The Meaning of Sin: How Being Bad Is Good For You

Modern science reveals a silver lining in even the blackest cloak of sin.

By Joe Kita from Reader's Digest Magazine | April 2013

The Meaning of Sin: How Being Bad Is Good For YouChris Buzelli

Before she was 30, Jennifer Armstrong had a fiancé and a wedding date. Then she read a novel, attended a reading of it, and somehow found herself sharing watermelon margaritas with the author on “a perfect, endless June night.” And just like that, the wedding was called off. Lust changed her life.

“I became a karaoke aficionado during late nights out with new friends and started a band,” she blogs at “I had extra time and ambition, so I launched a feminist website,, with a friend. I got an agent and wrote a book. I dyed my hair black. And I saved enough money to get the best apartment I’ve ever had, in Brooklyn, all by myself.”

Although the relationship with the novelist withered and she regrets the “uncool” way she broke off her engagement, she says “the experience taught me everything I know about love and sex.”

Armstrong’s experience is a real-life example of research conducted at the University of Amsterdam. By triggering the mechanisms in the brain for analytical thinking, lust helped study subjects focus better on the present and its details: “I want him—now!” (Love, by comparison, triggered long-term thinking and creativity.) So the lust Armstrong felt for the novelist helped her see the flaws in her near-marriage more clearly.

And gentlemen, listen up: Lust also dampens a woman’s natural disgust response. When Dutch researchers asked women to drink from a cup containing an insect or to wipe their hands with a used tissue, those who were sexually aroused registered less disgust than those who weren’t. So when she’s feeling amorous, you don’t have to try so hard to be glamorous.

Overall, a lust for sex can certainly be destructive, but a lust for life is virtuous. As British philosopher Simon Blackburn points out in his book Lust, the emotion is life- affirming. It’s invigorating, fun, and very few of us would be here without it. Like all the Seven Sins, what determines whether it’s deadly is a simple matter of whether we control it or it controls us.

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