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The Myth of Self-Control

Last Updated: July 15, 2015

Jen Ferguson
Jen Ferguson

Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy. She’s also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

Each time I caught Craig engaging with pornography, I either said or thought things like this:

“Why can’t you exercise self-control?”

“Why can’t you recognize this is harmful and hurtful and just not do it anymore?”

“If you were a stronger person, you would be able to make a different choice.”

When I viewed Craig’s betrayal only through the lens of my hurt, it was easy for me to assume the choice to look at porn or not look at porn was simple. He said he didn’t want to hurt me. He knows porn hurts every part of our marriage. Therefore, if he is true to his word, he won’t look at porn. Sounds like a geometry proof, doesn’t it?

Self control is a myth

But porn addiction isn’t as simple as not wanting to hurt your spouse. There are more angles at play than just my own. The equation is not as simple as not having enough self-control.

If I continued my thought pattern that self-control was the cure to porn addiction, I would only be perpetuating some of the very reasons Craig got into porn in the first place. Craig found escape in the world of porn. From the time he was in junior high, he had significant doubts, believing that what he had to offer the people in his life simply wasn’t good enough. In the fantasy world of porn, he could pretend to be whomever and whatever he wanted. My telling him that he continually failed with self-control reinforced the belief that he would always fail and that his actions would never be enough, thus making the lure of escape all the more tempting.

Second, Craig also felt enormous amounts of shame for continuing to seek out porn. Part of his hesitancy to form a real, authentic relationship with Jesus was because he was afraid he would be rejected because of his sin. Growing up in the church, he knew the right answers to say. He knew how to appear to know Jesus. But in actuality, he was hesitant to let Jesus know him because he believed himself to be unworthy to be loved. If I continued to tell him to “just get his act together” and use some “self-control,” I would be perpetuating the idea that he needs to have it all together before he could approach God or me to have real relationship.

Could Craig have used self-control the very first time he looked at porn, and prevented a habit? Sure. If he had, would he have avoided a lot of heartache and pain later on in life? Yes. Did he realize as a kid that what his eyes and heart feasted on would have potential long-lasting devastation? No. Most kids don’t think about the consequences their actions could have in five minutes, let alone in five years.

In 1 Peter 1: 13-15, Peter writes:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then.

Craig needed to figure out what it was truly like to be God’s child before he could understand how to live in full-hearted obedience. He had to find new ways of living that would bring true satisfaction and joy in order to avoid slipping back into porn. He had to learn to trust God’s control over his life before he could access God’s power consistently in order to break out of the chains that enslaved him. He had to realize he needed to be saved from himself.

Understanding all of this created a new angle for me to view Craig and his addiction: Craig’s foray into porn could have been initially halted by self-control, but the insidious seed that took root over time could no longer be killed by self-restraint. It had to be killed with God’s love. I couldn’t force Craig to realize he was loved. God had to show him.

And so, I had to learn to be patient, wait, and consider the variables when I was short on grace. Because the truth was and still is, I want my husband to trust more in God’s power, not his own power. I want him not to be a savior, but to trust the Savior. No longer am I interested in him just giving lip service to the Gospel, but rather I want him to be touched by the very words of God.

And none of that is contingent just on self-control, but rather on the surrender to the One who controls all.

  • Comments on: The Myth of Self-Control
    1. I think that’s wonderful you were able to find a way to see your husband in a new light. “Self control” is a killer for an addict.
      What I think is an important reminder though is, sure, an addict doesn’t have self control with his addiction, but he definitely has the choice to go and get help.

      I fear that you may be sending the message that its helpful for a wife accept her addict husband and wait patiently until he learns to embrace powerlessness.

      In that case, I fear you may be underestimating the true danger of this addiction. Its more dangerous to ones eternal soul than even heroin. So what about YOUR safety? What about the safety of your children? What are YOU going to do to keep your home SAFE?

      If we all waited patiently for our husbands to get better, then it may be 20+ years before we see change, and at what cost? The cost of our children growing up messed up and addicts (or married to addicts) and the cycle only continues.

      Mine and my kids safety comes first.


      • Craig did go to counseling and I knew that he was actively seeking God and freedom from pornography. But part of the reason he struggled so much with porn is because he was trying to defeat it in his own power. In order to for him to become fully free, he needed to know the power of Jesus. I lived through this addiction as I watched my husband battle it. I’ve done hours of research on this addiction, so I have a grasp of how powerful this is – it affected our marriage in a profound way. We were really blessed in that much of the very hard parts happened when our kids were very little. However because we don’t want them to experience the same exposure my husband did, we put in safeguards to protect them from it as much as we can. Even when my husband was in the dark places, he still advocated for our safety. If there is a danger of abuse or safety, I don’t advocate to just “wait it out.” It’s important that you and your family are safe. All I am saying in this post is that self-control doesn’t free people from porn. Only Jesus does.

    2. J. Alucard

      Why don’t you write an article about female accountability? It is always the man’s fault huh? Yet, I can go out to the net and find hundreds of millions of pictures of nude women who freely chose to do nude pictures. That is not even counting homemade porn and porn on phones. Then I can go look at cams and go to strip joints and look up hundreds of thousands of hookers in America. Hate to break it to you — Craig is not the problem. Maybe if women stopped using sex to get what they want, things might change. And don’t tell me women don’t do this from the time they are 13 on up. We have all seen it. In fact, we have all seen women brush off good, kind guys to go after men with means. So I find this very funny that all of a sudden everything is the man’s fault.

      Also, let me tell you about a “Craig”. No man is going to cheat on a woman who is in shape, kind, fun, and does everything in the bedroom. What happens is women get out of shape easily, they become demanding, the fun girl you dated is not the same girl after marriage because it is all about her needs, and when the sex stops, that is when porn usage starts. It is absolutely no coincidence that the average porn star in America is 47 pounds lighter than the average woman and it is no coincidence that she will do anything in the bedroom.

      Face it ladies. The world has now become all about you and your needs. You have complained to the point that marriage is falling apart everywhere, men do not want to get married at all, men are not working, men only comprise 40% of new college entrants, and in general, men have flocked to porn to get away from the reality of what it means to be with a woman over the long-term. But this is what you wanted. You have devalued men so much that now all men on TV are perceived as idiots. All the problems you face are because of men. Heck, you have killed 50 million babies in abortion and still won’t admit you might be the problem and not men. Your sons are being locked up left and right but amazingly, somehow in America women never commit crimes.

      Look in the mirror first before blaming the Craigs of this world. Trust me, there is a reason why men are flocking to porn. There is a reason.

      • Since this article is about wives not riding their husbands for not having enough self-control, the very point of the article is to call women to account for ways they only create more of a problem. If you’re looking for more articles for wives who need to be held accountable for their actions, I can recommend a few more. We talk about wives not spying on their husbands online. We talk about not ignoring intimacy in one’s marriage when dealing with a spouse’s porn addiction and the importance of rebuilding a vibrant sex life. We talk about women also being accountable for their own use of porn.

        I disagree that better sex in marriage is the answer to the problem. Sure, men and women ought to work at having amazing sex lives: wives and husbands should approach the duty of pleasuring one another with extreme anticipation and delight. But the drive to look at porn is, first, a type of Internet addiction. Men are finding they can’t even get it up with their wives anymore because they’ve looked at porn so much, then the problem is not the woman. The problem is his use of porn that has caused severe chemical imbalances in his brain. Second, the drive to look at porn is a selfish drive: what makes porn more alluring than sex (even sex with a beautiful woman) is that it is entirely self-centered. There’s not a second person in the room to please or serve. I know many men that are married to fit, beautiful, and sexually eager women who just don’t want to stop watching porn.

      • wasthefungirl

        I was the fun, beautiful, adventurous girl. I was kind, lighthearted easy going, happy to go the extra mile for someone…my husband had a porn addiction long before I came into the picture, it didn’t matter that I was a petite and thin brunette, it didn’t matter if my heart was sincere and sweet towards him or if I was a rotton selfish prideful disrespectful person. I could have been a famous model or even the lady in the magazine or on the screen, he was still going to search for more…I nor the all the pictures and videos were enough. I wish my husband could tell the world his story right now, and I wish I could tell mine, like so many others we all make wrong cjoices . We all face a choice each moment in our thoughts of pure thinking, or lust, among many other thoughts we humans male and female. Please don’t be stereotypeing men or woman. Ilthis article written was not about my husband nor any man I know…but it was the authors husband. It was also showing her realization of her faults in how she faced it and needed to change her words and heart towards her husband to better suit his needs for help. Good for you for choosing not to use porn, the pure in heart shall see the Lord. Purity means more than not just looking at porn.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hey there. Thanks for writing in. I agree, everyone has their own story, and even their own ways of thinking about what helps with recovery. I hope you’ll stick around the blog here and engage with all the different people who write about their experiences. Hopefully you’ll find encouragement along the way. Here’s a listing of some of our top articles for women. Have a look at some of those, and let me know what you think. And if you’re looking for a safe place to tell your story, you might want to check into personal counseling, or a recovery group like Celebrate Recovery. I think it’s so helpful to be able to just put it all out there with a safe person. Blessings, Kay

    3. J. Alucard

      One last thing. Did you ever ask Craig why he was using porn? Really ask him and not substitute your ideas? Look at the other person who commented on this —- both you and her have not even considered that you were the problems. Not even once. The reality is both of you have placed full blame on the husbands. Hate to tell you. Men don’t look at porn just because. There is a reason why they look at it. I have a wonderful girlfriend. Who is pretty and kind and sweet and great in bed. I don’t even think of looking at porn.

    4. LJC

      So, what some men think is that if their woman/wife is in shape, fun, doesn’t nag and gives him plenty of sex that porn won’t enter into the picture? I’ve read plenty of comments on this site that indicate that isn’t always true. What if you are all these things and your husband doesn’t seek out sex from you because he is afraid of rejection? And you’ve reassured him that he doesn’t have to fear being rejected and you are a willing and ready participant. What is a wife to do then? It sucks to be the sole initiator. I know this is a side issue of the topic here, but I am in this situation and find it very frustrating. Then when I find porn on the computer it just makes me feel worthless and unwanted.

      • Kay Bruner

        Yes, unfortunately there’s a school of thought that blames women for the porn problem. We call that destructive entitlement, and it’s very prevalent in porn-using men. It goes like this: if women would be perfect in every way, there wouldn’t be porn. Men “deserve” perfection on every level, and if they don’t get it, then they have the excuse to do whatever they want.

        Unfortunately, women somehow buy into this as well, receive that blame to themselves, and then work hard to be as perfect as possible so there won’t be porn.

        But you’re finding what every woman finds: it’s not true. No amount of perfection/pursuit on your part is going to take care of his issues.

        He is the only person who can deal with his sexuality and what it all means. He has to take responsibility for that, rather than expecting you to do that for him.

        I would suggest that you do some reading on boundaries. You might find our free download, Hope After Porn, helpful in that area. And there’s always the classic Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

        I think the sad thing is, porn often makes men feel (deep down, under the entitlement) worthless and unwanted as well. The temporary fix of porn doesn’t ever address the real problems. He might appreciate the book, Surfing for God, if he’s willing to look at anything for himself. Also the materials at Pure Desire are really helpful when men are ready to take responsibility.

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