So this blog is about the lust. If you have read my last blogs on gluttony, envy, greed and wrath (links here: Gluttony Envy Greed Wrath), you will certainly/hopefully agree with me that these so-called “deadly sins” are still among the really undesirable qualities today. However, I found it difficult to classify lust as a mortal sin as well. For me, the word never had the connotation of dirty and shameful. The first times I came across this word in my books, it was in the context of colourful, hot and a bit dirty, but also longed for. It has remained associated with that in my mind.
What lust means.
Positive word meaning…
If you look at the German word meaning of “Wollust”, you will find the Old High German equivalent “willilust”. It consists of the word “lust” (lust, joy), which already existed at that time, and a preform of “wohl” (well). At first, this only meant something that gave pleasure.
… but with a negative connotation.
The negative connotation often associated with lust today has something to do with illicit, outside the rule, excessive, disgusting and deviant sexual practices.
So first of all I had to find out why lust ended up on the list of deadly Sins. And then I had to assess whether and to what extent lust can be compared with greed, envy, gluttony and wrath.
Why should lust be a sin at all?
To secure one’s assets, …
For most primitive peoples, and therefore also for our hunting and gathering ancestors, regular and pleasurable sex was as much a part of life as eating and drinking, being born and dying. This probably already changed with sedentarisation for the first time in our history. We had now more things in our possession than we wanted to carry with us on a long hike. Above all, we had put our work and energy into a piece of land. We had tamed and bred animals, and naturally wanted to leave all this to our descendants.
… and that in the paternal line.
Since men could never be one hundred percent sure that their wife’s child was actually theirs, it became increasingly important to ensure that women did not have sex out of marriage. The laws of Hammurabi already contain various rules on adultery by women. If she is caught in the act, she is punished severely, even to the point of death.
Perhaps this was also to use the institution of marriage to protect women from impoverishment and repudiation.
Hammurabi’s laws also contain a rule that allows a woman to go back to her father with her dowry. The condition was that it was proved that her husband had behaved lewdly and treated her disrespectfully. Later, an ecclesiastically contracted marriage ensured the woman’s financial security and access to her children. This protection clause was apparently necessary. She might otherwise have had to leave the house if, in the view of the master of the house, she had become unattractive or infertile.
How lust was established as a sin.
Similar laws to those in the Ancient Near East also applied in Ancient Greece and Rome. You can rather get the impression from the texts that sexual life was much freer than in later Christianity. Even though sexuality, like any physicality, was not shameful, adultery was still punished by death if necessary.
Augustine’s influence on Christian morality
It was only with the development of Christianity that an extremely rigid attitude to sexuality emerged. (This rigid attitude also developed in Islam long after Mohammed).
The saint Augustine, who belonged to the Manichaeans before he became a Christian, is largely responsible for this. Manichaeans demonised the physical and preached asceticism, since their ideal was a human being made of pure spirit. Augustine brought these ideas into his Christian writings. For him, sexuality was instinct-driven and not rational, and thus it could only be a sin. If necessary, the production of children was excluded from this.
Sex as a gateway for EVIL
It was the dissolution of rationality into purely instinct-driven behaviour that made sexuality so dangerous for the Church. Because with it came the belief that evil would take control of us if we followed our lust. From their point of view, sex was THE gateway for the devil. That’s why sexual accusations were the lynchpin of the Inquisition’s witch trials. (By the way, they were probably not that wrong. Because especially in spying of all kinds – but not only there – sex is used all too often for recruitment and blackmail. 😊)
The fear of free, self-determined sexuality of women that comes to light here is, from my very personal point of view, the actual subliminal reason for the condemnation of lust as sin.
Lilith as the embodiment of the sexually free woman
Lilith is the embodiment of this fear. According to the Jewish Bible and writings of the Torah, she was the first wife of Adam. She was formed from the same earth as Adam (i.e. equal). So she refused to always lie down during sex. This disobedience should not stay unpunished. Lilith, however, avoided the divine punishments by voluntarily leaving paradise and going to the Red Sea. There she allied herself with demons and thus became the mother of the demons. (As such she is usually portrayed today – e.g. in fantasy films). In the Christian Bible, the story has – of course – been erased except for a cryptic mention in Isaiah 34:14. (Although the name Lilith is translated as puck in my 1910 family Bible at this point). On the subject of Lilith, I highly recommend Antonia Langsdorf’s book on Lilith (more here).
Until today, the Catholic Church has a fundamental problem with free sexuality. In the meantime, it accepts sexuality in a marriage even without the explicit wish to produce children. This is because it has had to acknowledge that good sex serves the well-being of the spouses. However, it still finds it difficult to accept all sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage.
But few follow this rigid view – at least in Central Europe and North America – and so the question of lust still arises in our time.
If we now look at how our relationship to sexuality looks today, then there are, in my view, two essential issues that are mutually dependent and can lead to lust being a “sin”, i.e. a misconduct (in moral and physical terms) even today.
Why shame is the starting point for lust.
Shame as an innate human behaviour.
Shame in relation to sexuality is normal to a certain extent. It starts with nudity. Because obviously all people feel shame in relation to uncovered sexual organs. And this is independent of whether they walk around more or less covered in our civilised world, or still largely naked – as is the case with many indigenous people in tropical regions. It is irrelevant what exactly has to be covered. Yanomami women feel shame when they should take off the only “piece of clothing”, the string around their waist. You probably feel the same shame when you are asked to strip naked at the suburban train station. Yet nudity and frequency of sexual contact seem to be related. For example, more or less naked peoples, such as many indigenous people in the Amazon, have sex every day.
You may have read in my summer blog last year (link) that I prefer to go to nudist beaches. That’s how I know that even there people rarely look at their bodies – at most secretly – but look people in the face. And if you now assume – as I do – that shame is an acquired behaviour, I must correct myself and you. Children – even if they grow up in an environment that is very open to nudity – do not want to be seen naked after the age of 6 (boys) and at the latest after the age of 10 (girls), even in their own family. (Fortunately, this seems to come back later – depending on family shame).
There are even reports that in an Israeli kibbutz the children rebelled against the shared washrooms and toilets. (Maybe all those inventors of unisex toilets should take a look at that!)
Socially instilled shame.
Innate shame is still reinforced by modern conditions. Even though only a small proportion of people still consistently follow the Bible, the Torah or the Koran. After childhood, shame is subject to all the family and social (and thus also the applicable religious) rules about what to be ashamed of. Sexual acts in themselves and in public, sex in the light and in other positions than the missionary position propagated by the church (and therefore perhaps so-called), sex with same-sex partners and other sexually connoted topics are usually part of this, depending on how family and society are shaped.
Historically, it seems to be proven that sex has not taken place in public – as with most apes – for more than 100,000 years. Instead, the couple retreats or hopes for the darkness of the night and the sleep of others.
BTW: What shame was very useful for.
Sex and nudity belong together, so much so that some researchers assume that shame and the resulting development of clothing prevented humans from permanently engaging in sex not only in thought but also in deed, which would have prevented (or at least slowed down) our entire technological and social development as a consequence.
Moreover, veiling clothing may even have contributed to the fact that we humans have become so beautiful. By covering the body, parts of the body also became the focus of sexual interest (and thus of evolutionary change). Such as the softness of skin on forearms, delicately shaped earlobes, dainty ankles or wrists.
Shame in family…
Today we are informed about all kinds of sexuality, which have been more or less de-tabooised. And yet the shame has not become less.
Discussions with my clients show again and again that sexuality is never talked about in the family, or only in secret. No wonder young people turn to the internet for information. Sex education focuses mainly on contraception and voluntariness – which is undoubtedly important. Parents therefore rarely know whether their children have sex and with whom. Many don’t want to know at all and are then outraged when they find out by chance that their children are no longer virgins. (And by the way, still 7% of Germans think that premarital sex should be taboo for women (only for them, of course)).
And so our children learn everything about the biological basics and the mechanisms of satisfaction, but nothing about the feelings involved. Yet the enjoyment, the letting go, the pleasure and the dissolution of one’s own self in the sexual act with another person is what is actually wonderful. What a pity!
Instead, they think about how they look when they have sex, whether they are doing the “blow job” right, whether they should address the pain during sex (vaginal or oral) or not because, after all, you’re not supposed to be like that….
Girls who change their boyfriends more often are still considered sluts. Boys who change their girlfriends more often are considered interesting. Behind this is still the Christian shame about living out female sexuality.
Shame also plays a role in marital conversations about sex. So many of my clients of all ages don’t talk to their partner about what gives them pleasure, how they would like sex, what they don’t like at all. They find it embarrassing to talk about. Yet it’s basically nothing more than explaining that you like spicy food better than non-spicy food, that you like beer better than wine. And that without letting go of all the hindering thoughts, sex will never be fulfilling, I’m sure of that.
How shame leads to the hypersexualisation of society.
If you look at how shame-ridden the thoughts and actions of a large part of our society are, it is no wonder that people act out sexually in secret and alone.
So on the one hand, we have too much shame, which prevents us from having fulfilling relationships. For example, only 60% of Germans rate the sex in their relationship as very good or good. Germans also find themselves 32% more uptight about sexuality than other countries.
On the other hand, Germans are the most avid users of pornography sites on the internet. More than 12% of usage time is generated by German users – more than from any other country. And by the way: 70% of this traffic takes place between 9 and 17h, i.e. during working hours. What in God’s name is going on in German offices and factories?
The numbers are a bit strange again – but I already wrote about the strange calculations that can be found on the net in the article about conformity (link here). Porn site providers allegedly make a daily turnover of €12.6 million, but only an annual turnover of €5 billion. So are these sites only online for 396 days? We don’t know. We do know, however, that Pornhub’s sales plummet by 40% during the Champions League or World Cup 😊….
With regard to prostitution in Germany, one can also only make assumptions and estimates. Officially, 40,400 prostitutes are registered in Germany. From my point of view, one is hardly wrong if one triples the number. Because we have to take into account the girls who are certainly not registered. Girls, who are on the child prostitution and/or drug prostitution streets. Or girls who live illegally in Germany. That brings the total to about 120,000 prostitutes, and even if you assume an average of only 5 clients a day, you are already at well over half a million a day.
600,000 clients who spend at least 50 € on living out their lust add up to about 11 billion € per year. If you add the turnover from porn DVDs (which was already about 1 billion 10 years ago) and the 700 million from internet pornography as well as the turnover from Amorelie, Eis and other sex toy suppliers, you can safely assume that Germans spend at least 15-20 billion € a year on sex products.
Well, that is clearly less than the 180 billion for food, but they are paying for something that normally does not require any financial expenditure – and then 15-20 billion € is a lot!
To what extent we can observe negative health consequences of hypersexualisation.
Sex becomes unhealthy and thus a negatively meant “lust” when it either dominates a person’s thoughts and feelings so completely that there is hardly any room for other activities, or when it impairs normal sensitivity through excess. This is the case, for example, with so-called “dead vagina” – an insensitivity of the vagina to manual stimulation by penis or fingers. It results from excessive use of battery-operated dildos – but can be restored by abstinence in use.
From my point of view, the psychological disorders in sexuality are a torment for those affected that should not be underestimated. My observation is that these are often not real, but arise from the belief that one knows what perfect sex should be like. In my view, the resulting shame, tension and rejection prevent far too many people from having a satisfying sex life.
The fact that (unprotected) sex can make people ill must also be mentioned under this heading. Because the number of syphilis cases is increasing from year to year, and HIV infections have still not dropped to zero. The syphilis cases are particularly unpleasant because it is precisely in these cases that the available antibiotics often fail. In our society, it seems to me personally more sensible to use condoms for any kind of sexual contact than to wear masks in supermarkets. In a partnership, you should be really sure of the other person in order to do without them. Because we are not a truly monogamous species.
What else we should consider on the subject of lust.
Our species is in fact scientifically correctly described as moderately polygamous.
The two sexes of humans differ in body size, muscle mass, hairiness and more. However, these differences are not as great as those between male and female gorillas. We are more like the bonobos, who are otherwise also quite similar to us.
The extremely polygamous male gorillas, however, are huge but have very small testicles. They don’t need to produce a lot of sperm because they have unrestricted control over their harem. The extremely promiscuous bonobo males, on the other hand, have very large testicles because they are in strong so-called “sperm competition” with the other males in the group. Accordingly, bonobo females also have a long genital tract to accommodate sperm from several males.
We are not as polygamous as gorillas and not as promiscuous as bonobos – but somewhere in between.
Human testes are 1.5 times larger than those of gorillas, but significantly smaller than those of bonobos. In addition, the female genital tract is relatively short, so not as much sperm can be stored.
Nevertheless, many hunter-gatherer cultures still assume that sex with several men in succession is desirable because the combination gives the child that may be conceived particularly many positive characteristics. Possibly this also strengthens the sense of community. In the case of bonobos, sex in the group is also an important means of reducing group tensions and strengthening cohesion.
That we all do not really live monogamously in the long term can be seen from the fact that even in countries with the ideal of monogamous marriages, about 10% of the children cannot be assigned to the respective husband.
So we are constantly trying to manage a balancing act between our biological make-up and our mental convictions – which still regard monogamy as the ultimate in couple relationships. Another reason for the shame (of expressing the desire for other sexual partners) and the use of commercial sex services.
So what is lust today from my point of view?
I can see lust as misbehaviour. But then I understand it as a sexual life that is not lustful. I see a permanent preoccupation with sexual issues, but without a deep and happy satisfaction. I consider a sexual life to be wrong, that goes on beyond individual needs. A life in which one does not formulate one’s own desires out of shame. Or a life in which even the most intimate act between two people is subjected to conformity to society and its rules. A sexual life that for this reason tries to satisfy one’s own desires through commercial offers or through superficial social contacts, and in doing so neither feels pleasure nor observes moderation.
With Aristotle, I can only say on the subject of lust: “He who enjoys every pleasure and can do without none becomes intemperate, but he who avoids each, like the grumpy, becomes stuporous.”
This our society should reconsider, which I found so aptly described on the internet as “oversexed but underfucked”. The current state of affairs is neither healthy nor helpful to the development of society.The positive health effects are too rare. And the constant preoccupation with the topic prevents us from concentrating on the actually important issues of our present.
In the hope that I have inspired you to have interesting conversations about your sexuality, I remain as always