Lust is the experience of sexual appeal or sexual appetite, and involves an explicitly sexual element, such as erotic or sensual sensations1. You feel lust, for example, when you are being seduced by your lover; when you flirt with a person you find very attractive; or when you are having a sexual fantasy about a person. In models of romantic love, lust is often a key component.
Lust arises in association with an attractive potential mate. Often, pronounced versions of gender-typical traits are seen as attractive, such as large breasts in women or a square jaw in men. However, what is considered ‘attractive’ can vary substantially across cultures and individuals. For example, blue eyes are generally deemed attractive in the West; but in Somalia, people with blue eyes used to be derisively called ‘goat eyes’ or ‘cat eyes’. Similarly, pale skin is often considered attractive in Southeast Asia, whereas Europe and North America have a tendency to find tanned skin desirable. Interestingly, the lightness/darkness of complexion is believed to signal wealth in both cases. Similarly, being full-figured or overweight is nowadays considered unattractive, especially in the West. Yet, many cultures and different time periods consider fat beautiful, often associating it with high social status and, in women, with sexual fertility2.
The main function of lust is to motivate procreation. It urges us to engage with, seduce, or charm the object of lust1. Especially at higher intensities, lust can considerably narrow our action repertoire: no matter the current situation or location, we feel a strong desire to immediately act on our lust, and to focus less on other concerns or consequences of our actions. While love enhances global processing and creative thinking, lust undermines creative thought and triggers local processing and analytic thinking3.
Lust compels us to spread our genes, which is Nature’s top priority. For this reason, mammals have a built-in primal mechanism called ‘The Coolidge Effect’ that makes us tolerant to, or bored with, the same person after successful fertilization, and motivates us to seek out ‘novel’ mating partners. This may be one of the reasons why many cultures and religions that value stable long-term relationships between mates consider lust an emotion that needs to be concealed (e.g., only practiced at home), channeled (e.g., only experienced in the context of marriage), or suppressed.