Back when I was single, I remember it was a daily battle fighting against lust. Even though I was a Christian and believed sexual immorality was a sin (Mt 5:28), masturbation and pornography were constant temptations. I read plenty of books on the subject and had guys in my life who kept me accountable. Still, it was difficult to put this sin to death.
I remember that there were many moments of victory where, by God's grace, I successfully resisted against temptation. However, I also remember many moments of defeat. And I wouldn't fall to lust for just physical reasons; I remember turning to lust to fill the lonely void that I would often experience as a single guy. It was a frustrating battle where I would "not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Rom 7:15).
But whenever I experienced such frustrations, I remember looking forward to a day when I knew these battles with lust would go away. I remember looking forward to a time when these sexual temptations that I experienced as a single man would no longer exist. And no, I wasn't thinking of the new heavens and new earth (I wasn't nearly that godly).
Rather, I would always think to myself, "Man, I can't wait until I get married. Then I'll finally be free from this battle with lust."
What I Used to Believe
Like a lot of young, single Christians out there, I used to naively believe that marriage would solve a lot of my personal problems. This included my struggles with lust. I mean, when experience sexual temptation or loneliness as a single man/woman, what can you really do about it? You could resist your sexual urges by praying and distracting yourself, or you could express your sexual desires by turning to the internet for relief. Those seem to be the only options.
However, we think when experience sexual temptation or loneliness as a married guy/girl, you never have to resist your sexual urges anymore. You think that you'll now have a sexual partner whom you can always express your sexual desires with. In other words, we think the battle is over in marriage. You've won. So you now can go and "let her breasts fill you at all times with delight" (Prov 5:19).
I'm not saying the only purpose of marriage is to help Christians get over their sexual frustrations. But practically speaking, this seems to be one of its many benefit (1 Cor 7:36). And I think most married individuals will agree that it's quite helpful having a spouse whom we can express our sexual desires with. But I think they will also agree that while marriage is helpful in fighting against sexual temptation, it's by no means sufficient.
That's because sexual intimacy in marriage is a lot more complicated than you think.
The Challenges of Sex in Marriage
Christians tend to think sex in marriage is this amazingly fulfilling act that will make all your battles against lust worth it. In reality, marital sex is pretty complicated. In fact, there are many moments in marriage where you just can't be physically intimate with one another as frequently as you'd like.
For example, when your spouse is sick with the flu, it'll be unappealing for both parties to get intimate. Or when you're on a business trip, your spouse won't be around to help you with your sexual urges. Or when one of you is tired from a long day of work. And man, when your wife gets pregnant - say goodbye to sex for a good several months. It's just not physically possible. When these moments of inevitable abstinence take place, what are you going to with your sexual urges?
And those are just the physical marital chastity belts that exist. There also emotional marital chastity belts that will arise. For example, what do you do when one of you aren't in the mood? What do you when you're fighting with each other and aren't able to resolve the issue? What do you if one of you is just going through a melancholic season in life? It's hard to sexually connect this way when there's an emotional disconnect.
The result will be that sexual temptation will rear its ugly head back into your life. However, it'll feel even worse because now you're married, so you'll feel even more guilty if you succumb to it and bitter towards your spouse for not helping you through it.
It Gets More Complicated
What's even tougher about struggling with sexual temptation in marriage is that you often go through this battle alone. You see within the church, married couples are often hesitant to talk about this issue. That's because in the church, lust is often presented as a problem that Christians are go through when they're single. But once married, you're supposed to have grown out of this sin.
This is why most of the sermons we hear about sex seems to be directed towards singles. We often hear pastors tell us to not engage in pre-marital sex and to stop watching porn so that we can to remain "pure" for our future spouses. But married couples? We presume they're fine. After all, we have a spouse now who can take care of our physical needs. And the more babies a couple has, the more the church thinks their sex life must be going fine.
Therefore while singles are able to openly share about their sexual struggles in a community group setting, it's often more difficult for married couples to do so. That's because we're supposed to be sexually fulfilled now. It's embarrassing to let people know our sex lives isn't what we thought it'd be. And it's more embarrassing to share how sexual struggles have returned to haunt us because we don't want people to think our spouse isn't sexually satisfying us.
So more often than not, married couples are still struggling with lust just as much as a singles are. Except they're just now experiencing this struggle alone.
A Better Understanding of Sexual Temptation
Looking back to when I was single, I don't know why I so firmly believed that marriage would fix my lust problems. I mean, there's no verse in the Bible that tells us to "flee from sexual immorality...by getting married." In fact, the Bible's exhortations against sexual immorality were most likely directed not towards singles but towards people who were already married.
I also realize that I didn't understand how Satan works. If Satan is "prowling like a lion" (1 Pt 5:8), wouldn't it make sense that he's looking to sexually tempt not only singles but married couples? After all, in a marriage, sexual immorality wouldn't only be damaging an individual - it'd also damage an entire family. Therefore, we shouldn't be surprised if married couples are bombarded with more sexual temptation than even singles are.
So why then do so many single Christians see marriage as the solution to their lust issues? I think a lot of this has to do with our tendency to underestimate the power of sin and overestimate the power of marriage. While Christ has dethroned the rule of sin in our lives, the influence of sin still remains in us. And the influence of sin is not something we simply grow out of. Rather, it's something that we're supposed to be constantly putting to death (Col 3:5).
As Christians, we need to remember the battle we experience in sexual temptation is not ultimately a biological or emotional problem - it's spiritual problem. Therefore marriage doesn't put lust to death; only the power of the Spirit can do this (Rom 8:13). So when Christians look to marriage to fix their lust problems, they're looking for marriage to rescue us from something that God never promised marriage to do. Only Christ can do this for us.
So this means that the battle against lust doesn't only take place during our single years - it unfortunately takes place in marriage too. But this also means that the victory over lust doesn't only take place in marriage - it fortunately can take place in our singleness too. Because Christ is with us in both stages of life.
To the married couples who find themselves struggling with lust within their marriages: don't be surprised by this. Remember that since the stakes are higher, you will likely be attacked by this temptation more than ever. But more importantly, remember that you're not alone in this struggle.
Married couples need to break the stigma that lust is a "young man's struggle." No, it's something that men, women, married, single, young and old all wrestle with until Christ returns. Only then will we be free from sin's temptations. So don't battle alone; share with other married couples and you'll probably be surprised by how many other married folks struggle like you.
To the singles who are tempted to believe marriage will solve your problems with sexual temptation - hope in something greater. The same grace that you need to fight against lust as a single person is the same grace you'll need to fight against lust as a married person. So get used to relying upon it now.