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C.S. Lewis On Women And Lust

C.S. Lewis on women and lust
“Almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this prison.” (C.S. Lewis) (Image: Victory with Matt Fradd)

The following is a transcript I created of a YouTube video published by Victory with Matt Fradd entitled “C.S. Lewis on Women and Lust.” For the embedded video, continue to the end of the article.

Matt Fradd: This comes from The Great Divorce: “Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with the richness and energy of desire, which will arise when lust has been killed.”

This is true of all virtues. The vice usually seems manlier because it’s louder, more chaotic, more glamorized by the culture. Think of another vice like a man who is an angry man and blows up when someone says something he doesn’t like or when he feels offended. That appears to be strength. That appears to be manly. But now contrast that with the man who knows how to take an insult and speak calmly. Whew, baby. That is strength.

And so I think, too, in this sexualized culture, lust is very often put forward as this thing that is so exciting. But golly, you really only have to engage in lust or pornography for 3 minutes to realize that it’s a bloody liar. Pornography promises us relief when we get agitation. It promises us excitement when we become bored. It promises us freedom when we become enslaved — nothing masculine about that. It promises us adult entertainment when we become increasingly juvenile.

So I love that. “Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire, which will arise when lust has been killed.”

Next is a quote from him on women, which comes from his work, The Four Loves. This is excellent, listen: “We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say of a lustful man prowling the streets that he wants a woman. Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her 5 minutes after fruition.”

And he’s got this very haunting line. He says, “One does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes.” I’m going to pause there for a moment. This is excellent. I mean this goes back to what we were saying. So the culture glorifies lust and it misuses language. That is a key thing of the world. In order to justify something shameful, it will put it in a different light, in order to make it more palatable. People do this with abortion all the time. They call it healthcare. They call it women’s rights — when what we’re talking about is paying an individual to slaughter your child, to kill your child, to dismember your child.

We use these these euphemisms so the true shamefulness of the act will be hidden. And so we say, “He’s a man looking for a woman… I just want a woman.” He says, “No, you don’t.” C.S. Lewis says, “No, not at all, actually. What you want to be precise is the pleasure that a woman would afford you. And to show how much you don’t want the woman, consider your attitude towards her 5 minutes after this sexual interaction.”

I mean if I can just be real for a moment, I engaged in sexual activity with women — a few — prior to my marriage, and I felt that. I remember being with women in different capacities. And after my shameful lust was satiated, I remember thinking, “I don’t really want to be around this person.” So I was a weakling. I was a wimp. I wasn’t wanting the woman at all. I was wanting the pleasure that she afforded me.

Now that I’m married — this might sound like I’m overdoing it to sound, what do you say, more pleasing or more, I don’t know. But let me just say it. My wife is like my best friend in the whole world. I like her a great deal. I like spending time with her. I think she’s funny. I think she’s insightful. I like watching shows with her. I like reading books to her. I like going on walks with her. Like I like hanging out with her. And when we’re together in a marital way, I still want to be with her. So I like that. I think that’s really good.

C.S. Lewis On Eros

He goes on and says, “Now eros…” Right, this is one of the Greek words for love. And you hear eros, you might think like erotic bookstore. No. That’s not what is meant by eros. Eros is a God-given gift, and what does it do? “Now eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman, in some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion, the lover desires the beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give him.”

So I guess, let me just throw that out there. I don’t know how many of you are in dating relationships right now, but that is a question to ask yourself. Do I want the woman? Or if you’re a woman watching, do I want the man? Or do I want the pleasure that is afforded through this necessary piece of apparatus, as Lewis puts it again so hauntingly.

C.S. Lewis on Pornography and Masturbation

Finally, here is what he had to say about masturbation. It seems to me that much of the Christian church has dropped the seriousness and evil that what we used to call self-abuse is — masturbation. But that we shouldn’t. That masturbation is really a perversion of the sexual act, and it ought to be avoided.

Here’s what he says, “For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite, which in lawful use leads the individual out of himself to complete and correct his own personality and that of another, and finally in children and even grandchildren, and it turns it back, sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.”

That’s a scary way of putting it, huh? So when the person is masturbating and when the person is fantasizing, he’s got like this harem of women who don’t even want him. They’re imaginary brides. And this harem, this group of women, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. Why? Well, here’s why.

“The harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions, which no woman can rival.” So masturbation keeps man in a state of immaturity and pulls him down, if you want, the ladder of maturity, so he becomes increasingly immature.

Lewis goes on and says, “Among those shadowy brides, he is always adored. Always the perfect lover. No demand is made on his unselfishness. No mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become nearly the medium through which he increasingly adores himself.”

Think about that for a moment. These imaginary brides that we create that we reflect on that we engage with in this fantasy land of our imagination. What are they? What is this that’s taking place? We’re worshiping ourselves through the medium of these imaginary brides.

[Lewis] says, “After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this prison. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.”

That’s what C.S. Lewis has to say.

For more, see Saint Augustine’s Battle Against Lust and Fight for Joy (John Piper).

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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