A former Catholic contemplates Protestant repression (i.e., lust)

May 16, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Posted in Starbucks, tax law is sexy, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

I can barely type the four letters, l-u-s-t, the topic for today’s Five for Ten. Oh, these Momalom girls are smart, setting us up with fun topics like happiness and then making us squirm or blush. Or is it only me? A (former) good Catholic girl raised in a repressed Protestant society has trouble with this. We’re not supposed to think about lust, right? Or talk about it, or, for goodness sakes, blog about it publicly.

When I lived in Paris for a few months in the summer of 2001, I attended daily French language classes. One day, I asked the teacher why everyone in Paris chain smoked. “What about cancer?” I demanded. “Don’t you care about the children? About second-hand smoke?”

“You Americans,” she responded (at least, this is how I think the conversation went — the French lessons never quite took me to any level of proficiency). “You get cancer not from the smoking but from your repressed, Protestant lifestyle. We don’t get cancer because smoking relaxes us; we enjoy it.” The other students around the table — Japanese, Mexican, Israeli, Russian — nodded in agreement. Now, I had recently lost my father to lung cancer, but I also had been suspecting (and still sort of do, in the face of all rationality) that it may not have been the smoking itself that brought on the cancer that killed him. If there were ever a living emblem of the harms of Protestant repression it was my father. As the weight of collective condemnation fell upon me, the lone American in the French classroom that day, I wondered if she had a point.

In her “lust” post, one of my favorite bloggers, Launa (she of “Wherever I go, there I am“), writes of the attention her handsome husband has received from other women during their sojourn in France. Women with glossy hair, tight jeans, leather jackets, and no doubt fabulous lingerie beneath it all. Women for whom lust — be it their hidden underwear or their overt flirtation with married men — is a part of a sensual lifestyle (one in which, apparently, smoking does not cause lung cancer). Why don’t we (we, as in American women but more specifically we as in “I,” a repressed former Catholic) make the same effort to embrace, as opposed to stifle or ignore sexuality? I could go all political and link this ultimately to the absurdity of not teaching sex education in schools among many other ridiculous societal responses to our collective Protestant roots, but I’ll go back to my first point: my difficulty even writing on this topic of “lust”.

I could get around it by talking about my lust for life or lust for Starbucks or lust for reading or whatever, but that would be ignoring the decidedly sexual connotations of the word. And this brings me to a larger issue, which is writing about sex in general. One of the reasons I wonder if I could ever actually write a novel is: what about the sex scenes? You kind of need to have them, right, or else your novel will seem inauthentic because sex is everywhere? But what if your mother reads it? Your grandmother? What if every boyfriend you ever had thinks it is about him? Even if everything you write is the products of a healthy imagination, everyone will wonder, think, assume it is you.

Who cares? you might be thinking. Is that so bad? For me, yes. But maybe this is a first step. I’ll try it one more time:




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  1. See? You did it in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS! A great first step!

  2. Here via momalom. I love that discussion with the French teacher. That is so funny. I’m sure French people die of lung cancer just like anyone else! But I’m also sure that stress contributes to poor health and, there you have it!

    I haven’t written my post yet on lust but I’m determined to!

  3. I had a hard time writing about the word too and I am certain my post doesn’t come anyway close to what Momalom intended for the word lust. I’ve often had the same thought about my own novel writing – what if I need the characters to have a sex scene. I don’t know what I would do.

    Growing up in a conservative Indian household, the words lust or sex were rarely mentioned. It wasn’t something we could have an open discussion about. That probably contributes to my reluctance to write about it.

    Just wanted to let you know that you are not alone.

  4. You’re totally right that there is something deep about cultural/religious differences, particularly in the realm of how we understand pleasure. In another probably-not-all-that-fact-checked piece, I claimed that France is like the Garden of Eden, except it’s like God left after the big spat rather than the people. There’s plenty of repression here, certainly, it just takes different forms.

    Thanks for sharing a great post…

  5. It’s a tough word, all the hidden, or not so hidden, meaning that comes with it. And I’ve always wondered about the sex scenes in books as well… I wonder if you just get to a point where you own it. Maybe? We’ll see 🙂

  6. Really enjoying reading everyone’s different interpretations of this word. One thing that struck me after reading your peace is I think that maybe one of our aversions to the words is because we don’t actually live the kind of LUSTFUL lives that are portrayed in books and by the media. Perhaps ours pale by comparison. But perhaps not. Perhaps the lust can really come not just from the physcial connection, but the emotional connection. If you write your book, I say take it to THAT level. 🙂

  7. Your French teacher’s answer? Wow. Just wow. I wonder if there are actual studies on this…the cancer/French rate vs. the cancer/American rate. I would think so. I do think that all of the illnesses in the U.S. are in part due to our lifestyle…frenetic, stressed, multitasking, uptight. I am not quite like the French women, but more so than the American, I guess.

  8. BTW, tried to read Launa’s lust post and could not get to it.

  9. ahaha. I *so* appreciate that you didn’t write about your “lust” for Starbucks! 🙂

  10. See, we got your started! First you acknowledge the repressed Protestant past and then you jump into the sex scenes. I love the history here and the truth. It is LUST to you for you, and that is what Sarah and I wanted most. To learn about our Five for Tenners. Great job!

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