How does a single woman handle her sex drive…

How does a single woman handle her sex drive… April 17, 2012

OK, since she asked first I’ll bring the question to you, good Catholic readers. How does a single Catholic woman handle her sex drive in a healthy way?

For some people this really isn’t an issue—just go get some! But for me, this is issue. I am virgin, and have the conviction to stay abstinent till he, whoever he is, “puts a ring on it.” But with this sex drive, I have had plenty of thoughts of abandoning this conviction.

What I’m trying to say is that I want to know how to have healthy sexuality when I am single and unmarried. I don’t want to know how to suppress it, but how to live within as a complete spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual being.

Other people are giving advice how to be “healthy”: condoms, masturbation, and oral sex “because it’s not really sex.” But what does the church say about healthy sexuality? How do I as a single young woman who is trying to follow Christ, do this?

I think her question is an excellent one, and one I’ve asked myself from time to time. In our sex crazed society people view Catholics as anomalies. We are perceived as pent-up and sexually repressed. I’ve been told time and time again to suppress any sexual feelings I may have without any real concrete way to put this into practice so I understand Kristin’s exasperation.

When you hear someone mention healthy sexuality these days they usually mean cautious promiscuity – using contraception to prevent pregnancy and condoms against STD’s which is ironic because both prevent neither. Nothing is consequence free, not even masturbation.

So what do you do? Is there anything more to offer us than “take a cold shower”? Is the frustration part and parcel with being single and the cross we should just shut and bear? Because I am going to be honest, when I read her statement “how to live as a complete spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual being” I thought … as single people are we even supposed to be complete sexual beings? I can’t be sexual with myself so I am at loss to her meaning.

I have been divorced since 2004 so I have had a lot of time to figure out how to deal with sexual urges. I have identified when they are strongest; usually when I feel the loneliest. So I try really hard not to let those feelings get the best of me which means a good deal of my energies is spent keeping myself occupied. Which is tiring and feels a lot like suppression.

And since I have been married I suffer under no delusion that simply having a spouse means you will no longer have to deal with sexual frustrations. A spouse is not a live in concubine ready at your beck and call, just as getting married because you are lonely will not make you feel fulfilled.

What say you? What advice would you give Kristin and other single women out there?

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  • Stephanie Richer

    Kat, my therapist recently advised me to read a book called “Brain Lock,” by Jeffrey Schwartz, MD.  It dealt with his studies of OCD patients at UCLA and showed how cognitive therapy helped to CHANGE the faulty brain chemistry that was causing his patients to have obsessions (thoughts) and/or complusions (conduct).

    In his book, when a faulty message is received from the frontol lobe, his patients would (1) relabel (recognize it as a false message that is conjuring an emotional sensation vs. an actual emotion); (b) reattribute (tell themselves, it’s not a “crazy” or “sinful” thought, but brain chemistry; (c) refocus (take the time to seek a thought or act that is pleasurable and brings the person away from the obsession/compulsion; and (d) revlaue (give yourself the permission to dismiss it).

    Now, I have oversimplified it but I think it may have some application here, especially the refocusing aspect.  There is a difference between feeling lonely and feeling worthless because we are lonely, and thus being tempted to engage in inappropriate behavior.  If you are lonely, calling a friend, going to Mass, even walking around a mall would cure that.  But if you think you are worthless because “you have no one to share your life with,” then taking the time to say, “Okay, that’s bad brain chemistry and I am not worthless when I objectively look at my life and my accomplishments, so I am going to refocus on something I like, whether it’s knitting, helping out at a charity, calling a friend, walking the dog, and giving myself 15 minutes to pet this pass, knowing it serves me no purpose to think this way and I can toss it away like garbage.”  Yes, it is a learned response that requires application and practice, but isn’t it cool to have that control?

    So my advice is to be a little more conscious of these thoughts and allow what Schawartz calls the “Impartial Spectator” to give a rational assessment of the situation – and then refocus.  “Shut up and bear it” is a self-imposed martyrdom and there are so many better things to do!

  • I’m not sure that I can improve on Ms. Richer’s advice, but what works for healthy red-blooded American males is, exercise- LOTS of it.

    • ds

      If he must think of the medical side of chastity, feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are specially favourable to this virtue. How they can belive this, in face of the notorious lustfulness of sailors and soldiers, may well be asked.
      -Screwtape, of course, from CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

  • Tanya

    Sex is and should always be an expression of love. Love, by definition, is self-sacrificing. If you love your body, that is, in it’s current single state and always as a creation of God, then loving yourself, loving and respecting your own body, means sacrificing the natural sexual urges that you feel while you’re single (or married but for whatever reason can’t have sex with your spouse). I think what people are looking for is “tell me what I can do that’s easy”.  There is no answer to that b/c not indulging your normal, God-given, sexual urges as a single person is never easy; hence, the “sacrifice”.  

  • L.

    As a long-married person who has frequently lived thousands of miles away from her partner, I would second what Dr. Eric says below, about LOTS of exercise. Start running, join a gym, whatever you can do.
    Also, remember that feelings are natural and human. We can’t control our feelings, but we CAN control how we act on our feelings.

  • drea916

    Be around people a lot. When I’m with my friends and family I’m far from lonely and don’t get as many urges. Take care of yourself: get plenty of sleep, eat healthy. When I’m worn down it makes it harder to avoid temptation. Frequent the sacraments. Avoid certain tv shows/movies/internet sites. Don’t stay out too late with the boyfriend or spend too long on the phone with him. There seems to be a certain point when a healthy resistance comes down (either verbally or physically) Keep busy with work/school/exercise/hobbies. Also, old school priests know a lot more tips on this. One I was told was, when you are starting to entertain impure thoughts, just transfer your thinking to something enjoyable that is licit (canoing in Montana, or, for me, being at my favorite place in No. CA) When I’m really, really tempted I think how horrible I will feel the morning after and/or when I have to beg God’s mercy. That last one usually does the trick.

  • Daftpunkett

    Thank you for the last point, I don’t think married people have it any easier when it comes to purity, something I wish catholic culture would accept and talk about. I have always hated that mentality of “since you’re married…” There is a lot more to it than whether you can have sex or not. I think married couples  and single people have a lot more in common when it comes to chastity and purity. Single people have it easy in the sense that your not living with someone and dealing with the “I’m too tired” conversation, which is so awkward and annoying. 
    Ultimately, I think no matter what, if you remain single or get married, the devil will always use your sexuality against you and maybe against other people.  It sounds like you have found positive ways to deal with it.
    Me? I knit. Until I’m too tired to think about…stuff.

  • Adoro

    I actually got really great advice from a priest on this topic. 

    He pointed out that of course, our sex drive is pr-creative. It is a gift from God, and said that when tempted by impurity, it is good to focus on something creative that is licit to do. For artists, it may mean working on a painting, drawing, sculpture, etc. Perhaps writing, or something else that gives glory to God while expressing, somehow, the creativity He gave us.  (I’m sure I’ve just botched this explanation horribly but hopefully it still makes sense!) In any case, his advice has worked for me in keeping me chaste! 

  • Physical work/exercise does help burn off some of the energy that fuels the sex drive.

    What no one has really mentioned yet is the necessity of avoiding the near occasions of sin. I have a friend who’s a novelist – unfortunately, she writes bodice-rippers, so I can’t read her stuff. There are movies I have to avoid. We have to be very careful not to FEED the libido with all the cultural junk that’s out there.

    And sometimes that includes the so-called romantic stuff. Our sex drives are highly charged with emotions, so we need to avoid fostering fantasies of a more innocuous nature – the candlelit dinners, etc.

    And pray! Getting out of bed, hitting your knees, and FORCING your mind to concentrate on prayer is a very good alternative to… other things.

  • tj.nelson

    My advice, don’t think about it.  Kidding.

    I think Stephanie gets it right.  Refocus – recognize what’s going on, it takes practice and the more sexually active you’ve been – the more courage it takes to keep working through the temptations and defeats.  Prayer and frequent use of the sacraments is so important. 

    And you are right – a spouse doesn’t take care of everything.  In fact, for the sexually insatiable, it can make it worse.  Don’t ask. 

    As Dr. Eric says – exercise or some sort of activity helps a lot. 

    I also think Fr. Groeschl would suggest works of charity – doing stuff for other people.

  • Ebeth

    Pray, pray some more, and then pray again. Exercise is good, focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right,
    whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is
    any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8

    Actually, I agree with Dr. Eric and Stephanie.  God bless!!

  • Keongimprov

    Read some of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. 

  • Linda Hutchinson

    This is a battle I fight far to frequently. I agree with the advice to refocus your thoughts, and prayer are your best defenses. Laura is also very right about avoiding situations that lead your mind in that direction when ever possible.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    I took a proactive approach to meeting the woman I would marry, and thought of myself as lying fallow ’til I found her.

  • tj.nelson

    My comment was wrong, wasn’t it.

    I keep missing the mark in my posts lately.

  • From_The_Pews

    Father Mario has shared with us many a time how he, as a Priest deals with being a Sexual Being.


    Simplistic, I know.  But quite true, convert that sexual energy into another form of energy.

    One of the examples he provides is Poetry. 
    Very sensual poetry.  Create it!

    Baking, cooking.  Create rich, delicious, sinful dishes.

    Of course he also recommends for himself and others hard, intense, exhausting exercises.
    Okay the above, pun not intended.

    After reading the comments, very good ones, I agree with them.  It seems they seem to all tie in.

    But above all I agree with the comments that Married and Singles have more of the same issues than many realize.

    Best of Luck and KEEP ON WRITING!!!

  • MichelleMarie

    Four words: Custody of the Eyes. Really guarding what kind of visual, and to a lesser extent, aural (i.e. certain conversations with married friends – would like to be supportive and listen, but can’t with certain topics). What this means for me is not watching certain T.V. shows (i.e. Mad Men), not watching certain movies that depict graphic sex scenes – or rather, just not watching them too often, since it’s kind of unavoidable. Honestly, giving these things up is not much of a sacrifice, because lust leaves you feeling so crappy afterwards.

    Basically, they’re slightly different for everybody so you just have to assess your temptation triggers, and then try to avoid them as much as possible. And also seeing them as part of bigger cause and effect situation. Lust makes me feel crappy afterwards because it seriously distorts reality, and I know that if I entertain it too much, I’ll feel like a fool later. Seriously, I don’t like feeling like a fool. So it’s just a learning process.

    I know, it seems like a lot of don’t at this point. Well, here’s something that’s helped me channel a lot of would-be frustrated sexual energy: admiration and awe. Cultivate an attitude of admiration, for the world and people around you – for beauty as an end in itself, not a means to an end. Then when you have a crush, or you like someone, or w/e, you will have an inculcated habit that will allow you to see him objectively, not as a means to satisfy your lust / emotional hunger, but rather as one of God’s many amazing creations. Fall in love in the most innocent way possible, with no expectations or manipulation, and pray for your crushes – their intentions, their happiness (even if it’s unrequited!). I know it’s naive, but try it! I’m not super young and this method has (more or less) helped me to stay chaste for a long time. The energy you get from loving someone in a pure way is amazing, and it’s productive energy, that you can put into helping others / getting to know God more / just worshiping his goodness.

  • kenneth

    A serious full-blown opiate addiction will almost always suppress sex drive. Of course no solution is without its own trade-offs! Admittedly not all of my ideas pan out in the real world, like my steering-wheel mounted book holder (with light!) or my short-lived campaign for National Bring Your Pit Bull to Work Day….
      My own solution to this dilemma is to surrender, utterly to my beastly drives, among trusted friends, until the wee hours of the morning when it is all I can do to crawl back to my sarcophagus in my native soil. But then I’m not Catholic, nor a woman, which is so much the better for both demographics….

  • Capelo

    I love your blog…  more people should be like… hell I might even return to being a Roman Catholic if they were like you…  nah, who am I kidding.

    My advice?

    “Do what thou wilt and harm none”.

    • kenneth

      “Love is the Law. Love under Will”!………..
      Sorry….old Minerval instinct! 

  • Marissa Nichols

    How about try blogging? Just saying!:-) (hiding my head now as a blogging married woman who just made a startling admission…er…Honey, where are you?)

  • Evelyn

    I agree with sublimating–there is a lot of energy involved in libido, and I can get an awful lot done when I figure out how to use it for something else, which is frequently cooking and providing meals for others. Gardening is good, too, because of the fertility aspect.