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

I recommend six 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 fallen into sexual sins 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 commit sexual sin, 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. Repent. You have realized that you do have a problem, so come to God as his child, asking for his grace. Ask him to forgive you and heal you, not only of this area of weakness but also of any other wounds or vulnerabilities, however deep or old they might be, that might have contributed to your problem in this area. As Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). You are wholly dependent upon God to get out of this, and he is wholly capable of finishing the good work that he has begun in you. The Holy Spirit is already alive in you, moving you to recognize your problem and seek a new beginning. God is at work in you; he has not abandoned you.

Come to him in the great sacrament of reconciliation and experience his mercies. He forgives, heals, restores, and encourages us, but we must come to him with sincere hearts: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

3. 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 are a son or daughter of God. That is your identity. Sure, you have made mistakes. But do not identify yourself by them.

Take to heart the consoling words of Pope John Paul II to the youth of the world:
“Although I have lived through much darkness, . . . I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. . . . Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”[1]

You are worthy of love, because that is what God has created you for. 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. God’s grace is stronger than those chains, and he will give you a greater love if you cling to him. Your desires will not disappear when you come to him, but he will give you his love so that you will be able to overcome the temptations.

4. 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 God 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 come back to God with all your heart. Do not let fear stand in the way, and do not run elsewhere to find the fulfillment and wholeness that only he can give.

5. 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.”[2] 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 priest, youth minister, 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, DVDs, and CDs in our online store, above. Also, see if you can get involved in a local youth group, Bible study, or prayer group at school or church. This may be stepping out of your usual social circles, but you need that support and fellowship. In addition, find a good priest 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.

6. Renew yourself through prayer. It is essential to know that you are deeply loved by God, so set a time for prayer each day. He will work wonders in you. As a friend of mine once said, “Hold nothing back from God. What he can do through the soul that gives itself utterly to him! Limitless!” He has so much he is waiting to tell you and so much he wants to give you. The best is yet to come (Jer. 29:11–14). If you are serious about wanting true love, a new path awaits, but only you can make that decision to be generous with God.

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[1]. Pope John Paul II, homily, 17th World Youth Day, Toronto (July 28, 2002).
[2]. Josh McDowell, Why Wait? (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Book Publishers, 1987), 17.

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