What Does Lust Mean?

By: Michael Arangua

Updated March 22, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Natalie Feinblatt

What Is Lust?

When we think of the word lust, it conjures up all sorts of things. The definition of lust is intense sexual attraction or desire. This sexual desire is often defined as being for someone other than a partner, though the modern connotations may not be this specific. This intense sexual attraction is in most cases just a sign of a healthy sexual appetite as an adult, but sometimes it's a sign of something a bit more complicated. 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 can cloud our judgment of reality.

You Can Talk About Your Love Life In Online Therapy.
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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. They also wonder if love is related to lust. The truth is, they are related, but they are not the same. The reason for this is that in the beginning many symptoms are similar and can get confused. Because having a healthy sexual attraction to your partner is normal when you're in love, the issue becomes further complex. 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.

If you're in love, you're more likely to want to spend time with each other outside of the bedroom and may be more interested in them as a person. When you're in love, you want to be deeply involved in the other person's life, while lust can often be a surface-level connection. 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.

Understanding Love and Lust With BetterHelp

Research points to online therapy platforms as valuable resources when helping those with addictions, like lust addiction, manage their symptoms. For example, a broad-based study published in Clinical Psychology Review found that online therapy was successful in producing behavioral changes in people with addictions. In the report, researchers mention the treatment gap that exists with those experiencing addiction, meaning oftentimes those who need therapy are either not able to find it, or don’t seek it out, due to certain barriers. The study states that online therapy is a way of bridging this treatment gap due to increased accessibility. This can be added to a large amount of evidence that suggests the positive long-term effects of online therapy when it comes to managing symptoms arising from a range of mental health disorders, including those that lead to lust addiction.

As mentioned above, if you or someone you love is dealing with complicated emotions that may be arising out of a lust addiction, online therapy can help. If you’re concerned about privacy, know that online therapy through BetterHelp is discreet and safe. You won’t have to worry about sitting in a crowded waiting room, and you’ll never have to discuss your treatment with anyone but your therapist. Also, you’ll have the option of seeking therapy completely anonymously. BetterHelp does not require you to provide your name or contact information, allowing you utilize a “nickname” when you register, if you choose. The mental health professionals at BetterHelp know how to provide you with the tools to address a difficult addiction. Read below for counselor reviews, from those who have experienced similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Samantha Toney has been a very positive influence in my life since I began counseling with BetterHelp. She helped me navigate my way through the end of my relationship and coping with my partner's addiction as well as becoming a single mother. I highly recommend her to anyone going through struggles in life no matter what they may be.”

“Laura has been able to mentor me on issues regarding addiction, dealing with tough familial situations, and stress from work. Her teaching laid a framework for me to clear my mind of negative things and ultimately to be closer to God, which has been the strongest tool of all. I thank Laura for what she has done for me!”

You Can Talk About Your Love Life In Online Therapy.


If you or someone you know is struggling with lust or sexual addiction, it's important to get help. Addiction of any sort can affect your mental health, and while sex may not take the same physical toll on the body that some addictions exert, it still can be harmful.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lust (FAQs):

What is the true meaning of lust?

The true meaning of lust is that you want to engage in sexual activity with someone. Or, it is the feeling you have when you are engaging in sexual activity with someone.

What is the difference between love and lust?

The difference between love and lust is your relationship with the person you are feeling strong sexual temptation towards. If you are not married to the person, and are having intense sexual desire or feelings towards them, then you are likely engaging in lust. However, lust can be related to and confused with love, as they are similar when you are married. When you are married, you love the person and have a covenant with them. When you feel sexual desire or act on your sexual desire with your spouse, you are partaking in love.

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Does Lust Prevent Love?

The way we lust often differs from person to person and while we may eventually seek love, lust alone isn’t normally a solid indicator of love. 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 may never progress beyond our having a sexual attraction to the person.

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Can You Be Addicted To Lust?

Absolutely. Lust is like any strong emotion or feeling, and the fact that it produces similar reactions in our brains to other addictive substances validates that notion. It’s important to remember that this issue, whether it's sex addiction, a pornography addiction, or any other form or sexual addiction is treatable. 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.

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, may be more drawn into the addictive side than those who experience lust less intensely. It's a struggle that is not new. Talking to a licensed counselor can help you understand whether your feelings have become an addiction.

What Are the Warning Signs of a Sex Addiction?

A person who is not in a stable relationship may be 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 might end up being lust.

Stress is another trigger for sexual addiction because it can cause us to retreat into a fantasy world (through books, movies, or in some cases pornography) 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.

How Therapy Can Help Manage Feelings Of Lust And Desire

Therapy is a personal experience, and not everyone will go into it seeking the same things. Keeping these things in mind can ensure that you will get the most out of online therapy, regardless of what your specific goals are. If you’re still wondering if therapy is right for you, and how much therapy costs, please contact us at contact@betterhelp.com. BetterHelp specializes in online therapy to help address all types of mental health concerns. If you’re interested in individual therapy, please reach out to contact@betterhelp.com. For more information about BetterHelp as a company, please find us on: 

If you need a crisis hotline or want to learn more about therapy, please see below:

For more information on mental health, please see:

Get Help Now

  • Emergency: 911
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  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
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Further Reading

Previous Article

The Challenges Of Emotional Intimacy

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The Best Ways To Cope With Fear Of Sexual Intimacy
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