When is sexual desire natural, and when does it become disordered (i.e. "Lust")?


Every time somebody posts a thread related to the topics of sexual desire and lust, somebody quotes this from the Catechism without elaborating on it.
“2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.”

I think I already have a good idea of what natural sexual desire is and what lust is, but I am curious what the community has to say about the following question. When is sexual desire natural, and when does it become disordered (i.e. “Lust”)?

Perhaps it would help to present several situations. Which of these desires are natural, and which ones are lustful? Assume all situations refer to the opposite sex.
1a. "I desire to have sex with [an acquaintance] because (s)he is attractive and kind.
1b. “I desire to have sex with [an acquaintance] because (s)he is attractive and kind, but I would not actually have sex with him/her unless we were married.”

2a. “I desire to have sex with [a friend] because (s)he is beautiful inside and out.”
2b. “I desire to have sex with [a friend] because (s)he is beautiful inside and out, but I would not actually have sex with him/her unless we were married.”

3a. “I desire to have sex with [a girlfriend/boyfriend/fiancée/fiancé] because I love him/her.”
3b. “I desire to have sex with [a girlfriend/boyfriend/fiancée/fiancé] because I love him/her, but I would not actually have sex with him/her unless we were married.”

4a. “I desire to have sex with [my spouse] because I love him/her.”
4b. “I desire to have sex with [my spouse] because I love him/her, and I want to have children.”

Please elaborate your answer. I don’t only want to know which ones you think are either natural or lustful, but I am also interested to know why you think so.


Inordinate: unusually or disproportionately large; excessive

I would say that 3b (maybe) but definitely, 4a and 4b would count as NOT lust.

All the others, assuming they fall under the “inordinate” or “excessive” category, would be lust.

Lust is the desire for sexual pleasure absent of Love. Love, in the Catholic sense, is willing the good of the other person for their own sake, not for anything that you get out of it. Therefore, Lust is when you want to TAKE sexual pleasure for your own purpose. Accordingly, the only situation where sex can be rightly ordered is after you vow complete love for someone in marriage.

Recognizing someone as attractive and kind and beautiful inside and out is all well and good, but it is not necessarily love.

I will also present another scenario, do you think it’s lustful?

  1. I want to have sex with my spouse because s/he’s smokin’ hot.


I would modify it a little and say that there’s nothing wrong with wanting or anticipating sexual pleasure, but what makes it wrong is when your spouse becomes a mean to that end. So of course it’s not wrong to find your spouse attractive or sexually arousing, but if he or she starts looking to you like a series of parts rather than a whole person, then that’s a problem. Same if you start thinking you are owed sex, or certain sexual experiences.


:thumbsup: that’s what I meant with my situation…using your spouse for physical reasons would be lustful if it is not an expression of love.


1a 1b 2a 2b 3a 3b 4a 4b are all not lustful in themselves. You could insert “complete stranger” as a new category and it wouldn’t make a difference. If somebody is physically attractive, and you’re not an undead, you can correctly say that you have sexual desire towards them in some capacity.

  1. “Inordinate desire”, if we compare this to various other forms of idolatry/addiction, is if you allow your sex life to harm your obligations as a husband/wife, father/mother, caretaker, and general human being. It is understood by how it affects your life, not in the degree of your desire, which may (and likely will) increase as your relationship with your spouse deepens. Humans beings are creatures of matter (body), mind and soul, and when you affect one, you affect all of them. Skipping work, Mass, or other obligations in order to have sex, for example, would be a demonstration of an inordinate desire, because at this point it takes the form of both an idol and a dependency.

  2. “Lustful thoughts”, in the same vein as wrath or carelessness, radically demotes the value of a human being, who bears the image of God, and therefore is an encounter with Christ. Sexual desires should only be expressed properly (in thought or deed) towards our spouse, who is our Christ or our Bride. Spousal love is different from love in general because of its exclusivity.

5a) “I want to have sex with my wife because she is smoking hot” is not lustful. Something is objectively wrong with a marriage if you don’t want your spouse.
5b) “I want to have sex with my wife because she is smoking hot and only because she is smoking hot” is lustful. Sexual intimacy is designed for the good of the self, and of the other, and of the children (if applicable), and ultimately, for the good of the entire society of the world.


What if one spouse always wanted sex (daily) and thought it an expression of love…but the other spouse places sex at the bottom of the list? Is the sex- loving spouse lustful if s/he KNOWS the other spouse would rather not? So, if I know that my son was not comforted by hugs, yet I constantly hugged him to comfort him, knowing he’d rather talk, am I the one being selfish?

So does the feelings of the other person have an impact on whether it’s ordered or disordered?



My spouse is my best friend. Without a doubt. I can’t imagine my life without him. But I don’t look at him and think “Wow. I really need to have sex with him.”

Of course, I do have sex with him and I don’t look at any other men and think about having sex with them…but I don’t see why something is objectively wrong with my marriage.


Hmmm…I guess it would depend. If the ‘sex-loving’ spouse doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and keeps pressuring until the more hesitant spouse gives in, I think that would remove love from the situation. That would be, I think, taking pleasure without giving love. In that situation, love would be recognizing the need of the other spouse to abstain for whatever reason.

If the first spouse just tries to initiate, and it really would be an expression of love, and then stops once the desire (or lack of desire) of the other spouse is voiced, I don’t think that’s lustful at all.

(As an aside, what I mean by ‘expression of love’ is that the physical act of sex is the culmination of love, so love should be shown and felt and reciprocated in all its forms prior to sex. If it’s just like “Oh man, I had a rough day, lets do it,” there is no emotional sharing that goes on, and if it’s like that all the time, that could remove love from the situation as well. I understand we are not all perfect, so I don’t want to make vast generalizations, and I’m not saying that this is the way for everyone, or that any time this happens it’s completely bad, but they are not good habits to get into, in my opinion)

If the hesitant spouse literally NEVER wants to have sex (weeks, months, years) I can see that being a problem, too, but that’s another discussion.


The question is: “are you sexually attracted to your spouse”.

Objectively, the answer in any Catholic marriage should be “yes”. If this isn’t the case, there is a disorder within the covenant. Marriage is not a covenant of friendship (which can be given to anyone, in any number, and requires no sacrament), but a spousal covenant. “Spousal” meaning a physical and spiritual bonding. Marriage is ordered towards sexual intimacy & rearing children, which leads to the mutual betterment of the husband and wife, and ultimately, to all society. Naturally, married couples will also be deep friends, but this is not the sacrament in of itself. Different couples, especially as they age, will have varying degrees of sexual intimacy, but in the general sense: Catholics are suppose to (and statistically speaking, do) have better sex lives than non-Christians.

“What is Marriage” is a good read on the nature of marriage.


Thank you for the response. :slight_smile:


What if two asexual people fall in love with each other? Can they get married, even though they don’t experience sexual attraction at all? Chances are, they’ll still have an intimate relationship - just not sexually intimate. Sure, the purpose of a Catholic marriage is family… But there’s adoption, as well.


In the ordinary sense, you have sex if you’re married. A marriage is not indissoluble until it is consummated, and impotency (being incapable of the act) would prevent a person from entering valid marriage.

Two asexual people could get married as long as they were capable of having sex, and the marriage would be indissoluble once it is consummated. Asexuality is a result of original sin, and a completely sexless marriage is not an ordinary marriage, but it would be a valid one. There are circumstances that would prevent this in other couples as well (bed-ridden cancer patients, away at war, etc).


A question, just for the sake of stirring things up.

Is sexual attraction and physical attraction the same? Is it possible to be sexually attracted to someone you do not find to be the most physically attractive person? Do you think there is a percentage, such as, “I am 40% physically attracted to my spouse, but 60% emotionally attracted.” What about 20% and 80%?

As a previous poster was alluding to, I don’t think a lack of physical attraction in a marriage is objectively disordered if there is an abundance of emotional or spiritual attraction. I think emotional and spiritual attraction is more important in maintaining sexual intimacy, but maybe I’m imagining a perfect world where we can really look past the fleeting superficiality of a pretty face.

(by the way, big fan of your Star Wars reference TK421)


I suppose sexual attraction and physical attraction are not synonymous. A mother will find her son physically attractive, but she will find her husband sexually attractive.

A lack of sexual attraction is always objectively disordered towards ordinary marriage, since the purpose of marriage is sexual intimacy in a unitive & procreative bonding, childbirth, childrearing, and the building of the family which reflects the Trinitarian life. As I’ve explained, a deep friendship ought to naturally spawn out of marriage (hopefully well before the two were even married) but it is patently false to say the purpose of marriage in of itself is friendship/companionship. If it were, then it means the LGBT Lobby is right and the Catholic Church is wrong. Marriage is not an island to flee to if you have loneliness issues or want somebody to be your glorified roommate. It is a vocation, and like all vocations, it involves labor that is directed to building Christ’s kingdom on Earth. In this sense, it is no different from the apostolic priesthood.

In so far as what is more important, it isn’t a question of “either or”. Physical, emotional, and spiritual bonding are all harmonious and even symbiotic with one another in a Catholic marriage. You do not trade one for the other, because they are all ordered towards the same end and compliment one another. This is part of the reason why sex is a good in of itself, even if the encounter doesn’t bring a child. You are nurturing and further developing the love between the husband and the wife. We can see this observed on a chemical level in the human body: the man and the woman begin to see each other in a way that they otherwise would not see each other. This is why women tied up in pre-marital sex are prone to dumb decisions and being manipulated by the guy. They’ve developed a chemical bond with him that - in this case outside of marriage - woefully clouds her judgement.

A pretty face is not superficial. It is a bearer of Christ. Corporal beauty is created by God and - when used properly - it can be a powerful witness because that outer beauty is used to reflect a greater spiritual reality. Holy images, statues, relics, and mother nature are all objects of physical beauty, and far be it that they are superficial or unimportant. God does not dislike matter. Matter is good. He made it. It only becomes evil when it is wielded towards corrupted ends: hollow celebrity worship, one-night stands, pornography, and other corruptions of physical beauty.


Desire is not the same thing as lust. Our free will must be employed to have lust.

How do I employ my will in the face of desire? When hit with desire do I willfully latch on, hold the desire in my heart, nourish the desire, contemplate it?

Even a desire for relations with my wife can wander off into lust, if I hold that desire in my heart, spend time with it, contemplate it for my own pleasure. It can be a fine line. We are not called to think about and relish food while away from the table.


I think the emotional and spiritual attraction deepens the sexual attraction. I think it would be very hard to separate and quantify them, and I’m not sure what the point of it would be.

There are elderly couples who maintain physical intimacy as part of their marriage, and while they almost certainly are not as objectively good looking as they were when they got married, there’s no doubt that they can still be deeply in love with each other. I don’t think those men are lying when they insist that their brides are more beautiful than the day they married. They just have spent enough time and work together to see past the exterior.


Or, perhaps, they don’t see past the exterior, but because of their charity & wisdom, they see the exterior more clearly than what others are capable of. Dogs don’t enjoy Mozart, and neither do many people. That doesn’t mean there is not tremendous beauty to be found in his art.

The man or women you marry is suppose to increase in beauty as they get older. You’re not suppose to be regressively looking back at the wedding day as the pinnacle achievement and everything from that point gradually more dim. The wedding day is the launching point, and each decade, a new ocean of splendor to traverse across together. In 30 years you tell her, not with flattery but with truth, “You were beautiful when we married, but you are far more beautiful now”.

Josef Ratzinger once said, from listening to a performance, “beauty will save us”, and he was spot on.


What if one of you liked pizza and the other one hated pizza. Would you always eat pizza, never eat pizza, or work out some compromise?


I’d say that one person could eat pizza while the other ate something else. But that solution doesn’t really work with sex.


OK, bad example! Then what about going to the ballet, or opera, or some other joint activity–let’s assume they can’t or don’t want to do it alone.

Since this issue led to my divorce–I hung in there 20+ years!–it’s a touchy subject with me, and I think it’s certainly a huge issue. I really don’t have an answer other than some sort of compromise, which means neither party is really satisfied. Discussion before marriage (or even living together) isn’t a solution because people change. In my case, it was like flipping a light switch–before marriage the switch was “on,” and it flipped off the day we were married. It’s an all too common problem.

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