Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On lust

I’m about to head off to Columbus, Ohio for an academic conference. (It’s on pedagogical practice in linguistics, if you care about that sort of thing.) As a result, i won’t be posting anything after this here for about a week—so i’ll give you something interesting to talk about.

Let’s talk about lust.

As far as i can tell, the word “lust” is consistently used in a negative sense by church leaders. I didn’t have the time to do an exhaustive search, but if you run a search of general conference addresses, “lust” doesn’t seem to come up in positive contexts.

This makes sense, i suppose—lust can be distracting, to say the least, and we do a lot of counseling teenagers to beware of lust, ’cause lust ups your chances of falling into sexual sins. Fine.

But what about those of us who are married? Is lust always a bad thing, or is it acceptable to feel lust toward your spouse?

True story: In a ward i used to live in, i was in a gospel doctrine class where the topic was the law of chastity. (By definition, not having sexual relations with anyone other than your spouse who you’re legally married to.) This led to discussing how Satan uses sexual urges to tempt us, and how we need to resist them. (Yes, how we need to resist sexual urges, not how we need to resist temptation. I disagree, as you’ll see, but it’s a pretty widespread Mormon cultural meme.) There were a handful of people who talked about how we need to do everything we can to avoid giving in to “unhealthy sexual urges”, and the word “lust” was used a couple of times in a very negative sense. Eventually i raised my hand and, when called on, said that lust is actually a good thing—if we didn’t have them, then people would probably be much less likely to have children to raise, and since part of God’s plan is for people to raise children, then it’s a good thing that lust happens.

Well, a bit of an eruption followed—and i basically got lectured by several people on how healthy sexual urges have nothing to do with lust. But you know what? I think that’s hair-splitting—the difference between “healthy sexual urges” and “lust” isn’t a difference of kind, it’s purely a difference in what you care to call it to keep yourself from shocking your Puritan neighbors.

For my part, i feel lust toward Jeanne regularly and frequently, and i don’t think it’s a sin. In fact, i would probably find it troubling if i didn’t.

But i’m curious what y’all think. Is lust always a Bad Thing? Is there actually a difference between lust and what people call “healthy sexual urges”? (And just to keep things on an even footing, let’s limit ourselves to lust directed toward one’s spouse—we can all agree that extramarital lust is wrong without having to get into those sorts of details.)


Heather the Mama Duk said...

I'm with you. Reminds me of a John Bytheway talk where he was talking about bridling your passions (sexually). Now, he was talking to youth. "Passions" could easily be taken as "lust." John Bytheway pointed out how it doesn't say to stop them or that they are icky. It says to bridle them. Because in the right situation (aka legal marriage) they are a GOOD thing.

Truth is... I think my husband is hot :-P Is that lust. Um, yeah, probably.

Michelle said...

Okay, I'll give you a second comment here. I, personally, don't think there's a difference between lust and sexual urges. I think society has given them different definitions, so now we generally think that lust is bad, while healthy sexual urges are good. But I think the driving force behind those healthy urges is lust, whether people want to admit that or not.

And for what it's worth, I think it's just plain sad if people think sex has to be a plain old, turn the lights out, lets multiply and replenish the Earth kind of thing. I also think at church we need to focus more on teaching kids that sex within a marriage is good and FUN. I've had too many friends who were so wrapped up in the idea of sex being a no-no (which, of course, it is, before marriage), that when they got married it was hard for them to deal with the fact that they were doing something so forbidden and wrong.