Lust resides in the world of intense desire, sexual longing, yearning for intimate contact or erotic anticipation—it’s a powerful force and one that can have undeniable effects on our internal experience and our external behavior. Time and again, lust exudes more power even than rational thought or strict morals. In some folks’ estimation lust, acted out, destroys lives and relationships due to it’s oft untethered displays. For others, lust is a prime driver toward the one thing that gives their life meaning—connection.
People get a little anxious around the topics of lust, flirtation, monogamy, and the lack of concrete rules by which we’re all supposed to abide. And yet there really are no rules that suit the masses.
Some time back I posed a question via social media, exciting some intense and passionate dialogue regarding these subjects, along with a lot of angst and confusion around the difficult process of negotiating this paradox. The amount of inbox messages I received was overwhelming! A topic many people want to discuss… just not out loud!
Responses were filled with difficult scenarios of when lust—either theirs or another’s—lead to the destruction of relationships. Story after story of relationship gone painfully awry in regard to “expectation vs. reality” filled pages, and spoke of broken and yearning hearts. These responses also spoke to the confusing terrain of how lust arises and is expressed in—or out—of committed relationships.
If we first take a look at the underpinnings of how relationship often unfolds, we can begin to consider why and how lust, and other aspects of our erotic natures, either are or are not welcome in our partnerships.
Our Fear of Lust
Many people feel untrusting, wounded, unable to completely yield to intimacy and risk the heartbreak of potential betrayal—many because they saw painful scenarios in their families of origin and more who experienced these life-altering betrayals firsthand.
Yet at the same time, our craving for intimacy is undeniable. The feeling of seeing ourselves reflected in the eyes of an adoring partner offers us an unparalleled bonding experience. We can become more alive, more capable, and more available to all that life offers. Feeling “met” through intimacy can literally help us to transcend our fundamental aloneness.
So when we imagine opening, transparently, to another—sharing our hearts, our bodies, our lives in the vulnerable acceptance of love—our intimacy can be coupled with increasing fear. Like it or not, that exact fear is often what drives much of our tight grip on our lovers and, ultimately, it’s that tight grip that can drive our lovers right out of our lives.
The mere idea of our partners wandering eye—or genitalia! —Can cause our relationship security to be rocked to the core. And when we sense that lust—the automatic, powerful, chemical response—is at play, our internal response systems go into full-on protection mode.
Is Commitment Constraining?
Committing to be with one person for the rest of our lives can be a difficult agreement to maintain, for many. To completely turn off sexual attraction, heat, desire, fantasy and intimate connection with all others, and still keep the heat up with the significant other is not, for many, the path of least resistance. Often, we fail miserably. We, the American society, haven’t quite resolved ourselves to fidelity and lifelong monogamy, even though most of us claim that’s exactly what we want. So what gives??
When partners are transparent, designing their intimacy in a way that is congruent to both people, relationships can flourish! They can be enlivened and engaging. Often, however, one person alone “holds the reins,” so to speak, to the rules of intimacy. When this is the case, fear, anxiety, and resentment can undermine the nurturance and care we’ve provided to our relationship.
Some may feel the need to “tighten down the hatches”—if we completely control the environment, we’re safe, right? However, safe may be the exact opposite of what will fulfill the deeper needs of relationship.
Interestingly, science has found that while we imagine monogamy, in itself, to be a high predictor as to the health of a relationship, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, some relationships which place monogamy at the foundation are the least healthy and least happy. Certainly that doesn’t mean we should all join the nearest Swingers club. What it does point to, however, is that our current societal views don’t hold the keys to thriving relationships!
When we look “below” monogamy—to the subtle nuances of fidelity in thought, in imagination, in exploration and flirtation, we see a surprisingly wide range of styles and behaviors that contribute to the health or dysfunction of a relational system. So how do we construct those internal worlds in a way that helps us feel both safe and alive?
Wired for Lust
We are most definitely a species hardwired for love and connection—for bonding that denotes security and safety. But not solely—we are also wired for LUST. One of the primary emotional centers in the brain, in fact, is specifically related to that particular circuitry. According to a well-known researcher in the field named Jaak Panksepp, there are intrinsic systems in the brain, called Executive Operating Systems that are related to neuro-evolutionary foundations for our emotions and behaviors. There are seven of these systems. They’re not emotions, per say, but circuitry that govern the processes of our emotions. These seven executive operating systems include: Fear, Rage, Seeking, Care, Play, Panic and Lust.
Lust, as researchers are noting, is part of our life force. It is a necessary aspect of our evolved brain and body, and part of how we are uniquely designed. And the complex neurochemical processes of lust are not, as we might sometimes like them to be, simple passing moods. Lust is a brain state that activates a cascade of neurochemicals, which follow a well-groomed path in the brain and body and, when activated, are ultimately overriding most everything else in an effort to achieve a goal. And maybe because, at some level, we all know the signals of lust, we can feel a little bit powerless in it’s midst.
Lust—An Evolutionary Advantage
In intense human relationships, part of the brain called the Limbic system is highly active in the formation of memories, and in imprinting our brains with patterned recognition, or categories, of “good” and “bad” in regard to relationships—hardwiring us to find certain things, such as physical characteristics, qualities, even smells more or less attractive. The limbic system is related to our unconscious motivations—driving us forward to an object of desire, at times, based primarily on our brain’s early circuitry of memories that seem “relatable.”
These attractors, which are essentially patterns imprinted on the limbic system, when reflected in the resonant limbic response of another, can serve to regulate aspects of our physiology. What this means is that when lust is reciprocated, our physiological systems—our bodies, and even our health—can become better regulated and overall, more functional! Lust clearly has some evolutionary advantages. Not to mention, science continues to explore how we generally lust after those who would be a positive genetic match for us—supporting our most basic collective need, to procreate!
Can Intimacy and Lust Coexist?
We do all that we can to develop intimacy, because we yearn to be known, loved, cherished for all that we are. We crave connection that delivers all sorts of juicy, yummy, feel-good bonding chemicals to our bodies and minds. We strip away the layers of inhibitions, delving into the bond of creating bliss with another. But then the very thing that we strive to create brings us to a point where our equally innate yearning for eroticism—for Lust—is often required to go into submission so as to protect the union we’ve created, or acted out in ways that counter our intimacy goals. Sadly, through the development of intimacy, we’ve let go of mystery. And to open ourselves to mystery once again, our intimate bond can feel threatened.
So often, I hear from clients and friends that they don’t have any sense of lust or eroticism in their committed relationships—and sadly, this is simply equated with a monogamous lifestyle! Given over to the ideas that lust is snuffed out with age, with family and responsibilities, and ultimately through monogamy, it’s essentially lost it’s “neural-home.” Sometimes, lust is denied due to not fitting into our moral code or because it has only previously existed in more risqué scenarios—not alongside monogamy. However, just like other primary emotional centers that are denied—that are not nourished—lust will find it’s way! Sadly, without mindfulness, that path can be wrought with confusion and heartache.
If you’d like to continue exploring this very potent emotion and how it can become a powerful resource for your intimate relationship, watch for part two of For the Love of Lust as we speak of the actual practices that will help you to cultivate the fruits of Lust!
For the Love (and Lust!) of your life!