The “Highlight Reel”

By May 20, 20108 Comments

Recently I’ve been doing some investigative research into the male mind. What I’ve learned has important implications for my single readers, but it impacts married people as well. It all began a few months ago when I saw a movie with my husband in which a number of married men were discussing whether the “highlight reel” constituted cheating. I honestly wasn’t sure what they were talking about, so I brushed it off and never thought about it again.

Until last week. I was sitting in a waiting room so I picked up a magazine and began thumbing through it. I stumbled upon an article that was written by a man, explaining to women the phenomenon of the “highlight reel.” He referenced the movie that I’d seen several months prior, and he explained it like this:

The highlight reel is a series of visual memories of past intimate encounters with other women. Unfortunately, the highlight reel is most frequently used to stimulate a man when he is being intimate with his wife (or committed partner). In fact, the writer of the article (who was not a Christian) said that for most men, this practice is the rule, not the exception. And what was particularly interesting about his article is that he specified the reel’s “contents” as primarily being composed of memories from past relationships, not random visual images of women they’d seen on t.v.

After reading this article I decided to ask my own husband if this was true. Do men really do this? My husband confessed that it’s an ever-present temptation, but for men like him it is only that: a temptation. He works hard to guard against allowing those images to creep in when he is trying to focus on me alone. Even so, the temptation is there.

Having this information, I first wanted to share it with my single friends who are navigating the rough waters of physical intimacy before marriage. Until you have actually said the words “I do,” you don’t know if the person you are with is the person you will actually marry. Which means you risk featuring yourself on the highlight reel of some other person’s marriage. But even more troubling is that your physical intimacy before marriage will haunt you later on in your own marriage as well. For men, it is a constant struggle to command your thoughts and be present with your wife. For women, the memories of past physical relationships can also be a problem in the bedroom but in an entirely different way. Unlike men, who have to resist using these images to excite themselves, the memories of the past often have the reverse effect on a woman’s arousal: hitting the breaks.

So if you want to guard against the ghosts of boyfriends and girlfriends past, watch what you do now. You cannot unsee things. Once they enter your brain, they are there forever.

And in case it’s unclear why this is such a big deal, the first reason is obvious–it is extremely hurtful if your partner is mentally with someone else while you are together. But the main reason the highlight reel is so dangerous is that it hinders intimacy. Not only does it bring other people into a space that is designed for a husband and wife to share alone, but it also invites a standard of comparison. Intimacy cannot thrive if a man (or woman) is constantly comparing their spouse to past partners, even if the comparison is unintentional.

Unlike the writer of the article, who felt this phenomenon was completely natural and that us women should not be threatened by it, he is sorely mistaken, if not grossly naive. The highlight reel is just one example of why sin is so dangerous. It is not a finite action that we can tuck away and forget about when it’s over. Sin is like a virus that affects every part of your life, and though it may sometimes lie dormant for a time, it will always cause sickness and harm. So if you’re single, guard your future marriage today. And if you’re married, encourage your husband in this battle by guarding what you watch on t.v. and in movies. No matter where you are on the relationship spectrum, be the kind of sister in Christ who encourages her brothers to think only on that which is noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. (Phil. 4:8) It is a call that begins in singleness, but will continue the rest of your life.


  • kari says:

    Thanks! I am single and did not know about this. What a helpful encouragement albeit saddening realization of the effects of my past sin. Thank you God for giving more grace.

  • Buzz Powes says:

    My wife and I married right out of high school. Virtually 6 days after graduation. Our 28th anniversary is this June. I have to tell quite honesty that God will erase that highlight reel. And He makes it very difficult for males with a good heart for Christ to think of anything else but his wife.

    There is a spiritual drain that hits the very moment that a mans mind drifts from his spouse during intimacy and at times she can feel it and he is repulsed by it so much that it can completely ruin the intimate moment.

    I hated it. My minds struggle was so bad and the only cure was to immerse myself in Gods word. Prayer, reading, worship, and fellowship and time can heal a mans mind.

    I no longer battle with this. It is a very serious matter to us men. We’re embarrassed by it, the guilt can be unbearable, we cant always understand it, we don’t want to dishonor our wives with it.

    My wife and I talked about this and I Love her so much. She has been a rock through my struggles. But she alone has my heart through Jesus.

    We have a 25 year old son who experiences this same struggle. I gave him this verse to study in his reading.

    The Amplified Version
    1 Corinthians 10:13
    For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently

  • Michael Del Angel says:

    Yes, the “highlight reel” does exist. I have been married for twenty years and have been with my wife as a whole for twenty-two years. I was raised in church my whole life until my mid twenties and have been “born again” since I was 13.

    Unfortunately, the response by Buzz is in my opinion, is total the exception. For most men, born again or not, this is not the case. Furthermore, when it comes to this “highlight reel”, the last thing most males would do is to be totaly honest with a female or his wife that he has to resort to this type of sexual practice.

    Myself? I have to go to it on occasion, not often, but once in a while. Thankfully, for the most part my wife and I have a very healthy vibrant sexual relationship. We have worked very hard to keep it that way. There are several relationship tools and methods we have embraced over the years, some more helpful than others but the one tool we have always lived by is the practice of brutal honesty. Ugly or not, we always prefer the honest truth first, then work through it together from there. This opens doors for both of us to make adjustments in our sexual relationship.

    Brutal honesty has proven to be a valuable real life tool that has proven itself over the years in our marriage. Unfortuantely, the Christian faith thaught by most churces in the U.S. do not embrace this ideal for the most part, instead most conservative thinking is that it should be willed away or asked to be taken away by God or through scripture because it is a sin.

    My personal belief is that God made me this way (imperfect)for a reason; my job as a Christian is NOT to ask God to take it away but to help me understand it, accept it,a then work hard to find the healthy balance with who I am now and with what I want to be as a born again spirit.

    As a member of the male species for the past 42 years, I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about and these diffcult topics become a whole lot easier when I know I can be honest, and I mean totally honest with my wife.

    I have 2 teenage boys and a daughter who is just about to be a teenager; one thing my wife and I have fully embraced is teaching our kids that to be human is to be “imperfect”; and our sexual identities are no exception to that fact. When it comes to sex education with our kiddos, my wife and I have embraced the very same principal that has helped us for twenty plus years, “Honesty”

  • Carol says:

    Jeez girl, I really apologize, but are you from some religious cult or something?

  • Sharon says:

    Haha, no Carol I’m not from a cult. Although I can understand how the language of this post might sound strange if you’re not a regular part of the conversation. I’m just a regular Christian trying to follow Jesus the best I can. Regarding this particular topic, one of the things Jesus talked about in the Bible was lust and how it can cause harm to people, almost as if they were doing the act itself. This post is an interaction with that idea. I hope that makes sense!

  • Carol says:

    I will give a thought for some days to fully understand it….
    for me has been a theme for a long time, i am agnostic, willing to believe in something but do not buy any story seeded from our childhood, supported by the church, just finding were to fit.
    Tank you!

  • Mathieu says:

    Honestly, what does it matter if your friend is Christian or not? Is it not enough that he’s a human being or does he have to be Christian to qualify??

  • Sharon says:

    Mathieu, thank you for commenting but I must confess that I am not quite sure who you are talking about. Are you referring to the author of the article I cited? In that case, the fact that he is not a Christian is relevant to this particular post because he presents a different perspective from that of Jesus. The author is undoubtedly a valuable person with valuable thoughts, but on this particular issue I disagree with him, and I would owe that disagreement to our differing faith commitments.

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