Book Review: Sexual Detox, by Tim Challies


Alarming statistics. Plagued generations. Devastating consequences. Confusion about sexuality. Shame and guilt. In the world and in the church. This is the pornified world we live in, and the appetite of pornography is matched only by the carnage left in its wake.

In his book, Sexual Detox, Tim Challies commends combating the deadly evils of pornography by the healing process of detox. However, unlike most detox processes, the aim isn’t merely abstinence. Challies writes, “I want to help you track down the lies you have believed about sex and I want to help you replace them with truth that comes straight from God, the one who created sex for us” (4).

Challies offers six short chapters that show the reality of the problem of porn and strategies for overcoming it:

  • Chapter 1 captures the sobering pervasiveness of pornography among a whole generation of children who are suffocating from its deadening effects. In his words, “we must recognize it (pornography) for the monstrosity it is” (16).
  • Chapter 2 highlights how pornography distorts, mocks, and rejects the God-given gift of marital sex. Challies exposes the false notion that marriage will fix a porn-sickened heart and reminds the reader that “the external battle is an outward expression of the inner, spiritual battle” (27).
  • Chapter 3 discusses masturbation and demonstrates how this act undermines the mutual giving and receiving that God designed to produce unity in marital sex. Instead, masturbation reveals our self-centered, sinful, and isolating tendencies. He concludes this chapter with a helpful treatment of handling the guilt that’s associated with this act.
  • Chapter 4 clarifies God’s good design for marital sex, particularly focusing on three areas: sex motivating joyful obedience, sex strengthening a husband’s leadership, and sex enhancing true freedom.
  • Chapters 5 and 6 give attention to the process of detox both in the bedroom (5) and for the soul (6). These two chapters help connect the dots between doctrine and sex, temptations and struggles with pornography.

How is this book helpful?

1. Biblically faithful. There’s no compromise on the standard of God’s design for sex; instead, God’s standard is held up as good and desirable. Challies balances showing both the beauty of marital sex and the disgust for the soul-deadening sin of porn. The aim isn’t merely to think right about sex for sake of thinking rightly about sex, but that “in keeping with God’s design for sex, the boundaries encourage, enforce, and enhance freedom . . . true freedom” (55).

2. Small and accessible. To write with precision and brevity is a gift, and Challies models this well. The book’s brevity makes this an easy resource to use with men who are struggling or have struggled with porn.

3. Questions for reflection and discussion. Challies writes, “It’s far too easy to zip through information we truly need and then skip on to the next chunk of information, without ever really reflecting on what we’ve only halfway absorbed” (21). In hopes of preventing that, each chapter concludes with a list of questions that serve to prompt further self-reflection or group discussion. Spoiler alert: this book contains a pertinent sermon preached by Charles Spurgeon on 1 Corinthians 10:13 entitled “Comfort for the Tempted.”

4. Clarifying how porn alters one’s perception of sex. I especially appreciated Challies’ emphasis on how porn rewires and trains the brain to think about sex in ways that are unbiblical and destructive. He writes, “Pornography teaches that sex is everything but intimate person-to-person, body-to-soul contact between willing spouses. . . .Young men enter into marriage with their minds full of pornographic images and their hearts filled with the desire to fulfill pornographic fantasies” (6).

5. Focuses on the heart. Because of the early emphasis on the mind, my fear was that the heart wouldn’t be addressed. Thankfully, Sexual Detox connects porn’s effect on the brain to its effect on the heart. For example, Challies encourages the reader to ask “What is in my heart that I want to do this?” more than “Is this particular act wrong?” We ought to consider the act, but be sure to trace our desires its source: my heart (64).

6. Emphasis on Scripture, the local church, and the gospel. How do struggling saints gain victory over pornography? Challies lists three necessary ingredients. First, Scripture must ground both our diagnosis of the problem and the solution. He shares a list of passages that were instrumental means of grace to him in his determination not to succumb to the allure of pornography as a young, newly married man. Second, struggling believers need the local church. Challies writes, “The local church is the ideal context for battling this kind of sin” (78). Third, the best hope for men who are sick and tired of porn is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Challies reminds his readers to “keep in the forefront of your mind that Jesus Christ had all your sexual sin loaded upon him at the cross. He faced the just punishment for that sin and he faced the full fury of God’s wrath for it; he faced the death your sin demands. By rising from the dead, he showed that he had triumphed over death. He now offers life, and he offers freedom—freedom from sin, freedom even from the desire to sin” (81).

I will use this book when counseling those who struggle with pornography.

To offer one brief critique: Challies focuses the work on young men while neglecting to address the building numbers of women effected by porn. A chapter addressed to women’s struggles or how to cope with their husbands’ struggle would be of tremendous benefit.

Sexual Detox is a wonderful book, and it is atop my recommended reads for those who struggle with pornography. I’m grateful for this work and highly recommend it as a trusted resource for both those who are sick of porn and those who counsel them.

Justin Perry
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