Here is a conundrum. On the one hand lust (or sexual desire if you prefer a less medieval term) is a powerful driver of human behaviour. On the other hand, policy makers ignore lust when devising policies designed to influence behaviour.
For example, lust is largely absent from attempts to explain why teenage boys join gangs, or take drugs, or get into fights or drink too much. Lust is given no role in debates about promoting families even though sexual jealousy and infidelity undermine relationships. Even in more directly related areas lust is absent. The UK Government’s sexual health framework fails to mention lust (or any synonym of lust) in its sixty-one pages. Instead it focuses on education about the consequences of unsafe sex and the resources required to deal with these consequences. These are sensible areas to discuss but are incomplete. They deal with the symptoms of sexual behaviour and not the cause. It is hard to imagine any other area of public policy being approached in such a narrow way.
There are three reasons for this absence. Two are bad, one is potentially valid. The first bad reason is squeamishness. Lust is still not an easy topic to discuss in serious policy circles, particularly for politicians who will be alive to the possibility of ridicule.
The second bad reason is ignorance about lust. We know roughly what happens chemically when the human body experiences lust but we are still in the foothills of understanding how people experience lust differently (not least men and women) and how and why levels of lust vary. As a result it is difficult to have meaningful discussions about how much lust contributes to society’s negative outcomes and almost impossible to devise policies that might be helpful.
The third – and most valid - reason is that it may not be appropriate or even useful for the state to intervene in such a personal area. The trouble is that we cannot tell yet. Few of us would willingly invite the Government into our bedrooms, or anywhere else for that matter, to delve into our sexual desires. But if lust is linked to behaviours which cost billions and bring misery to millions then it deserves to be taken seriously by policy makers. We need to find out.