I attend a Catholic college and recently sat in on the Moral Theology class of a friend of mine. The professor lectured on the seven capital sins. In regards to lust, he commented that in society the word is often used as a synonym for sexual attraction but that these are not the same. He made a distinction between sexual attraction (not evil) and lust (evil): What is evil about lust, he said, is that it reduces a person to his or her sexual value and loses sight who the person is.
The distinction was not new to me and is precisely what I would have answered to anyone who came to be with the accusation the the Church is anti-sex and thinks sex is evil.
Yet, there are moments when I myself wonder whether sexual attraction and lust are not the same. Allow me to explain.
I can grasp that there is a difference between:
There are many things which we find beautiful and are, in a visual or other sensory way, drawn to, e.g. a sunset, a newborn baby, a puppy, a garden, jewelry, etc. Yet, we don’t want to have sex with them (with the exception of persons who have some kind of disorder).
In fact, it is even possible to be attracted to an adult person of the opposite sex in an exclusively non-sexual way, say for example, to that person’s artistic ability (e.g. singing performance) or intelligence.
By that being the reason for which you are drawn to the person, are you thereby reducing him or her to their artistic or intellectual value? I don’t know…
(2) Reducing a person to an object
This too extends beyond the domain of human sexuality. I would say that materialists who deny the existence of God/the supernatural and believe that reality is entirely compromised of the physical world, are reductionists. They reduce, for example, the human mind to matter. The objectify the human person, who is a union of soul and body, a biological and spiritual reality.
(3) Sexual Attraction (Desire?)
I noted earlier that there are moments where I wonder if there is really a difference between sexual attraction and lust. Why?
Well, isn’t the whole purpose of qualifying the word “attraction” with the word “sexual” to indicate that the focus of your attraction is the aspect of sexuality? And isn’t the problem with lust that you reduce the person to his or her sexual value?
So it seems that in both sexual attraction and lust, the object of your attraction is something sexual.
(I am using the term *object *here in a sense analogous to when we say “color is the proper object of sight” or “flavor is the proper object of taste”).
I remember that in an episode of Catholic Answers Live on the topic of contraception, in which Dr. Janet Smith was the guest on the show, she said that there is a big difference between a man thinking to himself, I want to have sex with her, and him thinking, I want her to be the mother of my children. Dr. Smith said, there are lots of people we would like to have sex with, but very few people we would like to be parents with.
My question is — What is sexual attraction? Is it the desire to have sex? With someone in particular?
Is the difference between sexual attraction and lust, the difference between “I want to have sex.” and “I want to have sex with _____________.” (where the blank is someone specific)?
The Catechism defines what lust is. I want to know how to define sexual attraction/sexual desire.