What Does Lust Mean?

By Michael Arangua

Updated May 09, 2019

Reviewer Natalie Feinblatt

When we think of the word lust, it conjures up all sorts of dark and dirty things. Lust is one of the seven deadly sins according to the Christian bible, but it's also come to mean a term of strong sexual desire as a modern definition where few people are concerned with doctrine. Sin is defined as an act that is against God's will, but since this is limited to Christianity and sin itself is something that most people are rarely concerned about it's understandable why lust today isn't seen as such a big deal.

Intense sexual attraction is in most cases just a sign of a healthy sexual appetite as an adult, but sometimes it's not. Studies using MRI technology have shown that lust lights up the brain in the same areas an addict's brain does on drugs. Intense physical attraction and hormones together fuel projection and idealization which often cloud our judgment of reality.

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The Science Of Lust

Within the brain, the pituitary gland controls a range of hormones including gonadotropin-releasing hormones (which are thought to be a human pheromone) and androgens. The most well-known androgen, Testosterone, is linked to sexual arousal and physical attraction. Both men and women that have high levels of testosterone have stronger sex drives and are more likely to have active sex lives. When people kiss, testosterone is exchanged through saliva. As testosterone is also the male sex hormone, it's possible that men struggle more with lust than women.

What triggers this response (what causes us to be lustful) is part of the natural drive to procreate, so when we see a possible mate the brain is wired to release chemicals that make us more likely to pursue them for that purpose. On a base level, our bodies don't care about love; they care about the continuation of the species which is where lust becomes useful. The part of the brain that is involved in behavioral regulation and self-awareness is not active in this process, meaning it's entirely subconscious. We cannot choose to lust after someone; our brains will do it for us on a chemical level.

Lust Vs. Love

People often struggle to tell the difference between lust versus love. The reason for this is that in the beginning many symptoms are similar and can get confused. Because having a healthy sexual appetite for your partner is normal when you're in love it confuses the issue further. For many people, you can't have love without some lust thrown in. Signs that you're in lust rather than in love might include not discussing feelings for each other, being focused on their body, and an intense desire to leave after sex rather than stay together just basking in the afterglow.

If you're in love, you're more likely to want to spend time with each other outside of the bedroom and be more interested in what they have to say as a person. When you're in love, you want to be deeply involved in the other person's life while lust makes you come to get to satisfy a need (albeit an intense one). Often it's your gut feeling that will determine whether you know if you're in love or lust because there's an element of the attraction that feels powerfully dark or potentially destructive. Using your gut can go a long way in that initial period of raging hormones where it's difficult to tell the two emotions apart.

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Does Lust Prevent Love?

It's accepted that we can't fall in love with someone without knowing them which means likely lust fuels the hormonal roller coaster at the beginning of any relationship. Lust dehumanizes a person because it turns them into a subject and diminishes them to a sexual object at its most base level. This is one of the reasons porn can be such a contention because porn is about merely the act and objectification of sex rather than the people behind the sex (no matter how much "story" they try to create).

The way we lust often differs from person to person and while we may eventually seek love lust alone can never grow in love because it is fundamentally different. In a way, lust stops the part of our humanity which wants to connect to another human and form a bond (love) and unless that changes it will never progress beyond our seeing that person as a sexual object.

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Can You Be Addicted To Lust?

Absolutely. Lust is like any strong emotion or feeling, and the fact that it causes our brains to light up like a pinball machine makes it very easy to crave that. Being addicted to sexual behavior, whether it's sex addiction, a porn addiction, or any other form or related addiction is fairly well documented. Sex Addicts Anonymous (SA) has a twelve step program to deal with addiction much like the better-known AA groups using sponsors and incentives to keep people in recovery.

The fact that the hormones and brain chemicals connected with lust are subconscious means it can be difficult to pin-down the addiction in its early stages because it is a process we don't have control over and are not actively choosing to engage in.

Can You Be Lustful Without Sexual Addiction?

Much of this depends on your personality. Those who have addictive personalities or who have suffered traumas which lead to escapist behaviors or sexual trauma may be more drawn into the addictive side than mere lust. It's a struggle that is not new. While 29% of men currently admit to having some form of sexual addiction, the roots of lust's theme can be traced back to biblical stories like Samson and Delilah. Even the "strongest of men" could be felled by lust, but this doesn't mean that they were suffering sexual addiction. The "cut off" is when lust becomes more than the everyday passing desire of an itch to scratch.

An addiction is something that a person cannot control, they are a slave to the desire for that thing, chasing it in spite of any other need. Sexual addicts are lustful to the point that nothing else holds the same priorities for them, or they are obsessed with the need for the oblivion it provides more and more until it takes over their lives.

What Are The Warning Signs Of A Lust Addiction?

Modern men are quite disconnected from women and vice versa. We see this every day with so many women's marches, men's rights comparisons and it's lonely that in many ways the sexes have grown so far apart. A person who is not in a stable relationship is more likely to experience lust because the feelings of love do not temper them, that's not to say that you can't love your partner and still experience sexual addiction, it's just statistically less likely. People that are unfulfilled in their lives may also be more at risk, especially if they are not driven or passionate about specific things. In struggling to find something that a person is passionate about they may search for comparable things which have the same strong emotional feeling - the closest of which is lust.

Stress is another trigger for sexual addiction because we often retreat into a fantasy world (through books, movies, or in some cases porn) to try and forget about our daily struggles. Dealing with stress in healthy ways can help prevent this, but for a high-stress individual with no outlet, sex may be as addicting as drugs or alcohol without the physical consequences later on. That being said, most people suffering from sexual addiction are tired. They're tired because they know their behavior is wrong, so they hide it, they lie, they exhaust themselves by living a double life because they know that this behavior is not normal.

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Getting Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with lust or sexual addiction, it's important to get help. Addiction of any sort is harmful, and while sex may not take the same physical toll on the body that a long-term alcoholic experiences it still includes a higher risk of disease. Professional therapists, counselors and even former addicts are part of recovery and beating this disease.

The first step is reaching out because you cannot get better alone. While admitting you have a problem is a struggle for many addicts it's important to remember the old saying of "you are not alone." If 29% of the population also struggle with lust, then it's very likely you already know people going through the same thing you are. While having a sexual addiction carries a certain stigma, society is becoming more understanding that it not only exists but that it is genuine and curable.


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