Of all the gifts God has afforded us, sexuality is one of the most challenging to use wisely, ranking next to controlling the tongue (James 3:2). We know that the sex drive is part of how God made us, and we also know that God commands that sexual expression be limited to the confines of marriage. The unmarried must learn to cope with the build-up of sexual tension in ways that honor God. We can’t get rid of the sex drive, and we should not try to, for it is God’s gift to us. But we certainly should learn how to control the sex drive, use it, and relieve it only within God’s wise guidelines for the good of His people and the glory of His name.
First, we emphasize the fact that the Bible nowhere portrays sexuality in itself as sinful or dirty. We have no reason to feel guilty about our sexual drives. Such urges are normal and God-planned. God created male and female, along with their capacities, drives, and needs for important purposes.
Second, the Bible commands self-control (1 Corinthians 9:24–27; 2 Peter 1:6). So it is only the misuse and abuse of sexual capacities that are wrong. In all areas, including our sexuality, we must “strive for the mastery,” as the KJV says in 1 Corinthians 9:25.
Masturbation, almost always associated with lustful fantasies and pornography, is not an appropriate way to relieve sexual tension. It is always a self-serving act that shows no concern for others. God has provided the male with natural relief of sexual pressure. These are “wet dreams,” sleeping dreams of a sexual nature accompanied by seminal emissions, or ejaculations. Therefore, masturbation is not a necessary means of relieving sexual tension.
For those who wish to be sexually chaste, here are some practical suggestions on how to deal with sexual desire in non-sinful ways:
1. Appreciate reality. Grateful acceptance of your sexual nature and its purposes is key. Instead of trying to get rid of sexual desire, offer it to God. Thank Him for what it means for your future. Do not deny that you have sexual feelings or try to repress them. Instead, in the strength of God, treasure up your power until He leads you in His time to your lifelong mate. In the meantime, redirect your sexual energies into useful service for the Lord.
2. Cultivate a mindset of pleasing and honoring God even with your imagination and self-discipline. So much of today’s media overemphasize sexuality and promote instant gratification as an ideal, making self-control a much-needed virtue. Strengthen your discipline by staying close to God, clothed in His spiritual armor, and trusting your Savior to battle for you.
3. Remember that the Holy Spirit lives in the spirit of a Christian. Your body is the temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16). The Spirit will master and direct your desires as you invite Him to do so.
4. Let Jesus be your example. He was sacrificially self-disciplined (Luke 9:51; Isaiah 55:4; Matthew 27:11–14). He was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15), which means He had to manage His sexual drives to the glory of God. The Lord directed all His energies and attention to meeting the deepest needs of lost mankind. Serve alongside of Him, and let Him serve through you.
5. When a sexual urge grows, redirect your thoughts and take steps to dampen the urgency of the desire. Do some exercises, take a walk, or take a cold shower—cooling the body can literally cool sexual urges.
6. Avoid all forms of unnecessary sexual stimulation. Men should remember that their desire is usually stimulated by what the eye sees, so it’s important to avoid any movie, TV, or other visual medium that shows nakedness or sexual activity. Women are often stimulated by emotion or relationship, but can also be impacted by sight. Both genders should be ruthless about this—what they watch, read, and think.
7. Follow Jesus’ advice and don’t look at any person lustfully (Matthew 5:28). Follow Job’s example: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” (Job 31:1). Train your mind, your thoughts, your imagination, and your eyes to be chaste as you consider how God might use you constructively in every person’s life.
8. When you wake up in the morning, get up. Lying in bed opens the door to sexual arousal, increasing desire.
9. Work vigorously. Work with all your strength, and at night you will have an easier time falling asleep quickly.
10. Manage your mind. Philippians 4:8 gives you a list of things with which to fill your mind.
11. Sublimate sexual energy into meaningful and satisfying service for others in Christ’s name. Or channel it into exciting and challenging projects and activities that fully occupy your mind.
12. Prepare for the responsibilities of marriage and family. Keep your attention on the long-term benefits of sexual purity.
13. Use your imagination and memory to conjure up physical sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and tastes that you’ve experienced and in which there is no shame. Make your mind work the way you choose.
14. When a sexual urge intensifies, change your environment. Ask a friend to go with you to chat, walk, jog, shop, or do something active and enjoyable.
15. Develop or cultivate a hobby that requires active use of your hands.
16. Take note of what triggers your sexual urges, and avoid it. Do what you can to change the situation associated with the desire. If wrong thoughts follow a certain activity, then stop engaging in that activity.
17. Talk to God about how you are feeling. Share every situation with the Lord Jesus.
18. If you do sin, immediately confess it to Christ and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Don’t let shame control you. Thank God that Christ already died for all sin, that God’s love is unconditional and His mercy is new every morning. Ask God for victory. In Ephesians 6:10–18, 1 Peter 5:8, and James 4:7–8, God gives you the means of victory over Satan’s attacks.
19. Cultivate close and honest relationships and accountability with other conscientious Christians of the same gender as you. Ask them to pray for you and to be available when you need them.
20. Acknowledge your struggles to someone you can trust, such as your pastor. You are not the first person who has struggled with learning how to manage your sexual nature. Hiding, faking, and acting hypocritically will not help you; they will destroy your character. If you do slip, your confidante can support you with prayer, exhortation, and encouraging guidance.
21. Realize that striving for the mastery may not be easy or quick. Putting on any virtue—chastity, honesty, generosity, or whatever—takes practice and commitment. Paul described self-discipline like this: “I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:26–27).
22. Use music to shift your mind’s thoughts. When you feel sexual cravings, listen to some music with God-focused, Christ-honoring lyrics.
23. Take it a day at a time, depending on God’s grace and keeping your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2).
24. And, of course, it is not wrong to get married. Paul, speaking of the unmarried, writes, “If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).
God designed us to have real relationships, not to indulge the lust of the flesh. The chief purpose of the sex drive is to move us toward our spouses, not to gratify ourselves. Sinful ways of relieving sexual tension can never release anyone from lust; rather, they only reinforce the desire to act out on that lust. Sinful behavior cannot relieve the longing for real intimacy but only adds to the pressure.
Real sexual fulfillment is found in satisfying another. The proper use of sexual power is about loving another, not oneself. By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can learn to postpone sexual fulfillment until we can enjoy the full reality that God designed for sexual intercourse within marriage.