Handling Sexual Urges (Part 2)

Jo Johnson 1 month ago
Blog 4 mins
Found in: Sexuality

Urges are a reality of human life. As Christians, we want to learn to handle them well, and this is particularly true when it comes to sexual urges. In my previous post, I shared some strategies that help us prepare well for navigating urges. Now let me share some strategies we can employ in the midst of experiencing an urge.

Engaging with an urge

If you practise the three preventative strategies outlined in my last post, you’ll get better at noticing the cognitive content that frequently pops into your mind. After a while, you’ll notice certain images, thoughts and memories are more likely to grab your attention and more likely to end with a strong urge to indulge in sexual sin. It’ll be sometimes possible to notice and take captive the negative thought content and escape a resulting urge. 

As with the BOMB technique outlined in my previous post, you are wanting to name what you’ve noticed as this immediately diminishes its power over you. So, when you notice something, say to yourself:

‘I notice a thought about...’

‘I am experiencing an image of…’ 

‘I am remembering...’

You can then remind yourself of some of the verses you noted down as part of the ‘connect with what is important’ exercise (see previous post). You can fire up a quick prayer asking God for courage, and power to overcome, knowing you are not condemned but already cleansed. 

Then move. If you are sitting, stand. If you’re standing, walk, go outside, do something that’ll reconnect you with your conscious, rational self.

Practise this and over time you’ll get better at noticing and responding more quickly. 

Urge surfing

The term urge surfing was coined decades ago in relation to addiction. It can be used to cope with any intense feelings that threaten to overwhelm you. It might be an urge, a feeling of sadness, a terrible fear, grief or rage. Surfing is a picture most people can relate to. I am a wimp and would not have the courage to surf, but I love watching the experts.

Waves are powerful and no one would try and suppress a wave by bashing it with a surfboard. Interestingly, struggling to stop an urge or difficult feeling increases its strength. Instead, we need to observe it as a physical, emotional, and cognitive wave, and learn to watch it without struggling.

There is a recognition that a wave will rise, stabilise, and then fall. Urges follow the same pattern. It doesn’t matter if it’s an urge to scratch an itch, to look at a wrong website, to seek a one-night stand, or snort some cocaine. All urges follow a pattern, they rise to a peak, they stabilise and fall.

All urges follow a pattern, they rise to a peak, they stabilise and fall.

Many people don’t ever realise this pattern as they quickly give in, obey the urge or try and control it by harmful coping strategies like drinking or binging.

Surfing an urge starts with you noticing. Sometimes we create unwanted urges by engaging the thoughts or images we know make us vulnerable but often urges come from less conscious brain areas and feel quick and overwhelming. Noticing activates different parts of the nervous system and gives us more control despite the urge being present. As soon as you notice and name an urge, the power of the automatic brain diminishes. Noticing brings online our conscious will.

‘I am noticing the start of an urge I don’t want to obey. This is painful and feels unfair.’

Notice where in your body the urge feels strongest. It may be intense in one area or in several body areas. Often urges show up in the throat, chest and stomach but you may well feel sensations elsewhere. Imagine you are a scientist and will be paid a million pounds to describe the physical urge as you feel it. Notice how high, low, wide are the feelings in your body. Imagine getting a marker pen and outlining the sensation areas or drawing them within a body outline on paper. Some find it helps to do this. Notice if the feelings are pounding or still. Are they on the surface of your body or do they go deep? Does the feeling have a colour? When you first practise these ideas, they may feel strange. Let the sensations be there.

Notice any thoughts about the urge by silently acknowledging them. ‘I am noticing the urge is getting stronger. I am worrying I won’t cope.’

Notice any lies that you’ve believed. ‘I notice the lie that I must give in, that I need the relief, that it’ll cause me physical harm if my sexual needs are not met.’

Keep watching the feelings. You can track it with a score (‘It’s a three, now a six, now a four’), or with words (‘The wave is rising, and peaking, now falling, now rising again').

Then, follow the M (move your body) and B (bring yourself back to the present) of the BOMB technique (see my previous post). Move your body and get present in the world through your senses. Then go back to the urge and repeat the above. The urge might be low and rising again, stable or falling off.

You might have to cycle through this method a few times. Then ask yourself, ‘What can I do that’s more life-enhancing than the cycle of urges?’ or ‘What is the smallest God-honouring action I can take right now?’.

Then get on with your day until the next urge. You can also use this technique if you have intense feelings of sadness, anger or anxiety.

Like breaking any habit, at first the thoughts, images and urges will still come often and strongly. But, if you want to please God and submit daily to the Holy Spirit, you can learn skills to manage the cognitive and emotional psychological experiences so they don’t lead to sinful behaviour and the resulting shame and sadness. Over time, new cravings will emerge. You’ll begin to crave God’s word. As you read, you’ll understand how to live your new life of freedom. You’ll grow a more thankful heart that cries out to a father who liberates, and a saviour who heals. Slowly, the power of your fleshy urges will diminish. They will be less frequent, weaker and the battle will feel less exhausting.