When it came out in 2000, Every Man's Battle was an instant sensation. Written by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, two evangelical Christians, it brought the subject of male lust into the open. Men, the book said—even Christian men—were dogs. They ogled women, they dreamed about cheating on their wives. They read porn. They masturbated. They cheated on their wives. To be the kind of men that Jesus wanted them to be, they had to stop it. All of it. Right now. "Our bodies were not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, who has both created us and called us to live in sexual purity," said Every Man's Battle. "His will is that every Christian be sexually pure—in his thoughts and his words as well as his actions." Every Man's Battle was important because it conceded, finally, that the stuff against which so many Christian churches had prohibitions was the same stuff that so many Christians actually did.
Every Man's Battle was marketed directly to conservative evangelical pastors, who understood that if porn was a thriving industry, at least some of the people in their congregations were consuming it. They recommended the book, at a discount, to the men and boys in their pews. Sales spiked to 25,000 copies or more a month, up from an average of 5,000 in the first three months after the book came out, according to Dan Rich, who at the time was publisher of Waterbrook, the book's small Christian imprint. It was a bonanza. There quickly followed Every Woman's Battle, Every Young Man's Battle, Every Young Woman's Battle, and a half dozen other related titles. Today, the series has sold more than 3 million copies. "They were brown-paper-bag books," says Don Pape, who worked in Waterbrook marketing at the time. "You'd buy them in a brown paper bag and hopefully no one would know about your problem."
Next month Waterbrook relaunches the series with revisions that take into account the many novel and high-tech ways that men and women can now look at porn and otherwise avail themselves of inappropriate sexual interaction: mobile phones with video applications; Facebook; texting. "To me, these developments lead to the conclusion that men and women who want to behave with sexual integrity are at best more challenged than they may have ever been: at worst, they are failing," the book's publicist wrote to me in an e-mail. The new Every Man's Battle describes a Christian who liked to use his father's Webcam to film himself masturbating—and then would send the clips out over the Internet. He would cry with shame after each assignation, and yet he did it again and again. It tells of a chaste cell-phone relationship that culminated in the exchange of naked videos. And it portrays a woman who lost her job as a pastor after her hot text messages with a married man were made public at church. The authors' advice to these malfeasants is as stringent as it was nine years ago: stop it. "Think about such a possible disaster like you think of an STD: something that can only happen when you mix sex with irresponsibility. Remember, too, that a picture is worth a thousand words. Never, ever create sexual photos, videos, e-mails, text messages, or anything else that someone could keep and share in the future." Good advice for anyone, Christian or not.
Though once popular, the books are not universally beloved. Some say that the advice in the Every Man's Battle series is too banal to actually help real people with real problems. Every Man's Battle recommends that in the presence of attractive women, married men behave like "dweebs" (the authors' term)—that they become boring and disengaged, like the loser no one wanted to talk to in high school. It advises men to perfect the art of "the bounce"—a quick averted glance whenever a curve or a jiggle catches their eye. Looking away keeps you pure, the book teaches; purity enhances marriage, which is a gift from God. John W. Kennedy wrote about Christian sex addiction last year for the magazine Christianity Today. Strategems like these are fine, he says, but "some guys in the group that I'm in, they say, 'I'm way beyond that. I'm looking at porn all the time, I'm going to strip clubs, I'm having an affair.' Every Man's Battle is a good hedge for men who have not progressed to addiction.''
Younger evangelicals—the same Christians who have grown tired of the hardline sexual morality preached by the old-timers—say the picture Every Man's Battle paints is too dire. Not all men are dogs, they say; an appreciative look at a pretty girl does not a cheater or a sinner make. And a zero-tolerance policy doesn't help young boys make good decisions regarding sex, love, and marriage. But Dan Rich insists it's better to be safe than sorry: he remembers having with his daughters, now in their 30s, what he calls "the $20 conversation." "Let me tell you how guys are wired," he said to them. "Every guy has the potential to lose control of that part of their lives." The question is, will Every Man's Battle—even in an updated form—give men the tools they need to stay in control when temptation strikes? It's unclear. Some flirts remain faithful to their wives for life; and even a dweeb with a practiced bounce will sometimes stray.