Is Lust Only Natural?
A multifaith guide to lust.
Jewish tradition teaches that lust is natural and that both men and women have a sexual drive. Lust is considered a result of the yetzer harah, the evil inclination, which is part of every human being. The yetzer harah is necessary, as one Midrash explains, "were it not for the yetzer hara (the evil urge), a man would not build a house, take a wife, beget children, or engage in commerce." Lust, while stemming from the evil inclination, is necessary for sex, and sex is necessary for reproduction.
But reproduction is not the only reason to have sex, and Judaism teaches that sex for pleasure is a mitzvah, or good deed, though this is traditionally as long as sex is part of a marriage. Sex should not take place to satisfy lust alone, however, as the rabbis teach that sex that is purely lustful, and not out of love, cannot build a successful relationship.
As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains in "Jewish Wisdom," "...the Talmud never associated saintliness with a dormant libido." He explains that the great rabbis often struggled with their sexual passions. The Talmud even states, "The greater a man, the greater his evil inclination (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a)."
The rabbis understood that women have a sexual drive as well as men. Telushkin quotes from the Mishna, "If a man forbids himself by vow from having intercourse with his wife, the School of Shammai says [she must go along with the vow] for up to two weeks [if it lasts longer, the court can compel him to divorce her], but the school of Hillel says for [only] one week."
Judaism also teaches that lust that results in male masturbation is wrong, as men are not supposed to spill their seed in vain.