When is sexual attraction "wrong"

I know this question seems simple, but it has baffled me for a long time.

We are supposed to be attracted to the opposite sex…few would people argue this point. That’s how we’re wired. My question is simple- isn’t being sexually attracted to someone basically a nice way of saying you lust for them? People are not sexually attracted to people they don’t want to have sex with (on a biological level). I know there are shades of attraction, but the nuts and bolts of it is what it is- a biological predisposition for it.

The way I’ve always seen it, it seems like being attracted to someone is a near occasion of (the sin of) lust. If that’s the case, why is it even permissible? A “necessary evil” doesn’t seem to jive with the belief that “God is infinitely good and makes all things good.” I’m not saying this to challenge my faith or whatnot- I’m genuinely baffled.

On a more personal note it’s driven me crazy. I hate admitting this, but it has completely shackled me when it comes to forming any semblance of a healthy (and moral) relationship with women. I’m only 25, so it’s not the end of the world, but I still get a little envious of people who seemingly have no problem with liking women and don’t even consider what they’re doing as amoral or wrong. So what message did I miss?

It’s a matter of balance - we are wired to need some sexual attraction toward the opposite sex or the human race would have died out long ago, yet we must not let it run away and cause us to act in ways that are sinful.

Same-sex attraction is another matter. I know there are some who feel offended by the term “disordered attraction” and sometimes I wonder if it might be time to see if a different wording could be found. The gay and lesbian people I have known sometimes do feel indignant about it.

I would argue that Church doctrine disposes Christians to a different, and more inherently noble and dignified (for ‘thou art a royal priesthood’) manifestation of our sexuality. It’s on something of a higher plain compared to the general population’s rather gun-ho or haphazard attempts at realizing it (it’s governed by a strctly pragmatic, so to speak, philosophy). The Church, however, sees humanity rightly as a single family and, following in the ancient tradition of the people of God, encourages her children to marry from and in the house or family of God. Our religion teaches that all marriages are and should be arranged marriages; arranged, namely, by God our Father. Hence prayer is important because marriage and who we marry is a vocation and part of God’s providence and love for us.

Okay. So what about putting theory into practice? Firstly, in my experience, learn to distinguish an appreciation of beauty as such, of which women are naturally and often examplars of by nature, and lust as such: it’s perfectly fine, good and right to appreciate beauty being manifested in a woman; it’s right and fine to appreciate it. However, lust is when we have reduced the person on account of desire for gratification to a mere instrument: we see them not as a person who is inherently loveable as such but as an object. In lust, we forget that a woman is a daughter of Eve and Mary and a sister to us in God. We forget our primitive vocation as men that we are always and above all to defend, protect and uphold woman and defend her honour and dignity and respect her body. We forget that she will be somebody’s wife and somebody’s mother one day- maybe ours or maybe consecrated or set aside by God for Himself.

Still, what about practice? Prayer and the study of cultured romance is my answer. Our sexuality is good and natural. Good romance takes the friction, nervousness, seeming anarchy of the, so to speak, sexual arena away: it makes sexuality somewhat playful, innocent and artful. Now, I’m not saying act like a reincarnated Shakespeare or anything here: we live in a different time and different cultural milieu, however, love and romance are intrinsically timeless and perennial: like logic or rhetoric. Of course, as men, we will always have to risk exposing ourselves to getting our hearts broken or being made look silly when we are denied or declined, but we shouldn’t be afraid of this: the trick is doing an examination of conscience and purifying our intentions: if we know that our intentions are/were pure and noble and that we have no sordid base desires in the mix, and that we truly had her interests, welfare or happiness in heart and mind, then we know that we approached any given woman who seemed special to us with pure hearts: i.e., there was nothing wrong in it and nothing to be ashamed of. It was honourable. That’s the trick, because even if she says no you are still in a position to be friends with her. If she turned you down harsh probably she will see how well you took it and later perhaps feel compelled to apologize a bit and at least be friends: because no one believes there are too many good and decent men around or has too many such friends.

And above all, grace.

Hope this helps a bit!

Rk,

I have some questions for you.

Have you read the Catechism cover to cover?

Are you aware of Lust being one of the 7 deadly sins?

RK, I can completely relate to what you are going through here. I am a 26 yr old man, who is a new convert to the faith, and I have pretty much had to give up on dating because it’s not possible for me to go on a date without becoming aroused to some degree. Even holding hands with an attractive woman or looking at her directly can cause me to experience arousal.

I’m not sure if this is something that is wrong with me (the sexual sins are my greatest temptation and I find that they are very difficult to control). Maybe a sufficiently virtuous man can hold hands with a woman without experiencing a biological sexual response, but I cannot at this point. Based on my struggles with these lesser forms of intimate expression, I know for a fact that there is no possibility that I could share a short kiss with a girlfriend (who is not my wife) and remain faithful to the Church’s teachings.

I realize that, without God’s intervention, no woman out there is going to be willing date somebody like myself who will not kiss before marriage. Therefore, I have decided to stop dating since most women will inevitably see my attitude here as being “too religious” and dating will just cause unnecessary hardship for both of us.

That said, God has given me what I know to be a miraculous sign that I am called to marriage, so I will continue to wait and put my trust in Him that he will bring somebody into my life who I will be able to date and remain faithful to the Church’s teachings (I have no idea how He will do this, but perhaps He will give me the graces of self-control when He brings my future spouse into my life…). In any case, the important thing is not to despair, because God is always watching out for us and nobody who has ever put their trust in God has been let down. :slight_smile:

I think it’s fine being attracted. Its those that see a girl and all they can think with is there sexual desire for her. When I saw my wife I knew I wanted to be with her she is very pretty. But at the same time I with her I knew that I needed to treat her with respect. If I were to lust after her then I would have been wrong. A lot of our society today just do what they want without thinking about how God wanted us to approach this subject.

A " biological sexual response" is not a good indicator of whether or not something is sinful. Arousal is a natural function of the body, created by God. It is not in itself sinful.

God intended each and every sexual act to occur within marriage, so it is sinful for an un-married person to experience a sexual response when there is consent. You could argue that, for example, holding hands on a date is not necessarily consenting to a sexual response, but if a person knows full-well that he will experience an erection when he hold hands then it could be the near occasion of sin to hold hands.

I’m not saying holding hands is a near occasion of sin for everyone. Just that for me, I lived a very unchaste life for a long time, and it is difficult for me to look at a woman and not see a sexual object. I think Armyross’ post does a great job describing the virtue that a well-adjusted man can and should have while on a date:

[quote=Armyross]I think it’s fine being attracted. Its those that see a girl and all they can think with is there sexual desire for her. When I saw my wife I knew I wanted to be with her she is very pretty. But at the same time I with her I knew that I needed to treat her with respect. If I were to lust after her then I would have been wrong. A lot of our society today just do what they want without thinking about how God wanted us to approach this subject.
[/quote]

I think its a leap to say sex outside of marriage is wrong, therefore engaging in non-sexual activity that leads to an erection is wrong. Perhaps the difference is whether the erection is connected to lustful thoughts. I think it’s possible to have an erection that’s completely physical/physiological and doesn’t have an intention or moral component to it. Sometimes erections just happen, and that’s why I don’t think it’s a good moral litmus test. In your case, there are a lot of other factors, and I completely defer to your judgment.

A lot of the responses to this thread seem to indicate that the temptation of sexual desire is in fact a sin. The Catechism says the following, which makes it clear that experiencing sexual desire is not sinful, but rather, failing to master whatever passions one experiences is sinful:

2338 The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.125

2339 Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.126 "Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end."127

2340 Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer. "Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity."128

2341 The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.

This is an interesting question.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the OP is inquiring about WHAT desires are sinful and what are not. For example, is thinking a man/woman is hansom/pretty a sin? Is thinking “I would like to date him/her” a sin? Where is the line between simple attraction and lust?

Also, is it a sin to think that someone’s spouse is attractive? Again, where is the line drawn at a simple “thought” to an act of the will?

You might want to read Theology of the Body, especially Pope John Paul’s 40th homily titled Mutual Attraction Differs from Lust

While miracles are possible, I would suggest that you recognize those two statements are mutually exclusive. Few, if any, individuals manage to find a spouse without dating or interaction of some kind. Exceptions include those in cultures with arranged marriages.

Maybe a sufficiently virtuous man can hold hands with a woman without experiencing a biological sexual response, but I cannot at this point.

Not a matter of virtue, but rather biological response. You seem to think that you are sinning or something when you are not. We cannot simply tell our bodies not to do something (sometimes it works, but sometimes it most certainly does not).

That is simply not Church teaching.

You could argue that, for example, holding hands on a date is not necessarily consenting to a sexual response, but if a person knows full-well that he will experience an erection when he hold hands then it could be the near occasion of sin to hold hands.

You do not know. Nor is having an erection sinful, nor is doing something that produces an erection inherently sinful.

Please see a priest about these issues; your mentality is very twisted.

I’m not saying holding hands is a near occasion of sin for everyone. Just that for me, I lived a very unchaste life for a long time, and it is difficult for me to look at a woman and not see a sexual object.

If this is really the case, then please see a psychologist. That is abnormal. And I do not mean if you get boners looking at women, which is not the same thing at all, I mean if you literally cannot think about anything other than having sex with and then discarding every woman you meet.

Midnight, if you are concerned that mere arousal (during hand-holding or kissing) is sinful, I submit it absolutely is not. Your body is reacting normally (I recall it was the same for me).

So long as you are not at the time driven to uncontrolled impure thoughts, or have good reason to believe you will be unable to resist progression to sexual gratification of some form, you do nothing wrong. If you do suffer from either of these afflictions, that would suggest you should seek some professional assistance.

Yes, that’s the question I was getting at. Where’s the line at? Maybe I’m off-base, but I’ve always been of the opinion that finding a girl attractive was a tacit admission that you’d have sex with her in the right context. As a person concerned about such things, this bothers me. While I rarely allow my mind to wander, I still want to at least enjoy the company of women without having to worry about this kind of thing. That’s not to say I want someone to justify lust for me (quite the contrary) but rather to frame sexual attraction appropriately. Attraction and lust cannot be the same, but they are so closely related it seems safer to just assume the worst and take steps to avoid it whenever possible.
I have worked very hard to retrain my mind to look at women as humans first (someone’s daughter/mother/sister/etc.) and regarded everything else as secondary. Even so, talking to and being in the presence of attractive women provokes an anxious response on the very basis of the fact that I’m still unsure as to whether that’s a near occasion of sin or not.

Assuming that “right context” means something other than marriage, why would you think this?

For some people, maybe, but not inherently.

I have a lot of female friends, none of whom I would want to have sex with under any circumstances. Yet that doesn’t mean I am incapable of determining whether I find them attractive or beautiful. That part just sorta happens. I don’t think too much on it.

If you have no control over something, it cannot be a sin.

That’s actually a really disturbing opinion, if you don’t mind my saying so. Maybe we have extremely different ideas of what “attraction” entails. Surely there are many reasons to avoid having sex with someone, regardless of how attractive the person may be? :confused:

If that works for you, great, but… I probably shouldn’t say this, but that’s also a really male-centric attitude. Ideally guys should respect women because they are made in the image of God, and not because they “belong” to some other man.

I mean maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but I’d be a bit wary of anyone who only respected me because they were really respecting my brother. But maybe that’s not what you meant, and it was just a phrase meaning “normal human being who has relationships”. :shrug:

As for whether it is OK to talk to attractive women- of course that’s OK, silly. You’ll never learn to see them as people if you spend all your time avoiding them.

I’m pretty sure lust is the disordered enjoyment of or desire for sexual pleasure. Are you seeking out conversations with attractive women because it arouses you? Don’t do that.

Are you conversing with attractive women because, say, you are interested in what they have to say? Because you can learn from them? Because they asked you a question? Keep doing that. That is good, and regardless of whether it arouses you, it’s not lust.

If you can’t keep impure thoughts out of your mind, you should probably contact a support organization and start praying and confessing regularly (if you don’t already). I think there’s a stickied thread linking to such organizations at the top of this subforum.

Don’t give up! :knight2:

Sexual attraction is wrong when it becomes disordered. Its not wrong in and of itself. It is also not wrong to be sexually attracted to a person of the opposite sex whom you are dating. That is natural and the way we are all made. In fact, if one is not sexually attracted to the person they are dating it is something they should think long and hard about before considering marrying that person. The important thing is to incorporate that sexual attraction into the whole picture. To keep it ordered towards the idea that actual intercourse be reserved for marriage when the two of you will have made explicit and binding vows to love the other no matter what. To treat the other as a person, rather than an object for your own pleasure and gratification. So, while you will experience attraction, you need to keep putting that attraction into perspective, don’t let yourself dwell on it for the sake of gaining pleasure from it, but rather try to focus on the person in question. Does that make sense at all? I also second the idea that you read Theology of the Body, and, perhaps, eventually Love and Responsibility (though that is a more difficult read, it is definitely worth it if you can work your way through it)
Here is a link to all the entire collection of TOB. ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tbind.htm

Well, I’m referring to sexual attraction. I don’t know why the term “sexual” would be the first word in it if it was not an intrinsic component of it, unless it is being used in the sense of “an attraction towards a member of the opposite sex.” So is it sexual in the sense of the physiological or biological or sexual in the sense of it concerns differences of sex/gender?

I’ve always split attraction to the opposite sex into 2 categories- physical attraction and non-physical. (I couldn’t think of a better term for the latter.) In the latter case, it’s attraction on the merits of the person- their personality, values, other traits. Maybe this is where I’m wrong…but I don’t know. It’s pretty confusing. On the one hand, my parents have always preached, “Don’t date someone because you think they’re pretty (Beauty isn’t only skin deep.” But I’ve also heard from a few people that sexual attraction is a vital component of a relationship, as it provides incentive to reproduce (within marriage, of course). Of course, my parents also think their spouse is attractive.

I know what you’re saying, but for me, framing her as someone’s daughter or sister is a strong disincentive for me to look at her in a lewd manner. I wasn’t saying she’s someone’s property, merely that she holds value to lots of other people besides me and I ought to be respectful and cognizant of that fact. And I most certainly wasn’t saying that I only respect them on that level, either.

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