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THE FANTASY FALLACYExposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts
By Shannon Ethridge
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Shannon Ethridge
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy Discuss sexual fantasies?
After miles of wandering around in the dark, a weary traveler enters a lonely gas station. The attendant is perched on a stool behind the cash register with her eyes glued to the pages of a paperback novel.
Attempting to make his presence known, he clears his throat with great exaggeration. "Uh-huh-hum!"
"Yes?" the attendant asks, not bothering to lift her gaze.
"I'm looking for a road map," the traveler responds.
The attendant's head pops up, her brown eyes shifting all around the store to see if anyone else is hearing this conversation. With a deer-in-the-headlights look on her face, she responds directly, "No, sir. We don't carry road maps."
"Oh, well, can you tell me where another gas station is that might have one?"
Annoyed, the attendant looks up once again and replies emphatically, "You're not gonna find one around these parts."
"What do you mean? Surely there's a road map somewhere in this town that can help me figure out where I'm going!"
"Nope. Road maps don't exist for this area. And if I were you, I wouldn't go around asking for one, or else folks are going to assume you're one of those kinds of people."
"What do you mean, 'road maps don't exist for this area'? Surely this frequently traveled path isn't uncharted territory! And what do you mean, 'one of those kinds of people'? What are you talking about?" the traveler asks with great irritation.
"I mean no one is familiar enough with this region to create a road map! If you get caught asking for one, the police will know that you're one of those people—one who doesn't know where he's been and doesn't know where he's going! We don't allow that around here, mister, so get lost!"
"I am lost!" the traveler screams, quickly losing his patience. "That's why I'm here—asking for a road map!"
"Look, you're not going to find a road map around here! And if you ask again, I'm calling the cops!" the attendant threatens, hands on hips, eyeballs protruding out of sockets, and neck veins swelling with a combination of adrenaline and righteous indignation.
"This is ridiculous! Am I on Candid Camera? Am I being Punk'd? This can't be real!" the traveler insists.
Of course, this scenario is a bit on the ridiculous side. But I believe it is a pretty accurate description of what is happening inside the Christian community today. Too many folks are wandering around in a foreign land, some suspecting—but most not even realizing—that they are lost. They have no clear sense of direction. No one they can ask for a road map. Search for one and they may be labeled "one of those kinds of people."
The foreign land I'm referring to, of course, is this sex-saturated culture we live in, these sexually stimulated (or sexually dormant) bodies we inhabit, and these sexually motivated (or sexually frozen) minds from which we operate. With the promise of heavenly perfection, restoration, and complete redemption yet on the horizon, we are merely lost travelers here and now, trying to get our bearings and make sense of both our sexuality and our spirituality—the common denominators we all share regardless of our age, gender, race, denominational background, education level, economic status, and so on.
Trying to make perfect sense out of two such complex mysteries can feel as frustrating and fruitless as trying to brush our teeth while eating an Oreo. We all have to wonder at times:
Where do our sexual thoughts come from?
What do we do with them?
Where are the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual boundary lines?
Can we be holy and horny at the same time?
How far can we go in satisfying these overwhelming longings we sometimes feel?
Or, perhaps, a better question for some to ask is:
If I'm a sexual being, why do I no longer experience any sexual longings at all?
GETTING OUR BEARINGS
When we have questions about sexuality, we consult the Internet, our medical dictionary, or that friend we have so much dirt on that she wouldn't possibly tell a soul we'd asked her that question!
Growing up, most of us never bothered consulting our parents, as they would have died of embarrassment and locked us in our rooms until we were forty. And we certainly didn't ask our spiritual leaders because we figured they probably didn't even have sex. Besides, they likely would have banned us from the church building altogether if they had found out what kinds of sexual thoughts actually go through our heads ... even on Sundays!
If sexuality is God's invention—and it is—then we should be able to consult the church for a road map as we search for answers to our questions about all things sexual. However, if we fear that our request will be met with shock, confusion, anxiety, horror, disgust, suspicion, or judgment, perhaps even with bulging eyes and popping neck veins, then how will we navigate our way through this foreign territory? Although I can't say this of every spiritual leader or follower of Christ, I think it is safe to say that a large segment of the church seems to have no clue as to where a road map can be found. And if you ask for one, well, you must really be lost! "You must not know Jeesuuuus!" said in my most sarcastic Church Lady voice.
Can we be real for a moment? I mean, really real?
Even those of us who know Jesus very personally and very intimately, those of us who read our Bibles, fast frequently, tithe regularly, and pray up a storm can still feel as if we need a road map to understand our physical, spiritual, and emotional cravings! But I've got really great news. We already have such a road map if we're brave enough to study it.
This road map to understanding both our sexuality and our spirituality is actually composed of our deepest, most intimate personal sexual fantasies. So we'd be smart to examine such landmarks as these:
Who are the faces in our fantasies?
What roles do they play?
What roles do we play?
What primary emotions do these fantasies elicit and why?
What event in our history created the need to experience such an emotion?
How does this fantasy medicate emotional pain from our past or present?
Why would humans (even Christians!) fantasize about things such as the following:
viewing pornography or engaging in extramarital affairs
bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism (as glamorized in the Fifty Shades trilogy)
prostitution, seduction, or rape
same-sex trysts, threesomes, and orgies
And the most important question to consider is this:
Could there be an even deeper spiritual longing beneath our sexual longings?
I'll pause a moment to let you gasp for air, loosen your tie, relax your jaw, take a drink of water, and regain your composure. You may or may not be comfortable with these topics, but we need to discuss them. We've needed to for a l-o-n-g time. As a society, as a church, as couples and single individuals, as men and women, as parents of boys and girls struggling to make sense of their own sexuality, we need to talk about this. Ignoring the elephant in all of our living rooms certainly won't make it disappear. In fact, ignoring that elephant is causing it to mysteriously grow larger and larger.
Maybe you are just reading this book to learn how to help someone else. If so, good for you! I pray it will give you many sharp tools in your ministry or counseling tool belt. But the best way to help someone else is to help yourself first.
Before we move on with this exploration, let's pause for a quick quiz to determine just how much we understand about sexual fantasy.
TRUE OR FALSE?
T F 1. The Sexual Revolution of the past forty-plus years is all about sex.
T F 2. The church does an adequate job of teaching Christians how to appropriately assess and discuss the topic of sexual fantasy.
T F 3. All fantasy is inappropriate, unhealthy, and sinful.
T F 4. Sexual fantasy and lust are the same thing.
T F 5. Christians control their sexual thoughts and actions better than others.
T F 6. Sexual fantasies provide a road map to the sexual fulfillment we crave.
T F 7. Sexual fantasies are better left unspoken and unexplored.
T F 8. Sexual fantasy is really just the brain's way of driving us to do evil things.
T F 9. Anxiety, confusion, or fear over sexual fantasies is not a common issue.
T F 10. Interpreting sexual fantasies isn't going to solve any of the world's problems.
Now let's see how you did!
1. The sexual revolution of the past forty-plus years is all about sex. False.
The Sexual Revolution actually isn't about sex at all. It's about broken people using other people, desperately trying to medicate their own emotional pain through sexual acts. It's about loneliness, isolation, rejection, insecurities, codependency, boredom, and selfishness.
God's intention for sexual intimacy is to provide a wonderful way for two people—forever committed to one another in a marriage relationship—to give to one another through intense pleasure, passion, affirmation, tenderness, mutual trust, and mutual euphoria. Just think of what the world would be like if we were to experience that kind of constructive sexual revolution instead of the destructive one we have experienced!
2. The church does an adequate job of teaching Christians how to appropriately assess and discuss the topic of sexual fantasy. False.
I don't know about you, but I've never heard a single sermon on the roles, the rules, the benefits, or the boundaries of sexual fantasy. Perhaps the reason is that the word fantasy doesn't appear in the Bible at all, at least not in the several translations I consulted.
The whole topic can be extremely difficult to discuss simply because of our lack of understanding. For example, I recently heard from a gentleman who was quite unhappy with me for addressing the topic of sexual fantasy in my most recent book, The Sexually Confident Wife. We exchanged several cordial e-mails back and forth before I finally thought to ask the question, "If I had used the term sexual thoughts instead of fantasies, would you feel any differently about what I had to say on the topic?"
After a few hours of contemplation, he replied that indeed, we all have sexual thoughts, and that's a perfectly appropriate thing to discuss. So then I posed the question, "Can you explain to me your perceived difference between a sexual thought and a sexual fantasy?"
Through continued e-mail exchanges, we together considered the following:
Is it a matter of the content of the thought?
Is it how the thought makes you feel in response?
Is it a matter of how many seconds it stays in your head? Perhaps less than two seconds flat and it's merely a thought, but anything more than 2.1 seconds becomes a fantasy?
We both had to laugh at how difficult it is for Christians to have a clear conversation when we don't even have a clear vocabulary for the topic! So let's establish some definitions before we go any further.
Since the Bible doesn't specifically mention fantasy, let's consult the dictionary. Dictionary.com defines the word fantasy as:
1. imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
2. the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing.
3. a mental image, especially when unreal or fantastic; vision: a nightmare fantasy.
4. Psychology. an imagined or conjured up sequence fulfilling a psychological need; daydream.
5. a hallucination.
For the purposes of our discussion, I'm going to lean toward the fourth definition—that sexual fantasies are imaginative thoughts that fulfill some sort of psychological need. I believe examining the fantasy for the purpose of discerning the underlying psychological need is absolutely key to helping us control those fantasies before they control us!
3. all fantasy is inappropriate, unhealthy, and sinful. False.
From the time we are small children, we are encouraged by our parents and by society to fantasize. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is one of the most common questions asked of a young child. How else are they to know if they don't daydream about different roles they could play in society? In this context, fantasy is healthy and even vital to growth.
Consider that ...
to fantasize about where to go to college and what to study means that we are intelligent.
to fantasize about getting more out of our careers means that we are ambitious.
to fantasize about getting physically fit means that we are health conscious.
to fantasize about getting more out of our sex lives, well, that means we must be lustful, perverted, sick, and twisted.
Of course, that last statement is simply not true. It is normal and healthy to want the most out of our sex lives, and sometimes fantasy is the best way to achieve that goal—to envision what you might find pleasurable and especially to envision what kind of pleasurable acts you would enjoy offering to your spouse.
As I was discussing this book idea with respected friends and colleagues, one of the most common questions I heard was, "Do you think all fantasy is wrong?" Let me state my position up front. I absolutely do not think that all fantasy is wrong, but those fantasies that push beyond what is socially or spiritually acceptable are most often rooted in childhood trauma or unresolved pain. The goal of this book isn't to judge whether fantasies are "right or wrong" but, rather, to help people examine sexual fantasies, recognize their roots, and invite God to help them heal their pain.
4. Sexual fantasy and lust are the same thing. False.
Now that we have established a definition for sexual fantasy, let's talk about lust. Any time the word lust is mentioned in the Bible, it is in reference to craving something that doesn't belong to the person doing the lusting, such as to "lust after [other] gods" (Exod. 34:15 NLT), "give up your lust for money" (Job 22:24 NLT), or "not to look with lust at a young woman" or "neighbor's wife" (Job 31:1, 9 NLT).
Lust is never mentioned in the context of a marriage partner wanting to please or be pleased by their spouses. Such desire isn't lust at all. As we are told in 1 Corinthians 7:9 (NLT), "It's better to marry than to burn with lust." In other words, the act of marriage transforms our lustful longings (to have sex with someone we are not yet married to) into longings that are holy, pure, and unequivocally right because marriage is God's ordained place for those passionate and pleasurable longings to be fully explored and enjoyed. (Of course, there are instances where people begin selfishly using and abusing their marriage partner sexually, so lust is possible in marriage.)
In his book The Bondage Breaker, Neil T. Anderson provides even more insight. He shows that while our sexual thoughts and desires are perfectly normal, they can begin to cross a line. He writes:
Sex is a God-given part of our autonomic nervous system. Normal sexual functioning is a regular, rhythmic part of life. But when Jesus said, "Everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28), He was describing something beyond the boundary of God's design for sex. The word for lust is epithumos.
The prefix epi means "to add to," signifying that something is being added to a normal drive. Jesus challenged us not to add onto the God-given sexual drive by polluting our minds with lustful thoughts. The only way to control your sex life is to control your thought life.
Unfortunately, controlling your thought life is much easier said than done, but I pray this book will help you do just that—by helping you understand (rather than ignore) the sexual thoughts that often surface in your mind.
Another reason I don't think sexual fantasy and lust are the same thing is that many coaching clients tell me that their sexual fantasies often include something they don't desire at all. A man who fantasizes (or has a sexual thought) about being with another man often finds the thought rather repulsive, yet it can resurface time and time again. A woman who fantasizes (or who has an occasional sexual thought) about being raped doesn't really want to be raped. So for the purposes of discussion, not all fantasies can be classified as lustful thoughts. Sexual fantasies are merely thoughts that may be trying to tell us something our minds are not consciously aware of. There is no need to shoot the messengers.
5. Christians control their sexual thoughts and actions better than others. False.
While the answer to this question probably should be true in light of the amazing power we have available to us to resist temptation, I think we have to admit that the answer is all too often false. Christians struggle, just as much as anyone else, with sexual sin, which includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, and pornography usage.
Excerpted from THE FANTASY FALLACY by Shannon Ethridge Copyright © 2012 by Shannon Ethridge. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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