Whole Brained Sexual Purity

Left & Right brain strategies for sexual THRIVING!

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About the Author

Josh Spurlock, MA, LPC, CST

Josh is a Jesus follower, husband to his high-school sweetheart Cassie, dad to 9 children (5 adopted daughters, 2 bio sons, and 2 bio daughters), and papa dede to 8 grandbabies. He and Cassie founded MyCounselor.Online, a 5-Star Christian online mental health and personal development company, 15 years ago. As an ordained minister, with a degree in Biblical Languages, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Certified Sex Therapist Josh fancies himself a neurotheologian. He, Cassie and the 4 bio kiddos travel the world full-time as digital nomads in search of ways to bless Christ’s Kingdom!

Christians are sometimes defined by “don’ts.” He or she doesn’t do this or that, because “they are a Christian.” This narrow frame does tragic injustice to the beauty of the Gospel. Jesus’s ministry was defined by all the things he did do, like bringing Good News to the afflicted, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and setting the imprisoned free!

When it comes to sexual purity, we can fall into the same trap of defining our sexuality by don’ts. We can be so focused (and rightly so) on not engaging in distorted sexuality, that it overshadows the bigger picture of God’s beautiful gift of sexuality. In this article I want to share with you some neuroscience that will help bring balance to the don’ts by highlighting some dos. 

Don’ts flow from our left-brain along with all the other well thought out and logical rules and regulations that govern our life. We need them to live productive lives and run a civilized society. They do not, however, rule the heart. The functions of the heart, or cardia, as described in Scripture, capture what neuroscientists identify as right-brain functions. Long before we have language, in fact before we even leave the womb, our right-brain is developed and hard at work building our character structure. 

By character structure I don’t mean what you believe or your morals, but the neuro-mechanics of how you are wired inside. Your character structure is the cumulation of the experiences in life that shape how you perceive yourself and navigate the world you live in. It’s memory. If you reach out as a child and touch a hot tea kettle, the pain you feel in your hand combines with fear felt inside and all the data points your brain is taking in at that moment, including your parent’s response. Did they respond in a way that felt nurturing, punishing, or indifferent? 

In a flash your right brain pulls all these pieces of information together, along with the memories of all similar experiences, and it forms a non-verbal explanation for why this happened, what it means about you, and a plan for avoiding this pain again in the future. The playbook formed from this experience becomes one of many that make up your character structure. All of this is happening through your right-brain. In the future we don’t have to analyze and decide what we should feel, think, and do about situations we face. In a blink, our right brain grabs the playbook off the memory shelf, and we react according to the plan. 

You might be thinking, “That’s all very interesting, Josh, but what does all this have to do with sexual purity?” Stay with me, we’ll be there in a minute. 

Since character structure is formed in the right-brain, left-brain strategies alone (like rules) will never lead to lasting change. At best, you get short-lived cycles of restraint, followed by relapse, usually accompanied with a lot of shame. “Woe is me! Why do I do the things I don’t want to do and don’t do the things I want to do?!”  

What we need is transformation of the character structure housed in our right brain. Now that may not sound like a very ‘spiritual’ solution, but remember God created our nervous system. It was His idea to design the brain with various parts and functions that work together for the good of the whole. The slower left-brain system that analyzes information, formulates language, and exercises will power, is God’s idea. So is the faster right-brain experiential system that feels, interprets meaning, and provides intrinsic motivation. 

We can no more disregard the right-brain because its function is different from the left than the head can say to the feet “I don’t need you!” (to borrow Paul’s illustration from 1st Corinthians). On the contrary, the parts that can seem ‘weaker,’ like those feelings’ parts, are indispensable. God has given us both. The key to mental health and spiritual maturity is the integration of the two in submission to Christ.  

With that basic understanding of neuroscience in place, let’s look at the implications for sexual purity. 

I want to get real practical by examining some common scenarios through the lens of unhelpful reactions in contrast with some helpful left and right brain strategies. 

Scenario 1

You’re out for a walk and a beautiful half-dressed jogger comes bopping by in the opposite direction with dog in tow. 

Unhelpful ReactionsHelpful Left-Brain StrategiesHelpful Right-Brain Strategies
Try to hide that you are gawking, spend the next block fantasizing about them sexually, followed by loathing what a lousy Christian you are. Bounce your eyes somewhere else, pray to God they don’t make another lap, and focus your mind on something productive. Acknowledge to yourself you find them beautiful, appreciate God created you to notice beauty, appreciate that you are a sexual creature, thank God for the wisdom of his design and for the gift of healthy sexual enjoyment. 

Scenario 2

You are minding your own business surfing social media when a pop-up ad for a lawn mower you don’t even own covers your screen with some half-dressed beauty cutting the grass. 

Unhelpful ReactionsHelpful Left-Brain StrategiesHelpful Right-Brain Strategies
Become fascinated with lawn mowers and click your way to an informative journey that leaves you feeling ashamed and sexually frustrated.  Close the ad, install Covenant Eyes on your phone, and share the incident with your accountability partner.Reflect on your bodily experience, notice your arousal, validate that being turned on is a normal part of human experience, consider what a healthy expression of sexuality might be, perhaps flirting or initiating sexually with your spouse.  

Scenario 3

It’s one of those days where you’ve been horny since that smoldering hot dream you woke up from this morning. You’re finally home and let your spouse know you are in the mood by giving their booty a little squeeze as you walk by. But, instead of the come-on look you hope to see in their eyes you get a “Go away, I’m not interested” vibe.  

Unhelpful ReactionsHelpful Left-Brain StrategiesHelpful Right-Brain Strategies
Try to hide your disappointment or sulk off to the other room murmuring something about an icebox and reach for a romance novel, rom-com, or begin ‘researching’ that bikini clad vacation destination justifying how you have “no choice” and you “deserve…”Call your accountability partner to vent, go for a run, and take a cold shower. Acknowledge the sinking feeling in your gut, visit a friend, look into their face and share the pain and sadness you feel from your spouse’s rejection. Have a heart-to-heart with your spouse letting them know what it’s like for you and asking to work on your sex life together, with a Christian Sex Therapist if necessary.  

Scenario 4

It’s another Friday late-night after a long week and you find yourself watching porn again and masturbating to something disturbing, a new low for you.  

Unhelpful ReactionsHelpful Left-Brain StrategiesHelpful Right-Brain Strategies
Say screw-it, I can’t not do this so I might as well accept it. Or bash yourself over the head with how much you suck and how if anyone knew, they would be disgusted, promise yourself to never do it again and tell no one.  Install Covenant Eyes on your computer, look up a Celebrate Recovery group to join this week, tell someone you trust about your plan for accountability, and buy the book Unwanted.Be curious towards what your struggle might be telling you about your story, hurts, longings, and unmet needs. Face to face, share the exact nature of your struggle and content of your porn/fantasy with someone completely safe. Connect with a counselor experienced in right-brain therapy. 

Sexual desire and response are modulated by the right-brain. Left-brain strategies can feel like putting a shackle and chain on an out-of-control beast. It’s not that they are bad, in fact they are incredibly helpful, they’re just incomplete, as are right-brain strategies without left. Make friends with your right-brain. Understand what it is telling you about your needs, longings, fears, and hurts. Learn to attend to that half of how God made you, so you can navigate life whole-brained and steward effectively the beautiful gift of sexuality God has given you!

Resources Referenced

*Right-brain and left-brain distinctions are a gross over-simplification. Nevertheless, they are a helpful tool in understanding very complex embodied nervous systems that work together. 

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