Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.
Sexual temptation is everywhere these days but what determines if its harmful or not is how a person reacts to it. This article is aimed at exploring the latest studies on sexual temptation in order to give you a better understanding of how sexual temptation works and proven ways to fight it.
Before we look at the latest studies, I thought it was important to show the statistics on infidelity in order to emphasize just how common and damaging infidelity really is on a relationship.
According to truthaboutdeception (citations can be found on their website):
- It is estimated that roughly 30 to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage (see, Buss and Shackelford for review of this research). And these numbers are probably on the conservative side, when you consider that close to half of all marriages end in divorce (people are more likely to stray as relationships fall apart).
- Research consistently shows that 2 to 3% of all children are the product of infidelity (see, Anderson). And most of these children are unknowingly raised by men who are not their biological fathers.
- Infidelity is becoming more common among people under 30. Many experts believe this increase in cheating is due to greater opportunity (time spent away from a spouse) and young people developing the habit of having multiple sexual partners before they get married.
- Men are more likely to cheat than women. But, as women become more financially independent, women are starting to act more like men with respect to infidelity.
- As more and more women enter the work force, “office romances” are becoming more common. Spouses often spend more time with coworkers than with each other.
- The internet, e-mail, and chat rooms are making it easier for people to engage in infidelity.
- The initial decision to be unfaithful is rarely ever a rational choice; instead infidelity is usually driven by circumstances and one’s emotions. In fact, most people are surprised by their own behavior at the start of an affair.
- Emotional infidelity, compared to just physical infidelity, can inflict as much, if not more, hurt, pain and suffering. And to make matters worse, most infidelity involves both physical and emotional betrayal.
Christians didn’t fair any better statistically. The most recent study from Christianity Today shows that 45 percent of Christians indicate having done something sexually inappropriate, and 23 percent having extramarital intercourse (Anderson, 2000). These numbers pretty much mirror the national averages.
The latest studies on sexual temptation.
Here are some common questions I get that I hope to answer with these studies.
- Why does it seem that males are more likely than women to engage in an extramarital affair?
- What differences, if any, are there between men and women’s ability to ward off sexual temptation?
- What can I do to help fight sexual temptation in my relationship?
The first study done by Natasha Tidwell (Texas A&M University) and Paul Eastwick (University of Texas-Austin) looked to see why males were statistically more likely than women to seduce or engage in an extramarital affair.
The study had 218 american participants (70 men, 148 women) and were asked to describe a time when they were attracted to someone who they felt it was wrong to pursue because they were in a relationship. The participants then answered a series of questions that asked them about the strength of their desire, whether they ultimately acted on the impulse, and if they used all means to resist the temptation.
The results were that men were more likely to engage in or initiate sexual temptation than women. Why?
Some people think its because of the way our culture or society confers certain behaviors and expectations of men (multiple sex partners). Some Christians believe its rooted in the origin of sin. We obviously see certain patterns of infidelity in the Bible committed or initiated more by males than females. Finally, others think its rooted in evolutionary biology and how males had an evolutionary advantage to have a stronger biological impulse than females (The conclusion by the researchers).
The researchers specifically thought that men were more likely to engage in sexual temptation not because of a lack of self-control but because of a stronger biological impulse.
Does this have any relevance to a Christian?
For some, this sounds like an excuse for men to rationalize sinful behavior in the form of infidelity. However, I believe instead it should lend some understanding to the fact that maybe your male partner is trying but is failing anyways. Instead of belittling or bashing him, discuss new ways (some I will discuss below) that might help both partners to protect the relationship from sexual temptation.
Are there any gender differences when it comes to sexual temptation?
Another study examined if men and women were programmed differently when it came to sexual temptation in the form of advances by another attractive male or female.
In this study, 724 heterosexual men and women were put through seven trials. Some males were introduced to an attractive female who flirted with them while others were introduced to a single attractive female who ignored them. The same conditions were done with females except with attractive males.
The final experimental condition looked to see if males could resist/learn not to flirt with another attractive woman who initiated the flirtation. Half the men were asked to visualize being approached by a flirtatious attractive woman. They were then asked to write down a strategy to protect their relationship from this scenario.
Men who wrote down a strategy to protect their relationship from sexual temptation performed significantly better (distanced themselves) than those who didn’t when exposed to the virtual reality scenario.
The researchers think that men simply interpret sexual temptation differently than women. If men could be trained to see other women as more of a threat to their current relationship (women are already socialized in this way), they would enact more strategies to protect it and in turn, reduce the likelihood they would engage in an extramarital affair.
I think that as Christians we can already see one strategy that Joseph used when he was confronted with Potiphar’s wife. He ran…he distanced himself in the same way men who had a strategy in the experiment did and as a result were more successful in warding off sexual temptation.
Here are some important strategies you can take away from these studies and apply in your own relationship:
1. Brainstorm and discuss strategies with your partner that both can implement in order to protect your relationship from sexual temptation.
2. As males, read the Bible more so God can change our hearts so we start to value our wives second only to Christ.
3. Make a point to distance yourself from any and all emotional (a precursor to sexual temptation) and sexual temptation.
4. As males, learn to fully understand the consequences of engaging in sexual temptation and its impact it would have on your relationship, marriage, reputation, family, etc.
The last study was done by Loran Nordgren and Eileen Chou at Northwestern University and published in Psychological Science and a journal in the Association of Psychological Science.
What they looked at was how cognition and temptation were interrelated. The original body of research suggested that temptation initiates thought processes that allow us to have more self-control. In other words, if you ask a guy to go to a strip bar, the protective self-control thought that would engage would be, “No, I’m married.”
Basically, in this type of thinking temptation initiates more self-control thoughts.
What they found was that people who didn’t think about their temptation at all were more likely to ward off temptation than those who thought about it. This might sound obvious but the added detail was that people who think about their temptation, even in terms of protective self-control thoughts, were more likely to lean towards rationalizing the temptation so they can engage in it.
In other words, if your presented with an opportunity to engage in an sexual or emotional affair, a person is more likely to rationalize reasons to engage in the behavior than reasons not to.
Remember, not thinking about it is not the same thing as preparation which would be congruent with the previous study that demonstrated that writing down strategies can help males resist sexual temptation.
Remaining faithful to God and your partner in a hyper-sexualized culture is extremely difficult, no one is arguing that it is isn’t. However, I hope with this article you have a better understanding of sexual temptation and some ways you can combat it in your own relationship.
Do you struggle with emotional or sexual temptation? What are some strategies you use in your own relationship to help fight emotional or sexual temptation?