When Napoleon Hill described sex as “the most powerful of human desires,” he seemingly forgot about the desire to eat or drink; however, his point is well-received. People commonly go out of their way to satisfy sexual urges, even at great personal cost. We can all think of a famous athlete or politician or someone we know who has sacrificed something valuable in the pursuit of sexual pleasure. Maybe an example from own lives comes to mind. I’ve written elsewhere about managing sex drive using strategies like semen retention, sexual transmutation and habit replacement (check out What Am I Supposed To Do With My Libido? if you haven’t already.) However, managing sex drive, at the end of the day, boils down to something even more fundamental than a tip or strategy or new lifestyle habit.
Lust Is Always A Lack Of Discipline
But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.1 Corinthians 7:9
In verse 8, the Apostle Paul made the point that it was advisable for the single or widowed men and women to whom he was writing, who possessed the gift of celibacy (v 7), to remain unmarried; however, if they could not control their sex drive, then it would be better for them to marry. “Burning with passion,” the author implies, fundamentally boils down to a lack of self-control–not hormones, not the environment, not the way men and women dress or act, and, if he were writing today, not modern technology.
This passage stood out to me because we often attribute our out-of-control sex drive to factors outside ourselves.
I can’t control my sex drive because I am too young. I can’t control my sex drive because it is too high. I can’t control my sex drive because I live in a hyper-sexualized culture that is constantly bombarding me with sexual super-stimuli. I can’t control my sex drive because I’m single and don’t have a godly sexual outlet. As human beings, we are really clever when it comes time to make excuses. In fact, in the Biblical account of the fall of man in Genesis 3, Adam’s first instinct is to make an excuse when confronted by God for his sin.
The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”Genesis 3:12
When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.James Clear in Atomic Habits
Knowing our weaknesses as people should motivate us to preventative measures, like establishing accountability; habit replacement (instead of watching porn, for example, engaging in a productive activity); limiting our exposure to sexual stimuli on social media and in public, and so on. But we should simultaneously work on developing in self-control, because none of these methods are fool-proof.
Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of deceit, you who burn with lust among the oaks, under every green tree.Isaiah 57:4-5
We sometimes think of self-control as a morally neutral personality trait. Some people may enjoy doing homework or working out or eating healthy more than others. Self-control, however, where moral stakes are involved, is a deeply moral attribute. Running marathons every weekend, which takes great self-control, isn’t a moral decision. However, the self-control that is involved in loving others is the essence of morality.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.John 14:15
Think of the two greatest moral commandments–to love God with all our heart and to love others as ourselves. Love motivates self-control. If we love God, we will discipline ourselves to obey him. If we love people, we will discipline ourselves to be patient and kind toward them, and to take constructive action to meet their needs. Whether we are naturally self-controlled is irrelevant; a love strong enough always motivates the change needed to fulfill its imperative.
He [a sexually immoral man] dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.Proverbs 5:23
One final point. Oftentimes, our beliefs impact are behavior such that the wrong belief can be an enemy of self-control. In What To Do About My Strong Sexual Urges, I penned the following:
I had the deep-seated belief that it was unnatural for a young guy in his 20s not to have a sexual outlet. This made my struggle for sexual integrity a lot harder than it had to be. However, when I changed my belief from “This is an unnatural, uphill battle to” to “This isn’t all that hard,” “I don’t have to be bullied by my sexual urges,” “Many people around the world are doing the exact same right now,” the struggle got easier, and it got easier fast. I went from seeing myself as a victim of my sexual desires to a powerful agent capable of acting with conviction.
No one and nothing can make us do anything. We are not animals ruled by instincts or mere pawns on a divine chess board. We are human beings capable of controlling our impulses. The first step to living that truth is believing it.
For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.