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Lust is an emotion or feeling of intense desire in the body. The lust can take any form such as the lust for knowledge, the lust for sex or the lust for power. It can take such mundane forms as the lust for food as distinct from the need for food. Lust is a powerful psychological force producing intense wanting for an object, or circumstance fulfilling the emotion.[1]

In religion[edit]

Religions, especially Christianity, separate the definition of passion and lust by further categorizing lust as type of passion for something that does not belong to oneself, therefore being morally wrong. While passion for proper purposes is maintained as something God given and moral.



Lust in the New Testament[edit]

In many translations of the New Testament, the word "lust" translates the Greek word 'ἐπιθυμέω' in Matthew 5:26–28:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust (ἐπιθυμέω) after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Gospel of Matthew 5:27–28, 1611 King James Version)

(Gospel of Matthew 5:27–28, SBL Greek New Testament)

In English-speaking countries, the term "lust" is often associated with sexual desire, probably because of this verse. But just as the English word was originally a general term for desire, the Greek word ἐπιθυμέω was also a general term for desire. The LSJ lexicon suggests "set one's heart upon a thing, long for, covet, desire" as glosses for ἐπιθυμέω, which is used in verses that clearly have nothing to do with sexual desire. In the Septuagint, ἐπιθυμέω is the word used in the commandment to not covet:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; you shall not covet your neighbor’s house or his field or his male slave or his female slave or his ox or his draft animal or any animal of his or whatever belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:27, New English Translation of the Septuagint)

Matthew 5:27-28 may be a reference to Exodus 20:17, as a reminder that sin does not begin with adultery, but already when a man covets his neighbor's wife.

While coveting your neighbor's wife may involve sexual desire, it's unlikely that coveting a neighbor's house or field is sexual in nature. And in most New Testament uses, the word ἐπιθυμέω does not have a clear sexual connotation, e.g.

  1. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:17, ESV)
  2. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (Luke 22:15, ESV)
  3. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. (Acts 20:33, ESV)
  4. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:16, ESV)


A demon satiating his lust in a 13th-century manuscript.
Romanesque capital representing the lust

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a Christian's heart is lustful when "venereal satisfaction is sought for either outside wedlock or, at any rate, in a manner which is contrary to the laws that govern marital intercourse".[2] Pope John Paul II states that lust devalues eternal attraction of male and female, reducing personal riches of the opposite sex to an object for gratification of sexuality.[3]

Lust is considered by Catholicism to be a disordered desire for sexual pleasure, where sexual pleasure is "sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes".[4] In Catholicism, sexual desire in itself is good, and is considered part of God's plan for humanity. However, when sexual desire is separated from God's love, it becomes disordered and self-seeking. This is seen as lust.

In Roman Catholicism, lust became one of the Seven deadly sins, taking the place of extravagance (Latin: luxuria).[citation needed] This change occurred because in the Romance languages, the cognates of luxuria (the Latin name of the sin) evolved to have an exclusively sexual meaning;[citation needed] the Old French cognate was adopted into English as luxury, but this lost its sexual meaning by the 14th century.[citation needed]

In Romanesque art, lust is often represented by a siren or a naked woman with breasts being bitten by snakes.


In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna, an Avatar of Vishnu declared in verse 21, that lust is one of the gates to Naraka or hell. "Arjuna said: O descendant of Vrsni, by what is one impelled to sinful acts, even unwillingly, as if engaged by force? Then Krishna said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world. As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, or as the embryo is covered by the womb, the living entity is similarly covered by different degrees of this lust. Thus the wise living entity's pure consciousness becomes covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied and which burns like fire. The senses, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this lust. Through them lust covers the real knowledge of the living entity and bewilders him. Therefore, O Arjuna, best of the Bharatas, in the very beginning curb this great symbol of sin—(lust) by regulating the senses, and slay this destroyer of knowledge and self-realization. The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is even higher than the intelligence. Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to the material senses, mind and intelligence, O mighty-armed Arjuna, one should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence and thus—by spiritual strength—conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust." (Bhagavad-Gita, 3.36–43) In this ancient manuscript the idea behind the word 'Lust' is best comprehended as the psychological force called 'Wanting'.


In Islam, intentional lascivious glances are forbidden. Lascivious thoughts are disliked, for they are the first step towards adultery, rape and other antisocial behaviors. Prophet Muhammad also stressed the magnitude of the "second glance", as the first glance towards an attractive member of the opposite sex could be just accidental or observatory, the second glance could be that gate into lustful thinking.[citation needed] Islam does not advocate celibacy but it requires marriage to conduct sex legally.


In Judaism, all evil inclinations and lusts of the flesh are characterized by yetzer HaRa (Hebrew, יצר הרע, the negative desire). Yetzer hara is not a demonic force; rather, it is man's misuse of the things which the physical body needs to survive, and is often contrasted with yetzer hatov (Hebrew, יצר הטוב, the positive desire). This idea was derived from Genesis 8:21, which states that "the imagination of the heart of man is evil from his youth"[citation needed].

Yetzer HaRa is often identified with Satan and the angel of death,[5] and there is sometimes a tendency to give a personality and separate activity to the Yetzer. For the Yetzer, like Satan, misleads man in this world, and testifies against him in the world to come.Template:Talmud Babli Tractate Sukkah Yetzer is, however, clearly distinguished from Satan, and on other occasions is made exactly parallel to sin. The Torah is considered the great antidote against this force. Though, like all things which God has made, the Yetzer is good: for without it, man would never marry, beget a child, build a house, or trade.


Few ancient, pagan religions actually considered lust to be a vice.[citation needed] The most famous example of a widespread religious movement practicing lechery as a ritual is the Bacchanalia of the Ancient Roman Bacchantes. However, this activity was soon outlawed by the Roman Senate in 186 BC in the decree Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus. The practice of sacred prostitution, however, continued to be an activity practiced often by the Dionysians.


In Sikhism, lust is counted among the five cardinal sins or sinful propensities (the others being anger, ego, greed and attachment). In common usage, the term stands for wanting to have sex and it is in this sense that it is considered an evil if uncontrolled in Sikhism.

Brahma Kumaris[edit]

According to Brahma Kumaris, a spiritual organisation which is based on Hindu philosophy, sex lust is the greatest enemy to mankind[6] and the gateway to hell.[7] Followers do not eat onions, garlic, eggs and also non-vegetarian food as the sulphur in them can excite sex-lust in the body which is bound to celibacy in the Brahma Kumari doctrine. Physical sex is impure and leads to body-consciousness and many crimes. It poisons the body and leads to many diseases. The Brahma Kumaris teach is it like foraging about in a sewer. Students at the Spiritual University must conquer lust in order to go to Golden Age heaven on earth where children are created by power of mind for 2,500 years of peace and purity (like holy swan).[8][9]

In culture[edit]

Medieval prostitutes[edit]

Medieval prostitutes lived officially sanctioned in “red light districts.” In the book, Common Women, by Ruth Mazo Karras, she discusses the meaning of prostitution and how people thought the proper use of prostitutes by unmarried men helped contain male lust. Prostitution was thought of as having a beneficial effect by reducing the sexual frustration in the community.[10]

In art[edit]

Goya's Mujeres riendo (Women Laughing).


From Ovid to the works of les poètes maudits, characters have always been faced with scenes of lechery, and long since has lust been a common motif in world literature. Many writers, such as Georges Bataille, Casanova and Prosper Mérimée, have written works wherein scenes at bordellos and other unseemly locales take place.

Despite the apparent evils of Baudelaire, author of Les fleurs du mal, he had once remarked, in regard to the artist, that "The more a man cultivates the arts, the less randy he becomes... Only the brute is good at coupling, and copulation is the lyricism of the masses. To copulate is to enter into another—and the artist never emerges from himself".

The most notable work to touch upon the sin of lust, and all of the Seven Deadly Sins, is Dante's la Divina Commedia. Dante's criterion for lust was an "excessive love of others," insofar as an excessive love for man would render one's love of God secondary.

In the first canticle of Dante's Inferno, the lustful are punished by being continuously swept around in a whirlwind, which symbolizes their passions. The damned who are guilty of lust, like the two famous lovers, Paolo and Francesca, receive what they desired in their mortal lives, their passions never give them rest for all eternity. In Purgatorio, of the selfsame work, the penitents choose to walk through flames in order to purge themselves of their lustful inclinations.

In philosophy[edit]

The link between love and lust has always been a problematic question in philosophy.

Schopenhauer notes the misery which results from sexual relationships. According to him, this directly explains the sentiments of shame and sadness which tend to follow the act of sexual intercourse. For, he states, the only power that reigns is the inextinguishable desire to face, at any price, the blind love present in human existence without any consideration of the outcome. He estimates that a genius of his species is an industrial being who wants only to produce, and wants only to think. The theme of lust for Schopenhauer is thus to consider the horrors which will almost certainly follow the culmination of lust.

St. Thomas Aquinas[edit]

St. Thomas Aquinas defines the sin of Lust in his Summa Theologia Question’s 153 and 154. Aquinas says the sin of lust is of “voluptuous emotions,” and makes the point that sexual pleasures, “unloosens the human spirit,” and set aside right reason (Pg.191). Aquinas restricts lust’s subject matter to physical desires specifically arising from sexual acts, but Aquinas does not assume all sex-acts are sinful. Sex is not a sin in marriage, because sex is the only way for humans to reproduce. If sex is used naturally and the end purpose is reproduction there is no sin. Aquinas says, “if the end be good and if what is done is well-adapted to that, then no sin is present,” (Pg.193). However, sex simply for the sake of pleasure is lustful and therefore, a sin. A man who uses his body for lechery wrongs the Lord.

Sex may have the attributes of being sinless; however, when a person seeks sex for pleasure, he or she is sinning with lust. Lust is best defined by its specific attribute of rape, adultery, wet dreams, seduction, unnatural vice, and simple fornication.

Wet Dreams: St. Thomas Aquinas defined and discussed the topic of nocturnal emission, which occurs when one dreams of physical pleasure. Aquinas argues those who say that wet dreams are a sin and comparable to the actual experience of sex are wrong. Aquinas believes that such an action is sinless, for a dream is not under a person’s control or free judgment. When one has a “nocturnal orgasm,” it is not a sin, but it can lead to sins (Pg. 227). Aquinas says that wet dreams come from a physical cause of inappropriate pictures within your imagination, a psychological cause when thinking of sex while you fall asleep and a demonical cause where by demons act upon the sleepers body, “stirring the sleeper’s imagination to bring about a orgasm,” (Pg. 225). In the end, though, dreaming of lustful acts is not sinful. The “mind’s awareness is less hindered,” as the sleeper lacks right reason; therefore, a person cannot be accountable for what they dream while sleeping, (Pg. 227).

Adultery: One of the main forms of lust seen frequently during the Middle Ages was the sin of adultery. The sin of adultery occurs when a person is unfaithful to his or her spouse, hence “invading of a bed not one’s own,” (Pg.235). Adultery is a special kind of ugliness and many difficulties arise from it. When a man enters the bed of a married woman it not only is a sin, but it “wrongs the offspring,” because the woman now calls into question the legitimacy of children. (Pg.235). If a wife has committed adultery before, then, her husband will question if all his wife’s children are his offspring.

Simple Fornication: Simple fornication is having sex with one’s wife for enjoyment rather than for bearing children. Fornication is also sex between two unmarried people, which is also a mortal sin. Aquinas says, “fornication is a deadly crime,” (Pg.213). Fornication is a mortal sin, but as Aquinas notes, “Pope Gregory treated sins of the flesh as less grievous than those of the spirit” (Pg. 217). Fornication was a grave sin such as that against property. Fornication, however, is not as grave as a sin directly against God and human life; therefore, murder is much worse than fornication. Property in this case means that a daughter is the property of her father, and if you do wrong to her, you then do wrong to him; therefore seducing a virgin or seeking pleasure from an unmarried woman is an invasion of a father’s property.

Rape: Rape is a kind of lust that often coincides with seduction and is defined as a type of lechery. Rape comes with force and violence: Rape occurs when a person craves the pleasures of sex so intensely that he uses force to obtain it. Rape is committed when violence is used to seduce, or deflower a virgin. Rape harms both the unmarried girl and her father, because the girl is property of her father. Rape and seduction can be discussed together, because both sins involve the deflowering of a virgin; however, rape can happen without seduction, as when a man attacks a widow or a sexually experienced woman and violates her. Therefore wherever violence accompanies sex, you have the quality of rape and the sin of lust.

Seduction: Seduction is a type of lust, because seduction is a sex act, which ravishes a virgin. Lust is a sin of sexual activity, and, “…a special quality of wrong that appears if a maid still under her father’s care is debauched” (Pg.229). Seduction involves a discussion of property, as an unmarried girl is property of her father. A virgin, even though free from the bond of marriage, is not free from the bond of her family. When a virgin is violated without a promise of engagement, she is prevented from having honorable marriage, which is shameful to herself and her family. A man who performs sexual acts with a virgin must “endow her and have her to wife,” and if the father, who is responsible for her, says no, then a man must pay a dowry to compensate for her loss of virginity and future chance of marriage. (Pg.229)

Unnatural Vice: Unnatural vice is the worst kind of lust because it is unnatural in act and purpose. Unnatural vice happens variously, but Aquinas provides several examples including bestiality or intercourse with a “thing of another species,” for example animals. Aquinas said, “bestiality goes beyond the bands of humanity” and is therefore, unnatural. (Pg.245). Homosexuality, both male with male and female with female intercourse, is unnatural and known as, “sodomy.” (Pg.245). Unnatural sex also includes anything other than normal vaginal intercourse, for example anal sex. It also means different positions in sex. Women should never be on top, for it is unnatural. Lust is intended for human pleasure, not for human fruitfulness. Lustful people use unnatural sex for pleasure and not as a “generative act.” [11]

Contemporary Spiritual Perspective[edit]

Barry Long states that lusting is simply thinking or fantasising about an imagined sexual scene and private parts of the body. The action of thinking or fantasising stirs the natural, pure sexual energy into a coarser, more degraded emotional form (lust).[12][13][14]

Barry Long encourages lovemaking as the practice of converting sexual energy into the knowledge of love.

"You don’t need a celibate body, you need a celibate mind"[15]

In psychoanalysis and psychology[edit]

Lust, in the domain of psychoanalysis and psychology, is often treated as a case of "heightened libido". A person is more likely to lust over someone who does not resemble oneself. Self-relatedness is a cue of kinship and causes an instinctual reaction to not be attracted. Therefore, self-resemblance decreases attractiveness and sexual desire in a person while less resemblance increases attractiveness and sexual desire creating a higher possibility of lust.[16]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Richard Lazarus with Bernice N Lazarus, Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions, 1994, New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-510461-5
  2. ^
  3. ^ Pope John Paul II, Mutual Attraction Differs from Lust.L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 22 September 1980, p. 11. Available at .
  4. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, n° 2351 sq."
  5. ^ Bava Bathra. pp. 16a. 
  6. ^ Through open doors: a view of Asian cultures in Kenya. Cynthia Salvadori, Andrew Fedders, 1989
  7. ^ Exploring New Religions. p. 196, George D. Chryssides, 1999
  8. ^ Peace & purity: the story of the Brahma Kumaris : a spiritual revolution By Liz Hodgkinson
  9. ^ A history of celibacy, p. 172. Elizabeth Abbott, 2001
  10. ^ Karras, Ruth Mazo. Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.
  11. ^ Aquinas, St. Thomas. "Summa Theologia." Question 153 The Vice of Lust in General (n.d.): 189-203. Print.
  12. ^ "Barry Long Foundation International". Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  13. ^ 'MAKING LOVE Sexual Love the Divine Way' Barry Long, Book ISBN 978-1-899324-14-9
  14. ^ Barry Long, Gold Coast Talks audio, February 1997
  15. ^ Gold Coast Talks audio April 1998
  16. ^ DeBruine, Lisa M. "Trustworthy but Not Lust-worthy: Context-specific Effects of Facial Resemblance." Proceedings of The Royal Society: 919-21. Print

External links[edit]