My curiosity about love and lust has always been strong. My first exposure to learning about sex and sensuality was the day I turned 12. I was getting dressed in a new birthday outfit and the last thing I was thinking about was sex. Although I must admit, I wondered whether my new boyfriend would like my dress. My mother knocked on my bedroom door and through the crack, she handed me a little pink pamphlet that she had picked up at the local pharmacy.
"This is all you will need to know about your transition into womanhood," she said, and walked away.
A quick flip through the pamphlet was not very revealing -- sort of looked like the type of thing a Biology teacher would hand out. My mother never asked me if I had any questions. Besides, I never knew what to ask.
In middle school we took a human sexuality course where the girls listened attentively and the boys giggled. The focus was on menstrual cycles and the importance of not getting pregnant. There were a lot of "ewws!" from the class coupled with some "gross comments" from the students. I listened intently, probably the precursor to my years as a practicing registered nurse.
Looking back, I wonder why love was never included in the curriculum.
During adolescence, I read many sexy books, and was curious about love and lust. I remember hiding Valley of the Dolls under my pillow. I did not even know that I was being turned on. I lost my virginity with my high school sweetheart, and I journaled about my experience.
My journals have always held my deepest and darkest secrets, like the time I was invited to a boyfriend's house to listen to music in his attic. I knew it wasn't just the music he was inviting me for. I think males knew that I craved intimacy, but I was more attracted to intelligent men who wanted to engage in stimulating conversation before becoming intimate.
I met my husband in the summer of '72. He lived in Toronto and I lived in the New York. For the first five years, while living in different countries, we wrote love letters to one another. Our letters were all lustful thoughts and longings, probably inspired by our readings of French authors. We got married when we were both in our early twenties.
Just after our wedding, his father, who had lived in France for many years, handed us a copy of The Joy of Sex. During our early married years, we read the book together as it helped us achieve an open and honest communication, but more importantly, it helped us make our desires and needs known. Our readings accentuated all the positive aspects of our sex life. With both our European upbringings, we realized that our parents encouraged our exploration.
Historically, Americans are confused about lust and love. Lust has been equated with sinful behavior or an intense desire for gratification. The connotations are often negative and sometimes connected to the objectification of pornography. My belief is that lust can pertain to intimacy, but it also pertains to having a zest for living, whether in intimacy or work. To have lust is to have passion.
In Dr. Judith Orloff's Guide to Intuitive Healing: 5 Steps to Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Wellness, she writes about the difference between lust and love. She views lust as mainly based on physical attraction and fantasy, not taking the "person" into consideration, whereas love is based on a couple getting to know one another and involves less idealization. She says that in lust each partner focuses on the person's physique with no interest in conversation, whereas, in love, the couple yearns to spend quality time together regardless of sex and each person motivates the other to become better people.
While some of what she says makes sense, I believe there is not a clear demarcation between love and lust, in the same way that there is a blurring of the literary boundaries between fiction and nonfiction. There are people who are stimulated sexually by conversation and cannot have sex with just anyone. For example, writer Anais Nin, who I discovered while in graduate school and who has been a huge inspiration for my own writing, needed intellectual stimulation to be sexually aroused. Nin taught me the importance and power of open communication between couples and that intimacy and lust were all important reasons for living.
As I enter my 60th year, I continue to feel lust, for love, life and intimacy. I do not think we change much as we grow older, but we learn to accept who we are and what we need, and we are less afraid to go after it. I realize that I have always needed lust in my life and my only hope is that I can be intimate and lustful for as long as I live. The powerful feeling of altered states of consciousness and a deep transcendence during both love and lust, is a feeling I hope to relive over and over again until my ultimate and inevitable passing.