I want to start over, but I can’t give up sex. What should I do to get back on track?

I recommend the following four steps to get back on track:

1. Recognize your mistakes and admit your faults, but do not let yourself get preoccupied with them. Like everyone else, you are not perfect, so give yourself the freedom to forgive yourself and then decide to overcome your weakness. You have to want it for yourself.

Recognizing your faults is one side of the coin, but recognizing that you deserve respect is the other. Many people who have made sexual mistakes have lost all self-respect. They feel that there is no point in turning back, but even if they wanted to turn back it would be impossible, and that even if it were possible, no one would love them after all they have done. You do deserve respect, but you have to respect yourself first. When we misuse our sexuality, we lose respect for our bodies and for the bodies of others. When this happens it becomes easier and easier to fall into unhealthy physical relationships. Only you can choose to break out of this. It is important that you know from the start that the healing process will demand work and sacrifice on your part.

2. Resist the temptation to give in to destructive thinking: “I’m a bad person, I don’t deserve real love, and I need sex. I’m addicted—I can’t help myself.” None of those things is true! Sexual addictions can be real, but more often than not people tell themselves that they are addicted to things like sex in order to make themselves feel as if they do not have any control over their behavior. In their minds they have no choice but to keep indulging in it. But this is not true. You do have control, and you do have dignity. You are not a “bad person.” You may have made mistakes, but those mistakes are not your identity.

You are worthy of love. When you make mistakes, you do not forfeit your worthiness to receive love. Also, you do not “need” sex. Perhaps you have formed an attachment to the pleasure of sex or to its emotional intimacy. Perhaps sex has become for you a way to avoid genuine relationships. Instead of using sex to express intimacy, you may be using it to escape intimacy. Whatever the case may be, you have the power to create new habits.

3. Refrain from bad relationships, and make a clean break from any unhealthy relationships. These drive you deeper into loneliness. Sometimes breaking them off is easy; the hard part is not running back to them. This is when you must run to good friends and family instead. When we use sex to feel secure, we end up feeling more insecure than ever, and we may be tempted to jump into sexual acts to deal with our fear of not being lovable. It becomes a vicious cycle. It is then that you must turn to people who truly do love you. Do not let fear stand in the way, and do not run elsewhere to find the fulfillment and wholeness that only real love can give.

4. Resolve to live in purity. Part of the process is moving away from bad situations, but the other half is moving into good ones. Make that decision that no one else can make for you. You have to want it for yourself, so set your guidelines, write them down before you enter a relationship, and stick by them.

Josh McDowell said, “After interviewing thousands of young people, I am convinced that many teens and young singles are sexually active not because they really want to be, but because they don’t have any deep personal reasons for waiting until they are married.”[1] You need a vision of real love, a hope that will make it easier for you to forego the passing traps of lust in favor of a better and more beautiful kind of life and love. It does exist. Strive for purity, and make a conscious effort to do things differently in the future.

For starters, change the way you approach relationships. It is a sign of maturity to seek the advice of older and wiser people, particularly our parents. If your parents are unwilling or unavailable, go to a good counselor, youth leader, relative, or other mentor to get input on your relationships.

Also, look at your selection of friends, music, magazines, movies, and other things that influence you. If you need motivation to persevere in purity, check out the books and DVDs in our online store, above. Also, see if you can get involved in groups at school or in you community that value abstinence. This may be stepping out of your usual social circles, but you need that support and fellowship. In addition, find a good mentor or counselor with whom you can speak openly and regularly about your struggles. A wise counselor will be able to discern the extent of your problem and lead you on the path to purity. Lastly, as a reminder to yourself and a sign to others of your commitment, you could wear a ring or necklace to symbolize your commitment to chastity.

[1]. Josh McDowell, Why Wait? (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Book Publishers, 1987), 17.