Johns Hopkins Magazine
Johns Hopkins Magazine Current Issue Past Issues Search Get In Touch


When you say it in Latin — luxuria — it sounds like silk sheets and champagne. And when it comes to lust, those things may be involved. Though the sin refers more to the players than to the act itself — officially, it refers to sex with, say, someone other than your spouse — we decided to consider desire in all its glory.

Help for Frustrated Couples
Ask the Expert
An Uncomfortable Legacy
Sex after Cancer
A Prostitution Enthusiast
That's No Bull!


Frustrated Couples, Take Heart
All the evidence we have is that lust equals sexual desire which equals testosterone," says Leonard R. DeRogatis, director of the Johns Hopkins
Center for Sexual Health and Medicine (CSHM).

It sounds so simple when you put it like that.

Illustration by
Wally Neibart
But DeRogatis, who specializes in helping couples of all ages maintain a healthy sex life, will tell you that it's not necessarily easy — and that when something does go wrong, it can cause an awful lot of suffering.

The center opened two years ago, bringing together clinical services (which for 35 years had been known as the Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit), clinical research facilities, and medical student training. CSHM treats about 200 patients a year, for issues ranging from sexual perversions and gender identity disorders to male and female sexual dysfunction.

Only a few decades ago, as many as 80 percent of sexual dysfunction cases were dismissed as "all in your head," DeRogatis says. But doctors now think that a mind-body dichotomy just doesn't work as a model for viewing sexual problems.

Instead, the clinic approaches every case as a "three-legged stool" — biological, psychological, and relational. For example, if a man has diabetes (physical), he may experience anxiety about his ability to perform (psychological), and in turn, his wife or partner may interpret his tentativeness as a lack of desire for her (relational).

"All three legs of the stool can contribute to desire problems," DeRogatis says. "And they do."

What's more, though a lot of people suffer from sexual dysfunction — in the recent National Health and Social Life Survey, which queried several thousand people, more than 30 percent of men and more than 40 percent of women reported some sort of sexual problem — it's not something that most people like to talk about.

"Women particularly, but men too, have an enormous amount of difficulty saying, 'Doc, by the way, my genitals don't work.' You know, it's just not anything anyone ever taught us how to do," says DeRogatis. "And, by the way, often your doc will let you know — in no uncertain terms — that that's more than he really wants to know. So as health care providers we are not trained to deal with sexuality at all. We need work, but we're getting there, slowly."

When couples come into the clinic, they are seen by a team of doctors and undergo a battery of psychological tests. On a follow-up visit, one or both of the couple will receive a treatment plan. That could mean medication to address physical problems (testosterone is often key, especially in older patients), sex therapy, or broader couples therapy.

"The take-home message is, help is here," says DeRogatis. "But you need to avail yourself of it." —CP


Ask the Expert
Joann Ellison Rodgers spent five years reading, talking, and writing about sex. The result was more than a few jokes from friends and family, plus the book Sex: A Natural History (Owl Books, 2003). The periodical Science News praised the book as "amazingly comprehensive," and People magazine ungrammatically referred to the author, who by day is director of media relations for the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, as "the biology teacher you wish you had."

Search the index of Rodgers' 544-page volume and you will find no entry for "lust." That, she explains, is because her book examines the current science on the origins, biology, nature, and purpose of sexuality. Lust may be fascinating and significant in its own right, but it isn't a fundamentally biological concept.

Rodgers defines lust as "a moral, religious, and literary ideal reflecting a very intense desire on which you would act impulsively." It is the impulsive act, and how most societies have come to judge it immoral and harmful to social order, that sets lust apart from desire. Says Rodgers, "Desire has roots in biology — there are hormones and neurotransmitters and other physiological processes that enable this natural process. In biology, all animals are programmed to desire. If we were not, we would not be here. We're the descendants of those who were extremely successful at being aroused and then (mostly) appropriately fulfilling that desire." Not so with the deadly sin. "When you ask scientists, 'What is sex?' lust is not a construct that comes into play. It isn't that scientists don't recognize or acknowledge what could be considered a deadly sin. But they don't see it as an outgrowth of our biology. Lust is a moral paradigm."

Most people may not act on lustful impulses, but they avidly seek vicariously lustful experiences. Pop culture — pulp fiction and romance novels, sexy films, swaggering rock stars — is chock full of lustful behavior. Rodgers doesn't see this as a necessarily bad thing. Take rock stars, for example, with all their sexual braggadocio. Rodgers says, "You have all these girls who just swoon over this. I look at it as a very safe outlet. It's a way of trying out behaviors in a safe way. Not every girl who sees a rock star jumps into bed with him or wants to — 99.9 percent never do."

She adds that most of society accepts a certain amount of lusty behavior, even pornography, in mass entertainment for similar reasons: "We have decided as a society that pornography is a tolerable commercial venture, but also an evil thing. I agree with that. I think it's exploitative and harmful to those who are used in [producing it]. On the other hand, what is it about watching naked bodies in sexual positions as entertainment? Voyeurism is almost universal in societies. It is a way to learn about and keep under control certain behaviors. If men and women acted out their every sexual fantasy, we'd walk outside and see nothing but lust in the streets. People can't function that way. All people fantasize. It lets you rehearse. It lets you imagine." —DK


Advice That's No-Holds-Barred
Threesomes. Sex toys. One-night stands. As the sex columnist for The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, Jessica Beaton fields all sorts of questions about how, when, where, and why co-eds hook up on and off campus.

Beaton, a 21-year-old international relations major from New York City, also writes a relationship column for teenage girls that appears bimonthly in CosmoGIRL! magazine. In her Hopkins column, "Orgasmic Chemistry," she's been known to give straightforward, no-holds-barred relationship advice such as: "That's the No. 1 issue facing most couples who want a threesome . . . the ratio. Girls generally want two guys, and guys generally want two girls." Or, "The basic fallacy here is that guys just want sex, while girls just want spooning. Spooning is great . . . but sometimes a good hook-up is just that. And if it's good once, why not repeat it?"

So we were a little surprised when we asked Beaton to define lust at Hopkins and got this response:

"Students lust for everything from a good grade in a course or a glowing recommendation to the perfect job, graduate school, or internship. . . . People at Hopkins are so incredibly driven, for better or for worse."

Oh well. Maybe she was just being shy. —MB


An Uncomfortable Legacy
It wasn't lust that prompted Japanese troops in World War II to have sex with "comfort women," or sex slaves, says Hopkins
anthropologist Sonia Ryang. It was their duty to their emperor, part of their military training.

"These men not only fought for the emperor. They had to have sex with comfort women for the emperor," says Ryang, who is the author of a forthcoming book, Love in Modern Japan. "It wasn't because they were sex-crazed. It was part of the discipline of the imperial army."

The comfort women were transferred, along with weapons and ammunition, to areas of military activity. Soldiers were allotted one condom per day, which they had to use if they had sex."It wasn't considered adultery at all," says Ryang, "These women were the army's property, the emperor's property. All of this was meticulously and methodically controlled. No soldier was at liberty to abuse them."

Yet the conditions were still difficult for the women. Ryang recalls the account of one former comfort woman who lay down for 17 straight hours one day with a total of 300 men.

It was more than 30 years after the war ended that people outside the Japanese military learned of this practice. "The women, of course, were silenced," Ryang says. The soldiers kept the secret for decades. "To me this 30-year silence is rather significant," she says. "A rather significant national sexual experience was historically erased." —MB


Sex after Cancer
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, chances are that lust is not the first thing on her list of things to worry about. But it's up there because while treatment can save her life, it can also seriously threaten her sexuality. A mastectomy or lumpectomy often damages a woman's image of her body. Add to that the hair loss, fatigue, and low libido that accompany radiation and chemotherapy, and you've got anything but a recipe for romance.

Just ask Lisa Collins, a pretty 34-year-old who contracted breast cancer in 2002. Collins says she can sum up her post-diagnosis sex life with her husband in one word: nonexistent. The couple never slept together again. "I didn't feel attractive anymore," she remembers. "I had no hair. I just looked drawn."

Collins left her husband the following Valentine's Day. "Looking back, I think maybe he didn't know how to handle the whole situation," she says. She'll never know for sure, since they never talked about sex while she was undergoing treatment.

They would have, if Collins had been under the care of Lillie Shockney. Shockney, a breast cancer survivor, oncology nurse, and administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center, does what most doctors never do: She counsels women and their partners about their sex lives during and after treatment, largely to address the woman's fears about how her partner now sees her.

Shockney says that most of the time, people are not turned off by their wives or girlfriends after breast surgery. "We make these assumptions that if a man is silent, he's thinking negative things," she says. "And that may not be the case at all. He may be afraid to show emotion because he doesn't want to cry." He may also fear that sex will hurt her.

To create a dialogue, Shockney asks the woman, in front of her partner, how she feels about sex. She often privately cautions the husband about the expression on his face the first time he sees his wife's breasts after surgery. She gives the couple practical advice on the ups and downs of treatment. When radiation creates fatigue, Shockney prescribes "quickies." If vaginal dryness becomes a problem, she recommends buying a bottle of Astroglide. And for those rare instances when a woman's fears about the relationship are realized, well, Shockney has an answer for that, too: "I tell the patient, 'Thank heavens you got breast cancer to get that stupid man out of your life.'"

For most couples, Shockney says sex after the disease improves because of the closeness created by communication during treatment. Many couples also learn that sex isn't always about intercourse, that lovemaking can happen just lying in bed and holding hands.

Even Collins found that there is sex after breast cancer. She started to date someone right after she finished radiation, when she was still bald. And when that relationship didn't work out, she found someone else. So far, things seem to be going well, including the sex. "I think it's great with the right person," she says. —KB


Prostitution Enthusiast
The online magazine Salon once described
Hugh G. Loebner, A&S '63, as "a hedonist who thinks work is an abomination and sloth is our greatest virtue." That may be, but Loebner attracts more attention for his views on the commission of another sin: lust. Loebner, you see, purchases the services of hookers, and proclaims to anyone who will listen — proclaims in an exasperated flood of language — that the illegality of prostitution is a form of oppression.

"I'm oppressed as a john because the state is using its authority to interfere with my sexual conduct with another consenting adult," he says.

Loebner, a PhD sociologist, earns his living as president and CEO of Crown Industries, which manufactures bellman's carts, stanchions, and other hardware in East Orange, New Jersey. He funds the Loebner Prize, which promises $100,000 and a gold medal to the creators of the first artificial intelligence software that can pass the Turing Test — that is, mimic human intelligence so well that a human does not know he or she is interacting with a computer. He holds five U.S. patents. And he just doesn't understand why prostitution is against the law.

Photo courtesy
Amsterdam Info
"It's completely natural," he says. "It's been done for a zillion years, and still we're being arrested and put in jail."

Loebner talks very fast, tends to repeat himself, and doesn't mince words denouncing arguments against the decriminalization of prostitution. "They say, 'Don't go to prostitutes because you'll catch diseases.' Well, in the 19th century, yes. But given the capabilities of modern technology to detect infections, it's outrageous that there's not a policy [to test prostitutes and their clients]. This is nonsense. This is crazy. Does prostitution break up families? Not necessarily. I mean, god, marriages break up at a rate of 50 percent anyway. It has nothing to do with prostitution's presence or absence.

"People say of prostitution, 'It's demeaning. It's demeaning.' When I was going for my master's degree, I cleaned toilets at the 1964 World's Fair. There are a lot of things that are demeaning. I have people who work for me, and I consider working for me demeaning.

"I've never heard an intelligent argument because I don't think there are any. I want this woman. I'm willing to pay $200 for her company, you know? So you tell me why I should listen to any arguments against it."

Loebner is now 63 and jokes that purchasing an hour or two of a hooker's time is, for him, simply rational. "I tell people that I wouldn't want to have sex with any woman whose standards are so low that she'd find me sexually attractive." — DK


Sex on the Beach

Photo by Will Kirk Part of the Alice Warder Garrett Collection at Hopkins' Evergreen House, Paul Manship's Europa and the Bull (1924) depicts the Phoenician princess embracing her lover, Zeus. According to Greek mythology, the god fell in love with the beautiful Europa as she gathered flowers by the sea. He transformed himself into a white bull (to mingle with her father's herd) and approached her so gently that the maiden climbed on his back. The bull took off, abducting Europa and carrying her to the land of Crete, where he made her his lover. Zeus later cast the shape of that bull into the stars. —AL

Return to The Seven Deadly Sins ... Lust | Gluttony | Envy | Pride | Sloth | Avarice | Anger
Return to September 2005 Table of Contents

  The Johns Hopkins Magazine | 901 S. Bond St. | Suite 540 | Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone 443-287-9900 | Fax 443-287-9898 | E-mail