What is an urge?
When you experience a sexual craving, your initial reaction may be that it’s bad. This makes sense, as, historically, having an urge leads to acting out, and acting out has had many negative consequences in your life. However, a craving is neither good or bad. A craving is a physiological experience you have, say, through an increased heart rate or a neurological response to a stressful situation. Nothing more, nothing less.
The first step is to recognize that the craving is not the sin. It’s a perfectly normal experience.
Urges come and go
We treat urges as linear; meaning that the desire to act out gets stronger over time and our job is to keep fighting until we either give in or beat it.
The paradox about urges is that the more we try to resist them, the stronger they become. The research shows that attempting to eliminate an urge through suppression only strengthens the feeling. You end up being like one of those cartoons with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The more the two voices in your head go back and forth the more stressed you become and the desire to act out gets stronger. The devil usually wins out. Even in the rare cases, someone succeeds in white-knuckling their way through an urge, they become tense and obsessed with not giving in.
Urges are actually like waves. They may come crashing in suddenly, but inevitably recede and disappear, just like the ocean tide.
There’s an effective method to experience the ebb and flow of your urge.
Whenever you feel a desire to act out, rate the desire from 1-10 (10 being an uncontrollable desire). If you rate a 10, then commit to waiting 10 minutes before acting out. Take a shower, clean out your car, read a book, anything to occupy yourself. When the 10 minutes is up, rate your desire to act out once more.
If you still rate a 10, what you’ve experienced that it’s possible to resist the desire to act out, even when you thought it was impossible to do so. Go for another 10 minutes and see what that experience is like.
If your rating goes down, say even to 9.5, what you’ve experienced is that the urge becomes less strong without you needing to do anything. Repeat the process and see what happens.
This in itself may help you in moments of crisis. Even in the case that you end up acting out, you can begin to experience that your urges don’t get stronger over time, but come and go like waves.
How to surf those urges
Urge surfing is a more intentional version of the stall technique we described just above. It’s a breathing practice that looks to examine your craving rather than suppress it. Approaching your urge with curiosity rather than fear or tension. (A form of mindfulness exercise.)
When you find yourself with a desire to act out, find a quiet place to sit down.
(The following is a description of how urge surfing works. There’s also audio at the bottom of the page that will guide you through the whole thing.)
1. Take a few moments to notice where in your body you’re feeling your urge. Close your eyes and see what you notice. Maybe you feel something in your abdomen. Maybe you feel your mouth going dry. There’s no wrong feeling to have, what’s important is being aware of what you’re experiencing in your body.
2. When you locate the area of your body, focus your attention on that spot. If you feel sensations in multiple areas, focus on the one that is strongest. Be curious about the sensation. What does it feel like? pressure, tingling, warmness, coolness? Where might that have come from?
3. Slowly begin focusing on your breath. Spend 2 minutes following your breathing, in and out.
4. Go back to the places in your body you notice your urge. Examine whatever new sensations you feel there. Imagine sending breathes to that part of your body as you breathe in and out.
5. Repeat step 3. Repeat step 4. Go for as long as you’d like.
6. Acknowledge yourself for being willing to do something different with your urge than what you’re used to.