Summary of Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing by Jay Stringer


Based on research from over 3,800 men and women seeking freedom from unwanted sexual behaviour, be that the use of pornography, an affair, or buying sex, Jay Stringer presents our unwanted sexual desires as the roadmap to a path of healing and transformation.

I found this book quite fascinating to help others explore their sexual brokenness, especially within the context of giving spiritual direction and advice in Confession. Being curious & kind to your own story and allowing the Lord to connect the dots and bring real healing & transformation.

Some interesting stats:

  • 3-5% of Americans are addicted to sex (9-16 million).
  • 64% of 13-24 year olds intentionally watch porn at least once a week.
  • 1 in 3 women watch porn at least once a week.
  • By the time children become teens and young adults, 62% of them will have received a sext (sexually explicit image via text), and 41% will have sent one.
  • Porn doubles the probability of a couple getting divorced.
  • 35% of all Internet downloads are porn related. Porn sites receive more monthly traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. Porn is a $97 billion industry, with as much as $12 billion of that coming from the US.
  • The sex industry is so alluring because of what the addiction treatment community refers to as the 3 As: Anonymity, Affordability, Availability.

“The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” (Bruce Marshall, The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith)

Part 1: How Did I Get Here?

In part one, Stringer seeks to explain “How did I get here?” with 5 childhood drivers of unwanted sexual behaviours. I’ve narrowed it down to 2 main categories:

  1. Bad family systems: (1) 77% came from rigid families (excessive regulations) and (2) 87% came from disengaged families (abandonment and avoidance). If a boy experienced his father as overpowering, for example, he might end up watching porn that overpowers women to repeat this past abuse. 47% did not have parents available when difficult things happened in childhood and 60% did not have fathers talk to them at all about sex. This created a world of intrigue in which porn replaced parents as the silent educator of sex. (2) 33% had some form of triangulation in their families, in which children are brought in to fill the emotional emptiness of a marriage relationship, makes the child an idol for their parents. Porn gives a way for a triangulated child to escape relational maze. 33% of men who had fathers confide in them about marriage problems sought out porn with women who appeared to have maturity and power.
  2. A history of trauma or sexual abuse: Many themes in porn often mirror the impact of trauma: the misuse of power, deception, humiliation, and sexual gain. “Pornography streams through our eyes and into the crevasses of our trauma” (59). Any trauma from your personal or family life? 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the age of 18. Sexual abuse is often the biggest driver of unwanted sexual behaviour and the most overlooked portion in their stories. Even a peer introducing you to porn is a form of sexual abuse (50% of cases).

“Freedom is an often paradoxical and unexpected path that is found through kindness and curiosity” (68).

Part 2: Why Do I Stay?

In part two of the book, Stringer seeks to explain “Why do I stay?” by identifying 6 core experiences that together usher someone into unwanted sexual behaviour. I’ve narrowed it down to 4

  1. Deprivation: Are you deprived of meaningful relationships? Do you have unmet needs? Do you lack self-care? If so, this promotes entitlement & secretive tactics. Only 27% of porn users had decent self-care.
  2. Dissociation & futility: Do you lack motivation? Do you see your life as a failure? If so, this promotes fleeing from reality through TV, video games, internet, where you are in control. A lack of purpose in life often leads to behaviours where very little risk or imagination is required. “This is one of the reasons men are drawn, magnetically, to watching others, whether it’s through porn, sports, or television. Nothing is required except consumption. In watching the drama of characters unfold on a screen, there is no personal crucible for change. In watching others play sports, there is no physical commitment required to experience victory. In watching pornography, there is no relational maturity required to reach orgasm. Watching provides men a world without futility—that is, until they attempt to get out” (99-100). “Pornography is appealing because all that is required is to show up feeling defeated, angry, lustful, or entitled and be promptly served any erotic content you desire. In pornography, there is no one you must encounter in your ongoing struggle with premature ejaculation, no pain in not being chosen by a partner, no one who will ask for emotional engagement, and no one who will hold you to account for having endured the distorted desires of your heart. 113. If you want to know why you’ve resigned to unwanted sexual behaviour, find out what life events convinced you that hope is pointless” (113).
  3. Lust + Anger: Lust points to a great desire for beauty and belonging. Sin enters when lust is hijacked by covetousness or demand. Anger aims at our longing for justice and restoration. Sin enters when anger is hijacked by entitlement, contempt, or dogmatic control. Sexual brokenness can never be redeemed through futile attempts to stop lust that ignorantly disregard the insidious role anger plays in fuelling it. What makes you angry? Anger and lust are often partners in crime. “According to popular pornography sites, each time men log on to the sites, they spend on average about nine minutes using pornography. Nine minutes. Women spend about a minute more. It strikes me that if we truly longed for beauty, connection, enjoyment, and pleasure as much as people claimed, we would be spending far more time pursuing it. The evidence suggests something to the contrary. We pursue pornography not because we are pursuing beauty but precisely because we prefer to consume and control it” (116). “Whereas men tend to pursue pornography to find power over their shame and harm, women tend to pursue violent pornography to repeat their shame and harm” (121).

Example: “For instance, you could be having a terrible week at work (futility) and come home to watch four random hours of Netflix (dissociation). You are upset with yourself for how unproductive you are (anger) and then find yourself scrolling through a porn site (lust and anger) to offer yourself a momentary reprieve from disappointment. The next evening, a friend invites you over to hang out, but you say no to something good (deprivation) because you feel so disappointed in who you are. Your shame then drives you to even more pornography use. Unwanted sexual behaviour does not happen out of thin air. There is always a context” (87).

“Rather than fighting lust or shame, let your sexual brokenness motivate you to find greater meaning in life. If you want to fight, don’t fight to eliminate desire; fight to discover meaning” (100).

Part 3: How Do I Get Out of Here?

In the final part of the book, Stringer outlines a 3-part strategy for overcoming unwanted sexual behaviour through transformation in the areas of self, relationships, and community.

  1. Self: To transform yourself, you first need to disarm the power of shame. Shame is the painful experience that something you have done or failed to do has made you unwanted or unworthy of belonging. Shame, not pleasure, is the #1 key driver of unwanted sexual behaviour. “Men in my sample were nearly 300 times more likely to pursue pornography for each unit of shame they felt about their behaviour, and women were 546 times more likely” (143). We should face shame head on rather than run from it. “We are healed to the degree to which we can turn to face and name what is killing us” (146). How to disarm shame? Talk to a trusted guide (a therapist, pastor, or sponsor) about the specific stories where you harbour shame (stories in which you felt unwanted or unworthy). Next, start filling up your life with satisfying activities to enjoy the healthy pleasures that God has given us and exercise good self-care (swimming, cooking, music with a great pair of headphones, vacations, movies, concerts, spa treatments). “Healing is not about simply saying no; it is about saying yes to the good, the true, and the beautiful” (151). Also, be kind & curious to your own story: What sexually arouses you? What are your most prevalent sexual fantasies? Can you connect this to a part of your story?
  2. Relationships: Practice both (1) attunement – to recognize the face & story of the person in front of you with kindness & curiosity. Share your story & allow others to share theirs. Pursue connection with others; (2) containment – create boundaries in which you can say a meaningful “no” to others. “In relationships, attunement without containment will become accommodation, and containment without attunement will become a form of dogmatism” (174). God shows us perfect attunement (vulnerability) and containment (strength).
  3. Community: Community transforms us through growing our capacity to receive & offer love. Accountability is NOT about having someone take a front-row seat to the “bad” sexual things you do in your life.

“A heart with an ounce of kindness for your life story will accomplish so much more for you than a mind filled to the brim with strategies to combat lust” (69).

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