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From Disgust To Lust (and Back to Disgust)

Apparently, according to fascinating scientific research, there is a direct correlation between disgust and sexual arousal. In the sense that we have to suppress one to feel the other.

Think about it: sex involves gooey, squishy parts and plenty of exchange of bodily fluids. Those fluids have a high potential for pathogen infection, and our evolutionary response to this potential is the strong emotion of disgust. It evolved in order to protect us from threats, encouraging avoidance of people and experiences that might bring us harm. Howeeeever, an equally strong human impulse is the search for mating success, and whenever we find ourselves in a sexual situation, our body is doing its internal list of pros and cons, check and balances, to see if the benefits of mating override the potential risk of pathogens. And it cleverly does this without you even realising it – through smell, sight, mirroring cues that tell your system which emotion to fire up – lust or disgust. Even if all of this happens in mere seconds within us and on a level that we cannot perceive with awareness – it nevertheless happens. I mean, come on…aren’t we fascinating as humans? It goes to show how every single experience we have is inherently filtered through a thick layer of emotions, immune system and psychological responses that we have NO control over. It makes me chuckle. And to think that we consider ourselves as rational and objective…um, nope, mate. Everything has an emotional filter. Just consider this distinction: you see a random penis being flashed at you on a local bus line VS. there is a penis in your bed that you actually want to be there (in both cases attached to a man, obviously 🙂 ). In the first case, you most probably feel utter disgust, while in the other case, lust comes a-knockin’. And yes, this example is also a matter of consent and many other factors, but it goes to show how a situation, experience, body part, person, whatever…is never observed by us objectively. A penis is never just a penis 🙂

And thankfully so! Without this we wouldn’t have any type of emotional flavour in the situations we live, making our days dull and flat. So back to disgust. Can you sit for a moment and think back to your latest positive sexual experience? Don’t go too deep into it, pervy 🙂 Think just about the trajectory of your emotions and behaviours. It most probably went directly into lust, either upon meeting the person or upon making your own interest towards them come to your awareness, because your body made an extremely rapid judgement call that mating trumps disgust. The positive experience then occurred, in whatever form that may have been for you. And then…something very interesting happens.

Once this initial bodily disgust/lust judgement call happens and our relationship to this person is established – our decisions are from then onward still guided by our physiology, but also increasingly by our thoughts, biases and judgements of behaviours. Once we have slept with the person, there is a wiiiiide open space in which anything can happen. Lust can continue to thrive for weeks, months, years, decades if lucky. Or disgust can creep back in. Disgust by the person’s behaviour, choices, body odour, [fill in the blank].

On the model of emotions by psychologist Robert Plutchik, disgust shares the same basic emotional “petal” as boredom and loathing. Boredom being the milder, disgust the middle and loathing the extreme version of the same emotional spectrum. Are there any bells ringing in your head already? Have you seen this evolution before? Maybe in your family or in your own relationships? You engage with a person and BOOM! – bursting through the door comes LUST, all colourful, beaming and with banners and bells, taking you along for a rollercoaster ride of positive emotions, hormones and an ecstatic whirlpool of creativity and ideas. Time passes and the ecstatsy wears off. The hormones wind down and the bells starts getting quieter. If we are not attentive…in creeps the boredom. It’s a clever one, boredom. Because it is initially disguised as familiarity and comfort, both feel-good places to be for a long time. We don’t notice that we stopped having moments of breathlessness with that person, even if fleeting. And suddenly, without even seeing it coming, in comes disgust. We get annoyed by the persons comments, ones we used to laugh at before. The sound of their chewing drives us bonkers. Loathing, though…brrrr, that one I thankfully never experienced towards anyone I ever loved, my awareness kicked in always in time to prevent me from going into such a deeply negative state. But I can imagine many go there, and I have seen it in my own surroundings all too often.

My conclusion is that we need to build awareness around what we are doing and how we actually feel in the moment. Not to have a white-knuckled grip on our relationships and how they unfold, but to flow through them with more consciousness and cultivate that space of lust, initiated by the wisdom of our bodies, for longer and better. And possibly, it is about navigating the peaks and drops of the two opposing forces of disgust and lust, even on a daily basis. Maybe it is about welcoming them in, one at a time, whenever they arise, giving them a seat on our table to hear them out and see why they are there.

How do YOU feel about this dichotomy? I want to hear your thoughts on this. Ah. This “being a human” thing is so complex, and not even the slightest bit boring. I want to know more. Keep a lust for life, fellow humans!


About the author

Maša Nobilo, Sleep Coach

From first-hand insomniac to certified Embodied Facilitator with training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, the Feldenkrais Method and Embodied Yoga Principles, Maša is well-equipped to support you on journey to restful sleep.
Learn more below.

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