Is Unconditional Love the Enemy of Lust?

What Women Really Think
June 24 2013 10:28 AM

Is Unconditional Love the Enemy of Lust?

Don't hold too tightly!

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Toward the end of nearly every interview I give about my book What Do Women Want?, I'm asked for advice, asked to turn from the science of desire and the stories of everyday women, which are the substance of the book, toward the realm of self-help. And lately a surprising and disconcerting thing has started to happen: I hear myself dispensing suggestions, nuggets of wisdom, solutions! Even more unsettling, I find myself doing this eagerly. On problems of lust and love that have, for millennia, confounded philosophers and made poets mourn, I have at moments come perilously close to thinking: That's right! What I just said is absolutely right!  

I'd like, this week, to run one of my sage offerings by you, partly because I'm wondering if it's completely wrong. What I've been saying—and what, all self-mockery aside, I do believe, based on the years I've spent listening to researchers and therapists and just living life—is that the longing for unconditional love is the enemy of lust, that the ideal of being loved no matter what is the ultimate assassin of desire in long-term relationships. From our parents we can hope for the unconditional, but with our partners we have to constantly earn love and win lust or love will fade and lust will disappear for both partners.  


But to think this way is to advocate a constant state of low-level insecurity. Is this any way to live? And more to the point, is it correct? Maybe I am wrong, and unconditional love—complete acceptance—can actually usher in a sort of nirvana of sexual bliss, a letting down of all barriers, a disintegration of self and other, an evaporation of self-consciousness—all in all, a lot of happiness in bed?

Your answers to my questions over the past month have been fascinating and enlightening, and I'm hoping for more enlightenment now. As always, please write from personal experience and be as specific and honest as possible, but stop short of pornographic. We want to be able to publish some of your responses later this week. Send your replies to and put “what do women want—unconditional love” in the subject line. We will use your name unless you specify otherwise. (Let us know if you prefer that we only use your first name.) Please check out Slate's submission guidelines before you write in. We look forward to hearing from you.

Daniel Bergner is the author of the new book What Do Women Want? Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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