What Is Lust?


Lust may be experienced as intense desire, ardent enthusiasm, or unbridled sexual

longing. This passionate craving is attention directing and a motivational force as is the

experience of any emotion. When untethered, lust can lead to actions that may appear

irrational. In any case, lust is the projection and expression of unconscious emotional



Like love, technically lust is not considered to be an emotion, but involves the experience

of emotions such as bliss, excitement, joy, and interest, along with the anticipation of

erotic sensory pleasure. People who are in the throes of lust may lose their sensibilities,

since lust seems unable to recognize the reality of a situation or motivates one to neglect

it. Lust is an octane for the relentless pursuit of another person in spite of intellectual

reason and sometimes regardless of emotional barriers such as guilt or shame.


At times lust is unbridled sexual attraction that seeks expression, where the physical

appearance and attributes of one person ignite emotions of intense interest and excitement

in another. Yet whatever is triggered in your psyche regarding the lustful qualities of

another person is something specific to your own history. As a result, a friend might

confess to you that he lusts after a certain person, and you may be baffled by his interest

in someone who appears unattractive to you. Additionally, lust can lead you to fill-in

unknown information about the object of your desire, assigning them perfection in your

fantasies. This is because such passion is a construct of implicit memory that becomes

enhanced by conscious imagination.


Implicit memory plays a primary role in the process of falling in lust and can be

considered akin to what resides in you unconsciously—emotional memories concerning

early attachment and love that direct your behavior, goals, passions, and interests in the

present. Phenomena regarding implicit memory have been reported as early as Decartes’

1649 work regarding The Passions of the Soul where he observed that childhood

experiences remain imprinted on the brain. [1] Since that time, numerous philosophers

and psychological researchers have found that people are affected by early impressions

that are not consciously remembered.


Contemporary theorists have described the limbic connection that occurs in intense

human relationships and how we are driven by our implicit memories. [2] Such

unconscious emotional connections that are based on attractors—patterns imprinted on

the limbic system— can serve to regulate human physiology and emotional health. So

limbic resonance, even in the form of reciprocated lust, serves an evolutionary purpose.

However, early limbic connections that are less than optimal also tend to be repeated

throughout life. [3] Therefore, lust and the implicit memories that determine its object

can be the result of either healthy or unhealthy early relationships. It is possible that the

nature and outcome of a relationship can illustrate whether a passionate interest is based

on implicit memories that resulted from healthy attachments or pathological ones.

However, the fact that relationships involve at least two individuals, each with unique

implicit memory, distorts the picture and adds great complexity to deconstructing lust.


The ineffable quality of lust may be the result of another person matching the template

within your implicit memory and the emotions associated with it. Lust provides a rare

window through which you can view your vulnerabilities as you are swept away by your

imagination. And if you are able to face and endure the shame and disappointment that

are often the outcome of such attraction and subsequent disconnection, you will have

ample opportunity to learn about yourself.



For information about my books, please see my website: marylamia.com




[1] Cited by Schacter, D. (1987). Implicit memory: History and current status. Journal of

Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 13(3), 501-518.

[2] Lewis, T.; Amini, F.; Lannon, R. (2000). A General Theory of Love. New York:

Random House.

[3] See Lewis, T.; Amini, F., & Lannon (2000), cited above.

About Mary Lamia Ph.D.

Mary Lamia As clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst I work with adults, adolescents, and preteens in my Kentfield, California private practice. I am also a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Teaching the public about the psychology of human behavior has been something I've done for over 35 years. For nearly a decade I hosted a weekly call-in talk show, KidTalk with Dr. Mary, on Radio Disney stations, and have provided opinions in many media interviews and discussions. My books include: Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings; Understanding Myself: A Kid's Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings; and The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others. Forthcoming books include Procrastinator Or Not: Making the Most of the Motivation That Drives You and The Upside of Shame. For more information, please visit my website, www.marylamia.com.