There will always be a battle in our minds to some degree. So I’m not promising you that if you follow these steps you will never have an unwanted sexual thought ever again. However, there certainly are ways to lessen unwanted thoughts and deal with them much quicker when you do have them.
So here are 4 ways God will help you stop unwanted, intrusive sexual thoughts.
1. By Rejecting the Idolization of Sex, You Will No Longer Fear Sexual Sin, Thus You Will Think About Sexual Things Less Compulsively
The term “intrusive thoughts” is not a biblical term but I do think it is a helpful psychological term. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that cause distress and they are often very repetitive. So if you are having intrusive sexual thoughts, this would mean you are experiencing a pattern of unwanted thoughts that you find disgusting or distressing that have a sexual theme to them.
These types of thoughts are different than mere lustful thoughts because lustful thoughts are often chosen in the mind and in sin our flesh finds these thoughts enjoyable. But I’m not really talking about those types of thoughts where you look at someone with lustful intent or you have sexually pleasurable fantasies in your mind that you feel guilty about later. I’m talking about sexual thoughts that you find distressing and even in the moment you are not lusting over them. You are just wishing you didn’t have them but for some reason these disgusting sexual thoughts keep popping up in your mind at the most inconvenient times. That’s what I mean when I use the phrase “intrusive, unwanted sexual thoughts.”
One reason people have intrusive thoughts is because they have anxiety issues. Whatever you are being anxious about, this will often be the theme of your intrusive thoughts. So why do we get anxious about things? One reason is because we are putting too much value on these things. If you really want to be popular, you will be anxious about social settings. If you really want to be healthy, you will be anxious about your body. If you really want to get married, you will be anxious about relationships. This anxiety around a particular topic then fuels intrusive, unwanted thoughts.
It’s not wrong to really want something, but when we want something more than God, this is what the Bible calls an idol. My point is, if you have turned sex into an idol, you will be anxious about sex, and this can then fuel intrusive, unwanted sexual thoughts. When you really want something, you will compulsively think about ways you could ruin getting it (i.e., anxiety). In our context, if you have idolized sex, your mind will get filled with anxious thoughts about ways you might screw this up for yourself.
We often compulsively think about the things we fear the most, and often our greatest fears are attached to our greatest desires. So if you have idolized sexual purity, you may have intrusive sexual thoughts about your girlfriend cheating on you because that’s your worst fear because her sexual purity is your idol. If you have idolized sexual pleasure, you may have unwanted sexual thoughts when you are talking to an attractive person. If you think sexual sin is the unforgivable sin, you will think about all kinds of evil sexual things out of fear you might cut yourself off from God.
The point is, by repenting of any sins where you have idolized anything sexual in nature, you will then be less anxious about this issue which will then decrease the regularity of unwanted sexual thoughts which are being fueled by your anxiety. Notice how Jesus links our thoughts to our anxieties in Matthew 6:31-33, which says:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
These anxious statements are being fueled by anxious thoughts, and these anxious thoughts are being fueled by idolization (Matthew 6:24). By rejecting these idols and putting God above everything else, the worry will stop, which will then decrease the unwanted thoughts fueled by the worry.
2. By Maximizing the Fuel that Feeds Good Thoughts and Minimizing the Fuel That Enflames Your Flesh, You Will Have Less Intrusive, Unwanted Sexual Thoughts
Our minds are like an unquenchable fire. It’s always burning up something. Meaning, we are always thinking about something. You can’t ever stop your mind. All you can do is use it to think about good things and train it to not think about bad things. But you can’t just not think about bad things.
Again, it’s a fire that will always be burning. So you have to minimize the bad fuel and give it good fuel. In other words, you have to minimize the negative material your mind will use to create thoughts and give it good materials so it can use good things to create good thoughts (Matthew 6:22-24). As Romans 13:12-14 (NIV) commands:
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Notice that this passage is full of commands. It’s telling us to do something active so we will then avoid doing something negative. It says “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light,” and “behave decently,” and “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” These actions will then cause us to avoid the negatives, “and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
You are always going to be thinking about something, so you have to starve your mind of bad and feed it good so that it will be churning out good thoughts rather than unwanted thoughts.
3. By Depleting Your Body of Sexual Energy, You Will Have Less Intrusive, Unwanted Sexual Thoughts
When your arm is in pain, your mind will think about your arm. When your stomach is hungry, your mind will think about food. When your body is filled with a virus, your mind will be thinking about how sick you feel. Likewise, when your body has a lot of sexual energy, this will cause your mind to produce sexual thoughts. This is why Paul said to the married:
Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:6)
But what if you are single? The most important part is prayer. Notice that to the married, Paul said that if you are not having sex in marriage, the only thing that will prevent you from falling to sexual sin is prayer. While singles can’t have sex, they certainly can pray!
With that said, I think it is a mistake to totally ignore what you can do physically for your body to reduce sexual energy when you are single. For example, exercising isn’t going to totally take away all sexual energy, but it will tire out your body some and will then decrease some sexual pressure you are feeling physically. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, which says:
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Prayer is more important than athletic training. But in this war over your mind, you want to use every tool available to your advantage. By doing what you can to keep your sexual energy as low as possible in your body, this will also help you have less unwanted sexual thoughts as well.
4. By Being Too Busy to Think About Sexual Sin, You Will Experience Less Intrusive, Unwanted Sexual Thoughts
I really enjoying rock climbing. For a long time I didn’t know why though. I’m not particularly good at it. I’m okay, average at best; but I’m not naturally gifted at it like some people. But after watching lots of documentaries about rock climbing, I noticed a theme among rock climbers. They say something like, “I love rock climbing because I feel free when I do it. I’m totally in the moment. I’m not thinking of anything else.”
I realize that this is one of the reasons I like rock climbing too. I like the physical aspect of it, but really I like the mental break it provides me. It’s really the same motive for why people watch TV or scroll on social media. When you are watching something, you are not thinking about other things. Likewise, when you are climbing a rock, your mind is totally focused on what you are doing and thus your mind is getting a break from thinking about all the other things you have been thinking about.
Why is this relevant for overcoming unwanted sexual thoughts? Again, you can’t stop thinking. All you can do is think about other things. But it’s hard to force yourself to think about things you know you should think about. It’s a lot easier to avoid unwanted thoughts by staying busy in your life doing good things that require your full attention (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
When you are busy teaching a class at church, helping out with the youth group, reading your Bible, or having a conversation at small group, your mind is going to be preoccupied with the tasks right in front of you, thus minimizing the amount of unwanted sexual thoughts you can have. As Romans 12:21 states, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”