Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I'm proud of myself for finally tearing my eyes away from the newest literary hype, 50 Shades of Grey. There will definitely be a blog post dedicated to the book when I finish (and I'm not too far from the end). And it fuels my desire to write this post, as the book has a central theme of lust. What is lust? Let's start with a boring definition. 



1. intense sexual desire or appetite.
2. uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness.
3. a passionate or overmastering desire or craving (usually followed by for ): a lust for power.
4. ardent enthusiasm; zest; relish: an enviable lust for life.
5. Obsolete .

a. pleasure or delight.
b. desire; inclination; wish.
If you're still not sure what lust is, look at this picture.
The first three are the ones most interesting to me. Note the words they use in the definition, specifically: intense, uncontrolled, illicit, and overmastering. This is not some passive feeling, this is an intense, uncontrolled one. Which isn't to say we can't control it, of course we can, as we're conscious beings. However, lust does play a role in our behavior.

I'm going to start out by saying what so many people don't want to hear--your significant other doesn't only have eyes for you. And personally, there are so many beautiful people out there, I don't want to only have eyes for one person (though, of course, commitment is commitment, unless you're in a polyamourous/open relationship, but that's an entirely different topic). And it turns out that even when you are controlling yourself physically, emotionally and mentally (to a point), you likely aren't behaviorally. I recently watched a program on Discovery called, 'The Science of Lust.' It was fascinating. Focusing mostly on a series of small researches, various psychologists and scientists showed how exactly humans react when it comes to attraction. 

The first test was a sunglasses stand. There were two kinds of glasses sold--a normal, black pair, and a flashy gold Elvis-esque pair. The sunglasses salesmen first stood on a fairly quiet block in front of a plain concrete wall. While selling here, most of the men purchased the normal black pair. Then the salesmen stood in front of a racy porn store. Here, the majority of men purchased the Elvis-esque pair. Now, I didn't really get a chance to write down all the names of the doctors/professors in the show, but the one involved in this particular test explained the reasoning behind the purchases. He explained that behind a plain backdrop, the men aren't thinking of much, and they want to be safe, not go against the crowd. But in front of the sex shop, men are subconsciously receiving sexual cues, causing them to want to set themselves apart. It's easier to attract a mate when you are unique, separate from the rest of suitors, and this is why the men here purchased the more flashy of the two choices.

Okay, so that test is interesting, but kind of boring. Though it does show what we will do for lust. We want to set ourselves apart and make ourselves noticeable to the opposite/same sex. Another test showed an example of this. Women were offered a casting call for a tv show, only being told to dress as though they were going on a sexy first date. The women were put into two different groups. The first group of women sat in a lobby, alone, awaiting further instructions. They were then told to leave the building and walk around the corner to another place. Just outside, there was a woman, holding a stack of boxes taller than her head, attempting to place them in a car. She is obviously struggling, dropping the boxes and what not. The test (that the women didn't know about) was to see if the aspiring actresses would help the struggling girl. Most of the women who were alone in the lobby did not assist the woman, but continued walking along after watching her fumbling.
And now comes the second group. This second group of women is sat in the lobby, but this time, they are not alone. Two very attractive men are also in the lobby. They say they are also there for the casting call, and act very flirtatious with her. One man excuses himself, leaving the remaining two to a friendly, flirty conversation. When the woman is told to go to the other building, most of the ones who sat with the men helped the struggling woman, and were very friendly while doing so. Another study focusing on men ended with similar results. This is because internally, we are trying to show that we are friendly and helpful. Despite not even being around the man or woman, we have the desire to show off to them, to show that we would be a good mate.

Not your type? Your hormones are still raging.
So why do we do this? In men, it's an increase in testosterone. Men in a research assignment were told they would be doing a written test. A saliva sample was taken from them, and then they were led into a room with a desk. At the desk was a very attractive woman. The professor pretends to have forgotten a test, and leaves, leaving the two to carry on a conversation. It's very obvious that the men are showing off for the women. Their demeanor is friendly and their body language is open and engaging. When the doctor comes back and retrieves the woman, the man is left alone with the test. The test asks the man if they found the women with which they shared the room attractive. Even if the man said he did not find the woman attractive, there was an increase in his testosterone. 

So, even when men don't find a woman attractive, they still act as though they want to sleep with her, whether consciously or not. Why is this? It's a release of the chemical dopamine, which makes us feel good. In men, the release of dopamine happens immediately. After seeing an attractive woman, the brain's amygdala (emotional response) sends the signal to the ventral striatum, and then dopamine is released. The prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision making and social behavior, then decides what the man will do with this information. Will he act upon it, or will he restrain himself? Sometimes, the cortex is too slow and sometimes he just ignores his brain yelling, "Don't do it!" and he acts upon the lust. 

Women, on the other hand, show more self restraint. When shown a series of short clips, some very boring, some very sexual, most of the women rated their sexual response as being low or moderate even though their bodily response rated them as being very turned on. Her heart rate, breathing and blood pressure increases, but she still says she is okay. Why is this? Why are women slower to react to their lust? 

 Boom. Pregnant.

One professor says it's biological. Trailing back to our ancestors, a woman had to be slow to act upon lust because pregnancy was a huge consequence. Without modern medical advances and quick accessibility to food, shelter and other necessities, a pregnancy was a huge hassle. A woman needed to make sure the pregnancy was at the right time and with the right, healthy male. Men on the other hand didn't have to worry about such things. They simply wanted to spread their seed and continue the growth of the population, so if a woman was attractive, he went for it.
It's natural to feel lust, and it's not something to be ashamed of. Of course, this is not an allowance to act upon it. Consent is always necessary, and cheating is not something that should be excused with the excuse of uncontrollable lust. It's in our brains and our bodies, sometimes before we even admit that we feel it to ourselves. However, we do act differently when we are attracted to someone. Women become nicer and sweeter, voices tend to get higher. Men tend to be more aggressive, spend more money, and their voices tend to lower. As a society we're a lot more biologically based than we realize. We might not even notice these changes in ourselves. But biologically, we know that men prefer sweeter personalities and women prefer strong men as mates. 

Great poster explaining Asexuality!
On the other side of the spectrum, there are people who never feel any lust, for anything or anyone. These people identify as asexual. Only about 1% of the population is considered to be truly asexual. Just like heterosexuals and homosexuals, asexuals display no difference in sexual response. They are simply born without sexual desire. 

This is not to be confused with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). As we grow, our hormones fluctuate, and sometimes we have peaks of sexual desire and sometimes we have none. This is totally normal. It does not mean there is something wrong with your or that you are asexual or no longer interested in your partner (of course, if you experience a sudden change in your sexual appetite that you are not happy with, talk to your doctor. It could be stress, depression, prescriptions, or any number of things). It just means that you are experiencing a particular phase of low desire. About 30-40% of sexually active women, over the course of a year, experience HSDD for at least a couple of months. Men also experience fluctuations in hormonal desire. A genetic mutation in a gene related to dopamine has been proven to affect your sex drive as well, with more anxious people having a higher desire to have new, exciting sex, and more often.

Lust isn't something that disappears. Even in cases of deep love, lust is only controlled better, but is still there in the back of your mind. It influences how we interact with others, and it's pretty fun too. MRI scans suggest that when a person feels lust, their minds light up as if they were on drugs. It's addicting, and it feels good. Just be careful, and try to control yourself when you see that one person that always gets your blood pumping. 

Leave a comment, if you're so inclined: Who do you lust over? 

Psychology Today--Lust vs. Love