I struggle to understand the sin of lust. Of course, I understand that it is wrong to intentionally pursue sexual gratification outside of its proper context within marriage, or even to intentionally crave sex outside of this context. What I don’t understand is the difference between healthy sexual attraction and lust. It seems to me that some amount of sexual attraction is just an essential part of a romantic relationship- it is part of what differentiates a romantic relationship from a mere friendship. And that seems to me to mean that each party feels sexual desire for the other party. But since romance precedes and leads to marriage, that would seem to mean that it is ok to have sexual desire before marriage. Of course, that desire needn’t be a desire for sex here and now and could rather be a desire for sex in the context of a future marriage. Perhaps that is what makes the difference between healthy sexual attraction and lust.
But here is the question- is it acceptable to intentionally foster the latter form of sexual desire (i.e. the desire for sex in the context of a future marriage) before one is married? If not, I am confused. I am confused because it certainly seems ok to intentionally cultivate romantic feelings for someone with whom one hopes to get married. But if sexual desire is an essential part of romance, then it would seem that it is also acceptable to intentionally cultivate sexual desire for the person one *hopes to *marry (and therefore has not yet married).
Now, I should note that I am aware that (a) merely passive desires and (b) desires that are engaged in without knowledge of the gravity of the sin do not constitute grave sin. My question is not, “Do acts of lust where (a) and (b) hold constitute grave sin?” Rather my question is this, “Is it acceptable to intentionally foster a certain kind of sexual desire before marriage- i.e. a present desire to be sexually intimate in the context of a future marriage? Or do all acts of sexual desire prior to marriage constitute instances of the sin of lust? If so, then how does one ever decide on the right person to marry, and how does one cultivate a sense of romance with someone whom one is courting? What is romance if not inherently based on sexual attraction, and what it attraction if not based on desire?"
Thank you, and God Bless,