My curiosity about the difference between love and lust has always been strong. My first exposure to learning about sex was the day I turned twelve while getting dressed and wondering about my sensuality. I wondered whether my new boyfriend would like my dress. My mother knocked on my door and through the crack she handed me a little pink pamphlet that she had picked up at the local pharmacy. “This is all you will need to know about your transition into womanhood,” she said, and closed the door. A quick flip through the pamphlet was not very revealing—sort of looked like the type of thing a biology teacher would hand out. My mother never asked me if I had any questions, and I never knew what to ask.
During middle school we took a human sexuality course where the girls listened attentively and the boys giggled. The class highlighted menstrual cycles and the importance of not getting pregnant. I listened intently—probably the precursor to my years as a practicing registered nurse. Looking back, I wonder why love was never included in the curriculum.
During adolescence, my curiosity about love and lust pursued and I dabbled in reading a number of sexy books. I remember hiding—Collins’ Valley of the Dolls under my pillow. I didn’t know that I was being turned on. I lost my virginity with my high school sweetheart, and then wrote in my journal about my experience.
My journals have always held my deepest and darkest secrets, like the time I was invited to a boyfriend’s house to listen to music in his attic. I knew it wasn’t just the music he was inviting me for. I think males knew that I craved intimacy, but I was more attracted to intelligent men who wanted to engage in stimulating conversation before becoming intimate.
I met my husband in the summer of 1972. He lived in Toronto and I lived in the New York. For the first five years while living in different countries, we connected through letter writing. Our letters were all lustful thoughts and longings, probably inspired by our readings of French authors. In our early twenties we got married.
Just after our wedding, my father-in-law handed us a copy of The Joy of Sex. During our early married years, we read the book together as it helped us achieve open and honest communication, but more importantly, it helped us make our desires and needs known. Our readings accentuated all the positive aspects of intimacy. With both our European upbringings, we realized that our parents encouraged exploration.
Love vs. Lust–What is the Difference?
Historically, Americans are confused about lust and love. Lust has been equated with sinful behavior or an intense desire for gratification. The connotations are often negative and sometimes connected to the objectification of pornography. My belief is that lust can pertain to intimacy, but it also pertains to having a zest for living, whether in intimacy or work. To have lust is to have passion.
In Dr. Judith Orloff’s book, Guide to Intuitive Healing: 5 Steps to Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Wellness, she wrote about the difference between lust and love. She views lust as mainly based on physical attraction and fantasy, not taking the “person” into consideration, whereas love is based on a couple getting to know one another and involves less idealization. She says that in lust each partner focuses on the person’s physique with no interest in conversation, whereas, in love, the couple yearns to spend quality time together regardless of sex and each person motivates the other to become better people.
While some of her thoughts make sense, I believe there is no clear demarcation between love and lust, in the same way that there is a blurring of the literary boundaries between fiction and nonfiction. Writer Anais Nin, who I discovered has been a huge inspiration for my own writing, and is an example of a woman who could only be intimate with a man who stimulated her intellectually. Nin taught me the importance of open communication between couples and that intimacy and lust were all important reasons for living.
Now in my early sixties, I continue to feel lust, for love, life and intimacy. I do not think we change much as we grow older, but we learn to accept who we are and what we need, and we are less afraid to go after it. I realize that I have always needed lust in my life and my only hope is that I can be intimate and lustful for as long as I live. The powerful feeling of altered states of consciousness and a deep transcendence during both love and lust, is a feeling I hope to relive over and over again until my ultimate and inevitable passing.
Diana Raab, Ph.D. is a transpersonal psychologist, award-winning poet, and memoirist. She is the author of four poetry collections, the latest one, entitled, Lust. She’s editor of two literary anthologies, and the author of two memoirs, and her writings have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. She is a regular blogger for Psychology Today, The Huffington Post and BrainSpeak. Connect with her on her Website and on Twitter.