You probably don’t remember much about learning to walk. In the beginning, you might have fallen down a lot. But when you fell, you weren’t scolded. Most likely, someone who loves you picked you up and cheered you on again and again to keep trying! Over time, putting one foot in front of the other became more natural. Now you can avoid most situations that would trip you up.
If only we could treat ourselves just as patiently when we’re learning how to deal with other aspects of our physical body, including how to manage sexual feelings.
Most of us experience sexual feelings as part of our mortal experience. While these God-given feelings are an essential part of His plan for our happiness, a lot of us have felt the desire to act on them in a way that is inconsistent with His commandments.
Through our teenage years and into young adulthood, many of us have experienced the challenges that come from learning how to reconcile the sexual feelings that come with a mortal body with the Lord’s expectations for how we use this gift.
Some of us spend much of our spiritual energy trying to get rid of even appropriate sexual feelings. But getting rid of them is not what our Heavenly Father wants for us! Rather, He wants to help us learn to recognize and bridle our sexual thoughts and behaviors. Developing this ability will be helpful to us both before and after marriage.
Alma taught, “Bridle … your passions, that ye may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12). Alma never said to eliminate your passions—because passions are not necessarily evil. Rather, he urged us to bridle or control them so we can be filled with love.1
So how can we bridle our passions? Here are some things that can help you as you learn to “walk” on this important journey.
First, it’s helpful to understand some of the factors that influence your ability to control sexual desires. Understanding these factors can help you navigate your sexual feelings:
Biology: Each body produces different levels of several chemicals that affect sexual desire. As a result, the magnitude of each person’s struggle may vary.
Habits: If you’ve been in the habit of acting on sexual thoughts and desires, it might be more difficult to change. Replacing these habits with positive ones is a long-term effort. You must commit to getting back up—and forgiving yourself—as you go about this process. In some cases, a Church leader or mental health professional can help you move forward from negative habits.
Difficult emotions: Some people engage in sexual thoughts and behaviors to handle feelings like stress, loneliness, or depression. Learn to recognize those emotions. Consider exercise, journaling, therapy, or some other positive way of dealing with these feelings instead.
Low self-esteem: Feelings of poor self-worth often weaken your resolve. Consider engaging in service and other endeavors that help you feel good about yourself.
Imagined relationships: An imagined relationship will never adequately replace your need for a real connection. Instead, work on your communication skills and develop good friendships. Seek out positive social opportunities and hobbies. Connecting with others is a key to success.
After He fasted for 40 days, Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread. He simply responded: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
The Savior didn’t fight Satan’s temptation by claiming He wasn’t hungry or that He didn’t like food. Instead, He dealt with this temptation by stating a higher, nobler reason for not wanting to eat: desiring to live by every word of God. He saw that His mission was far above gratifying physical desires.
If you try to convince your brain that you don’t have sexual feelings, your body will remind you that you do, which can lead you to feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and worn out.
But if you approach your sexual desires as the Savior approached the desire for food, you can have more success in bridling your feelings. The Savior had a much more powerful reason to abstain than to give in to temptation, and you do too! We are promised so many blessings in this life and in eternity as we keep the commandments and that “living the law of chastity invites some of the greatest blessings men and women can receive in mortality: appropriate spiritual confidence in the presence of family, friends, Church associates, and, ultimately, the Savior.”2
The Lord’s commandments will bless your life if you follow them. The commandment to manage your passions is no exception: your efforts to obey will bring everlasting joy. Managing your sexual feelings might be a lifelong journey of learning, but Heavenly Father will be there to help you succeed! If you make mistakes, repent and try again. Don’t give up. That is part of the refining process in mortality.
Heavenly Father is a loving Father who cares and is ready to help us, especially with this sacred part of mortality. Never forget that He instilled appropriate sexual feelings within you, and He can help you to learn how they can be a force for good in your life regardless of your current situation by helping you connect with others in healthy ways, giving you a sense of determination and resilience, guiding you to self-awareness, self-love, and acceptance, and bringing you closer to the Savior each day.
Remember, God wants your happiness. It’s Satan who wants you to be miserable and who uses discouragement and deception to separate you from God. Giving in to sexual temptations outside of marriage will lead you away from blessings of eternal happiness and toward misery. But your efforts to understand, channel, and manage your sexuality, even if it’s a lifelong pursuit, can lead you toward happiness, humility, and charity toward all, including yourself.