Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lust- Alive and Well Among Women- Part II

One evening on a Carnival Cruise my husband and I watched the evening show. The final dance was a spoof of the YMCA group which began with two male dancers stripping down to nothing but their skivvies. I watched more curious than lustful. There was not camouflaging or support happening as they hopped all over the stage. I found it biologically more amusing than tantalizing.

Turned on

But don't misunderstand me for being so virtuous, it's not because naked men just don't do it for me. When I've stumbled upon completely naked men in magazines (I distinctly remember finding one in a European fashion magazine in my London trip abroad) I found myself both aroused and fascinated that THAT was what a penis looked like. It wasn't easy to turn the page.

I've also heard the opposite from those "cigar-filled rooms of men" about how valuable non-sheer lingerie is. Why? "leaves more to the imagination." So I think the desire for fully naked or partially naked men (or women) is quite personal.

In a study by Queen's professor and female sexologist, Meredith Chivers, we get a secular look into what turns men and women on. Chivers measures male and female arousal both objectively (through measuring blood flow to significant sexual organs) and subjectively (volunteering arousal by typing in). She monitored them as they watch videos of gay and straight humans and monkeys having sex. She found that men were turned on by their preferred orientation (so heterosexual men by heterosexual sex) and by lesbian sex. But men were not turned on by their non-preferred orientation (so gay men were not aroused by heterosexual sex). However, women were aroused no matter what human sexual coupling occurred, women with women, women with men and men with men. Neither men or women were aroused by the monkey's sex. Women, Chivers argues, can be aroused by more diverse stimuli then men.

So does this mean all women are really potential lesbians? Not necessarily. As Marta Meana, professor of psychology at Nevada University explained, "The female body looks the same whether aroused or not. The male, without an erection, is announcing a lack of arousal. The female body always holds the promise, the suggestion of sex." This suggestion sends a charge through both sexes.

A beautiful woman appeals to women as well, her body reminds women that we can be desirable, appealing to our narcissism.
So putting a lovely woman on a billboard appeals to both sexes, not just those "red-blooded males."

In various studies, it appears that when it comes to arousal, women are turned on when they feel desireable. There is a power that flows through women if they feel desired. When viewing pornography men spend most their time looking at the woman's body, while women look equally at the man and woman. Take a moment and see how you respond to this picture of a couple kissing. Notice how the camera captures more of the woman's experience of feeling desired than the man's.

On a more somber note, this longing to be pursued hosts even darker, dangerous desires. According to the Journal of Sex Research, 1 in 10 women have reported fantasizing about sexual assault at least once a month in a pleasurable way. Why? The heat of being wanted so deeply eclipses the man's violation of her body that women think this might be enjoyable. The irony is that these women are controlling a fantasy of losing control. Of course in their minds the rape is pleasurable, or rape on their terms and nothing like the actual encounter of a man raping them.

Women, it appears, must face this tendency we have, this affair with self-love, perhaps more than men. We want to be THAT sought after. More on the problems of this to come.

Interesting, how important feeling desired is to women. On a more hopeful note, if a man loves and desires a woman, communicating that to her, he can turn her on. I would also argue that when a woman desires a man, he is also aroused. Love is a skill men (and women) can acquire, with God's help, even he doesn't have guns like Brad Pitt and even if she doesn't have a figure like Angelina Jolie.

For more on a secular picture of what turns women on, read Daniel Bergner's full article in The New York Times Magazine, "What Women Want." If you find the article worthy of more discussion, send me a comment.

Overall, I found Bergner's article interesting, helpful in pointing out the distinction between bodily arousal (happens to women even in rape) and consent, but he failed to note the difference between arousal and healthy, mutually satisfying sex, a question to which I will turn near the end of this post.

Women's Lust- Is it Different?

A girlfriend once told me that the way girls lust is different from guys. Girls want to get the guys attention, while guys just want the girl. Women are more often thought of as trophies or possessions or accessories, but perhaps this is what they want (in a fallen way).

I recently watched Twilight, a poor adaptation of the book as my high school friend informs me, but nonetheless a monstrously big hit among teens. The male lead, Edward, a mysterious, somewhat obsessive, hotty vampire wants to possess the female lead, Bella. No one finds this strange. In fact the idea that he craves her blood is sort of sexy, right?

I personally find that gross, but I think most romantically inclined women (a pack I once ran with) find the obsessive desire of a man tremulously irresistible. A man who literally craves you is a man who will always turn you on, hence Edward, actor Michael Welch's, breathtaking rise to notoriety. For more on Twilight see "When Perfection is Un-Human".

But do men also get turned on if a woman desires them to the same degree? What if Bella had wanted to suck Edward's blood, if Jane Eyre had wanted to possess Mr. Rochester, if Anne of Green Gables had wanted to own Gilbert Blythe? Somehow this isn't what I think most men find alluring.

I defined lust in my previous post as desiring sex for someone not your spouse. Whenever we think of lust we tend to think only in sexual terms, much like Jesus focused in on adultery "in our hearts" (Matthew 5:27-29). But lust has a few deeper dimensions.

In this post I want to push out into the margins of the meaning of lust among different people, to know how lust grows and why we don't easily recognize it in women.

Lust and Coveting

Last night, my husband, Dale and I were driving home from a day in Denver when he came up with a new angle on the 10 Commandments. These laws are all linked to the consequences of covetousness, to wanting something that doesn't belong to us. They each spring from a firm doubt in God's ability to get us what we need.

We steal because we covet our neighbors stuff, we worship other gods because we covet other gods' blessings, we lie because we covet a better reputation or the easy road over the truth. We commit adultery because we covet our neighbor's husband.

There is, in fact, is no command about lust, only about adultery and covetousness. Exodus 20:17, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

Two definitions from the New American Heritage Dictionary:

Covet - to feel blameworthy desire for that which is another's, to wish for extensively and longingly (from the Latin cupiditas, desirous)

Lust - intense or unrestrained sexual craving, an overwhelming desire or craving, an obsessive desire.

With these definitions, lust appears to be only a slice, the sexual slice, of the covetousness pie. And while some, my father being one, have found it difficult to imagine a woman burning with lust, isn't it easy to imagine a woman struggling with covetousness? Just glance at a picture of the ladies in Sex and the City to realize how much we crave. Just one word: shoes.

So do women covet sex, too?

Covetousness with Lustful Tinges

Kelis' song, "Milkshake" helps me understand how a woman's coveting of power and attention might be another form of lust. In "Milkshake" Kelis proves that she's got the biggest and best bag of sexual favors. If you haven't heard the song borrow a young woman's iPod. I find it tantalizing, clever and debauched. Here are a few choice morsels.

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And they're like
It's better than yours,
Damn right it's better than yours,
I can teach you,
But I have to charge

I know you want it,
The thing that makes me,
What the guys go crazy for.
They lose their minds,

I can see you're on it,
You want me to teach thee
Techniques that freaks these boys,
It can't be bought,
Just know, thieves get caught,
Watch if your smart,

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And they're like
It's better than yours,
Damn right it's better than yours,
I can teach you,
But I have to charge

My aside, the song is catchy, but then embedded in the chorus you come to this verse:

Oh, once you get involved,
Everyone will look this way-so,
You must maintain your charm,
Same time maintain your halo,
Just get the perfect blend,
Plus what you have within,
Then next his eyes are squint,
Then he's picked up your scent,

So Kelis is still stuck doing the mincing femininity steps without missing a beat in her striptease, trying to keep her halo and still dole out some milkshakes. Kelis is a woman who honestly finds her stilettos liberating! She wants power, attention, but ultimately, she wants to rank higher than other women when it comes to getting a man to her backyard. She wants to be the most desirable. But perhaps this is because being desired turns her on.

Her new song, "Bossy" reveals even more. She reminds us that SHE'S the one who brings all the boys to the yard, she's the one whose tattooed on his arm, so she has a right to be BOSSY! But nearly every scene in the music video has a woman giving up her comfort, her dignity, her cleanliness, her sobriety, her freedom for a guy's sexual pleasure. Kelis says this is the price for the chance to be bossy.

The cover (at right) feels ironic to me. How can a woman in THAT shoe really dominate a man? And yet, women do dominate men wearing shoes like that one.

I've noticed that women who want to dominate men like this, get dominated by the system they've created. Men who want a woman like Kelis aren't particularly concerned with treating her as an image bearer of God. And women who want to boss their men aren't as concerned with sex as they are with power.

And yet both are forms of coveting. The woman covets the power. The man covets the woman's body. You could even argue as many Christians (often men) do that most women's lust is a disguised desire to be loved. And if they cannot love, then they'll just dominate. It's Genesis 3:16 all over again (as Kelis' album cover seems to indicate--by the way what's with the heart dotting her "i"?).

Then they'll argue that men lust simply because of all that testosterone. Lust is even expected from men. Kelis fits this diagnosis, she wants to be possessed, she wants a guy, sure, but for the money, for the boss-factor, for the power, maybe for the security. So maybe deep down she's looking for love?

But I'm still not convinced that all female lust is just coveting love or power. The lust I've experienced and I know others have too (check out the comments from the last post) is about sexually wanting a man, in bed, with you, right now. I appreciated Deborah's comments (last post) about how often female lust awakens later than men's and how our lust, while still visual, can also contain other components, like a rich fantasy life, a desire for what the man represents or a fatherly figure we missed.

On that note, it's easy for women (and I'd argue men) to have one night's stands because we can superimpose our imaginings onto the man we've chosen. For instance, if a woman met a men who reminded her of James Bond (Daniel Craig, of course) and slept with him that night, she could more easily imagine him strong, capable, witty, dangerous and intelligent simply because she knows LESS about who he really is. I find it much more difficult to fantasize that my husband is James Bond simply because I know who Dale is. I know he is the man who did the dishes the night before and who will probably forget to clear his desk of clutter the next day. I know we'll both tackle some new problem tomorrow and I know he is much more to me than James Bond.

I'd imagine that the anonymity of a one night's stand, or a chance encounter with an old romance, or an affair, leaves enough missing pieces for women to project the type of man we crave, not who we really have sleeping next to us.

So, in light of the many raised eyebrows I continue to receive from bringing up this topic of women and lust, let's venture a bit into why are so many lusty women silent? Why don't they talk about lust as much as men?

Different Consequences for Lust

When a woman lusts for a man and makes good on her desire, sleeps with him and goes home, she has a different physical experience to process than a man. I'm not saying a man is not harmed by flagrant sexual affairs, nor that the emotional and spiritual significance of hooking up only hurts women. However, women have more to face on the sexual disease front, the pregnancy front (the pill and condoms are not 100% effective), the infertility front and the hormonal front than a man. Even the most natural sexual act (sans condom) puts something inside a woman that could impregnate, disease or sterilize her, whereas the man is not automatically taking anything into his body.

Since a woman puts up more capital when she acts out on her lust, perhaps she learns to mute or is taught to silence her lust early on. More to lose, so it's just not worth it. Also, in our culture lust is a male thing, something several commenters noted in the previous post. Lust proves a man's virility, his "red-blooded-ness", so if you're a lustful women, you're basically more manly... Too much testosterone perhaps? And who wants to be a manly woman? Not too many girls grow up with that goal. No wonder we silence the lust inside us.

A helpful article diagnosing the church's tendency to overemphasize lust as a male problem was written in the journal "Mutuality" (Spring 2009), by Naomi Eden. "Sin Does Not Discriminate" talks about the "gendering" of certain sins in church culture so that women are believed to be less sexually motivated. So women are to dress modestly to keep men from lusting (modesty isn't something men have to think about), but women's own lust, sexual addiction and pornography go unaddressed. Eden asks people in the church, "Please do not act surprised if a woman is or has struggled with sexual sin in the form of pornography or extramarital affairs. This woman needs to hear that she can be renewed."

Healthy Sexuality

In the last post's comments Tasha asked about healthy sexuality. Given that lust is one of the ways we covet another person's sexual attention, healthy sexuality must strip itself of covetousness. Healthy sexuality must include a knowledge both of self and a desire to know the other. Healthy sexuality will by its nature make me very vulnerable to receiving all of my husband and giving all of myself in return. This is a lesson Dale has taught me time and again.

Dale and I notice that good lovemaking invites us to avoid these two extremes: subjugation on one hand and selfishness on the other. The extreme of utter subjugation may happen with either sexual partner. If the woman is completely bent on giving herself in bed while ignoring her desires as irrelevant, she’s missed the necessary element of self-love. For instance, when a wife approaches sex with the attitude, "I'll do whatever pleases you and never share my sexual hopes"; or when a husband works to steer clear of the aggressive, animal stereotype of his tribe by overcompensating to make sex all about her. This posture robs the lovers of satisfying each other because they stop thinking of themselves as worthy of being satisfied. Without communicating what she loves her husband to do, to say, to express sexually, she is not giving her full self to him (perhaps this is because she does not sexually know herself, but that is another issue all together). Love, ultimately, is a giving of oneself away, not by negating the self but by exposing the self and all of its passions. Letting a man practice out his sexual hopes on your body without communicating your desires is not full love. If a woman's sexual desires remain locked, or worse dead, in marriage then this woman is not loving her mate.

The other extreme is an attitude that is more stereotypically male, though from The New York Times Magazine article (i.e. women's narcissim and self-love) that women have a deep urging to say, as well, "I want THIS, sexually, in marriage so I will require this out of my mate." This demanding posture refuses to listen, either patiently or repeatedly, to the instruction, hope and differences of her spouse because her satisfaction is not mutual by one-sided. Demanding one type of sexual encounter without inquiring, as a scholar, into the body and mind's delights of our spouse means we fail to know and therefore to love our mate.

Interestingly, this is how God loves the world. He sacrifices, but so that his own desires will also be fulfilled. In laying down his life in Jesus, he lets us know he’s doing it, not only for our sakes, but for his. He wants the world to be reconciled to himself. We may be confused because of our church clich├ęs and mistakenly think that true love is self-effacing, deny self and all that. But true love desires the best for ourselves too, especially in cooperation with another. This is the dance of the Trinity.

Tasha went on to ask, "Is it possible for a spouse to lust after a marriage partner by simply seeing the other as a means to their own end/happiness?"

Given that lust is a type of covetousness, I would say that whenever a husband or wife uses the other solely as a means to achieve personal gratification (either through demanding or hiding one's own desires), then love is missing in their relationship. I would not, however, call this lust. I would call it covetousness, a craving for something other than the body and soul of another person. So, as I pointed out in the last post, when a woman seeks sex only for the sperm in her husband's body because she craves a baby so deeply, then this woman is coveting her husband's sperm and not enjoying what she does own, namely his body.

Upon reflection and further research, I think a better word for this phenomena would be "baby covetousness" not baby lust.

Whenever I desire Dale sexually, even if it's to fulfill a deep sexual craving in me, I am not lusting. Why? because his body formally belongs to me. Paul says it nicely, "The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife." I Cor 7:4.

Before marriage, his body belongs to him. After marriage, we swap ownership rights to our bodies. I do not believe I can lust for something I know naturally, honorably and properly own.

Vanquishing Lust

In chatting with married women after posting my first blog about lust, I asked some, "Can you husband's body turn you on, simply by looking at it?" Every one answered, "Yes."

In fantasizing about a man not our husband women, like men, are tempted to imagine that another body is turning us on, too. Women, like men, must respect the role our eyes play in slipping us down the road of coveting our neighbor's husband.

Here's an idea of what we can do about coveting a man's body, attention, power for ourselves.

A few months back I was lunching with a friend at a local restaurant. We were deep in conversation when I became vaguely aware of a marginally attractive man walk in with a woman and an elderly man and sit across from me. Without missing a beat in my conversation, I glanced up and took him in. He wasn't as attractive (to me) as Dale, of that I could tell immediately. However, he seemed focused and clean and kind--all lovely qualities. And I was drawn to that.

Instead of being able to merely admire, I caught myself (minutes later) trying to catch his eye. In between my sentences with my friend I was stealing glances, lingering my eyes longer than I needed. Then, right dab smack in the middle of a sentence, my awareness kicked in. I became conscious of what I was doing.

I was lusting after that guy. I wanted him to notice me, and I wanted to let our eyes rest into each other and I wanted to distract him and I wanted to check him out a lot more. Why? well it wasn't to tell him about Jesus.

Typically in situations like these, my first response is some serious reining in and self-talk. Something like, "Jonalyn, that's wrong. God doesn't want you to think of him like that, stop it right now." You know the ol' accountability line.

But, since I've been reading Letters by a Modern Mystic which has been teaching me to invite Jesus into everything, I steered around my blamey self talk and prayed instead, "Jesus, I invite you into my lust."

And I went back to my conversation with my friend.

Then, in a flash, something changed, not about the man (he was still tempting to look at), but about my eyes. I felt like light had cracked open in the restaurant and I was seeing things clearly.

A lull in our conversation gave me a chance to lift my head and really look at that man across the restaurant. He was sitting with a man, perhaps his father, and a woman, presumably his wife. I felt his presence as a son, a brother, a father, a husband. The last one completely changed me.

I do not struggle with lusting after my family members, nor those who I clearly see in familial roles to me. I see them as friends, members of my family and therefore easily respect them. In that moment, after uttering a prayer, Jesus came into my lust and reformed my eyes to see the man as a human, made in God's image.

My desire for him as an object to possess melted and I saw him as someone worthy of my respect. I know I could have bumped into him later and not been afraid to look at him.

Often, accountability guidelines for ending lust focus on guarding our eyes from even looking or noticing beauty. But this feels Gnostic to me, a method of denying the inherit beauty in healthy men (and women's) bodies. I want to be free to notice beautiful men and I want Dale free to notice beautiful women. This allows me to thank God for his creativity.

Once I grabbed Dale's arm and pointed at a nondescript guys' amazing legs, "Oh my goodness, see that man's calves? They were HUGE!" And he'll notice and we'll talk about how men with calves like that would have been chosen to be the leaders in of Scottish clans and how so many men do not have calves like that and how gladiators would have HAD to had big calves just like that guy's. It's actually pretty fun.

We'll do the same if a woman with gorgeous legs walks by. Neither Dale nor I have stunning gams, but we love noticing others who do. And in the process, my lust isn't incited. I'm observing the art of God around me and sharing it with my husband. God called us very good. I'd have to agree.

If we find our admiration turning into covetousness, I'd recommend this relational approach of inviting Jesus into the moment. Asking for Jesus to abide in us reminds me of Jesus' words, "Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation." Matthew 26:41

No matter where you struggle with lust, invite Jesus to abide in you. Jesus is stronger than I've been or any other method I've tried.