Juli Slattery

by Juli Slattery


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What Do I Do With My Sexual Desires?

“What do I do with my sexual desire?” I’ve heard this question from men and women of every age, from those who have never married and from those who find themselves “single again.” I have also heard this question from married people who, for one reason or another, do not feel sexually satisfied within marriage. (Presione aquí para leer en español). 

If you follow Christ, you aim to steward your sexuality in a way that honors God’s design. God created sex to be an expression and celebration of the covenant promise of marriage. This means that most Christians will have sexual urges and desires that they cannot act on while honoring God at the same time. As Paul wrote, there is no temptation you experience that is unique to you. Many other men and women  know the ache of denying their sexual desire for the higher purpose of honoring God.

But what do you do with that ache? And how do you make it through a lonely night when sexual temptation is all around you?

In our day, sex means nothing and everything at the same time. On the one hand, the culture presents your sexual choices to be as non-consequential as what you choose to eat. Sexuality has been gutted of spiritual and relational significance. At the same time, sex has been linked with your identity, your maturity, and your personal fulfillment as a human being. Sex has become the “catch all basket” to bear burdens it was never created to carry.

Just like that craving for chocolate or the restlessness of having to sit still for hours on end, our bodies experience genuine physically-based desires and urges. But there is a difference between a physical urge and a need. Your body does not need sex, even if those longings feel very much like a need. However, you have genuine needs that may be channeled into sexual desire.

For example, why is it that a woman might experience insatiable cravings for sex when she is single, but her desire completely disappears once she’s married? Her body hasn’t changed enough to explain her drop in desire. More likely, her longing for sex wasn’t really about sex. She used sex to meet underlying, and perhaps subconscious, needs. We usually experience sex as a need (not simply a longing) only when it is linked with greater underlying needs.

Resisting sexual temptation definitely involves elements of self control. However, a more effective strategy than continually “white knuckling it” is to reflect on the underlying source of your sexual desire.

 

You need intimate connection.

Sarah had recently become a Christian. Over lunch, she honestly shared with me about her battle to stop having casual sex. “There is this guy I met at work. We barely know each other, but I am attracted to him. We started flirting and the next thing I knew, I found myself in bed with him. How do I stop wanting to have sex with random guys like this?”

I asked Sarah, “Did you feel better after you had sex with him?” She honestly answered, “No.” Then I asked her to reflect on what she got out of the encounter. Was there any moment during which it was satisfying? “I just wanted to be held and touched. It felt great in the moment to connect to someone even so briefly. And then I felt disgusting and rejected afterward.”

We live in a world where it’s easy to feel isolated… especially as a single person. You weren’t created to live in a small apartment all by yourself, working sixty hours a week and being entertained by a screen during your free time. You were made for intimacy. Whether or not you are married or have children, you need touch, you need to share life with people, and you need to be known.

While our pace of life often sabotages intimacy, it offers sex as a cheap replacement. Sarah didn’t hook up for sex. She used sex so she could experience a fleeting moment of connection and affirmation.

Clues that this might be underlying your sexual desire:

  • Temptation is the greatest when you are feeling lonely.
  • As you evaluate your relationships, you can describe very few of them as intimate connections.

Address this need by:

  • pursuing authentic friendships
  • connecting with a local church and getting involved
  • developing an intimate relationship with the Lord

 

You need comfort.

When you have sex or masturbate, your body releases “feel good” chemicals like endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin. God designed this release to reinforce the bonding between a husband and wife. Over time, a married couple learns to seek comfort and pleasure by pursuing and responding to one another.

Many learn to use sex or masturbation as a form of self-medicating. Sexual temptation is less about the desire to have sex and more about escaping feelings of anxiety, restlessness, or depression.

One of the leading movements combating porn is called Fight the New Drug, reminding us that sex can be misused as a drug because it  can hijack the natural pleasure centers of the brain. You then become dependent upon the drug to navigate the challenges of life or even to relax or fall asleep. This is not how God intends us to use the gift of sex, whether we are single or married.

Clues that this might be underlying your sexual desire:

  • Your sexual temptation is the greatest when you experience physical or emotional discomfort.
  • You regularly feel anxious or depressed.
  • You use sex to reward yourself for working hard.

Address this need by:

  • Naming the underlying discomfort you are feeling rather than interpreting it as sexual desire.
  • Cultivating healthy ways to find comfort and self care like artistic expression, talking to a friend, worship and prayer, essential oils, cleaning a closet, or taking a nature walk.
  • Seeking help from a counselor or sexual addiction specialist.

 

You need to be “spent.”

Research shows that workaholics often experience low sex drives. The same is true of people who engage in demanding exercise routines. One reason for this correlation is depleted testosterone by too much work and lack of rest. While depleting our testosterone because of overwork is a bad thing, this also shows that God gives us many ways to direct the energy that may be experienced as a sexual drive.

Testosterone is a “green light” hormone in the body that plays a role in risk taking, competitive behaviors, energy, and concentration. While the impact of testosterone is greater in men than women, both genders experience a higher libido as testosterone increases. Although it’s a bit more complicated than this, think of testosterone as a regularly-generated fuel that burns up when you “spend” it.

God gave us testosterone and other brain chemicals not only for their role in sex, but also as a natural means of prompting us to impact our world in meaningful ways. One of the greatest correlations for people battling pornography is boredom and a lack of purpose. When you wake up every day to exciting projects and challenges, you are addressing your emotional and biological need to have an impact in the world. You may also find that, by the end of the day, you are too tired to think about sex!

Clues that this might be underlying your sexual desire:

  • You experience more sexual temptation when you are bored.
  • You feel challenged in your everyday activities (including work, hobbies, service).
  • You regularly engage in vigorous exercise to the point of feeling a “good tired” by the end of the day.

Address this need by:

  • pursuing challenges (if your work isn’t challenging, pick up a new hobby or project)
  • getting involved in a volunteer activity that stretches you out of your comfort zone
  • making plans to exercise when you typically feel most tempted

 

You need healing.

Kaley grew up in a home that looked perfect on the outside, but behind closed doors, her father sexually abused her throughout her childhood. While Kaley hated sex, she also found herself in a cycle of sexually acting out followed by self-contempt and shame. She felt like her life was spiraling out of control after two abortions, a life-threating STD, and losing her job because of sexual misconduct.

Why would a woman like Kaley continue to put her life at risk and compromise her future because of sex? Wouldn’t the abuse she suffered as a child make her want to avoid sex instead of insatiably seek it?

Trauma from our childhood often plays out and seeks expression in our sexual temptations. This is true not just of childhood sexual trauma, but also our early experiences of feeling out of control, abandoned, neglected, or dominated.  My friend Jay Stringer wrote the excellent book Unwanted to help people understand the link between past trauma and unwanted sexual behavior. We are drawn to sexual experiences as an ineffective way to address painful patterns from the past.

Clues that this might be underlying your sexual desire:

  • You find yourself drawn into sexual situations or fantasies that also repel you (for example, BDSM).
  • You have a love-hate relationship toward sexual outlets.
  • You have significant trauma in your past that you haven’t worked through with a counselor or mentor.

Address this need by:

  • acknowledging that your pain from the past doesn’t stay in the past and that God is inviting you into healing
  • seeking help from a counselor who has training specifically in trauma recovery
  • consider reading Jay Stringer’s book, Unwanted*

 

A mature Christian learns to be aware of desires rather than driven by them. As you grow in your relationship with God, you may find that He helps you address sexual temptation by meeting you in the underlying wellspring of those temptations.

There are many passages in the Bible that implore Christians to avoid sexual immorality. We need to take this teaching seriously. Yet we must also pair it with the call to abide in Christ Jesus. He is the source of our strength to resist temptation. Abiding in Christ means that our lives are completely surrendered to and united with Him. God will not magically change your behavior without first transforming your heart. This internal work goes beyond filters on your iPhone and new resolutions to resist temptation.

Friend, don’t let the enemy discourage you because of your continued struggle with sexual temptation. Instead, receive the invitation to pursue the life-changing journey of walking intimately with Jesus.

You may also find the following resources helpful:

 

*This is an affiliate link. AI may earn referral fees from qualifying purchases.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Comments

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  • Tasha

    Tasha

    This is very well explained, like it makes it perfect sense! Thank you so much
  • Jacci Roberts

    Jacci Roberts

    Tasha, thanks for commenting. We get this question so often. I'm glad you found this helpful! ~ Jacci from AI
  • Anna  Jones

    Anna Jones

    Amazing Article! Thank you!
  • Elizabeth Chang

    Elizabeth Chang

    Thank you for the exhortation! As an extreme introvert with cptsd who hardly goes out or is involved with anyone and anything, it's so difficult to remember to do all these things. Great kick in the butt!

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