A photo of a woman in desire

An Unfinished Exploration of Desire

There are things we want. We all have things we want, and we all have things we want we don’t share with anyone else. We lust, we hide, we lie, we cheat, we need, we desire – it’s inherently human.

What exactly is desire?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, desire is:

  • to want or wish for (something) : to feel desire for (something)

  • to want to have sex with (someone)

  • to express a wish for (something)

There have been attempts to explain these sorts of wants and needs since the days of Antiquity; we have tried for millennia to understand how and why they hold so much sway over our actions. Desire, ultimately, is what drives all of us. It is, at least according to Hobbes, the reason we as humans do anything –

“The object of man’s desire is not to enjoy once only, and for one instant of time; but to assure for ever, the way of his future desires.”

Or, even simpler, desire is wanting. And as Elizabeth Anscombe says,

“The primitive sign of wanting is trying to get.”

Pleasure-based desire

Desire: A philosophy of wants and needs (NSFW) | TiltMN

The most universal, and perhaps the most powerful, is pleasure-based desire. Why spouses cheat on spouses, why people break laws, why Fifty Shades of Grey (pictured) makes housewives blush en route to $85 million on opening weekend, and a grand-total $571 million worldwide.

A simple explanation for this comes from Denise Cummins, Ph.D. in her interview with Psychology Today:

“Part of it, of course, is simple curiosity in bondage and sadomasochistic sexuality (BDSM). That part is simple to explain: The pain and fear that comes with sadomasochistic sex causes the brain to shunt blood flow away from its executive “decision-making” areas (frontal cortex), which results in an altered state of consciousness in both the giver and the receiver. Like autoerotic asphyxiation or cocaine, experiencing fear and pain can heighten sexual gratification, but at some cost.”

But, if you look at the photo, it could be something even-simpler than that: The way he holds her, the way she wants him: Is it simply that a majority of humans (people) don’t get to experience that level of desire; we want someone to desire, and to be desired so passionately in return. Yearning for touch, and connection – heat rising in your cheeks, a flush to the skin, the increase in heart rate, and heavy breathing makes the chest rise and fall…

“For many women, foreplay is the most exciting part of sex…” NYC psychologist Dr. Niloo Dardashti says. “It’s frustrating, but it keeps you glued in.”

Desire, and the building thereof, is the most powerful piece of physicality.

The tension between two people; the undeniable energy that exists before it is broken by satisfaction. And then toying with that energy, bringing it to a breaking point. As we discuss in “86” Clothes: Tasting something greater, it is tension that is at the core of desire. It is what we haven’t had yet that fuels it. It is wanting it that keeps it alive and makes it grow.

Sex sells. We know this. We’ve known it for well over 100 years:

“The earliest known use of sex in advertising is by the Pearl Tobacco brand in 1871, which featured a naked maiden on the package cover. In 1885, W. Duke & Sons inserted trading cards into cigarette packs that featured sexually provocative starlets. Duke grew to become the leading American cigarette brand by 1890…”

Men are inherently attracted to beautiful women, and, in a society that simultaneously worships and demonizes naked bodies as taboo, it becomes an easy way for a “quick fix,” to capture imaginations, fascinate, titillate like school boys from a Fellini Film:

We also know that the more desire is denied, the more the desire increases. As Publius Cornelius Tacitus told us sometime around 100 AD (nearly 2,000 years ago), “Forbidden things have a secret charm.”

Geoffrey Chaucer, sometime in the late 1300’s, reiterated the point, “Forbid us something, and that thing we desire.”

And Mark Twain, around the turn of last century, agreed. “There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.”

The notion of desire, and of wanting most the something that can’t be had, has existed for millennia. In perhaps a cruel irony to those most prudish in this or any country, the more sex is taken away, prohibited, denied, the more it is desired; when you withhold something from someone, they are going to want it, or need it and explore it with or without the blessings of others.

Is it a result of curiosity? Ego? Challenge? Or simple pleasure-seeking behavior as the tensions builds –

In a study done by Gregory Burns a few years ago, researchers studied the reactions in people’s brains to the unpredictability of reward. In the study, subjects were given water to drink. When subjects were given juice instead, they were pleasantly surprised, despite the fact that they were completely content with the idea of getting water: Their brains gave off a much stronger reaction when they were handed something sweet and stimulating (juice in this case) instead.

And, unsurprisingly, the subjects were then no longer content with water.

(Note: We are well aware that adding NSFW to the headline guarantees more play. We are well aware that 10-1 pictures of women, and coincidentally(?) adorable animals, sell more than real journalism.)

Dinosaurs: Love vs. Sex

We have different chemicals in our brains that make us feel love. There is even a formula:

Desire: A philosophy of wants and needs (NSFW) | TiltMN

The “oxytocin form” of having sex removes the carnal need/desire: The endgame of sexual interaction moves away from simply having an orgasm to encountering the real, euphoric connection we often define as love, and completely re-orients us to a place where we are satisfied by intimacyeven without having an orgasm. It goes beyond, deeper than, a purely physical connection. It brings us to a place where we can have that sort of deep release of sensation each moment we are with someone. The oxytocin form of love is the one that leads to long-term relationships.

It is the simple feeling of being near someone else that we desire, not just connection (physical, otherwise) with just anyone. But that is also the basis for separating love from sex which has turned sex into a culture all its own; love can very simply be removed from a sexual act, and very often is.

We then have a culture of sex only for the need-of-sex – a culture in which sex no longer represents sensuality or connection or chemistry but rather a form of power – linked, paradoxically, with a culture of sexual violation where “I couldn’t help myself” and “I was provoked…” by the way a victim looks/dresses/acts somehow becomes an accepted defense – even from a general public not even remotely linked to the specific crime itself.

In this, we have removed the person, the human, from sexual acts, just as we are able to remove sex from human acts (i.e. If there can be love without sex, then there can just as easily be sex without love).

The idea that human desire is too strong to control, and that it must be the victim who takes responsibility for it, is still far too common in the world. It is an arcane notion that such behavior could be dismissed and excused as uncontrollable – that desire could/would be to blame for violent actions, rather than the perpetrator’s rational mind.

But this is the point: After millions of years of human evolution, we still struggle to understand our most basic desires, and, even more so, we struggle to define them. We can’t even define our desires and what they mean to us – even as institutions of authority, family, religion, government, attempt to control them.

Impulse, in this context, is something people can sympathize with.

But we as individuals are responsible, and thus we give credence to the personality before the action; there are desires we understand and desires we condemn because at some point we were able to apply our own morality to the equation.

This is taking Hobbes to a completely different level; more than desire as the reason we do [anything], but also as the cause for us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. This is why, perhaps, it is has been mused that humans won’t evolve, can’t evolve, until we stop looking in the mirror and start looking inward instead.

Eat. Fuck. Sleep.

Life is  simple. In fact, it can mostly be summed up in three very simple words:

Eat. Fuck. Sleep.


Eating is something we do everyday. For sustenance, yes, and for energy. Because of the pains in our stomachs, and the traditions that arose out of satiating that hunger. Every region of the world, needing food, has discovered new and interesting ways to get, cook it, and enjoy the way they eat.

Good food is a crucial piece of a good life. A sign of luxury – though we would posit that “peasant food” is enjoyed equally as much if not more so. But it’s inherent to any status and stature: You want to enjoy your food and have a full stomach before going to bed.

But we’ve also created food porn and a culture surrounding food as much more than simple energy. We desire good food. We desire the tastes and smells of the French, the Japanese, the cultures we may not have had access to growing up.


People have sex for many of reasons: To bring about meaningful relationships, and  for a physical connection that wouldn’t otherwise exist. As humans are social animals, with a purpose of creating a family unit. The result of sex, procreation, allows us to have our own family and can give a purpose to life (if you live for nothing else at least live for your children…).

But humans also fuck for pleasure. Much more commonly, now, than for simple procreation. Masturbation is also included in this category. Your brain releases hormones that make you feel good and rewarded. It’s like a drug, as we talked about. The rest of the world fades away when lost in pleasure such as this.

From an evolutionary standpoint, of course attraction (laws of attraction) are necessary/crucial to the survival of our species. But ever since contraceptives were made readily available decades ago, the negative consequences of indulging in our sexual desires have been diminished. And we give in, unable to control them. We desire, and then, one way or another, we satisfy those desires.


Your body needs rest.  Your body needs to heal. Sleep is not only a boost for your immune system, it is also the only real time your body and brain can recharge. Your body also needs what can only be called beauty rest: Sleep deprivation expedites the aging process and good sleep has obvious effects on the skin and body.

Sleep has become desirable – especially in a world where so few think they can indulge in it as much as they should. The yearning for a nap (“if only I had the time…”) and the countless supplements, medicines, tips, tricks, and trials to fall asleep at night.

These are all tangible desires.

When we start to stray beyond the simple, adding our egos to the mix, and the persistent feeling of want (desire) when we can’t have them, is when it gets complicated. For example, we love food. We equate eating with more than simple energy and necessity and instead delve deep into the sensations, physical, and the social aspects, conversational, mental, that surround it. It is a desire we happily succumb to.

And when it comes to sex, how many struggle with body issues, commitment issues, simply finding a partner, and complications after finding a partner. How many desires go unsatisfied?

The more inherent truth about humans is that nothing about us will ever be simple; life is simple, perhaps, but we are not.

We would love to keep the simplicity of an article titled “Eat. Fuck. Sleep.” as its focus and tout the benefits of food and coitus and good rest thereafter and be done and say there is nothing left to discuss.

But, as with anything human, there’s a caveat.

So we try and explain our lives and how we live them (whether by choice or necessity). We discuss and explain and research. We put labels and designations on things that are animal inside of us. It becomes eat and… it becomes fuck and then… it becomes sleep but not without…

You. Him. Her. They. Or them.

Who or what you desire most, that is the simplicity of desire: We will always want something. We will always need something else. Everything else gets in the way: Our rules and traditions, our feelings and egos, our perceptions and projections, our careers and status, the social sciences and the pressures we have to conform their authority in our day-to-day lives.

Perhaps, someday, when these authorities have crumbled to dust, when we no longer adhere to the labels that have come to define us without our permission, we might finally understand the true nature of desire.

Read this next: The Future of Love (NSFW)

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An Unfinished Exploration of Desire