In the Emmy-nominated HBO show, White Lotus, we’re introduced to three generations of a glamorous Italian-American family: F Murray Abraham, Michael Imperioli and Adam DiMarco play a grandfather, father, and son, two of whom are in an ever-present battle with a sex addiction. Lust has made a home in this family, it has dug out and paved its own neuropathways, and ultimately blown these people apart. Scene after scene, we witness these men pathologically view women as nothing more than bodies to conquer, much to their own despair. You could say that Lust is the unseen, unspoken, yet undeniable villain of the entire series. We witness it obliterate relationships of all kinds and ultimately make way for danger and death to ensue.
It’s a masterful case-study in how destructive of a force Lust can be when left unchecked, not only to the objectified, but also to the one who can’t help but do the objectifying.
I conducted a little experiment in preparation for writing this piece, I asked five friends of mine who would not, and never have, identified as Christians, for the three things that they most associate with Christianity.
Out of those five people, four of them mentioned Christianity’s rather peculiar sexual ethics. Now, I know that as far as research goes, this isn’t the most scientific finding. But it is telling. An article on lust may just be the least surprising thing one could find on a magazine site that offers ‘Christian perspectives on just about everything’. In popular culture and common thought, Christianity is to sex is what Jamie Oliver is to sugary drinks: an almighty party-pooper, a tiresome force that is out to spoil everybody’s fun. That’s largely a result of Christian sexual ethics being reduced to a set of repressive ‘don’ts.’
- Don’t have casual sex, or any kind of sex outside of the confines of marriage, for that matter.
- Don’t watch pornography
- Don’t explore self-sex
- Don’t talk about it
- Don’t think about it
As such, Christianity’s view of sex has been regarded as square or prudish at best, and oppressive and cruel at worst. And here you are, having stumbled upon an article which is about to place Lust back in its familiar old ‘deadly sin’ category. Ground-breaking, I hear you cry.
Well, allow me the pleasure of beginning this piece by saying something that is less predictable: Lust is not interchangeable with sexual desire. The two are not one and the same.
Sex is good. Very good, in fact.
According to the book of Genesis, the book that acts as the Bible’s start-line, it is one of the first instructions ever given to humanity. It’s an apparent component of our purpose (pre- ‘original sin’, might I add). We’re told to go ahead and multiply, to increase in number, to have sex. But it doesn’t end there. If it did, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Bible presents sex in purely practical and procreational terms. But, not so. From one biblical poem to another – this time, the Song of Songs. This book is nothing short of erotic literature, it is a fully-fledged sex-scene. The composition and inclusion of this book speaks volumes, it does away with the notion that sexual pleasure and desire are some kind of inherent evil. On the contrary, if it’s a biblical perspective that you’re after, here it is: sex was designed by God and gifted to humanity. For procreation, yes. But also, for pleasure, intimacy, and well-being.
So, in summary: sex is a gift, a very good one at that.
With that firmly in mind, let’s return to Lust. If Lust is not sexual desire, per se, what exactly is it?
It is a perception of sex, and a corresponding desire for it, that has been either minimised or sensationalised. Sex is a gift, that is the Christian insight at least, but Lust wants to blur your vision, it wants you to believe that sex is either more or less than a good gift. Lust seeks to disorder your desire.