Pastor and counselor T. C. Ryan’s book Ashamed No More is about his struggle with sex addiction, the role the church had in creating a culture of shame that is harmful to addicts, and the way out for others in a similar situation. It is honest and humble.
I did not like or agree with everything in this book, but I am glad Ryan had the courage to write it and I hope more books like it are on the horizon. Ryan is absolutely correct about a few things:
- Shame is a destructive emotion, particularly in the church, but also in our culture generally. It is time we started opening up these conversations and banishing shame, which only keeps people trapped in destructive patterns.
- Addiction is a heavy burden. Blaming the addict accomplishes nothing, and though an addict bears responsibility for their choice to recover, true transformation is rare and precious and deserves to be celebrated.
- Sex, like many things, can be the object of addiction and its further connection to shame in our society makes it an especially potent kind of addiction.
I appreciate that Ryan writes from his personal experience and with a great deal of compassion for his readers – both those who might identify with his experience and those who might have a hard time understanding it. He explains himself and the process of addiction with patience and clarity. That makes this a valuable read.
Ryan does a better job of discussing sexual ethics than most Christian authors. He is careful to point out that sexual sin is not the most important category of sin. He is aware that sex can be unhealthy even in marital relationships. For the most part he avoids drawing clear, bright (and therefore false) lines.
He does, however, rehash the unsupportable idea that the Bible has a uniform perspective on sexual behavior which is that sex is only moral in the context of a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. Not only is this an inaccurate portrayal of scripture it handicaps Ryan’s usually nuanced understanding of sex addiction in a variety of ways. For example, he simply assumes and asserts that pornography is evil. He never argues for why. He isn’t particularly clear what the damage pornography does outside the damage of addiction, though he continually asserts that porn is destructive even for those who don’t suffer addiction. He doesn’t even offer us a definition of porn.
Though Ryan’s book is honest it is also guarded. We learn a lot about his emotional process, but learn surprisingly little about the specific habits of his sex addiction. The foreword praises this aspect of the book, saying it is above salaciousness and voyeurism. I wonder though how we’re supposed to have truly honest conversations about sex while never actually talking without euphemism about, you know, sex. To me this looks like squeamishness which reinforces the culture of shame around sex in the church. If I ever get around to writing a book about sexual ethics I promise to go straight up Dan Savage on you.
These flaws aside, if you share Ryan’s presuppositions about what constitutes moral sexuality this book will be a great help to you. Even if you don’t share his ethics this book is a great opportunity to get a window inside a type of addiction which needs more exposure. I’m grateful Ryan had the courage to face his addiction and to share his story for the sake of others.