How To Deal With Sexual Temptation and Impulses

Man Dealing With Sexual Temptation and Impulses

One of the hardest things to do in with any addiction, compulsion or temptation is to turn away when you most feel it drawing you in. At this point it becomes an emotional, mental, physical challenge that you can learn to win.

I heard it well said, “It is like staring into the face of the lion and not flinching”. One thing that this friend of mine didn’t yet know is that it wasn’t a lion, and looking away wouldn’t create any more danger.

Power of Interpretation

What has been highlighted so far is the power our interpretation of a situation makes. Do you see temptation and impulses as insurmountable, a threat, or simply something to reframe and deal with?

No, it isn’t a lion, it is an experience that you can reframe as indicating either withdrawal, a trigger, or a legitimate need. Then, you can deal with it. So what are these three categories of withdrawal, trigger and need?

Withdrawal is the physical experience of cravings. Your body adjusts to different stimulus and when you lack it, your body tells you so! This experience can be overwhelming, but there are things you can do about it.

Triggers are the experience of encountering a stimulus that alerts your brain and body to an old, known experience. Our bodies then shift into a familiar mode that accords with previous experience making us want to, and more likely to engage.

Needs are the often underlying cause of the original addiction or temptation. We have legitimate needs as humans, which often aren’t met in our lives. Can you detect the needs that run underneath your struggles? To be loved, valued, included, given affection, given safety, shown appreciation etc.

Learning How to Overcome

Overcoming any impulse, trigger, or strong physical and emotional reaction starts by soothing your body. The importance of self-regulation has been written about extensively in research literature and attests to its crucial role in overcoming withdrawal and temptation.

When we learn to breathe deeply and rhythmically in response to stressors we activate the bodies calming mechanism. This helps the thinking parts of our brains to come online and reduces impulsivity.

One technique is “square breathing”, where you learn to control your breathe. Find demonstration videos on youtube and other resources to start practicing now. Best practice is to start building it into your everyday life.

Whilst soothing you also need to STOP. Linehan (the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) has described a number of ways to work with your impulses that you can learn—STOP is the first one we will look at and then we will learn to “check the facts”.

Simple Steps to Help You Build Resilience

When facing triggers and withdrawal emotions can take over, and you can lose control. There are four simple steps to remember and practice to help you stop:

Man in sunsetStop: Literally freeze. You will jolt yourself away from your emotions as you stop moving, acting etc. Just notice where you stand, sit etc.
Take a step back: Give yourself space and time by physically and mentally stepping back—changing rooms, or getting yourself in the presence of others will normally achieve this.
Observe: Notice all of the facts, people, happenings, emotions involved in the situation—not to act, but to become fully aware of what is happening.
Proceed with mind engaged: Get your thinking brain involved and ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want from this situation?
  • What are my longer-term goals?
  • What choices will make this situation worse?
  • Ask your wise self what the best solution would be?

I recommend you make yourself a reminder of these steps and keep it in your pocket. This was you will be able to start using it even when you don’t remember it, and learn to integrate it into changing your experience.

Checking the Facts

Woman by lakeGo “check the facts” is an exercise in eliminating judgment and discerning what is true. We look to see if our emotional experience “fits the facts” and allows us to evaluate our automatic beliefs and assumptions that might not be accurate. You can start practicing this powerful tool using these questions:

  • What is the emotion/struggle I want to change?
  • What is the event that prompted the emotion/struggle?
  • What are my interpretations, thoughts and assumptions about the event?
  • Am I assuming a threat?  Label the threat.  Evaluate if the threat will occur.  Think of other outcomes.
  • What is the catastrophe? What would be realistic consequences? Imagine coping well with these.
  • Does my emotion and/or its intensity fit the facts? If not, how can I interpret this differently?

You may need professional help, or support from fellow travelers to fully implement these strategies and decipher the difference between withdrawal, trigger and need.

This is why support groups are highly recommended, and counseling can be very effective.  Ultimately, it is very important to learn what our legitimate needs are and find healthy ways to meet them. This is a key factor in building resilience and helping you overcome any addiction, withdrawal or temptation.


Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of where you can find his guide, or contact him.


[1]: Linehan, M. (2015) DBT Skills Training Manual. Emotional Regulation and Distress Tolerance.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 11, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.