There is a rumour going round that women don’t watch online sex. There’s a school of thought that says that our fantasies are romantic rather than explicit. Some argue that we don’t think as visually as men, so pornography is rarely appealing. A few believe that we are, by nature, more pure and innocent.

I wish the rumours were right. They’re not. Not in my experience, and not in the experience of most women I know.

I’m going to be honest with you because in what follows, I’m going to be asking you to be honest with yourself. In the past:

I have created sexual fantasies in my mind.

I have read women’s erotica.

I have watched porn on the web.

And I’ve enjoyed it.

I know I’m not alone. An increasing number of women are watching internet pornography. One in three visitors to porn sites are female, according to a 2007 Nielson study. Gone are the days when films were made by men for men. Now female directors are producing short pieces that are specifically designed to around pleasure in women. The material is sensitive, sensual … appealing.

And many Christian women are no strangers to these sites. A survey in 2006 conducted by ChristiaNet found that 20% of Christian women use pornography regularly. That is one in five of us – perhaps it’s you.

Even more of us are reading erotica. We tend not to call it that – it sounds better to refer to it as “romance”, or simply the latest bestseller – but reading it we are. Fifty Shades of Grey became the bestselling book in both Britain and the USA in 2012, and women consumed it avidly. A book soaked through with explicit scenes, including violent sexual encounters, became the must have novel of the year. Society attached no shame to reading and enjoying it – and millions did. Maybe you were one of them.

But maybe you weren’t. Perhaps you’ve never visited a porn site, and never read an erotic novel, and never even wanted to. Yet there are many, many more women who don’t watch or read porn, but who write it – not on paper for publication, but in our minds for private enjoyment. It’s sexual fantasy.

By sexual fantasy I don’t mean remembering a past sexual experience with a smile, or looking forward to sex with anticipation. I mean constructing a fantasy world – a better sex life – than our reality. For some, it’s a fleeting thought; for others a complex web of characters and intrigue that preoccupies our waking hours and leaves us feeling simultaneously intoxicated and disgusted.

The trouble is, few of us admit to any of this. Few of us feel we can, because no one ever talks about it. Women’s struggles in this area are hardly ever mentioned. It’s the great unspoken issue of our technological age. But we are not without hope. We are not without a Saviour. There is a way forward…

1) Be honest about what we want more than God

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images … (Romans 1:22-23)

My heart is an idol factory. All our hearts are. And there is an almost infinite number of different fake gods that our factories produce. But there are three idols that I seem to see in my life – and in the lives of the women I know – more than any others:

  • The idol of relationships: there’s a whisper in our hearts that says if life is to be full and meaningful, we need a man. Or a different, better, man than our husband. It’s a whisper that we’re naturally very ready to listen to. And before long, we want an ideal relationship more than God. If we can’t find that ideal man in the real world, it’s tempting to look for him in a fictional world.
  • The idol of experience: our 21st-century culture is obsessed with self-fulfilment. There’s nothing wrong with having a zest for life but we need to have a safety valve in our mind that says, “It’s ok not to experience that” and this is never more true than when it comes to sex. If we can’t, we begin to want sex more than we want holiness and we easily run to our minds or our mobiles to find it.
  • The idol of control: If you have opened your heart to someone and they have wounded you, life hurts. And once it’s happened, many of us are keen to ensure it never happens again. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting safety, but if, instead of running to God, we try to create our own safe world by restricting our relationships to the online or the imaginary, then we side-line God once more.

Can you see your idol? Can you see ways you have pushed God into second place?

2) Run to Jesus for forgiveness

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9)

Denying we have a problem won’t work. Seeking restoration by trying to be extra good in other areas of our life is utterly futile. Finding forgiveness for past sins – whether they are related to sex or any other form of rebellion against God – is about honesty and humility before the Lord. Will you repent now? Be specific about the things you are sorry for, and the ways in which you want to change.

3) Put off our old self

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires … (Ephesians 4:22)

The Christian life is like changing our clothes. There are things we need to take off, and other things we need to put on.

We can take off our impure thoughts and actions by running away. Whenever we feel a fantasy coming on, we can have a quiet word: “Seriously? You want to let your idol win? You want to turn your back on God? Run away. Think about something else.” It’s liberating to be able to tell ourselves: “No”. And, of course, we can run away from things that are likely to trigger fantasy or pornography use: we can avoid specific TV programmes, films or situations that are causing us to stumble.

And we can take off our impure thoughts and actions by fighting back. When temptation hits, when evil crouches at our door, we can dispatch it with words of truth from the Bible. When we want to run to fantasy-land for security at the end of a stressful day, we can instead say: “It is written … The LORD is my strength and my shield (Psalm 28:7). And we can take practical steps to remove books from our shelves and apps from our mobiles.

4) Put on our new self

Put on your new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24)

We can put on purity by remembering our true identity. We are blessed, chosen, loved, in receipt of grace, redeemed, sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1). We are so privileged! And we can put on purity by living up to our identity. Instead of running to fantasy when real relationships get tough, we can choose to spend time investing in relationships. Instead of losing ourselves in the comforting world of pornography, we can choose to remember God’s comfort for us, and choose to pass that comfort on by supporting organisations who stop sex trafficking. Instead of spending money on things that are sexually immoral, we can choose to be generous in giving to Kingdom work.

Purity is not easy. It will be tempting to give up. But God makes it achievable. So let’s join together as sisters in Christ and become the truly beautiful women that we are called to be. Purity is possible [Helen Thorne].

This article is a series of edited extracts from our December 2014 Book of the Month, Purity is Possible, published by The Good Book Company.