We have now reached the penultimate article in our series on the Seven Deadly Sins. To date, we have covered envy, gluttony, sloth, greed, and wrath. We now turn our focus toward lust. This is a bit of a unique one, as it can manifest as either an emotion or a physical feeling. The same cannot be said of any other that we have covered so far. Gluttony may seem to fit the bill, but hunger is not really the same thing. Sloth may also feel physical on occasion, but this is usually in the case of sheer exhaustion. Lust, on the other hand, can be a purely physical sense of sexual desire with no emotions attached.
In addition to the emotional and physical aspects of lust, there may also be a mental component. Lust has been examined frequently in the fields of psychoanalysis and psychology, a matter which we intend to address below. We will provide this examination while taking a look at why lust has become known as a sin or a character defect, and we will also examine how lust may have played a role in our lives of alcoholism and addiction.
Naturally, we will finish the article with an examination regarding the ways in which lust may be overcome as we enter recovery and attempt to embrace sobriety as our new lifestyle. This can be a bit tricky, since lust is in many ways an instinctive experience. Nonetheless, measures may be taken to ensure that it does not run our lives. First, however, we must learn how to take a step back and identify it when it creeps up in our thoughts and behaviors. Without the ability to recognize its hold on us, we will be saddled with the burden of allowing lust to fuel our minds and bodies for quite some time to come.
Defining Lust as a Cardinal Sin
In religious contexts, lust is closely associated with greed, simply in a more specific fashion. Depending on which denomination you follow, lust may even be more specific than mere sexual desire. Some consider lust to be a covetous feeling, or an act of adultery. This helps separate lustful thoughts from natural sexual attraction, as the definition becomes imbued with a sense that the person who harbors lustful desires is devoid of loyalty to others.
Thomas Aquinas believed that lust “unloosens the human spirit,” while noting that this did not apply to all thoughts or acts of a sexual nature. He also believed that dreams of lustful actions did not constitute a sin because the “mind’s awareness is less hindered,” meaning that people cannot always control your thoughts. In other words, those who are normally mindful of their thoughts and are not given to lustful fantasies on an overly frequent basis are essentially fine in the eyes of those who consider lust to be a sin. It is those who knowingly spend their time giving in to fantasies of lust who are committing a wrongful act.
It’s important to note this difference. After all, lust is in many ways an inseparable part of the human condition. That’s why it seems to pop up everywhere from modern media to classic literature. If he doesn’t sleep with at least one random woman in each movie, James Bond isn’t being himself (something which actually garnered a bit of criticism when they reintroduced this aspect of his character in SPECTRE). And Casanova’s writings are so well-known for their lustful content that his name has become synonymous with any man who seduces women with ease.
Psychologists and psychoanalysts refer to those who exhibit high tendencies toward lustful attractions as having a “heightened libido.” They also note that lust is much more likely when we are introduced to people who are quite different from us. In a world where every person is essentially unique, those with heightened libidos are prone to be attracted to just about anyone—just not necessarily the person with whom they are most compatible. We want what we can’t have. And without getting too graphic, this will drive some people to commit heinous acts on behalf of their lust.
Lust’s Role in Active Addiction
Many people go to bars or parties with almost the sole intention of finding a new sexual partner. While there is obviously no data on this sort of thing, it’s safe to say that a fair number of one-night stands occur while one or both parties are intoxicated. There are a host of problems with this. At least one person might already be in a relationship, leading to massive guilt the next morning. In their haste to do the deed, those engaging in these sorts of sexual encounters might not be prone to using protection, leading to pregnancy scares or the possible spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. Whatever the circumstance, many one-night stands result in shame.
While we may drink or do drugs in order to get closer to someone with whom we would like to have a sexual encounter, we may also self-medicate to overcome our feelings when these encounters do not occur. In our substance abuse-fueled haze, we sometimes confuse lust for deeper feelings. And if we think that we are in love with someone when all we want is to sleep with them, we will be devastated if our attraction is unrequited. Even if it is requited, we might be disappointed to discover afterward that everything we thought we felt is now gone.
Lust also leads to some pretty negative emotions. Not only can it lead to envy, but to jealousy as well. Those who fall deeply in lust with another person may sometimes feel as if they have some sort of unspoken ownership. They will become incredibly angry when that person finds happiness with another person, and they will be quick to fly off the handle. This may happen even in cases where the object of a person’s lust does not know that they are interested. And unfortunately, there is no shortage of people who will get drunk and force themselves on another person because they perceive themselves to have some strange right to do so.
We are not saying that everyone who experiences feelings of lust is bound to become a rapist. But do note that drugs and alcohol tend to weaken our inhibitions. If a person is even moderately geared toward this sort of act, then they are much likelier to do it while under the influence. This means that anyone who is aware of their lustful tendencies should try immediately to seek ways to restrain them. They should also be incredibly wary of the effects that drugs and alcohol may have on them, for they may be driven to do things they will ultimately regret.
Overcoming Lust in Recovery
Since sexual desire is a naturally occurring experience, you will need to bear in mind the difference between desire and lust if you are ever going to overcome the latter. It is fine to be attracted to people, but you must learn not to objectify them. Hopefully, this will begin to happen naturally while you are in recovery. Do not be one of those disgusting people who goes to AA or NA meetings, then hangs out with their recovery friends and objectifies the newcomers based on looks. Instead, listen to their stories and realize that everyone—regardless of sex and gender—has had similar experiences while in active addiction.
As you begin to do this, you should become more accustomed to actually listening to people instead of just looking at them. No one is a piece of meat, and no one should be treated like one. When you stop looking at people through lust goggles, you enable yourself to have much more meaningful relationships with them. Of course, people with certain attachment styles may not see the value in this. But once you have experienced it first-hand, you will find there is no greater feeling in the world than connecting with someone on a mental and emotional level rather than just a physical one.
The need to let go of lust is one of several reasons that addicts and alcoholics are recommended to avoid dating in the first year of recovery. We may embark on a relationship to fulfill our lust, only to find ourselves emotionally confused. More than that, the object of our desire might not be sober. If we think we can get closer to them by drinking when they drink or by doing the drugs they do, the temptation will be hard to resist. It is far better to simply avoid putting ourselves in that situation. And if they are sober, we should remember that attempting to fulfill our own sexual urges may put their sobriety at risk in addition to our own.
Lust, like all of the character defects discussed in this article series thus far, tends to isolate us from all sense of spirituality. If you really pay attention, you will notice that each of the Seven Deadly Sins is more or less related to either the pursuit of earthly desires or the avoidance of spiritual growth. Why would this be any different? If you would like to overcome your spiritual shortcomings and live a life of virtue, you cannot give in to lust every time it beckons you. Stay strong, and remember the importance of true connection. Do that, and you will be on the right path to experience much more meaningful relationships.