Coping with Sexual Addiction Urges
No one has to tell you what a sexual addiction urge is. If you have a sexual addiction, you probably experience it all too frequently. But it may be helpful to know that an urge (or craving) is a state of tension and anticipation that you experience as a desire for the specific activity. It’s also, as sexual addicts well know, uncomfortable – sometimes almost unbearably so. The longer the urge lasts, the worse it gets. Due to the immediate relief you feel once you act upon the urge, the likelihood increases that you’ll act on the urge again. In other words, the urge to engage in a sexually compulsive or addictive behavior, once acted upon, satisfies the urge – but only for a while before the scenario is repeated. Sometimes urges are acted on out of habit. Although these may be unconscious reactions, once you try to stop the behavior, the urges return with a vengeance.
Coping with sexual urges may seem like an impossible task. It isn’t. You can learn how. It will take three things: motivation, skills and time.
Why Urges Occur
There are two basic reasons why urges occur. If someone experiences positive mood feelings – more relaxed, more alert – after engaging in sexually addictive behavior, and repeats that behavior with the same effect, over time an urge develops. It’s a repetitive process. The more it makes you feel good, the more you want to recapture the feeling. Hence, the addictive behavior becomes more entrenched and urges propel you into the behavior.
The second reason urges occur is as a means to decrease negative mood (I won’t feel bad if I have anonymous sex multiple times, if I have sex I won’t feel anxious). When addictive behavior is used this way to block out an uncomfortable feeling, the sexually addictive urges occur in response to the negative moods – when the individual has no other coping methods.
Before discussing some specific coping mechanisms for dealing with sexual addiction urges, let’s first take a look the benefits of the addictive behavior and then at the benefits of stopping the addictive behavior. Think of the lists as the good and the bad about each.
Benefits of Sexually Addictive Behavior
If you are already in therapy for your sexual addiction, your psychotherapist may already have asked you to compile one of these lists – or something similar. If you are not yet in therapy but are considering it, or just trying to get a handle on how to deal with your sexual urges before thinking about professional treatment, do the exercise. Answer honestly, and write out the questions and the answers.
The importance of lists is two-fold. First, sex addicts, like other addicts, are often in denial. “I don’t have a problem,” or “I’ve got it under control” or some version of the same. The sex addict, however, often cannot see what others see. And the second reason for doing lists is a breakdown in communication. The sex addict’s significant other or partner may not be able to communicate what they see or feel adequately. Instead of helping to provide clarity, they may come off as overly critical or hostile. Guess what? Both result in the issue being clouded. To progress with therapy and to get at the root of the problem and learn new coping skills requires first identifying what triggers the urges.
Treatment professionals recommend starting with a general question: What it is that you enjoy or get out of the sexually addictive activity? What do you feel you life would be like without it?
Now, it’s time to get specific. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Sexual behavior helps me cope with what specific bad feelings – like anger, fear, anxiety, boredom, depression, irritability, frustration, loneliness, sadness, stress or tension? How does it help me cope?
- When I engage in this behavior, what positive moods or feelings do I have? Are there specific situations that make it better? What are they?
- How much pain would I feel if I stopped the sexually addictive behavior?
- How much does the behavior reduce physical pain?
- Regarding sexual urges, how much do they bother or scare me?
- Do I often like to test my control over my sexually addictive behavior by going right to the edge? How often?
- Do I often test my limits with this behavior – such as how many times I can do it without getting caught or some other consequences?
- What is it about the high that I feel that’s so satisfying? Can I describe it?
- Does my behavior help me fit in or socialize with others?
- Do I often use this sexually addictive behavior to help cope with conflicts I may experience with others? How often?
An important point about being able to cope with addictive urges and addiction is that it’s easier if you’re able to maintain as much of the positive benefits of the addiction as possible. At this point, don’t over think the process. Just list the positive benefits. You’ll see how it fits in later.
Benefits of Stopping Sexually Addictive Behavior
Every activity has a price or cost of doing it. This list concentrates on the benefits you feel you will get by stopping your sexually addictive behavior.
Begin again with a general question: What do you dislike about the sexually addictive activity or behavior you’ve been engaging in? What kind of harm does it cause you (and others)? Are you afraid what your life would be like if you continue the activity?
Now, ask yourself these specific questions. Again, be honest and thorough.
- Would I be more productive if I wasn’t so obsessed or preoccupied with this behavior? How much more time would I have?
- Would I have more strength, stamina and energy?
- Would my health improve? How?
- Would I have more money? How much?
- Would my pride, self-respect, self-esteem and sense of self confidence increase? How much?
- Would I have more emotional control?
- Would I be more honest with myself? With others?
- Would I be able to think more clearly, have my memory improve?
- Would I be able to avoid legal problems?
- Would my sex life with my partner or significant other improve?
- Would I be able to let go of my guilt? How much?
- Would I be able to sleep better and feel more rested in the morning?
- Would my overall appearance improve?
- Would my concentration, alertness and focus improve?
- How much better of a partner, spouse, parent, friend, employee or co-worker would I be?
- What kinds of plans could I experience that I’m not able to imagine now or that are impossible now?
Once you’ve completed both lists, take a while to compare them. What you’re trying to get at is how important the benefits are to you. At this point, many individuals have the “Aha” moment and are ready to jump into learning how to cope with the sexually addictive urges. Others aren’t so sure. If you feel confused over some of your answers or can’t quite figure out how important some are relative to others, don’t worry about it. Working through the confusion and reaching clarity on these issues is a process. You could discuss it with your loved one, a trusted friend, or, better yet, with your therapist. Chances are, sooner or later you will have occasion to meet with a therapist to resolve some issues during your recovery. This just gives you a head start and is something positive and constructive that you can do to deal with your urges.
The Importance of Motivation
If you’ve arrived at the conclusion that your sexually addictive behavior is out of control, and you don’t seem able to stop it despite negative consequences, but you do want to tackle the addiction and learn a new lifestyle, you already know about the first requirement: motivation. You need to be motivated to go through the process of self-discovery – or, in some cases, re-discovery – to learn new skills and coping mechanisms, and rebuild your damaged self-esteem, self-respect and self-confidence. You’ll also need motivation to repair relationships that have been damaged as a result of your sexually addictive behavior.
One way to remain motivated is to keep your two lists handy and review them often. They can help guide you back on track, especially handy if you have minor set-backs.
The Big Picture – Coping with Addiction
In essence, you need to learn how to maintain your motivation to stop the sexually addictive behavior during the long and sometimes difficult process of recovery. In addition, you need to learn:
- How to cope with sexual urges.
- How to get as many of the benefits of the sexual addiction as possible, without losing the benefits of stopping the sexually addictive behavior.
- How to interrupt unconscious habit patterns (such as automatically going to the porn sites), if they exist.
- How to resolve problems caused by your sexual addiction – such as relationships, debts, health or legal problems.
- How to develop a new lifestyle not dominated by inappropriate sexually addictive behavior.
Coping with Sexual Urges
Understanding sexual addiction urges correctly is very important. They may be uncomfortable, but they are not generally unbearable. You won’t die if you don’t engage in the sexually addictive behavior. It isn’t a matter of life-threatening drug withdrawal. That’s not to say that it may not be painful. Think of urges as a temporary situation. If you wait long enough, they’ll fade away. Urges of all kinds, according to addiction experts, peak in how frequently they occur, how intense they are, and how long they last. There may be – and probably will be – gradual flare-ups, but they all tend to fade away with time.
Thinking about coping with sexual urges might seem overwhelming at first. It’s critical that you only take responsibility for how you respond to those urges – not the fact that the urge occurs. In fact, the occurrence of urges only means that your addiction is strong. It does not imply that you are weak in motivation. Remember that you should only take responsibility for how you react to the urges. But expect that urges will continue for some time during your recovery.
What should you do, specifically? Here are some coping strategies.
- For low-level sexual urges: Accept it – but keep it distant. Then, return to what you were doing before the sexual urge occurred.
- For more intense urges: Think of your benefits lists – both for the addiction and for stopping the behavior. These are your counter-arguments against the urges.
- For very intense or high-level sexual urges: Distract yourself – Do something that you enjoy that will take your mind off the sexual urges. Some find that numbers or math work well, such as counting backwards, doing times or division tables, counting books on a wall, leaves on trees. Others read backwards, do the alphabet forward and backward. The idea is simple activity at high speeds demands your complete attention. The sexual urges disappear.
- Keep a log of your sexual urges. Record the date, time, duration, and intensity -rate on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest). Also record what you did about the urge, how successful it was, and whether you had to repeat it. One added benefit of the log is that it proves useful in identifying high-risk situations when you discuss these with your therapist or counselor.
- Avoidance – Sometimes you find that you need to stay away from certain places, people or objects. These are the so-called triggers that cause you to go into autopilot and engage in the sexually addictive behavior. This is at best a temporary measure, as avoidance is not a constructive behavior in the end. Eventually, you will learn to replace avoidance with more positive coping skills. But it can get you through the initial period.
- Interrupt unconscious habit patterns by placing a barrier between you and the activity. This may involve cancelling or locking up credit cards, blocking access to porn sites, etc.
- Develop a more positive lifestyle. This is your best safeguard against the return of sexual urges.
- Learn from slips. Just because you succumb to a sexual urge and engage in sexually addictive behavior doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Learn from the experience. And, if you do relapse, pick yourself up and renew your motivation to quit the sexually addictive behavior.
Often sexual addicts have underlying problems that need to be worked on beyond their addiction. Once you’ve learned how to cope with sexual urges, you and your therapist can begin to address those issues. Without the weight of the coping urges, it will be easier to focus and do the further work that needs to be done.
Coping with sexual urges does take time. Besides the ones listed here, your therapist can provide many more examples of effective coping skills. Practice them. Over time, the sexual urges will diminish. When they do recur, you will be better able to handle them, having the confidence of a robust skill set.
Motivation, skills and time – that’s what it takes to cope with sexual urges.