Simple question: When you lust, what are you doing really?
On a surface level, when you lust you’re checking someone out, letting your eyes linger, or enjoying a little hit of pleasure by viewing a sexy image.
On a deeper level, when we’re honest, we can define lust like this: Lust is using another person’s body for selfish sexual gratification.
I like this Definition of Lust, but there is more going on with lust than just this. Lust isn’t like your normal day-to-day sight. It’s a different way of seeing. In fact, lust has a plot twist, and when you realize what it is, it can change everything.
The Definition of Lust
Stay with me here.
Have you ever watched a film that seems to be going one direction and then it drops a new piece of information that turns all you thought you knew about the plot and flips it on its head? And if the movie’s done really well, the truth was right in front of your eyes the whole time, you just didn’t see it.
I think of movies like The Sixth Sense, Momento, Tenet, or Knives Out. If you’ve seen any of these, you may even have felt like you wanted to go back and watch them again so you could see the whole thing with new eyes.
If the truth can be right in front of our eyes without us seeing it in a movie, can the same thing happen in our real lives? It can.
So here’s the plot twist with lust: When you lust, you’re not actually seeing anyone.
This might sound strange. After all, when you lust aren’t you super focused on a person—zoomed in on him or her? The truth is, you are zoomed in but not on a person. You’re zoomed in on a part.
This is why John Paul the II taught, “The problem with pornography is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little.”
Lust’s main job is not about sneaking you a peak at what you shouldn’t be looking at, but rather, lust’s job is to keep you from seeing what your eyes are made to see: a whole person.
Love vs. Lust
Lust views a person’s physical features to determine how useful he or she is for eliciting sexual pleasure. Lust works to emphasize a person’s sexual features and to de-emphasize everything else.
Lust is a shaded lens portraying a fiction at the expense of the real people performing in it and the real people consuming it. This is why pornographers aim to expose a woman’s body but not her soul. To borrow from one ex-porn actress’s words, in order to profit off of her exposed self, pornographers need to edit out her tears. 1
To love, in contrast, is to seek the good of another. Love sees a person’s physical features as a part of the whole person, and love always seeks to see the whole person, with all his or her needs, joys, fears, hopes, pains, etc. Love seeks to see the person as he or she is. Love is a clear lens, showing a real human being whom God created, knows, and loves, however imperfect he or she may be.
Lust and love work at counter-purposes, and so in a real way, it is impossible to lust and love at the same time. Granted, we are all on a journey and none of us loves perfectly yet, but comparing love with lust gives us a fuller picture of the truth of lust—that it is not just “checking someone out” or “enjoying their beauty.” It really is using someone in ways that degrade both him or her and ourselves.
Seeing how stark a difference there is between lust and love can help us continue to aspire toward love, even while we continue to work to stop lusting. God in his mercy never loses sight of the reality that he made our eyes to see with love, and he works to help us see as he intended.
Turning Away from the Person
This all came to light for me several years ago when watching an interview with a young porn star named Michelle Sinclair. Going by the porn name “Belladonna,” which means “beautiful girl” in Italian (it is also a toxic plant known as “Deadly Nightshade”), she smiled brightly as she described her first couple of years working in the porn industry.
Then her interviewer, Diane Sawyer, noticed how her smile didn’t match some of the painful things she described experiencing, including being raped and beaten on set while the cameras rolled, as though everything was going according to script.
When Sawyer asked her about the disconnect between her suffering and her smile, Michelle first tried to evade her question. When Sawyer gently pressed, and asked her what was hidden, Michelle began to cry. She confessed that, in truth, she wasn’t happy, and said, “I don’t like myself, at all.”
The truth is the porn industry actively works to manufacture a fictitious image of the men and women in its films. In order to keep the façade propped up, porn actors and actresses have to appear as hyper-sexual individuals who enjoy what they do.
But more and more of its actors are coming out publicly to describe the pain, coercion, abuse, trauma, drug-use, and disease that is rampant behind the scenes. 2 The porn industry will hide this from you, which is why it is all the more important that you hold onto the truth about lust.
If we are going to see what lust truly is, we have to accept that the porn industry (and sexualized media in general) will never make it easy for us to see what’s real. We also need to accept that lust is still a choice we make.
Do You See This Woman?
We know very little about the woman who entered Simon the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7, only that she came to find Jesus.
Whatever her story, she had a reputation of being a sinner, likely a sexual sinner. But she had seen something in Jesus that had broken through to her heart, and when she learned where Jesus would be dining, she had to be there.
In front of everyone, she fell down at Jesus’ feet weeping. She wiped her tears from his feet with her hair, kissed his feet and anointed them with expensive perfume.
Jesus didn’t withdraw his feet or move to stop her. He received her.
Simon has a very different reaction. Witnessing the scene, he quickly made up his mind about Jesus:
If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.(Luke 7:39)
After sharing a parable with Simon about mercy, Jesus asks Simon a profound question:
“Do you see this woman?”
Jesus’ question wasn’t intended to condemn Simon because Jesus saw Simon, too. He wanted to stoke the Pharisee’s sense of what Jesus saw: Simon’s own need for mercy. Jesus would gladly have helped Simon see what he couldn’t.
And he’ll gladly help you.
He sees you. He loves you. His mercy is for you.
Jesus’s desire in removing lust from your life and mine is because he wants to restore our sight so we can see others as he sees. Including ourselves.
1 – Fight the New Drug, “Crissy Outlaw: Childhood Sexual Abuse Led to My Career as a Porn Performer.” Fight the New Drug’s “Consider Before Consuming Campaign.” https://fightthenewdrug.org/crissy-outlaw/ (last accessed February 24, 2023).