What Is The Difference Between Lust And Sexual Attraction?


The following is a recent exchange I had. I hope it encourages and sharpens you.


Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2013 22:38:33 -0600

To: pastoraloffice@watermark.org

Subject: Lust and  Attraction

Mr Wagner,

I have a very important question that most Christian men probably ask. What is the difference between lust and sexual attraction? It seems that the distinction between the two is always blurred. Is it possible to sense sexual attraction to a woman without lusting after her? I was talking to a friend tonight, and he told me that lust is distinguished by complete selfishness. Lust involves looking at a woman as simply an object of sexual desire while disregarding the fact that she is a human being with emotions and needs. Sexual attraction, on the other hand, is possible along with selflessness and respect for a woman even if the man is not committed to her in marriage. In other words, sexual attraction can exist without lust. Do you agree with this view? This is an important subject for me personally because from puberty till recent times, I was always given the impression that a man’s sexual attraction to a woman is solely based on lust, vulgarity, and misogyny. Many men do not feel like they ever lust after a woman; therefore, they question if they are capable of experience sexual attraction to a woman and then conclude that they are not attracted to women at all. In this country, it is probably reasonable to assume that every young male has this impression. Shouldn’t a man experience sexual attraction to his girlfriend or fiancée to know if he will be sexually attracted to her in future marriage? If it’s acceptable for him to be physically or emotionally attracted to her before marriage, why can’t he be sexually attracted to her as well?




Xxxxx…thanks for your patience in letting me get back with you. You email was around a flurry of many more, but as of today, I am glad to tell you it was not forgotten. Now, on to your excellent question, and as I always want to do, let me run to Scripture as I look to serve you.

Temptation is not sin. We know this primarily because clearly our Lord was tempted and He never sinned (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15). Also, James 1:14-16 directly answers your question:

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.”

James clearly states that lust isn’t sin, but lust when conceived (given life) always gives birth to sin. Sexual attraction is a normal aspect of human existence. If you think of lust as a desire to have what we want, regardless of God’s described best or others’ ultimate good then you see why we are not to let it rule us. Anything that rules us other than the Spirit of God is going to lead to death.

Sexual attraction is God’s gift. Meeting a God-given desire in a God-forbidden way is sin. This is why we are called to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). So, I would say that your friend seems to be on the right path. Check out Solomon’s take on his attraction to his bride in Song of Solomon and you will read more of how God wants us to enjoy our spouses in a healthy, sexual way. Not only is the Lord not bothered by their attraction to one another, He encourages them to “drink deeply”. Wanting the drink is not the problem. Where you drink might be.

We are not to be ruled by this thirst (even in marriage), but in all things we want to be ruled by Christ. How great that part of His rule is to allow us the joy of sexual intimacy with another human in a way that leads to life, pleasure and shameless joy. I would suggest that there probably ought to be a healthy level of sexual attraction between any couple that spends time together, which is one of the reasons we have to be wise in how we spend time together before we are married, lest we “awaken love before it’s time” (Song of Solomon 2:7;3:5)

Though not the ultimate reason for marriage, sex is a part of it, and it is not at all unhealthy that you should have to exercise discipline to remain pure with that person before you marry them. It is plenty unhealthy if you don’t, but that is another blog for another day. Remember, self-control is evidence that the Spirit of God is active in your life (Galatians 5:22ff). Sexual attraction is normal and God-given, and it must be governed by God-given principles and our reliance on His Spirit, which He graciously has given to those who believe. Don’t ever meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. Pain, guilt and shame await when we do.

Really glad you reached out, but let me encourage you even more to reach out to others here at Watermark who can run with you every day on topics like this. I am CCing the community team here as I know they would love to connect with you, hear more of your story, and introduce you to other men who can walk through questions such as this with you. Jump in with other believers deeply friend. Proverbs 18:1 has a lot to say about the sad state of those who go at this life alone.

Finally, in case you missed it, you should check out the great series done at the Porch on sex…you can find the link below and I think it, along with living in community with others, will be extremely helpful to you.


If you want a good couple of messages on temptation in general, check out the “Way of Escape” series I did a few years back.

Press on friend, and don’t forget the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13. You are not alone and you are not unable to keep your lust from giving “birth”.


 Do you have a question for Todd? Please send your question to pastoraloffice@watermark.org. We’d love to hear from you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “What Is The Difference Between Lust And Sexual Attraction?

    • Great question. In the way it is used in Matt 5:28 it is obviously a sin. The key there is that “lust” (not the Spirit of Truth) is “in” (operative/controlling influence) in the persons life/heart. In James 1 lust is present (same way sin is always crouching at the door) and if it is given life (controlling influence) in a heart it leads to sin and death which is Jesus’ point in Matt 5.
      As I said..GREAT question….and remember the post was meant to clarify what the difference between lust (sin) and sexual attraction (not sin) is. I used James 1 as part of my answer.

  1. lust is when we let the devil and selfishness govern our attration. Purity is when we let the Holy Spirit govern our attraction, marraige and love life (sex life) being spirit led is fun and amazing!

  2. Sexual attraction is only for one’s marriage partner. Sexual attraction outside of marriage will lead to lust, and eventually torment. Physical beauty can be admired by many. The appreciation of physical beauty and sexual attraction are not the same thing.