Navigating Urges in Sex Addiction: Strategies for Effective Management

Managing urges is a critical aspect of recovering from sex addiction. You might be reading this if you’d like to know how to handle a strong porn urge. These intense impulses can often feel overwhelming, driving individuals to engage in addictive behaviors. Learning how to effectively cope with and navigating urges is essential for breaking the cycle of addiction and fostering lasting recovery.

Douglas Braun-Harvey’s View of Urges in Sex Addiction

Douglas Braun-Harvey created the therapy modality for treating out-of-control sexual behavior (OCSB). An important part of his perspective is that sexual urges should not be seen as a bad thing. They are not an indication of us being unhealthy. They are not a sign we are a sex addict. Sexual urges are not a sign we are not in good recovery. It is important to be mindfully aware of our sexual urges. Douglas Braun-Harvey recommends a weekly check-in to measure the frequency, magnitude, and duress we experience due to sexual urges. That weekly assessment is an important component of the Karuna Healing sex addiction treatment program.

The two questions from the weekly assessment.

If you had urges to engage in problematic sexual behaviors, on average, how strong and how frequent were your urges? Reminder: our goal is not to get rid of urges. Our goal is to be mindfully aware of them and welcome them while not indulging or giving into them.
If you had thoughts come to mind about acting out sexually, how much distress did they give you?

Where Urges for Porn and Sex in Addiction Come From

  1. Triggers: In the context of addiction, urges for pornography and sex often originate from specific triggers that are linked with these addictive behaviors. These triggers could be certain emotional states, situations or thoughts that have been previously paired with the use of porn or engagement in sexual activities as a maladaptive coping mechanism.
  2. Impulsivity: Urges related to addiction can result in impulsivity, where there’s an overwhelming desire for immediate gratification through engaging in addictive behaviors. This strong pull overrides any rational consideration of potential harm or negative consequences associated with these actions.
  3. Cognitive Distortions: The presence of cognitive distortions is also common alongside urges in addictive behavior patterns this involves distorted thinking processes such as rationalization or minimization. Here, individuals may convince themselves that their actions are justifiable or downplay the adverse impact their behavior has on themselves and others around them to create an illusionary sense of control over their addiction.

Short Term Strategy for Dealing with Sexual Urges in Real Time

Mindfulness and Acceptance based strategies: The traditional approach in addiction recovery to deal with a sexual urge are the control strategies below. I recommend as a first line of defense we practice mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies to train our brain that the sexual urge was not important enough to act on. We simply note the sexual urge, welcome it, and stay committed to our goals. RAIN is a great process that outlines this approach.

R — Recognize. Here we non-judgmentally recognize what is going in our body and mind. What thoughts am I having? Where do I feel the sexual urge in my body?

A — Allow. Here we radically accept the present state of the urge. Hello sexual urge, welcome. This belongs. Yes. This is exactly how it should be. I can be present with myself during this difficult moment. We make space for the urge and imagine our mind as a grand expanse with plenty of room for these thoughts and emotions. We are not feeding or ruminating on the urge or indulging it. We are saying yes and welcoming the heat and the distress we have of experiencing the urge while NOT indulging it.

I — Investigate. Here is where we might do urge surfing–analyzing the ebb and flow of how intense the urge feels and how I am experiencing it in my thoughts and bodily sensations. Here is where I might notice my thoughts and defuse from them, getting further separation between the Self that is noticing and the part that is experiencing the urge. Instead of “I need to act out”, “I am having the thought I need to act out”, or even better “I am noticing I am having the thought I need to act out.” Here also we might do some parts work, being curious about the part that is wanting to act out. What activated that part and what that part needs right now.

N — Nurture. Here we nurture the part that is suffering. We put a hand on our heart and say to the part of us that is suffering: “I love you, darling. Of course this is difficult, I will be with you.” We find out what that part might like. Connection? Fun? Pleasure? If we can find something that aligns with our values to nurture this part, we do it. We might indulge in some self-care, eat a chocolate, take a warm bath, call a friend. This is not done as a distraction but coming organically out of how to nurture this part that is expressing a need through a sexual urge.

Try using the EMDR future template script protocol to strengthen the subconscious ability to succeed with this technique.

Control strategies: call a friend or sponsor, distract yourself, go for a walk, choose a different escape strategy like playing a video game, sing a hymn or read your scriptures if that helps (never worked for me). The DBT skill TIPP is great.

T — Temperature: Engaging in activities that influence body temperature, like taking a cold shower or holding an ice pack, can provide a physical jolt to the system, helping to distract from and reduce the intensity of sexual urges. Try dipping your face in icy water for at least 30 seconds.

I — Intense Exercise: Participating in intense exercise such as running or strength training helps release pent-up energy and stress, mitigating the desire to act on porn or sexual urges and promoting overall mental well-being.

P — Paced Breathing: Implementing paced breathing techniques – deep inhales followed by longer exhales – can help calm the mind and body during moments of urge-induced distress. This mindfulness-based approach allows individuals dealing with addiction to regain control over their impulses.

P — Progressive Muscle Relaxation: By progressively tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body, those struggling with sexual or porn urges can divert their focus away from these cravings. This relaxation technique aids not only in reducing immediate urges but also contributes towards longer-term stress management strategies.

Harm Reduction strategies: This might be a controversial approach, but I think it’s very important to consider. In the addiction model there might be too much emphasis on length of sobriety. Often we know the exact number of days we’ve been sober from our bottom line behaviors. This sometimes trains us into thinking only length of sobriety is important–it doesn’t matter how we act out. But very likely different sexual behaviors go against your values in more serious ways and have a wide range of negative consequences. Consider a harm reduction strategy as a very last resort if you’ve tried everything else and feel you are past the point of no return.

  • if infidelity or hook-ups have been your MOI then choose porn instead
  • choose image porn over video porn
  • choose 10 minutes of porn and masturbate instead of a two hour porn binge
  • choose masturbation instead of porn
  • if fantasy masturbation is against your values, try mindful masturbation where you limit your fantasies and focus on body sensations

Negotiate with your parts and choose the lowest consequence behavior, and do it mindfully. Say consciously, I’m choosing this sexual behavior that goes against my values because I just can’t cope with this sexual urge and need to (fill in the blank, ie “need to connect, need for pleasure, need to escape from this negative emotion like boredom or anxiety”).

Then BOUNCE BACK QUICKLY. Use the slip to improve your process for the future. Analyze what went wrong in your recovery plan. Show compassion to yourself. Call your accountability partner. Get to a meeting. Do parts work to handle your shame (allow and welcome the shame while not ruminating on it). Report to your therapist. Report to your relationship partner and do repair if necessary.

Long Term Strategy for Dealing with Sexual Urges in Real Time

  1. Strengthening Mindfulness and Coping with Negative Emotions: Mindfulness practice in addiction recovery aids neuroplasticity by creating new, healthier neural pathways that counteract addictive behaviors, leading to an increase in gray matter within the prefrontal cortex (responsible for executive functions) and a reduction in the amygdala (associated with stress responses and emotional reactivity). Dealing with sexual urges involves strengthening one’s mindfulness and enhancing the ability to deal with negative emotions. This approach encourages self-awareness and emotional management in real-time, fostering healthier responses to stressors.
  2. Healing Attachment Insecurity and Processing Trauma: Addressing attachment insecurity and processing trauma is vital for effective coping with sexual urges. Therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) can help in managing traumatic experiences, which often underlie addiction behaviors.
  3. Healing Toxic Shame: Our unique approach to healing toxic shame includes befriending our inner critic using IFS – Internal Family Systems therapy – an innovative model that advocates for understanding, empathy, and acceptance of all our parts, even those driven by shame. By welcoming our shame without ruminating on it or running from it, individuals can facilitate self-healing.
  4. Undoing Negative Core Beliefs and Cognitive Distortions: Lastly, debunking negative core beliefs and cognitive distortions forms a significant part of the plan in dealing with sexual urges effectively. By challenging these unhealthy thought patterns prompted by addiction triggers, an individual can cultivate more rational thinking processes conducive to recovery.

Karuna Healing Counseling Services: Your Partner in Recovery

At Karuna Healing Counseling Services, we understand the challenges of managing urges in sex addiction recovery. Our experienced therapists provide guidance, support, and strategies to help you navigate the complexities of addiction and urges. Through therapy, coping techniques, and a personalized approach, we empower you to develop effective strategies for managing urges and making healthier choices. Reach out to us to take control of your recovery journey and develop the skills to overcome urges and build a life of lasting healing.


Also Read:
What is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT)?
What to look for when choosing a CSAT?
Compulsive Sex Therapist‚ OCSB Counseling & Treatment

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