Religious Conference Addresses Stigma, Shame Surrounding Sex Addiction

By Dorri Olds 05/20/16

The campus-wide event was inspired by the tragic suicide of a seminary professor who struggled privately with sex addiction and depression.

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Religious Conference Addresses Stigma, Shame Surrounding Sex Addiction

Dr. Greg Miller, an admitted sex addict who is now sober for a decade, addressed the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) after last year's tragic death of John Gibson, a NOBTS seminary professor and pastor who committed suicide on August 24, 2015 after being exposed as a user of Ashley Madison, the eHarmony of extramarital affairs.

The NOBTS community gathered for the Recalibrate conference in late April. The campus-wide conference was geared toward helping students and faculty better understand what happened, and to let them know there is always help available.

“We have come to the realization through a most tragic event here on our campus that secret sin has a devastating impact,” Dean Thomas Strong wrote in a NOBTS weekly publication. “We want to start a conversation on breaking the power of secret sin that is seasoned with redemption and hope.”

Miller’s speech showed an understanding of the loneliness of an addict. “We need community because we cannot see our own face. We need others to recognize who we are,” he said. “Truth creates authentic community.”

He added: “Addiction is trying to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way.” And as with any addiction, “There is no one experience that creates or explains sexual addiction.”

Gibson’s death had been in response to being outed as a member of the extramarital affairs website Ashley Madison. The site was hacked by a group called The Impact Team, which released up to 40 million users' names, addresses, emails, and credit card transaction records.

The public humiliation was too much for the pastor. He committed suicide on the first day of classes in 2015. His wife later went public about her husband’s long-term struggle with depression and sex addiction, which she had known about for years. At the eulogy their son said, “My dad reached such a point of hopelessness and despair that he took his own life.” 

Kathy Steele, a NOBTS professor of psychology and counseling, and the director of the seminary’s clinical training program, tweeted, “Many believe getting married will fix being addicted to pornography. That is a lie. A way of minimizing the problem.” 

In another tweet, Steele wrote, “Trigger creates internal response based on experience and story. Explore why I start to consume. What do I want my drug to do for me?”

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.