Lust- Masturbation? Pornography? Fantasy? Oh my!!!!!

For quite some time I have wanted to uncover one of the most shamed areas of our humanity, our sexuality. I grew up in a community that presented sexuality and sexual behavior in a certain way, often restrictive, promoting purity and abstinence, vilifying pornography, ambiguous evaluations on masturbation, the misunderstanding of affairs, and high security around men and women interacting with one another all to avoid the “treacherous” fall into a sexual rendezvous.

Some of the conversations amongst men would be laden with judgment towards their own fantasies, “wandering” eyes at women, distracting tactics to avoid sexual behavior, and it all funneling towards a discussion on prevention. 

However, this approach and view created questions in me and I found myself greatly impacted by the way I was taught about sexuality. I felt a great shame over masturbating and looking at pornography when I was a teenager, which to counter this haunting, powerful feeling was to avoid any of this at all costs. 

Literally, I shut down my sexuality for over 10 years! Call it sexual anorexia or whatnot, but I dried out that well for at least a decade. Eventually it just turned off for some time, although at moments I would find myself hoping that a beautiful woman I encountered would lock eyes with me, like a fantastical cinematic encounter. 

About a few years ago, this turning off had worn down and my sexuality began to resurface again, leading to a rekindling with this part of myself. 

In the beginning I felt shame and guilt, but I fought through these imposing forces to get to the other side, touching on the deeper desires of wanting to be intimately connected and how castrating this part of myself affected my ability to engage with women, because in the background was this voice of fear, shame and judgment.

In this new opening and awakening of sexuality, I became aware of my own judgments and was confronted by my discomfort with the way people navigated their sexuality that seemed to fall outside the “rules”. All of this stemmed from the interpretations on sexuality by my community and I just accepted it, believing this was the truth, of which I shaped my own life around.

So all of this entered into an unraveling of what I was taught about sexuality and how it was communicated within the community I was a part of.

Even when working with clients and helping them connect to their sexual side or exploring with couples, (who weren’t “married”, gasp!) the blockages to their intimacy, I felt the tension of the voice of my religious community and what was unfolding in front of me during sessions.

Was this wrong? Was it a “sin”? The conflict I felt was very strong and real for me, because what would have been communicated to me was that I was perpetuating or participating in “sin”. 

But that did not sit well with me, especially when clients were genuinely wanting to connect better. Imagine that! They wanted to better their relationship. What seemed “wrong” about this?

Or what about someone that was just enjoying his or her sexual experiences with another person or people and it was mutual and respectful? 

Or people that felt shame about masturbating and/or looking at pornography, thinking they were impure, which was clearly the shame talking (I will write about that soon), and I did not feel like it was a big deal; instead exploring with them what they liked and did not like; opening up a conversation to talk about their sexual desires and longings. Again, was this some great “sin” I was participating in?

And as I delved into myself I realized that what is most destructive is not so much the behavior, as it is the hiddenness, the secrets we keep that haunt us, the birthplace for addiction. It is the secrets that can generate the greatest harm, enslaved by the tyranny of judgment.

When we live in the shadows of shame, it dims the light on awareness and understanding of which can actually can lead to greater connection, insight and expanding consciousness of ourselves, the deficits in our relationships and so much more. 

However, pushing this away, guarding ourselves so intensely and creating vigilant security so we don’t act out, may not truly help. It is encountering and learning that changes us, moves us, and shapes us to learn the truth of what it means to be human, to love, and to be connected. 

When something is quarantined far off into the darkest recesses of ourselves, it will eventually reveal itself, for it is a light bearer, a truth teller, communicating undiscovered and un-mined depths within our heart, needs fused within the soul that are crying out for nourishment, to be seen, known, and understood. 

So, where am I going with all of this?

I think there has been an incredible misunderstanding on what lust actually is. Growing up in an environment that judged certain sexual behaviors or experiences, like masturbation, viewing pornography or sexual fantasizing as a lustful act, created a disconnect in engaging, exploring, and understanding our own sexuality.

But lust, as I will show, is not the behavior itself that often gets judged, but the operation of the heart; and there are significant, deeper reasons why one may function in this way. However, when it is under the oppression of judgment and shamed by others and ourselves it dims our understanding on why we may be in a relentless state of searching to meet these “mysterious” needs.

You Think You Got it All Together Until…

This leads me to a section in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew, where Jesus does something alien and profound to mankind; he teaches a new way of living in the world. But what is also fascinating is that he highlights the surface of the behavior and the misunderstanding of the way the Israelites interpreted the law and then draws them deeper, challenges their interpretations, and articulates a whole different rhythm of engaging in life. 

But what he leaves out is a detailed map and multi-step plan on this journey to this alternative lifestyle. There’s no specific how-to’s.

Yet, there is this small section in his soliloquy that tells us where it all begins, the start of transformation, of becoming new.

When he talks about adultery, which is one of the Ten Commandments (Though Shall Not Commit Adultery), he, I imagine, befuddles the listeners’ minds, reorienting the focus from behavior to the center of all humankind, the heart. 

He basically says, “You (the Pharisees) feel proud because you think you have not actually  participated in breaking this Law, but in reality, you have fooled yourselves, because your heart communicates something different.”


Now, let's put some context around this, because Jesus, when bringing up the law, is challenging the Pharisees, who lived fixated on behavior, presenting to others and to God this seemingly ‘pure” persona, doing everything “right”. However, they were unaware that their hearts were misaligned with their behaviors, veering from the law in other ways, finding loopholes, so to speak.

Because they were so externally focused, they were severely unaware of their own interior self and the stark incongruity between the way they lived in presentation to others and the inner world within them. They had convinced themselves that they were doing right for God, but their hearts lacked love; which, if out of love, would be expressed in very different ways, far from the way they lived in the world.

The Pharisees operated in judgment, ostracizing others, and masquerading as “righteous”, but it was all a veneer, for inside was the presence of pride, hate, and arrogance, the antithesis of Love. 

So, let us return to the whole adultery conversation. Jesus had a specific target audience when he was unraveling the truths of these laws. Much of this was directed towards the Pharisees, who, to avoid committing adultery, found a loophole by creating billions of reasons, then generating them into laws, to divorce their wives. Seriously! They conjured up a ridiculous number of offenses to end their marriages, like if she cooked a bad meal.

Which kicks up a question for me. What would compel them to do this? It is interesting, don’t you think? What in the world would drive them to come up with an unending list of laws, so that they could terminate their relationships? 

You don’t have to travel very far to find that answer, for it is all in the same conversation, when he says that you have committed adultery by lusting after another woman, who is not your wife. 

Now that invites a whole new set of questions and fuels the tank for exploration. Jesus, in a sense, says, “you guys think you got away with not committing adultery, but that could not be farther from the truth, because you don’t see that it already exists inside of you.” 

Why would he say this, specifically to them? Here’s a theory...

The Pharisees, in a state of lust (which I will explain a little later), catches the next beautiful woman, someone probably more beautiful and desirable than their wives; and because they are dutiful to the law and don’t want to break it, cunningly find a way to slip through the cracks of this stipulation, so they can satisfy their insatiable urges for that woman they lock eyes on. So they create these absurd offenses to divorce their wives and feed that unending hunger with the next beauty that crosses their path. 

Now this is starting to make a whole lot more sense. This is not about feeling attracted, desiring or even fantasizing about another person who is not your spouse. This is not about masturbating or looking at pornography. This is a different ballgame. 

Jesus moves the focus from behavior to the inner realm of the person, where life flows, where decisions are made, were action begins. 

So the Pharisees, to navigate these relentless cravings for more, believed they found a way to get those needs met and still adhere to the law. 

We all do that at times right? Think about it? When have you felt an intense hunger for something for which you didn’t have the resources to acquire or this decision to meet this need could drastically affect someone else, or it goes against the “law” and you arrange things in your head to justify feeding this hunger inside?

We feel the ominous, loud, voluminous presence of craving for more, for the next thing, for the prettier, shinier, sexier, faster “object” and it might go against something, quite possibly hurting another, and we do some rapid mental altering to figure out how it will work out to get this “object”.

I am sure none of us are strangers to this process. 


Lust: The Hungry Search for More

Now, I am going to get even more psychological here. This whole lust thing that Jesus references is a word and concept I have been investigating for some time, because I have heard it used in ways that don’t seem to make sense for me. 

In prior religious settings it was an umbrella term for certain sexual practices; however here it is saying something different, which I will attempt to explain.

First off, what is lust? 

It is desire, but desire with the volume turned way up. This kind of desire overrides the soul, consciousness, and even the ability to pause to think. In a way, it is the act of impulse without conscious awareness of what is actually driving the heart towards the specific “object” of one’s hunger. 

It is a hunger that manifests in an insatiable craving, one that evades satisfaction. The person fueled by their intense hunger will temporarily satiate this need within, but once the impact of fullness wears off, restless, they will return to the hunt searching for more. The pattern continues on and on, until some experience of derailment.

One who is lost to their cravings, feels the physiological nudge to feast upon the next beautiful object, with the unconscious hope that this will fulfill the lack within. They experience blockages in the ability to look deeper, to understand and know the need they are looking to nourish.  

Which is what changes the course of the unending search to end the starvation; that one consciously engages, sees, and befriends the hunger, the emptiness, the longing and the inevitable futility of getting it met through such ravenously-imbued methods.

It is only when someone comes to terms and understands the hunger within themselves that they will begin to listen to where the inner rumblings are truly leading them; a much different path of fulfillment. 

So, how does this all connect to the whole Pharisee-adultery-lust scenario? Essentially, the men saw a much more desirable woman and in order to satisfy their cravings, while seemingly avoiding defying the law, they found ways to divorce their wives and evade the “crime”. 

But Jesus’s point was that adultery began deep within their soul, way before the act, as they committed to leave their wives for another woman. 

Now this adultery word, I am not the biggest fan of, because it seems steeped with judgmental connotations. Therefore, I am going to change it to something that makes more sense to me and might change the way anyone thinks about this dynamic. 

Let’s look at adultery in the lens of attachment and bonding. If the bond occurs within the intimate setting of two lovers, then when someone commits to beginning a relationship with someone who is not their lover, they have veered away from the bond, in search for something; a search that has great meaning.

Within the veering away is this mysterious catalyst that fuels the person to turn towards another lover. What that is has yet to be defined. But the search for someone outside the bond communicates something that is lacking or missing within one’s self, a truth that is itching to be discovered. 

What if Jesus’s point was to challenge the men to look deeper than their behavior, which was shrouded in pride, effectively convincing themselves they had upheld the law? 

What if this challenging was an act of love, to help them see that this adultery that began in their hearts is telling them something? 

What if he wants them to become aware of their intense inner cravings?

Could it be that with great compassion he is wanting them to wrestle with what it is that they really are looking for, this profound need that exists within them, begging to be understood?


I wonder if Jesus’s purpose in illuminating this issue ever so briefly was to cause the audience to begin to question, to spark their curiosity, to draw them towards their soul. 

Such a confrontation was to call them out on their crafty ways to weasel out of the law and perpetuate this unending quest to end the starvation, which leads to a few possible outcomes. 


One, they could apathetically shrug their shoulders and continue in their ways. 


Two, they become defensive and attack Jesus, which reveals that they are guarding something. 


Or three, they receive the confrontation and begin the inner soul work, unmasking themselves to face their own shadows.

If they picked option three, they might possibly discover, eventually, with the bold commitment of facing the internal self, what an intimate relationship possibly looks like, beautiful dimensions within a relationship rich with vulnerability, and the experience of being seen and known. 

But the Pharisees operated in life by pleasing the External that they could not see their own hearts. The reason they went to these lengths was because they believed they needed to follow the Law to please the Divine, and convinced themselves that they were sustaining the pleasure of the Other, which obfuscated understanding their own deeper self.

I cannot help but see this same occurrence in my life and others. We hold these secrets within ourselves, and live clandestine lives out of fear of the harm it will cause to the most important relationships in our lives. What will it do to our connection if I am truly honest to those close to me?

This, I believe, was deeper at work within the Pharisees motives. This External fear lead them to avoid an honest exploration of their own selves, which, quite possibly would have lead them to greater truths about what their hunger (or “Lust”, if you prefer) is truly communicating.

And this applies to all of us, that we cease living to please and appease that Other, which subsequently pushes us to fabricate a secretive life, which possibly leads to compulsivity and an “addictive” quest for more. 

This is one of the greatest challenges in humanity, the shift from living externally-driven, to internally-directed. The latter is where the richest truths continuously unfold and reveal themselves. We have this inner wisdom that requires attunement, but, unfortunately loses signal, when we pivot our lives around the satisfaction of the other.

Contrary to what we are often taught, through culture, and religious beliefs and practices, is that we are to know and live from within ourselves. It is only then, that our attunement to the Divine occurs, for the voice inside is a Voice that connects us all, that moves us in ways that increases our love, that heals the world around us, that illuminates the truth imbedded in all of life.

This, quite possibly, is what Jesus was articulating in his teachings

This could be what he was drawing out as he confronted the systems created by the Pharisees.

Could it be that his purpose was to challenge the obstacles that guard against exploration of the heart that inhibit life?

Maybe

May you begin the life-changing shift of looking within, attuning to those inner nudges, the voice inside that is calling you into deeper truths, to connect in profound ways to yourself. For that kind of shift, one that leads to accepting and connecting to all areas within ourselves, is that which impacts the way we engage with all around us in our life narrative. 

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