Dr. Peter Kreeft once wrote that if we got rid of the 6th commandment then we would have a lot more Christians.
Sadly, I think he's correct.
This is also an incredibly uncomfortable topic for a whole host of reasons.
So do not worry, gentle reader. This will not be a salacious expose on sensual pleasures or a confession of personal transgressions. It will also not be a finger-wagging lecture on chastity. Instead, I want to take a philosophical look at the current problem.
And I don't think that we can argue that there is a problem with our society. Even secular sex doctors like Dr. Drew point out how we are not using sex for its proper end. Our desires as a society seem strangely out of balance.
It is true that the sexual desire is natural to us, as is the desire for food. But CS Lewis once presented this thought exercise: imagine a group of people were gathered in a theater and someone came out with a covered pan. That person then slowly revealed the roast chicken underneath. As they did, the crowd hooted and hollered and shouted for more. Lewis said that we would conclude that there was something disordered about this society's natural appetite for food. And yet, this is how many treat sex.
If we had people who sat in front of computers and watched videos of people eating barbecued, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs while the sat in front of the screen eating rice cakes pretending that they were ribs... wouldn't we also conclude that this society has a disordered relationship to food? And yet, this is how many treat sex.
As I said, this is a difficult topic to bring up. First, there is the level of embarrassment. All humans have sexual thoughts and desires. I would venture to say that most decent people are private about them and should become embarrassed if they became public. I think bringing up sex also brings up the danger of possible shame and embarrassment.
Second, the sexual appetite feeds on sharing. Because our sexual desires tend to be so private, we hold onto them like secrets. Sharing them can be a relief, but it also stimulates more desire. This is one of the reasons that even though pornography is more rampant than ever, the porn industry is losing money. People are freely sharing their illicit media over the Internet because the sharing stimulates.
That is why you have to be very cautious even raising the topic. Getting to specific with someone about their struggles may actually make their struggles stronger. CS Lewis had a best friend named Arthur Greeves, and they remained best friends until Lewis died in 1963. But the biggest regret they had in their friendship was that they too freely shared their sexual desires with one another (Lewis tended toward the slightly sado-masochistic and Greeves was gay). Looking back, they saw that talking too candidly about what they lusted after only made the appetite stronger and more difficult to control.
These two reasons, I think, are why it is so difficult for people struggling with lust to get help: the nature of the problem is secretive and sharing the problem can sometimes make it worse.
Why is that?
Why does lust feel so overwhelming for so many? It destroys marriages, families, carriers, and lives. President Bill Clinton was the most powerful man in the world who nearly lost his job over his inability to check his libido. Tiger Woods was married to a Swedish swimsuit model and it still wasn't enough for him. Even Biblical heroes like King David destroyed their lives by not being able to control their desires.
I think that it is interesting that we tend not to experience lust until later in life. Most of our other natural desires are present from birth: hunger, thirst, sleepiness, etc. But it is only as we grow older and our bodies begin to mature that the sexual desire enters. So we already have a jump start by several years on controlling all of our other desires when this new one creeps up on us.
Perhaps this is providential. Maybe learning self control in other areas for so many years gives us a stronger foundation for resisting lust. Of course that only works if our parents and educators have taught us self-control. Are we doing properly in our society or are we teaching ourselves immediate gratification?
Another thing makes sexual desire so different is the object. Hunger wants food. Thirst wants drink. But sexual desire doesn't want a thing; it wants a person. This is, perhaps, why lust is so corrosive to the soul. All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. And yet lust turns amazing gift of God into a thing. Lust no longer sees a person but an object that can give satisfaction to a desire.
An important distinction should be made here between lust and sexual desire per se. We all have sexual attractions and thoughts. We were designed by God to be sexual beings. It is through sex that we become most God-like in our bodies, because the end of the act is the creation of a new human life. But this desire can devolve into lust. What is the difference?
Lust ceases to see the person that is being desired as a person and only as an object of pleasure. This does not mean that attraction, arousal, and pleasure regarding sexuality is always illicit. In fact, in marriage it is celebrated. But even in marriage, if the spouse only sees the other as a means to gratification, then the person is objectified.
Now some might say that any sex as long the participants are "in love" should be licit. But that is obviously not the case. Real love is about looking only for the good of the other. If I had a fatal disease like AIDS, I would not engage in the marital act with my wife even if she was okay with it. Why not? Because I love her and I do not want to harm her only for my selfish pleasure. When we exercise our sexuality outside of the Natural Law, it harms us and brings us further away from happiness.
Sexual desire only meets its fullest potential when true love is present. How can we distinguish between lust and love?
Lust can't wait to get.
Love can't wait to give.
(on a final note, I am not someone qualified to give advice on how to deal with struggles in lust, pornography, sex addiction, etc. But there is a great program at settingcaptivesfree.com that comes highly recommended).