L is for lust

L is for Lust, another of the 7 sins.

I’d better talk about the photograph first! I took the picture of my son, playing outdoors before my friends’ wedding! He volunteered to play as the guests arrived and played from memory, dressed in his grandfather’s tuxedo. L is for love as well as lust….

I have said that we are all human and all have the potential for all feelings. But lust… now that is complicated to write about.

1. intense sexual desire or appetite.
2. uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness.
3. a passionate or overmastering desire or craving (usually followed by for): a lust for power.
4. ardent enthusiasm; zest; relish: an enviable lust for life.
5. Obsolete. pleasure or delight.
desire; inclination; wish.

Now those aren’t all bad. And don’t we as a culture celebrate sexual desire in the “right” context? We don’t agree on the “right” context as a culture or a world yet.

verb (used without object)
6. to have intense sexual desire.
7. to have a yearning or desire; have a strong or excessive craving (often followed by for or after).

I am reading four books concurrently. Perhaps I have a lust for books. Is that a sin or a feeling or an exaggeration?

I found a mystery called The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl. This is set right after the civil war and is a murder relating to the translation of Dante’s Inferno. The characters include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, MD. Part of the plot includes the Harvard Corporation putting pressure on to stop publication of the translation because many of the Harvard faculty and alumni don’t approve. “Modern” Italian is scorned compared to Latin and Greek and  there is argument about whether it is too Catholic. Discrimination all over the place.

And what does this have to do with lust? I came across my copy of a translation of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, translated by John Ciardi, and started reading that. The circles of Hell as he describes them don’t exactly match the 7 sins: he has nine. The Second Circle has the souls of the “carnal, those who betrayed reason to their appetities and who abandoned themselves to the tempest of their passions.” The dead people are insubstantial and are blown about by the winds, forever denied the light of reason and of God.  There are couples there. This circle has less suffering and Dante feels compassion for the lovers.

But further down is Circle Eight with the panderers and seducers. These are punished much more cruelly and suffer more deeply. And Dante feels that it is more deserved…. Circle Eight has many others: flatterers, hypocrites, thieves, evil counsellors, sowers of discord. Each level descends and indicates a worse sin.


The third book is Come as you are by Emily Nagoski, PhD. A friend gave this to me for my birthday and it’s a wonderful book about the myths, mysteries and current science about sexuality, male and female. She writes that we have ideas that are NOT borne out in scientific testing and that many people who feel sexually “broken” are not broken at all. We all have the same parts, just arranged differently, and then our family and culture and experience add to that, and it becomes confusing!

Currently, she writes, 30% of women in testing have responsive desire. That is, they don’t have “spontaneous desire”. Our culture is still getting over men owning other people and owning women, so the cultural “ideal” is that we all have spontaneous desire. But it turns out that we don’t all have it, and there is nothing wrong with those who don’t, including the men! She writes about everyone having both an accelerator and brakes related to sex and that some people have a strong brake and others have a strong accelerator. Above all she stresses that the best thing is for each person to experience pleasure and their own definition of pleasure! That can be complicated for a couple, especially when they expect the other person to be a certain way…. the most loving thing is to find out what a person is really like, not pressure them to fit a cultural idea.

And lastly I am reading a romance, by Nora Roberts. It is very interesting to read it concurrently with the other three. Especially when the couple is “overcome” by “desire”. Certainly the romances I have read nearly all have the same idea about the heroine: when she meets her soulmate, her body knows it and she will be overcome with desire. What’s more, her body is always right even though the two of them argue and resist their true love! This is the myth in romances and it doesn’t match Dr. Nagoski’s book at all! She writes about nonconcordance: that is, that the brain and the body are not always in agreement. Men have a genital response which agrees with their brain response of “sexually appealing” about 50% of the time. Women’s genital response agrees with their brain response of “sexually appealing” only 10% of the time. And if you want to have a happy spouse or partner, it is the brain that you want to appeal to, not the body. If you think about it, there’s not much more of a bigger turn off then someone saying “Your body isn’t responding the way I expect it to and therefore you feel x.” That’s silly, isn’t it? If we want to know what someone is feeling, aren’t we all more complicated then pure body language? Dr. Nagoski also distinguishes between “sexually relevant” and “sexually appealing”, which are not at all the same. An ad for a car with a nearly nude female model draped on the hood may be sexually relevant and not at all appealing to me… I think, yeah, using lust to sell cars and objectifying women again. Unappealing, in fact. I think we have to get past the terrible damaging myth that if a woman is interested in sex with someone, that indicates true love — or that a woman will only be interested in sex if it is true eternal love!

John Ciardi: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/john-ciardi

More on Dante: http://www.worldofdante.org/inferno1.html

Mathew Pearl’s website: http://www.matthewpearl.com/

Nora Roberts: http://www.noraroberts.com/

Dr. Nagoski’s blog: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/