The Desire Series

So What Is Triggering Your Sexual Desire?

Heidi Smith

Everyone has triggers when it comes to their sexual desires. How we respond to them will determine whether our sexuality is expressed in a healthy or unhealthy way.

6 triggers I’ve experienced:

  1. Being alone late at night with my boyfriend.
  2. Seeing him without a shirt on.
  3. Massages.
  4. Feeling insecure and needing to prove my sexiness.
  5. Watching romantic movies with sexual tension.
  6. Listening to music with sexual themes.

Those are just my triggers. For other people it's things like coming across suggestive pictures or videos online or talking about sexual things you or others have done or want to do. It could also be an emotional state like loneliness or exhaustion that makes you want to comfort yourself.



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If you don’t want to feel like you’re at the mercy of your sex drive, you need to understand your triggers.

What should we count as triggers?

Basically, anything that causes you to start down the path toward being sexually aroused. The trigger might be something you’re doing, but equally it can be feelings you’re having that you respond to in a sexual way.

I remember one boyfriend I had when I was younger. The uncertainty of our relationship confused me, but instead of dealing with those emotions, I chose to self-soothe by making out with him.

I wasn’t strong enough to stop when I needed to. I needed better boundaries, and I needed to pay attention to my triggers.

Rather than making a mature choice about what our physical relationship would look like, I let insecurity drive me to compromise my standards.

My emotions were triggering my sexual behavior.

How do you deal with your triggers?

You may be asking yourself, why do I need to think about this? Everybody gets aroused by different things so it’s no big deal.

Do you want to express your sexuality in a healthy way, or are you happy doing whatever your body tells you to, and living with the regret that causes?

Knowing your triggers is a way of being proactive about developing healthy intimacy with others. If you want loving relationships built on respect, you need good boundaries. Developing them requires understanding your triggers.

My unsettled emotions triggered me to indulge sexually.

Sometimes it was feeling unsure about where my relationship was headed; sometimes it was insecurity about my body.

Recognizing our triggers involves understanding the emotions that underpin them.

Stress, anxiety, anger, loneliness and insecurity are fertile soil for our sexual triggers to grow in. If finals week is coming and you’re going to be under heightened stress, that could drive you to seek out a sexual release.

Ask yourself this question: Is my self-control always enough in the heat of the moment when I feel triggered?

Few if any of us can honestly answer yes to that question. The Bible teaches that self-control is actually a product of the Holy Spirit transforming us from the inside out. You cannot ultimately generate the kind of self-control God offers you, and you need to be in relationship with Him to experience it.

What all of us can choose to do is understand our triggers and develop a plan for dealing with them.

5 steps for dealing with our triggers:

  1. Start listing situations and emotions that trigger you sexually. The list I gave earlier might help.

  2. For each trigger, think of a way you could avoid it.

  3. If you can’t avoid it, then come up with a plan for how to respond when you encounter it.

  4. Share what you learn with a trusted friend, and talk about your plans for dealing with your triggers.

  5. Are you in a relationship with someone who respects your boundaries? If the answer is yes, you can share your triggers with him too. But be mindful that discussing your triggers could lead you both to become aroused.

Maybe you need to reach out to someone else whenever you feel triggered.

Try texting the word “triggered” to a friend. This tells them to pray for you right away or call you to interrupt the situation you’re experiencing.

If you’ve been living life at the mercy of your sexual desires, don’t expect to break free all on your own.

Telling yourself, “I’m strong enough this time,” is not a long-term solution. Convincing ourselves we’re okay when the pattern of our behavior tells us the opposite, leaves us destined to failure. 

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is how people recovering from addictions define insanity.

In my experience, knowing God was the foundation for overcoming my struggles and living the life I felt I was meant for. 

Write a different script for this familiar situation.

Imagine you’re going out with your boyfriend tonight, and you typically end up back at his place, watching a movie alone in the basement. If you’re completely honest, you’re looking forward to making out with him.

But you know you’ll regret it later and you want things to change.

So you need to do a few things before you reach that situation:

  • Ask God to change your heart so that you respect your own boundaries.
  • Find more people to hang out with you.
  • Plan to stay in a public place.
  • Avoid watching TV or movies with sexual content.
  • Tell your boyfriend you need him to not initiate anything.
  • Make sure you have terrible breath that you don’t want him to experience.

We all have weaknesses. We all have our personal Kryptonite that turns our resolve to mush.

We all fall down, but we can all get back up and try again.

The problems we're facing have spiritual roots, and so they require spiritual solutions. The sooner we can embrace this fact the better.

Our success also depends on whether we fight these battles alone.


Heidi Smith is on staff with Cru at the University of Maryland. She is passionate about equipping the body of Christ to be a safe community for women to heal.

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