First on the list of seven deadly sins is lust. Sex is not a sin, since it is the method given to us for procreation, and sexual desire appears to be adaptive, since it not only leads to children, but keeps us together to bring up our children, something needed by human offspring though not by fish.

So what’s wrong with lust?

In theory, lust could refer to desire of any kind, as in the lust for knowledge, but I think that in the context of sin, we usually think of sexual lust: sexual desire without love and commitment. As Dr. Judith Orloff explains it in Psychology Today, “Pure lust is based solely on physical attraction and fantasy–it often dissipates when the ‘real person’ surfaces.”

She goes on to describe lust, as distinct from love: focusing on the object’s body or looks, wanting sex but not conversations, wanting to leave once desire is slaked, wanting to keep the relationship on a fantasy level.

I review books — a lot of books — and many of them are for a website that focuses on chick lit and romance. Descriptions of sexual attraction in these books are odd. The main characters meet someone, often having an interaction with him or her which is marked by anger, disgust, or even physical violence (in The Battling Bluestocking, the heroine actually shoots the first handsome man she sees and decks the one she ends up with and in Lingerie Wars she interrupts the hero’s supply of clean water and electricity as a first step; these books don’t mess around). They experience things like trembling, uncontrollable blushing, swelling of various body parts, and assorted other unpleasant physical responses. They can’t speak, they drop things — clear signs that their brains have simply shut down.

First chance they get, they leap on one another in a bestial fashion, strewing their clothes around and perhaps breaking things. In Your Room or Mine? the protagonists have sex outdoors and essentially in public more than once — the first time at a networking event the heroine is attending at the home of a client in hopes of gaining more leads for her business.

The relationships continue in much the same fashion through the course of the books. The main characters stop fighting at some point, usually long enough to bare some secret from their pasts which is I guess intended to show that they really do have emotional intimacy… but it’s really more like a drunken self-revelation than like true closeness. Their uncomfortable physical symptoms continue and their brains shut down for the duration.

This is our idealized image of love, in many cases. People feel as though their relationships — even their marriages — are diminished if they don’t have this version of romance. Love and even sex seem pale in comparison with lust that interferes with breathing or walking.

But lust isn’t really romantic. It actually reduces the object of our desire to… well, to an object. Feeling mesmerized by a piece of jewelry or a car or something can evoke a similar visceral response, but the diamond bracelet doesn’t have a sense of self or a soul and is not harmed by such a shallow relationship.

Whether lust appears in a predatory form or in a “romantic” form, it’s not the same as love. When it takes the place of love and respect, it’s a sin. Making someone into an object that arouses desire is disrespectful. Becoming fixated on the temporary physical fascination to the point that it prevents us from developing real relationships is harmful. I think it’s this, not sexuality, that is the sin of lust.