“Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know-what-I-mean?” Thus, quips the ribald Monty Python character played by the great Eric Idle when discussing, shall we say, relations? This being the Love & Lust (11th Annual Sex Issue) of qnotes, I would like to offer some thoughts on Lust and Love.
Lust is of course one of the famous seven deadly sins, but that designation, even the concept of sin itself, is so frightfully misconstrued that I will avoid discussing lust in those terms, though I would like to try and convince the dear reader of what is deficient in lust.
Firstly, the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, when talking about the act of sexual intercourse uses the word “knew.” For example, in the book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve have sex it says, “And Adam knew Eve and she conceived.” (Gen 4:1). This “knowing” goes for Adam and Eve, Adam and Steve, Madam and Eve and any other configuration of sexual union. To have sex with a person is to know them.
So, we see in this Hebrew expression that sex involves a kind of knowing. It is too bad that this phrase has been preserved only in the Bible and not in our common speech. When we have sex with another we say that we screwed, or hooked up, got laid, or any number of euphemisms that are not fit for print; all of which belie the true nature of what we are doing when we have sex: we are learning another person. How different things would be if instead of, “Hey, I hooked up with John last night,” we said, “Hey, last night I knew John.” It is a ridiculous supposition, I know, but you see the difference. If we deny that there is significance to our sexual encounters, then we deny our own full humanity and that of our partner.
Lust then, while perfectly natural, when acted upon, carries with it a risk of denying the nature of the sexual act which is to know another more deeply. I certainly lust after my spouse, but in that lust there is commitment to be together and learn and to be vulnerable in sharing who I am so that I can be known as well.
The companion of lust then is rightly always going to be love.
Love will be there when lust is not. Lust is the body responding to a stimulus. Love is the emotional response to a known other. Love could be thought of as lust matured into the emotional arena. Lust brings our bodies together, but love brings our hearts and minds together.
Of course, there is a deeper aspect to love that is not merely romantic swooning. Love is much more than a feeling; love is a choice. A choice to stick it out with another even when life turns ugly. Love is that which chooses to sleep in the uncomfortable chair while the other is hospitalized. Love is that choice to have that hard conversation. Love is a choice we make to commit ourself to another, come what may, so that we can know and be known by another to be loved at the deepest corners and recesses of our being.
Lust brings our bodies together, love brings our hearts together, committed-love brings our lives together. I’ll end with some questions to bring to a partner. If you are anxious or would dismiss the questions out of hand, perhaps look inward: are you using this person to fulfill your sexual desires only and not to truly “know” them?
In what ways do you agree or disagree with this perspective?
Would you share this short article with a partner? Why or why not?
Thinking back on your sexual past, which of your relationships satisfied the three criteria of lust, love, and committed-love?
Rev. Joshua D. Bowron is the rector for St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, N.C.