The vice opposed to the virtue of chastity. Called luxuria in Latin and commonly referred to as impurity in English, lust always indicates an excessive, that is, irrational, attachment to venereal pleasure. Because of the wide variety of vicious acts and habits it causes, Christian tradition classifies it as one of the seven capital sins. The malice of lust is shown in the vices to which it leads: blindness of mind, rashness, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, self-love, and excessive attachment to the material world. It destroys man's humanity by subjecting sexual activity not to its proper ends recognized by reason, that is, the procreation of children and the promotion of the mutual love of spouses in marriage, but instead to mere bodily pleasure. This article considers lust (1) as spoken of in Sacred Scripture, (2) in its relation to the natural law, (3) in its opposition to chastity, (4) as a violation of the sexual order, (5) according to its gravity as a sin, (6) in the moral imputability of its acts, and (7) in relation to natural and supernatural remedies.
Scripture. Although Scripture does not provide an exhaustive list of the types of lust and describe the malice of each, both the OT and NT condemn sexual misbehavior in a number of its forms. The OT, for example, condemns adultery, incest, the seduction or rape of a virgin, bestiality, and prostitution, especially the cultic prostitution practiced in the Canaanite sanctuaries. Further, in the Sixth and Ninth Commandments it forbids improper sexual acts and desires. In the NT, the OT teaching is elevated and refined by the delineation of lust as a profanation of a mutual love that can be humanly expressed only in the sanctity of marriage. The profanation is the greater for the dignity of the married union, which is so sacred as to be a symbol of Christ's union with the Church (Mt 19.3–9; Eph 5.25–33). Christ Himself, declaring and reinforcing the primitive inviolable sanctity of the marital bond, brands as adulterous any quasimarital association of a married person with another man or woman. Paul denounces the "uncleanness" of the pagans, declaring that God has abandoned them to "shameful lusts" or unnatural vices because of their idolatry (Rom 1.24–28). Among the "works of the flesh" that exclude from the kingdom of God are sexual immorality, uncleanness, and licentiousness (Gal 5.19–20); nor shall the kingdom be possessed by adulterers, the effeminate, or sodomites (1 Cor 6.9–10).
In a noteworthy passage (1 Cor 6.12–20) the Apostle points out the immorality of promiscuity, arguing from the dignity conferred on a Christian by his vocation as one destined to rise with Christ, whose members are the members of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, bought at a great price so that he should glorify and bear God in his body.
Natural Law. Paul's strong condemnation of the pagans for their unnatural vices indicates that the natural law itself, written in the heart of man (Rom 2.14), imposes certain essential restraints on the pursuit of pleasures of the flesh. The sex appetite is one of the most powerful of human urges, needing rational control lest the indulgence of it destroy the basis of society. The possibility of such destruction has been shown by the rationalist scholar J. D. Unwin in his statistical survey of more than 80 civilized and uncivilized communities (Sex and Culture, Oxford 1934).
Customs concerned with sex and marriage differ widely with various peoples, but their universal existence is irrefutable testimony to the common conviction of mankind that the sex instinct must be controlled and that, therefore, prohibitions of sins of lust are part of the natural law.
Lust as Opposed to Chastity. Integrating into his Christian moral synthesis the Aristotelian concept and catalog of moral virtues, St. Thomas Aquinas designates lust as the vice opposed by excess to chastity (Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 153.3 ad 3), chastity being that part of temperance which moderates the concupiscible appetite in its inclination for the pleasures that go with the use of the generative faculty (ibid. 2a2ae, 151.3). In contemporary language, chastity governs the use and the pursuit of the pleasures of sex. Hence lust refers to the unbridled enjoyment of them. In the terminology of Aristotle and St. Thomas, one commits a sin of lust by seeking or enjoying these pleasures in a way that exceeds the measure of right reason; in a Christian context one can add in a way that contravenes the sacred significance of sex and marriage in the order of Redemption.
Thus, on the one hand, chastity controls the enjoyment of sex pleasure according to the dictates of right reason and the Christian moral law, forbidding, permitting, or approving according to circumstances and especially according to the objective and subjective purpose of such pleasure. Lust, on the other hand, indulges in sex pleasure without regard to these necessary controlling factors.
Although this narrows the concept of chastity, and hence of lust, to the use and abuse of sex and of sexual pleasure, the pleasure itself must be considered in a very wide context of human sensations, emotions, and reactions. A lustful action is a disordered use or pursuit of sex pleasure not only because it defeats the biological, social, or moral purpose of sex activity, but also because in doing this it subjects the spiritual in man to values of the grossly material order, acting as a disintegrating force in the human personality.
Against this background one can consider the careful distinctions traditionally made by theologians between pleasure that is merely sensible, pleasure that is sensual, and pleasure that is venereal, only the last being immediately attached to the exercise of sex in its narrow physical sense. Merely sensible pleasure, such as delight in the touch of a soft object, is relevant only insofar as such pleasure can become venereal, as when there is pleasure in physical contact between adult persons of opposite sexes, especially in kisses and embraces, because the deliberate and prolonged seeking of such pleasure is apt to arouse venereal pleasure, even when there is no intention that it should, and cause a danger of consenting to it (cf. Alphonsus Liguori, 1.3 n.416).
Love, especially between members of opposite sexes, can express itself on the three levels of sensible, sensual, and venereal, and lapses into lust only when it expresses itself inordinately on the last of them. The difference is enormous between venereally pleasurable activity when absorbed into the full meaning of sex, and when it escapes from the control of reason and spirit. This difference is due to the nature of the sex drive considered as a creative force. Of itself it reaches out to another person as, under God, a coprinciple of new life. Thus it comes from and tends to the core of man's fruitful nature, understanding the term not only of man's physical power to procreate his kind, but also of his responsibility for the moral and spiritual formation of offspring.
These responsibilities belong to man as a person, one who is made to God's image and recognizes the divinely imprinted pattern of human sexual activity, and the obligation to accept with his reason and execute with his will and its attendant emotions what this pattern requires. Thus sex activity outside the framework that alone provides for the loving and responsible care of children converts the force of sexual activity into one that tends to personal disintegration. In marriage itself, sexual actions must conform to the divine pattern; they have a disintegrating effect when they are performed irresponsibly, most conspicuously when the creative nature of sex is positively defeated by acts that are unnatural or when in varying degrees according to circumstances cogent reasons for avoiding pregnancy are carelessly neglected or when sheer pleasure seeking upsets the balance of intimate friendship. There are no hard and fast rules, but human lovers will know for themselves whether what they do is a descent to a merely animal condition or an ascent to a graciously human dignity and delight.
Distinctions must be made between sex, eros, and agape, indicating respectively the appetite or instinct for sexual pleasure in the narrow sense common to animals and human beings; an affective sympathy toward another human being based on qualities that are psychical and spiritual as well as physical; and a love that is a self-giving and committal to the other. Thus lust, the violation of chastity in the high Christian context emphasized by St. Paul, violates charity, the soul of the Christian order (cf. J. Fuchs, De Castitate, 21–22).
Violation of the Sexual Order. Lust as a disordered enjoyment of sexual pleasure generally involves a violation of the sexual order. That it necessarily does so seems the fairly general assumption of moralists. They assume also that chastity is a virtue whose essential function is the protection of the sexual order, i.e., the direction of sex activity to its specific purpose.
Both assumptions have been questioned by J. Fuchs, who introduces alongside chastity another virtue whose scope is the preservation of the right order of sex, whereas chastity is concerned with controlling the appetite for the pleasures of sex. Sex activity is possible without the pleasurable experience normally accompanying it, and the right order of this activity can be preserved even when one enjoys or seeks its characteristic pleasure in a disordered way. He instances the case of a prostitute who plies her trade for monetary gain without any physical enjoyment, and that of a married man enjoying normal conjugal intimacy but with no motive except that of physical pleasure. Thus in one case there is a sin against the sex order without a sin of lust, and in the other a sin of lust without a sin against the sexual order (loc. cit. 17–18).
This view can claim a shadow of support in St. Thomas, especially in his Quaestiones disputatae de malo, where he distinguishes between inordinate concupiscence in the normal use of marriage and a disorder in the external act, as when there are sex relations outside marriage (De malo 15.1). However, in each case he speaks explicitly of a sin of lust. The disorder proper to such a sin is to be found primarily in the failure of the natural appetite for sex pleasure to be guided by man's reason. Reason is the norm truly constitutive of morality, not indeed the highest and transcendent one, which is the eternal law in the mind of God, but a true and proximate norm sharing as man does by his practical reason the directive power of God's mind and will, directing all created activity to its end (cf. Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 19.3). By accepting the objective order of finality whereby sex pleasure is integrated into sexual activity for the sake of this activity, reason as a norm of right action actively ordains both the pleasure and the activity to the purposes for which the latter exists. Thus the moral rightness that gives chastity its specific motive as a controlling and restraining influence on the appetite for sex pleasure is founded immediately on the exigencies of the human sexual order. The fundamental disorder the virtue holds at bay is that of separating sex pleasure from the order to which it belongs by right. This one does essentially as often as he seeks or accepts such pleasure in this disordered way, whether his concupiscence contains itself within the external framework imposed by the objective ordering of sex activity, as when a man performs the normal conjugal act exclusively for pleasure, or whether this disordered concupiscence motivates a disorder in the external act as such which, because performed outside marriage or in a solitary or some other unnatural way, is found deprived of its divine ordination to the generation and education of children (cf. De malo 15.1).
At first sight it may be difficult to see how the prostitute plying her trade without seeking or enjoying sex pleasure, which is entirely absent, commits a sin of lust in an isolated and technical sense. There is, however, the consideration that she formally cooperates in the lustful action of her partner; but more fundamentally there seems to be a sin of lust because an action and its proper pleasure are identically related to the moral order, seeing that such pleasure exists for the sake of the action and is included in its total concept (Summa Theologiae 1a2ae,2.6 ad 1). What regulates the pursuit of pleasure is the finality of the action. If, therefore, in a particular and exceptional case the pleasure is lacking, it does not follow that the same virtue does not come into play when the act is performed with a conscious submission to the right order inscribed in its very nature, or that this virtue is not positively violated when this right order is voluntarily disregarded. A woman who is unresponsive to sex stimuli can still have chaste motives for abstaining from sinful sexual actions, as the prostitute can act lustfully by admitting them. A further problem, i.e., the concrete virtue or vice acquired and developed by such actions in accord with or contrary to the norms of chastity, is here irrelevant.
On the other hand, it does not seem necessary or desirable to discard the ordinary definitions of chastity and lust and to place their essence primarily in a disposition to perform sexual acts only according to their purpose or to abuse them in contravention of that purpose, as do certain modern theologians (cf. Vangheluwe, "De temperantia stricte dicta eiusque partibus subiectivis," Coll. brug. 47  38–48; Zalba, 1.1372). It is true, indeed, that the nature of the act regulates the morality of the pleasure, but the difficulty to be overcome in the use of sex activity comes precisely from the attractiveness of the pleasure that goes with it. Hence chastity facilitates the practice of a rightly ordered sex life and controls the appetite for sex pleasure. Lust primarily inclines this appetite to rebel against the order imposed by reason. Thus St. Thomas, and with him most moral theologians, teaches that lust consists primarily in the use of venereal pleasure other than according to right reason: "in hoc quod aliquis non secundum rectam rationem delectatione venerea utitur" (Summa theologiae, 2a2ae, 153.1, 154).
Gravity of Sins of Lust. It is clear that all deliberately sought sex activity must be properly oriented, and that if it is not, the pursuit or acceptance of its pleasure is sinful.
For centuries theologians have emphasized the essential ordination of sex and its use to the generation and education of children, and from this they deduce the unlawfulness of all deliberate sex activity outside marriage (ST 2a2ae, 154.2). This is confirmed by the magisterium of Pius XI (in the encyclical Casti connubii, Dec. 31, 1930; H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [Freiburg 1963] 3705) and that of Pius XII [cf. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 43 (1951) 852].
Recently there has been much emphasis on the personal values of sex, and hence on sexual intercourse as expressing a mutual personal giving. From this some deduce the exclusive right of married partners to exercise it, since without an indissoluble bond between them, this mutual giving cannot be verified. Hence follows the unlawfulness of fornication, adultery, and all sex activity outside marriage as well as anything in marriage that contradicts or sets aside this mutual, complete giving (cf. Hildebrand, 35–42; Häring, 3:296–303). The magisterium of Pius XII recognized this personal aspect of the conjugal act according to the scriptural phrase that man and wife become "two in one flesh" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 43 (1951) 850].
These considerations as well as the strong condemnations of various sins of impurity in the NT make it clear that, in general, acts of lust are gravely sinful.
The common teaching of theologians can be summed up thus: outside marriage, every movement of lust as here defined or pleasure directly provoked or consented to is objectively a mortal sin; but venereal movements foreseen but not intended can be without sin, venially sinful, or mortally so, according to principles governing the permission of an evil effect.
Lustful Movements Directly Provoked or Consented To. Parvity of matter is not possible in the deliberate indulgence of sexual acts that defeat the generative purpose of the sex faculty, as in contraceptive or other unnatural practices; however, there may be slightness of matter when the acts indulged in retain their due ordination to this purpose, even though they might be, as we have seen from St. Thomas, acts of disordered concupiscence because they are sought only for pleasure. The necessary subordination of this pleasure to higher values is present at least implicitly in the ordinary moderate exercise of conjugal rights. On the other hand, a selfish desire for venereal pleasure can be the occasion of serious sins against justice or charity, as when conjugal relations are sought that are gravely injurious or strain the companionship of marriage.
Outside marriage the distinction between complete and incomplete acts is relevant, the former indicating a venereal movement brought to its term usually accompanied by pleasure amounting to a climax, the latter indicating movements or pleasure short of this completion.
The possibility that complete acts might be venially sinful is excluded because there is the full exercise of sex activity or the full enjoyment of its pleasure in a way that contradicts its specific, lifegiving purpose, intended by God Himself, the sole Author of human life. Solitary or other unnatural acts exclude the physical result of conception; moreover, so-called natural sins, such as fornication or adultery, contradict the purpose of sex in human beings, for those who exercise the full normal sex act are responsible for the proper care of any resulting offspring that is effectively guaranteed only by the marital bond (ST 2a2ae, 154.2.11). In both cases, there is introduced into the exercise of a faculty that is for the good of the whole human race a perversion by which it serves the pleasure or interest of an individual only. This subordination of the race to the individual is not a light matter.
In an incomplete act the perversion is still grave, and the best reason for this seems to be the one implied by St. Alphonsus and other classical moralists when they speak of it as the beginning of a complete act—"quaedam inchoata pollutio, seu motus ad pollutionem"(1.3.416).
This is to be understood in the sense that an incomplete venereal act is of its nature the beginning of a complete act insofar as the actuation of the generative or sexual faculty is one complete, indivisible process. There can be light matter in other sins, such as theft, because a man who steals $1 does not by that fact commence a process whereby he steals $1,000. In sex activity one who performs an incomplete act necessarily begins the process of total actuation, even though he stops before it is complete. Consequently, the complete act is virtually present so that its grave malice is shared by the incomplete act (see authors such as Fuchs and Vangheluwe).
It is to be noted that the Church has condemned a proposition that states that a kiss indulged for the sake of carnal pleasure and that does not involve danger of further consent is only venially sinful (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [Freiburg 1963] 2060); recent attempts to defend similar views have been officially censured by the Holy See.
Finally, the gravity of both complete and incomplete venereal acts outside marriage arises from the nature of the normal sex act as a personal intercommunion. But this argument may be inconclusive if it is proposed separately from the argument given above (cf. Fuchs, De castitate 38–44).
Lustful Movements Provoked or Willed Indirectly. In speaking of the absence of sin or the presence of light sin only in certain actions (or omissions) whose foreseen but unintended result are venereal movements, it is understood there is no consent or proximate danger of consent by the will to these pleasurable movements themselves. If there is a sufficient reason for performing such an act, the resultant movement is lawfully permitted, a sufficient reason being a motive whose reasonable necessity is such as to counterbalance the evil of a movement that can never be desired in itself. Thus a moderate cause is sufficient to justify the permission of an incomplete movement, for its incompleteness indicates that this cause is not apt to disturb one profoundly; but a grave cause is required if the movement is foreseen as most likely to be complete: thus necessary study for a medical student, the fulfillment of one's duty in looking after the sick. However, as a general rule, attention to the interest of the study itself or the conscientious fulfillment of one's duty tends to diminish the likelihood of gravely disturbing venereal movements.
Actions apt of their nature to arouse only incomplete movements and performed without reason are venially sinful. In individual cases this aptitude, combined with other factors, can form a total cause of complete movements, but in general one can regard things such as reading from mere curiosity matter that is not notably suggestive, or passing embraces that, although sensual, are not venereal in character, as venially sinful only.
Actions apt to arouse full movements, if performed without reason, are serious sins. Usually the mere absence of any sufficient reason tends to make certain acts provocative of full venereal movements. Thus what could be read without any sin by reason of necessary study could be seriously provocative if read from mere curiosity. Similarly, close and prolonged embraces between adult persons for sensual pleasure are apt to cause grave disturbances, which, if the parties are not husband and wife, are not truly expressive of lawful love. Thus they must be regarded as seriously sinful.
Imputability. It is a commonplace in moral theology that strong passion that a person has not himself deliberately aroused tends to diminish or even destroy freedom, and hence the moral imputability for actions in themselves seriously sinful.
This has an obvious application in the matter of lust because of the strong character of the sex urge together with temperamental, psychological, and even psychiatric factors that weaken the resistive power of individuals to unlawful sexual inclinations. It is especially relevant when, as so frequently happens, they are exposed to innumerable external influences concentrating attention on sexual enjoyment.
Modern theologians are inclined to take seriously the claims of contemporary depth psychology that in sexual aberrations one must extend, perhaps considerably, the boundaries of diminished responsibility and admit the possibility of even total lack of imputability. Thus to the extent that actions in themselves seriously sinful are performed not from full deliberation, or to the degree that a man is the victim of uncontrollable forces that impel him so that he is passive rather than active, these are not human actions but actions of a man—actiones hominis (cf. Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 1.1). While warning strongly against the tendency to generalize as if it were a universal assumption that sexual sins are never fully imputable, Pius XII accepted in several of his allocutions the practical possibility of diminished or totally absent imputability [radio talk, March 23, 1952, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 44 (1952) 275; allocution, April 9, 1953, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 45 (1953) 279]. Hence a confessor should not be hesitant to judge as free from mortal sin a penitent who falls into sin by solitary impure actions only after a struggle and because, as he asserts, he felt physically incapable of further resistance, when he is otherwise of good moral dispositions. Such a judgment can be made even when a penitent of prayerful habits protests that he knew at the time he was committing sin and felt he was sinning freely. However, each case must be taken on its merits.
Remedies. It is usual to list various remedies, natural and supernatural. To the first belong such things as bodily cleanliness, the taking of suitable exercise, cultivating interest in hobbies or study, as well as the avoiding of stimulants and of erotic reading and erotic experiences in general, and self-discipline in food and in the hours of sleep. To the natural order belongs also an intelligent understanding of the significance of sex, and hence of the natural virtue of chastity. It is not necessary to stress the need, imperative in many cases, of medical and psychiatric assistance for one who has difficulty controlling his sexual inclinations.
These means cannot ordinarily be fully effective unless they are supernaturalized; complete chastity is, in the state of fallen nature, practically impossible for the average person without the help of grace. Therefore, the means of grace must be stressed, that a life of prayer and frequentation of the Sacraments. Another remedy is the appreciation of the sublime significance of sex and marriage in the supernatural, Christian order, and hence the need for cultivation of the Christian virtue of chastity.
Because grace truly builds on nature and is not merely superimposed upon it, it is important that natural and supernatural remedies work together as one whole. For want of this integration, supernatural means are sometimes insufficiently effective. When prayer and the Sacraments are used as though they were automatic preservatives, these means of grace flow over the soul, so to speak, without the grace itself finding a point of entry ample enough to take possession of a man's life.
Chastity must be seen and accepted in its natural personal values, but in such a way that these values form at the same time a basis for the supernatural. In this way both the natural and supernatural virtues become integrating parts of one harmonious principle of human action, whereby sex and its pleasures are sought and accepted or generously renounced in accordance with one's vocation in the Mystical Body of Christ.
Bibliography: General treatises. j. adloff, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique (Paris 1903–50) 9.1:1339–56. alphonsus liguori, Theologia moralis, ed. l. gaudÉ, 4 v. (new ed. Rome 1905–12) 1:655–707, clearly summarizes and applies to particular cases the classical teaching de sexto praecepto et nono. a. vermeersch, De castitate et de vitiis contrariis: Tractatus doctrinalis et moralis (2d ed. Rome 1921) 300–413. b. merkelbach, De castitate et luxuria, rev. g. dantinne (8th ed. Brussels 1956). l. wouters, Tractatus dogmatico-moralis de virtute castitatis et de vitiis oppositis (rev. ed. Bruges 1932) 23–75. j. fuchs, De castitate et ordine sexuali (Rome 1963) 99–108, with strong emphasis on the antipersonal and the antigenerative aspects of lust. Useful seminary manuals. m. zalba, Theologiae moralis compendium, 2 v. (Madrid 1958) 1:1372–1509. h. davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology (New York 1958) 2:204–221. Scriptural references. h. lesÊtre, Dictionnaire de la Bible, (Paris 1895–1912) 4:436–437. a. van den born, Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, (New York 1963) 1056. b. orchard et al., eds., Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London 1953), index. Personal aspects. d. von hildebrand, In Defense of Purity (New York 1931; repr. Baltimore, Md. 1962). b. hÄring, Das Gesetz Christi, 3 v. (6th ed. Freiburg 1961). Notion of the sexual order. j. fuchs, Die Sexualethik des heiligen Thomas von Aquin (Cologne 1949). Gravity of matter. j. fuchs, De castitate, op. cit. 138–142. m. zalba, op. cit. 1382–83. v. vangheluwe, "De intrinseca et gravi malitia luxuriae imperfectae," Collationes brugenses 48 (1952) 36–44. j. j. lynch, "Notes on Moral, Theology," Theological Studies 21 (1960) 225–227. g. a. kelly, "A Fundamental Notion in the Problem of Sex Morality," ibid. 1 (1940) 117–129. Imputability. j. c. ford and g. a. kelly, Contemporary Moral Theology (Westminster, Md. 1958–) 1:174–276. j. s. duhamel, "Moral and Psychological Aspects of Freedom," Thought 35 (1960) 179–203.
425. Lust (See also Profligacy, Promiscuity.)
- Aeshma fiend of evil passion. [Iranian Myth.: Leach, 17]
- Aholah and Aholibah lusty whores; bedded from Egypt to Babylon. [O.T.: Ezekiel 23:1–21]
- Alcina lustful fairy. [Ital. Lit.: Orlando Furioso ]
- Ambrosio, Father supposedly virtuous monk goatishly ravishes maiden. [Br. Lit.: The Monk ]
- Angelo asked by Isabella to cancel her brother’s death sentence, Angelo agrees if she will yield herself to him. [Br. Drama: Shakespeare Measure for Measure ]
- Aphrodite Porne patron of lust and prostitution. [Gk. Myth.: Espy, 16]
- Armida’s Garden symbol of the attractions of the senses. [Ital. Lit.: Jerusalem Delivered ]
- Aselges personification of lasciviousness. [Br. Lit.: The Purple Island, Brewer Handbook, 67]
- Ashtoreth goddess of sexual love. [Phoenician Myth.: Zimmer-man, 32]
- Asmodeus female spirit of lust. [Jew. Myth.: Jobes, 141]
- Balthazar B shy gentleman afloat on sea of lasciviousness. [Am. Lit.: The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B ]
- Belial demon of libidinousness and falsehood. [Br. Lit.: Paradise Lost ]
- Bess Porgy’s “temporary” woman; she knew weakness of her will and flesh. [Am. Lit.: Porgy, Magill I, 764–766; Am. Opera: Gershwin, Porgy and Bess ]
- Brothers Karamazov, The family given to the pleasures of flesh. [Russ. Lit.: The Brothers Karamazov ]
- Caro loathsome hag; personification of fleshly lust. [Br. Lit.: The Purple Island, Brewer Handbook, 180]
- Casanova (1725–1798) loving (and likable) libertine. [Ital. Hist.: Espy, 130]
- Cleopatra (69–30 B.C.) Egyptian queen, used sex for power. [Egyptian Hist.: Wallechinsky, 323]
- Don Juan literature’s most active seducer: “in Spain, 1003.” [Span. Lit.: Benét, 279; Ger. Opera: Mozart, Don Giovanni, Espy, 130–131]
- elders of Babylon condemn Susanna when carnal passion goes unrequited. [Apocrypha: Daniel and Susanna]
- Falstaff, Sir John fancies himself a lady-killer. [Br. Lit.: Merry Wives of Windsor ]
- Fritz the Cat a tomcat in every sense. [Comics: Horn, 266–267]
- goat lust incarnate. [Art: Hall, 139]
- hare attribute of sexual desire incarnate. [Art: Hall, 144]
- horns attribute of Pan and the satyr; symbolically, lust. [Rom. Myth.: Zimmerman, 190; Art: Hall, 157]
- Hartman, Rev. Curtis lusts after a young woman viewed at her window, but turns the experience into a hysterical sense of redemption. [Am. Lit.: Winesburg, Ohio ]
- John of the Funnels, Friar monk advocating lust. [Fr. Lit.: Gargantua and Pantagruel ]
- Lilith sensual female; mythical first wife of Adam. [O.T.: Genesis 4:16]
- long ears symbol of licentiousness. [Indian Myth.: Leach, 333]
- Lothario heartless libertine and active seducer. [Br. Lit.: Fair Penitent, Espy, 129]
- Malecasta personification of wantonness. [Br. Lit.: Faerie Queene ]
- Montez, Lola (1818–1861) beguiling mistress to the eminent. [Br. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 325]
- Obidicut fiend; provokes men to gratify their lust. [Br. Lit.: King Lear ]
- Pan man-goat of bawdy and lecherous ways. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 798]
- Paphnutius monk converts a courtesan but cannot overcome his lust for her. [Fr. Lit.: Anatole France Thaïs in Benét, 997]
- pig attribute of lust personified. [Art: Hall, 247]
- Porneius personification of fornication. [Br. Lit.: The Purple Island, Brewer Handbook, 865]
- Priapus monstrous genitals led him on the wayward path. [Rom. Myth.: Hall, 252]
- Ridgeon, Sir Colenso refrains from using his tuberculosis cure to save the life of a man whose wife he coveted. [Br. Lit.: Shaw The Doctor’s Dilemma in Sobel, 173]
- Robinson, Mrs. middle-aged lady lusts after young graduate. [Am. Lit.: The Graduate ; Am. Music: “Mrs. Robinson”]
- Salome in her provocative Dance of the Seven Veils. [Aust. Opera: R. Strauss, Salome, Westerman, 417]
- Spanish jasmine flower symbolizing lust. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 175]
- Vathek devotes his life to sexual and other sensuous indulgences. [Br. Lit.: Beckford Vathek ]
- Villiers, George first Duke of Buckingham and libidinous dandy. [Br. Lit.: Waverley ]
- widow of Ephesus weeping over her husband’s corpse, she is cheered by a compassionate sentry and they become ardent lovers in the burial vault. [Rom. Lit.: Satyricon ]
- Zeus the many loves of this god have made his name a byword for sexual lust. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 297–301]
This article will define and distinguish lust and illustrate its role in representative mythologies and theologies. Etymologically the Anglo-Saxon word lust and the French borrowing desire were very close synonyms. As late as the fifteenth century, lust could mean something as benign as preference or wish, but in modern times, at least since the English renaissance, the word lust has generally been restricted in meaning to something more powerful, something more unreasonable or unethical, and certainly something more sexual, while desire remains the more general and more benign term. Unlike the medical term libido, which connotes the normal and perhaps instinctual sex drive, lust usually has connotations of conniving, excess, or the otherwise abnormal. Libido is also generally undirected, whereas lust is for someone or something.
Lust is frequently contrasted with love, especially by moralists of adolescent sexuality, who fear that the one somehow might be mistaken for the other. With the demise of dynastic marriage, in European and North American cultures at any rate, in which money is the primary inducement to marry, this fear that lust will be mistaken for love now drives most modern romantic narratives. It is for this reason, perhaps, that so many Americans popularly understand a marriage of convenience to be about satiating lust rather than accomplishing some social, political, or legal goal. Science might someday collapse distinctions between love and lust, but until then it might be said that love is generally considered to be the purer of the two emotions, not quite as concerned with sex.
Myths often explore the role of lust in relationships or in the psyche. The Greek myth of Ares and Aphrodite, in which the god of aggressive war is caught the very act of sex with the goddess of sexual love, suggests the passions in lust and war have something in common. In Hindu mythology Brahma, the creator, lusts for his daughter Shatarupa and in attempting to follow her with his gaze, grows three additional heads. After her apotheosis, Brahma grows a fifth head to follow her to heaven, but Shiva, the destroyer, cuts it off since his lust is incestuous. In another myth Shiva incinerates Kama, god of love, after he has attempted to stir Shiva's sexual passions. Rati, Kama's wife, pleads with Shiva to restore him, which he does, but only as an incorporeal image, representing true love rather than physical lust.
Lust is the popular translation of luxuria, the last of medieval Catholic theology's seven deadly or capital sins. Like all capital sins, lust is a sin of thought that leads to sinful actions, such as sodomy or incest. St. Augustine's (354–430) distinction between use and enjoyment is valuable in understanding how lust works in this system of sin. All things, Augustine reasons, may either be used to bring oneself closer to God or may be enjoyed in themselves, self-indulgently, separating one further from God. In this sense sexual activity is not necessarily lustful if it is engaged in for the purpose of generation: Sex may be used to do God's will, following his injunction to be fruitful. In this system lust is not simply the desire to have sex but the self-indulgent desire to have sex. The logical consequences are myriad. As the desire for sexual pleasure itself, lust is therefore still possible within lawful sexual relations, so even a married couple must be on guard against lusting after one another. This logic helps inform the Catholic Church's stand on artificial birth control, which enables couples to have sex without intending to reproduce, indulging lust. Another logical consequence of this definition of lust is that it must be distinguished from adultery or fornication in that lust is considered a root cause of these actions, not an action in itself. Such theoretical distinctions are notoriously difficult to keep in practice, as Jesus himself suggests when he says, "Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28).
Dante's Inferno (1307) contains perhaps the best symbolization of lust so conceived. Dante devotes the second circle of the underworld to the lustful, who are driven incessantly round the vast ring by harassing winds, just as lust torments the living, driving them from one unsatisfying partner to the next. Dante's chief example of the lustful are Paolo and Francesca, whose lust for one another was inspired by reading a romance about Launcelot, another famous figure for lust and adultery. As noted before readers must be on their guard not to confuse the love Paolo and Francesca so clearly feel for one another with the lust that they indulged.
Alighieri, Dante. 1980. Inferno, trans. Allen Mandelbaum. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. 1995. De Doctrina Christiana [On Christian teaching], ed. and trans. R. P. H. Green. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Regan, A. 2003. "Lust." New Catholic Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale.
Williams, George Mason. 2003. Handbook of Hindu Mythology. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
lust / ləst/ • n. very strong sexual desire: he knew that his lust for her had returned. ∎ [in sing.] a passionate desire for something: a lust for power. ∎ (usu. lusts) chiefly Theol. a sensual appetite regarded as sinful: lusts of the flesh.• v. [intr.] have a very strong sexual desire for someone: he really lusted after me in those days. ∎ feel a strong desire for something: pregnant women lusting for pickles and ice cream.DERIVATIVES: lust·ful / -(t)fəl/ adj.lust·ful·ly / -(t)fəlē/ adv.lust·ful·ness / -(t)fəlnəs/ n.