

The irony of sinful sexual behavior is that it is actually against sex. It is not that we want too much sex; it is that we want too much anti-sexual behavior. We know the beauty and power of sex, but we also know when we are pursuing a deviant imitation of a beautiful erotic life. It is not possible to become too sexual for God. It is possible, however, to grow increasingly trapped in anti-sexual behavior.

The biggest biblical idea about sin is that it is an intruder, and therefore "once in the world, the only way for it to survive is to become a parasite on goodness." Think this over. In every childhood story we read, the villain could not be an evil genius without first being a genius. We often wonder how particular people in our society, such as pedophiles or corrupt politicians, can be so seemingly out of touch with empathy. The reality, however, is that they are often acutely aware of the desire their victims have to be chosen and delighted in. Those whom we deem most evil are so damaging precisely because they are skilled at using empathy for exploitive means.

The intelligence and exploitive power of evil come from twisting the good gifts God has given. Nothing about sin is created out of nothing; all its power is trafficked from goodness. "Goodness," said C. S. Lewis, "is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled."

Plantinga Jr. went on to say that people "may rebel literally for the hell of it, but this is rare. Usually they are after peace of mind, security, pleasure, Lebensraum, freedom, excitement. Evil needs good to be evil. Satan himself, as C. S. Lewis explains, is God's Satan — a creature of God who can be really wicked only because he comes from the shop of a master and is made from his best stuff." Through this lens, porn users, sex buyers, and adulterers would be seen as under the influence of evil, which seeks to traffic their longings for legitimate experiences and convert them into desires that will lead, in the end, to pain.

One example of where we can see the influence of evil is in prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation. Men who buy sex often experience alienation and shame for purchasing exploitive, entitled sex. The shame then drives them to buy more sex, all the while increasing the excruciating alienation and trauma of the women and girls (and males) whose bodies are purchased. The compounding interest that evil earns from anti-sexual behavior makes it the most profitable enterprise of all time.

The good news is that in Christ, all our sin — past, present, and future — has been atoned for. Therefore, the purpose of addressing sin should never be to corner heavy-laden people with further evidence of their moral failures. Sin language helps people to name their pain and invites them to consider how good yet humbling it would be to return home.

The Father who waits for us is not ashamed of us. On the contrary, he is a cheerful and indiscriminate host. He offers invitations to everyone, particularly those whom society deems most unclean, unworthy, and perverse. What should make us most uncomfortable about sin is not our failures but how loose God is in his table invitations. Can we really be that loved and desired at the depths of our failures? Sin is an opportunity to be loved abundantly.


The contemporary definition of addiction is only about a hundred years old and refers to a dysfunctional dependence on drugs or behavior such as gambling, sex, or eating. Prior to the twentieth century and a few vague references in Shakespeare, you would need to go back to ancient Rome to find a word similar to our modern use of addiction. In Rome, addictus referred to someone defaulting on a debt and consequently being assigned to a creditor as a slave until the debt was paid off. The usage is ominous, and in my counseling work, men and women struggling with unwanted sexual behavior often use strikingly similar language to refer to their behavior: "No matter how much I want to be free of it, nothing works. I'm enslaved to it until I die." The tragedy is that their lives bear this out as they forfeit money, reputation, and ultimately the stunning beauty of their lives to unwanted sexual behavior.


Excerpted from "Unwanted"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jay Stringer.
Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Introduction xv

Chapter 1 A Theology of Unwanted Sexual Behavior 1

Part 1 How Did I Get Here?

Chapter 2 Setting the Course of Unwanted Sexual Behavior 17

Chapter 3 Dysfunctional Family Systems 27

Chapter 4 Abandonment: A Life in Exile 37

Chapter 5 Triangulation: When You're Married to Your Parent 47

Chapter 6 Trauma as Soul Loss 57

Chapter 7 Sexual Abuse: The Corruption of Desire 65

Part 2 Why Do I Stay?

Chapter 8 The Six Core Experiences of Unwanted Sexual Behavior 85

Chapter 9 Three Hijackers of Our Souls 109

Chapter 10 The Sex Industry: Pornography as Male Violence against Women 127

Part 3 How Do I Get Out Of Here?

Chapter 11 Transforming Self: Learning to Love and Care for Yourself 141

Chapter 12 A New Sexual Story: Sexual Healing 157

Chapter 13 Exercise Attunement and Containment in Your Relationships 171

Chapter 14 Practice Conflict and Repair in Your Relationships 181

Chapter 15 Pursue Strength and Vulnerability in Your Relationships 193

Chapter 16 Learning to Invest in Community 205

Chapter 17 Community as a Place to Experience Structure and Mutual Support 209

Chapter 18 Community as a Place to Offer Empathy for the Stories of Others 221

Chapter 19 Community as a Place to Discover Purpose: Living for a Bigger Story 227

Conclusion 237

Research Appendix 242

Acknowledgments 249

Notes 252

About the Author 261

What People are Saying About This

Shannon Ethridge

Over the past twenty-five years of ministry, I’ve witnessed many men and women floundering in a sea of hopelessness due to their own (or a spouse’s) sexual brokenness. That’s why I’m so excited about and grateful for Jay’s work in the field of sexual addiction and restoration. If you’re hungry for deep healing, or searching for practical ways to help others heal from unhealthy emotional entanglements and sexual dysfunction, Unwanted will be an incredibly sharp tool in your tool belt!

Dan B. Allender

Unwanted is, without rival, the best book on broken sexuality I have ever read. It is heartbreaking and hope-restoring, and with immense kindness, it proceeds to where most work stalls and refuses to enter. Jay’s research is groundbreaking. No one has pursued these dark waters with as much light-offering, data-bound research. Even more, Jay offers the heart of the gospel in a manner that doesn’t trivialize sin or addiction but lifts the battle up to the ambivalence we have about freedom. This book will be a classic that anchors us in brilliant research, soul honesty, and biblical reflection.

Christopher West

Unwanted enters the heartache of sexual brokenness and reveals the deepest longings within us for redemption. Recognizing how evil seeks to misdirect our longings, Jay illuminates how even our sin can reveal important truths about ourselves and our unique path to redemption. Through groundbreaking research and a heart for the Gospel, Stringer invites us to the critical task of finding hope and meaning within our sexual lives. It clearly shows how Christ invites us to depth of desire, not death of desire.

Josh McDowell

Unwanted changes the conversation on sexual brokenness for this generation of believers. Jay Stringer engages the “why” beneath our sexual shame with groundbreaking research and the wisdom of a counselor.

Debra Hirsch

If sexuality is anything, it’s complicated! This thing that involves our whole selves—body, mind, spirit—this thing that can compel our behavior but is also shaped by our habits. In Unwanted, Jay Stringer shines a spotlight on one important aspect of our sexual lives—our personal history, particularly the way our sexuality intersects with our brokenness over time. By inviting us to be compassionate with ourselves and curious about our story, he helps us to look beyond the shame and embarrassment that so often deaden us and toward real, authentic, healthy ways of relating to ourselves, our loved ones, our community, and even God.

Dr. Juli Slattery

As bleak as the landscape of sexual brokenness may appear, God always raises up his people to proclaim a path to healing and redemption. Jay Stringer is one of those voices. Unwanted is a courageous, insightful work that challenges us to look beyond the what into the why of our sexual sin. This book will undoubtedly equip many on the journey to freedom.

Danielle Strickland

Wow. This book is a weapon for freedom and flourishing in a world bombarded with sexual pain and brokenness. If you are tired of the blame-and-shame methods filled with guilt and fear around sex, Jay offers a life-changing alternative: restored sexual wholeness and flourishing. Sex is good? Indeed. Refreshingly honest and humble, Jay refuses avoidance and despair around the most painful oppression of our time. Using a divine strategy with incredible skill, Jay enters our brokenness and finds the keys to our sexual freedom and wholeness within the depth of our pain. Get this book. Read this book. Let the healing and freedom come.

William M. Struthers

A thorough theoretical framework and nuanced vocabulary are critical tools when dealing with unwanted sexual desires, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Even with these, the journey to persevere requires real stories of personal discovery and hope. In Unwanted, Jay Stringer not only provides a set of tools to understand these matters but also offers a story and vision for those who find themselves in dark places.

Bruce McNicol

Unwanted’s breakthrough research into the origins of sexual brokenness convincingly shows why tips and techniques to combat it have failed to lead to the freedom we desire and are designed to enjoy. Unwanted is a life-giving room of grace where all of us can find relief from the heartache of sexual shame. Jay Stringer invites you to know your story and dare to believe that you will be loved more—not less—for what it reveals. The culture, including the church, has needed this book for decades. Thousands will experience God’s kindness and healing through it.

Jason Pamer

Jay Stringer is one of those rare leaders whose life will leave an indelible mark on generations to come. In his book, Unwanted, there’s an incredible convergence of story, science and theology that makes it so accessible it becomes transformational. It is the most impactful treatise I’ve ever read on how to understand that our pain and brokenness is actually a pathway to full healing and restoration. I’m convinced that Unwanted addresses the source of sexual brokenness in our world. If we want to see our hearts restored and dismantle the forces that seek to ruin the beauty of sex, this book will be our roadmap.

James Anderson

Sexual brokenness is the most significant and under addressed topic affecting men today. Jay’s work opens the door to a new conversation for all of us who need language to talk about it more transparently. Jay’s powerful research and clinical insights show how our earliest stories plant seeds that go on to hold tremendous power over us in our adult lives. Unwanted is going to lead you to an understanding of your life that can guide you to freedom.

Dr. Ted Roberts

Jay Stringer’s Unwanted demonstrates a depth of insight and wisdom that I found stunning! I have been counseling men and women in the church who are battling with sexual brokenness for over thirty years and have written fifteen books on the subject. Yet I found Jay’s grasp of the subject profound, and the graphic illustrations he used to summarize various points were worth the price of the book alone. It will truly help many come out of their shame and finally find freedom. Stringer is a top gun, and I would fly with him into combat anytime!

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