In some sex-focused twelve-step programs, they caution against “lust-based decisions.”
At times in my life, I’ve made dozens of these in a day: picking a security line at an airport by choosing the cutest TSA officer, deciding which subway car to board by following an attractive woman, changing my walking pace slightly to prolong my visual access to someone who appeals to me.
What’s funny about these decisions is that at times, they are decidedly unhealthy for me, reflecting a certain monomania and obsessiveness that’s not at all healthy, that reflects a comprehensive, self-centered withdrawal from the world. In this mode, lust is, really, all I have. It’s my umbrella, my totem, my teddy bear, and holding on to it protects me. From everything. (Including feeling.)
Other times, though, my lust isn’t confining, limiting, numbing. Other times, it’s nearly the opposite, reflecting a life-affirming joy and openness.
This was a challenge for me of life in the particular twelve-step fellowship in which I participated most: daily, we had to affirm the desire to uproot lust from our lives, to affirm the conviction that lust was the problem.
For some, it is. Particularly for those who conceive of lust as a sin.
But for me, lust is like TV. I can use it for educational good (say, a fascinating historical documentary), for diversionary neutral (the Simpsons? Mad Men?), or for decadent, virulent, destructive bad (Jerry Springer). And even then, there’s nothing absolute: some might be able to watch Jerry Springer and not have it suck the soul out of them. Others might retreat into educational documentaries with the purpose of numbing, narcotizing retreat from feeling.
Lust is the same. I can use lust as a crutch, an anaesthetic balm, to hide from the real pain of life. Or I can use it almost like some use prayer, to affirm my sense of vitality and interconnectedness.
Today, as I chose which car of the subway to board, in part, because of the spectacular, clear blue eyes I saw through the window, I like to think it was the latter.