24

I am currently writing a character that represents Lust and is a demonic entity... but to tone it down for a YA audience.

I thought of trying to make them "Love-based" instead, but I always envision Love as a virtue.

This character is not a bad guy either. They are a benign presence in the narrative, and may become a love interest.

Is there any way to tone-down a "Lust" motif for a younger audience?

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    Assuming there is a need to avoid the topic of sex (sex can still be handled in a reasonable way for a younger audience, although it takes more effort), you could replace that desire with a different one: hunger, money, power, etc. What you replace it with becomes a metaphor for sex. – Jason Bassford May 2 '18 at 4:39
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    How old is your YA audience? A number of YA books not only include some (or a lot) of sex, but have characters with “succubus-like” characteristics. For example, Edward from Twilight says that everything about him draws Bella in. I don’t know whether this is an option for you, though. – Obie 2.0 May 2 '18 at 6:18
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    I don't think love must necessarily represent a virtue. In Riordan's Percy Jackson series, Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love, is actually a pretty mean bitch and anything but virtuous, and I never found that odd when reading it (and several years ago, too, when I was a "young adult" myself). – Demetre Saghliani May 2 '18 at 10:40
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    Speaking as a former teenage boy, at that age even a small hint of flirtation from a girl was almost overwhelming. If your characters are teenagers, your succubus can believably wrap them around her finger without doing anything even close to R-rated. – user30522 May 2 '18 at 18:23
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    And you could play it for comedy: maybe she plies the heroes with really double-entendres that they virtuously resist (mirroring the discomfort many younger readers would have), or maybe she’s all tease. – Davislor May 2 '18 at 19:57

11 Answers 11

44

As cloudchaser pointed out, a succubus is a very specific entity,

That said, a modern YA twist on such an entity is eminently doable. Lust is, at a base level, a desire for something. And a succubus feeds off the energy created by desire for it.

So how do you modernize and make it YA friendly and also relevant?

By employing the single largest narcissistic obsession on the planet - social media. Replace you traditional succubus with an instagram starlet - feeding off the likes, comments, adoration and attention from impressionable teens world wide.

You are tapping into the negative connotation still (desiring attention) and still works with the being PG friendly. The entity sustains itself by adoration and attention, without the sex. Still powerful, still potentially dark, not hardcore.

It practically writes itself - the obsession with body image, the need for attention and craving of love. The pursuit of an unattainable ideal, and a redemption arc in the works

23

Keep it "desire for another person," but scale down the sexiness depending on audience

How old is your YA audience? Many YA books contain characters with “succubus-like” traits. The succubus can still represent the evils of "lust" (i.e., an intense desire for someone that leads one to ruin), but presented appropriately for the intended audience. You can scale down the sexual factor depending on the age of the intended audience. For example, for young-ish teens, the succubus just causes people to fall desperately in love with them. For older teens, a sexual succubus (or incubus) is very possible. For the very youngest audience, perhaps intense friendship would be enough.

Any of these can be written as appropriately "evil," since any relationship that goes to the point where one person will do anything for the other, even hurt themselves, can be very toxic. Whether the succubus represents the evils of doing anything for ones peer groups, an abusive girlfriend or boyfriend, or straight-up evils of "lust," this same theme can work.

As far as the actual power to induce lust (which is nearly obligatory for a succubus), lots of YA novels have something like this, with greater or lesser levels of explicitness.

  • For example, in the film version of Twilight (the quintessential YA novel?), Edward claims to have a very incubus-like charm.

    EDWARD: I’m the world’s most dangerous predator. Everything about me invites you in. My voice, my face, even my smell.

    Twilight (film)

  • In Lockwood and Co., by Jonathan Stroud, a ghost with the power to seduce people mainly operates through creating an intense desire for her, but not necessarily in the sexual sense. Even one of the main characters, though not her type romantically, falls for it.

  • Harry Potter has the Veela, who cause heterosexual male characters to go all macho and become infatuated and boastful.

And, as mentioned previously, depending on the age of the teens you’re targeting, a full, sexual succubus or Lust (not necessarily pornographic) is also a possibility. By way of analogy, the Iron Fey series, by Julie Kagawa (definitely in the YA category) has the fey using their glamour to exert a clearly sexual influence over many humans. Similarly in the Wicked Lovely series, or Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (both considered YA).

Generalize it further

Other answers have already mentioned generalizing sexiness to similar desires. I’m not sure you need to go this far, but many authors have done this.

  • Garth Nix, in The Keys to the Kingdom, has a Denizen representing each of the cardinal sins. Lady Friday, corresponding to Lust, instead is obsessed with experiencing all aspects of human sensation.

    "I am defeated, I know, but only as a mortal can I truly know the feeling of defeat. Give me just a few minutes more, let me enjoy the rich textures of mortal life once more —”

    Lady Friday

You can even still call it Lust. For example:

  • In Pandora Gets Heart, (a series seemingly aimed a young teenagers or tweens), Lust can be for an object or a person. This particular solution might pose a problem if you also want Greed.

    “So we simply have to ascertain someone or something that is consumed with a burning, insatiable, voracious, and unquenchable desire for someone or something else,” Iole said softly. “Correct?”

    Pandora Gets Heart

Swap it out

If all else fails, you can simply replace Lust with a more “child-friendly” sin. Some possibilities include Fear (that certainly causes a lot of problems in the world), or Despair (which has the advantage of actually having been a Deadly Sin in some taxonomies), and having an appropriate cardinal virtue to oppose it (hope, generally). I don’t quite know of any authors who have taken this route with regard to Lust, but the previously mentioned Pandora series swapped Gluttony for Fear, probably in order to incorporate aspects of it into Lust….


One word of warning. You mention that this succubus or Lust demon character might be a “love interest.” Whether or not the character actually uses their abilities to make people feel lust (or even have sex with them), or does something more PG-rated like causing strong romantic feelings toward them, or just messing with people’s minds in some other way, if they become a “good” character, there’s definite risk of it seemingly like an endorsement of this kind of thing, which can turn off a lot of readers, and not only in adult fiction. Someone who messes with emotions, free will, or consent as an antagonist is expected, but a protagonist who does the same, except in exigent circumstances, stands a high chance of losing sympathy (how many people will be lost depends on how overt it is).

So if your “succubus” character is going to become a good character (and you’re not interesting in telling the story of a morally ambiguous anti-hero who uses mental manipulation casually), they’d probably better have either plausibly repented, or have been decent from the beginning (e.g., only feeding off of people who agreed to it, inspiring lust in others but totally unable to help it, etc).

  • The Keys to the Kingdom is a great example, and I'm not even sure that I had noticed the analogue of the 7 deadly sins when I read the series, one for each day of the week. – mbomb007 May 2 '18 at 14:36
  • Regarding your comments on "good character" succubus, see also Lost Girl. – R.. May 2 '18 at 14:38
  • I'd say focus on the Friendship angle... As in Video Games, Succubuses vs. Heroes usually use Charm spells... Just turning people from one side to another... – Malady May 2 '18 at 18:40
  • @R.. - I certainly had thought of that, but it’s not really YA (even in terms of its target audience), so I wasn’t sure how helpful it would be. – Obie 2.0 May 2 '18 at 20:09
  • @Obie2.0: Yes, perhaps not, but still could be a source of ideas and a concrete example of the concept even if it doesn't work for OP, or to contrast with other ideas. – R.. May 2 '18 at 20:15
7

Happiness

You can choose to go a more traditional route of having a succubus as a sort of dream eater. Instead of wet dreams you could then just make the Succubus long for any kind of nice dream. An oversimplified example would be to have it eat the dreams of kids that they will win some contest.

This is basically a replacement of the hunger for sex with the hunger for some kind of positive emotion. This version of the Succubus would then try to search for people that have everything in life they want and live off all the positive emotions that are surrounding this person. If you don't want to have a dream eater you could simply say that it's eating all the happiness around this person. Everyone around the victim has bad luck, feels sad and nothing seems to work out quite the way it worked out a few weeks ago. The scenery around the succubus becomes gloomy and it has to regularly switch its victim to get more happiness.

Happiness is something even very young kids can relate to and is therefore an easy substitute. This could be as easy as having an ice cream on a sunny day - which falls down when the Succubus is near. Or it suddenly doesn't taste as good anymore.

Or you could keep the happiness as it is and make the Succubus simply seek out happiness. It's like a moth that is searching happiness instead of light. The happiness of having a purring cat in your lap and talking with your friends about the newest computer games. Nice everyday situations and the Succubus will want to be near to feel as if it was part of this happiness. This even opens up routes where there is a happy end for the Succubus as it becomes an acknowledged member of a group instead of trying to leech the happiness. This could be worked out to be for example a metaphor for group behaviour and how you should be yourself and find people who accept you as you are if you want to have it be "the morale of the story".

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    You can link this with depression. When the succubus has been feeding off you too much, you fall into a deep funk. When they leave, you can recover and become happier again. The succubus could either cause bipolar symptoms or be bipolar themselves. They could need to feed off the happiness of others in order to balance themselves. I don't think depression would be off limits to YA if done correctly. A lot of the readers may actually relate to those feelings while they may not be able to relate to sex/lust. – EveryBitHelps May 2 '18 at 13:50
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First, really look at your audience. Define what you mean by a young adult. Normally we mean a teen, who has some concepts of adult issues but not the full toolbox to deal with them.

To this end, you can still have your succubus be sexy and alluring. Using the negative sides of lust without confusing your audience. A teenager is certainly dealing with issues of lust and the way it impacts their lives.

You just need to remember their experience level, keep in mind that the hight of "lust" for a young adult may be that "first time", but that it's also scary. Remeber that for most teens, that "first time" right of passage consumed their lives for years before it actually happened.

Your succubus could use sexiness, and the promise of sex, to take advantage of teens without actually having to have sex or get into the details. Again remember when you were that age. You hade no idea what a lot of stuff actually was. In fact, someone could likely promise you an "interesting encounter wink wink" and that would be enough for your YA reader to put whatever level of experience they have into the story.

Making the part of the story that relates to lust and trying to overcome and get a handle on it relatable to a teen is not an issue. You just need to make sure that your using things hint at sex and not actual sex.

It's hard to remember, as adults and parents, that our teens are actually becoming sexual entities. They have sexual feelings and desires. You can use that fact in your story. Just remember that because of their experience level you want to keep things "hinting at" and not "describing". Also, remember that despite what everyone says in the locker room, most teens are gonna have a very small pool of experience to go on.

As to describing looks, don't be afraid to let a little sexiness slip through here. I can't speak to the female side of being a teenager but as a male, by the time I would be reading YA books I was certainly aware of styles of clothes that highlighted the parts that I wanted to look at. Again, try to use descriptions that "hint at" rather than "spell out".

"Her bikini revealed all the right things." opposed to "Her chest was barely restrained by her bikini top."

All in all, remember these guides:

  • Remember teens are sexually aware
  • They don't have a lot (or any) real experience
  • They do not have a full toolbox to deal with sex or lust
  • Hint and do not describe (this lets them fill in the blank with their experience level)
  • Make sure to emphasize your negative sides. They may not know the downsides.
  • Be prepared for some backlash. No matter what some parent somewhere will not accept that their little angel is sexually aware. Sure other kids are but not theirs. Don't let that discourage you.

Finally, let some parents review the text before publishing. I'd say 5 or so. Just to give you points. The best statements will be something like "I don't know, this seems a bit racy but I thing so and so can handle it". The two worse comments would be like "this is perfect, not too racy at all" or "Wow, just no. No way .... is going to be reading this."

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    If I maybe add something to it: Let around 5 parents review it for you. BUT choose in the best case some parents, that are not really related to you by blood or friendship. Strangers are the best reviewers, cause they don't see you as family or friends and don't feel oblieged to say something nice, just to comfort you. – Pawana May 3 '18 at 6:37
  • This is the answer I find to be most in tune with reality. I remember my teenage years more vividly than I'd like to and I'd say this hits the nail on the head. I certainly remember a number of students who would willingly discuss sex with their peers but never mention it to any adults. – Pharap May 3 '18 at 23:14
5

Keep in mind that the "Seven Deadly Sins" are not grounded in anything objective, nor even the founding of any religion. Rather, they source from religious writings of authors of whom most people have never heard. They aren't even consistent in that different sources will compose a different list.

The Implications of Lust

To translate a succubus, I would focus on what "lust" actually does to a person. We, in our modern cultures, generally accept that sex and sexual attraction are not problematic themselves. It would be generally agreed that there must be some deeper problem to a "cardinal sin" than mere sexual desire, as that is a very natural (and inevitable) response for most people. So what other problems would "lust" present? As @JasonBassford's comment stated, there's distraction. There's also, when extreme, a disregard for previous commitments such as a voluntary monogamous relationship or a social agreement or contract with one's community or family. It also represents "desire" in a general sense, which is problematic in certain philosophies.

Obsession

However, for this purpose, I would look at the different forms of love/desire in Roman/Greek mythology. Why? Because the god "Eros" was a god not just of sex, but of sexual obsession or "sexual madness". Eros represented that obsessiveness we can sometimes feel when we first form a new relationship, or "new relationship energy" as it has been called. Eros also represents the general obsessiveness one can have for another in a romantic/sexual sense. This is, as many might note, something that is very common in one's early life as one is fluttering around both puberty and Erikson's life stage of intimacy versus isolation.

Relevance of Obsession

This, of course, makes such feelings and behaviors extremely relatable to the young adult demographic. So I think a very natural expression of a succubus might be a sexual/romantic obsessiveness. Many young people mistake it for "love", only to obsess about a different person months or even weeks later. Many young people would find the feelings very relatable. And it would be the same basic concept, but translated without the over-the-top sexuality that is typically associated with "lust".

5

A succubus is not the embodiment of sexuality, but the embodiment of the fear of sexuality. So it is highly relevant to an age group where sexuality is often viewed with a mixture of fear, disgust and fascination.

You really don't have to bring sex explicitly into the picture at all. Just write a character who the protagonist finds horribly and unstoppably fascinating and compelling, and yet is simultaneously scared of and disgusted by.

On the other hand, it's difficult for me to envision such a character reformed into a truly PG love interest. Dangerous, inappropriate, and untameable are among its core characteristics.

5

Children of that age are often not interested in sex and romantic love.

Only 24% of adolescents between 15 and 17 want to read stories about love

If you watch the reactions of younger teens to kissing in movies or books, you will often see something like disgust. Many children that age are uncomfortable if they are confronted with these themes, even if they are curious, especially when other people are around and witness their reaction. But even among older teens only about a quarter actively search for books with love as a main topic.

So from a reader perspective I would avoid such topics in media for children younger than, say, 14 or 15, or only present them in a very innocent, non-physical way (think of the love interest Holly in the Wimpy Kid movies: no touching, no kissing, just wanting to "go together", no more). And even for older teens the main focus of the story has to lie elsewhere ("make me laugh" and "solve a mystery" where most often given as what all age groups look for in a book).

A succubus is, in my opinion, a much too physical phenomenon, being related to nightly erections and wet dreams. You can, as Jason Bassfort has pointed out in his comments, replace sexual lust by other lusts (for money, fame, or mobile phone game time). The succubus is a being that lives off sexual lust, so you can easily show it leeching social envy, addictive computer habits, or other negative behavior and emotions.

Basically you have to remember that non-procreative, non-marital sex was considered a sin in the past and that the succubus is related to this sinful aspect of sexuality. So if you replace sex with something else, it has to be a "sin", or in modern terms, dysfunctional behavior. So jealousy (if you want it related to love) would be a possibility.

  • On the other hand, you could get some serious comedy value out of the conflict between a succubus's "everyone wants sex with me" attitude and a ten-year-old's "ewwww, gross" reaction. – Mark May 2 '18 at 21:15
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    "Children of that age are often not interested in sex and romantic love." I'm not sure from what parallel universe you're from, but over here puberty is going to be well on its way for a significant portion of 13 year olds, let alone the older teen demographic that's included in PG13. Kids that age are absolutely interested in sex and romantic love, to downright obsessive degrees actually. – Cubic May 3 '18 at 14:50
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    "If you watch the reactions of younger teens to kissing in movies or books, you will often see something like disgust." That's because they know you're watching. I can assure you that 13 year olds do indeed have such desires, even if they try to pretend otherwise. The version of a child that adults see can be drastically different from what their friends and fellow students see, and even that can be far from what's going on in their head. They're a very secretive bunch. – Pharap May 3 '18 at 23:10
  • Preteens also wouldn’t be a Young Adult reader, nor would they be above the PG-13 demographic. So their reactions would be irrelevant to the question. – Attackfarm May 4 '18 at 1:34
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    @Cloudchaser They are uncomfortable with talking about sex with you. They are not uncomfortable with talking or reading about sex amongst themselves, let alone in privacy, I assure you. – Cubic May 4 '18 at 15:27
4

Ask yourself what is a succubus and what results do I want out of the character and plot?

First, let's do a bit of research:

The Modern version

The modern version of a succubus is completely different than the originals. The modern version is a cute or otherwise attractive female with or without horns, wings, and a tail, which is extremely lacking in morals, and possibly requires intimate activities or side-effects in order to survive. The more dangerous versions drain life-force or some other vital requirement for life. They may or may not be considered "evil", which is a complete departure from the original.


The original versions

The various original versions come from Babylon, Sumeria, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. They were later incorporated into Hebrew mythology and from there into Christian mythology. Most versions were night demons, often with partial or complete bird-like characteristics: such as clawed bird feet and wings, and they were almost always mentioned in conjunction with other bird-like beasts or demons. They were often classified as a type of demon known as a 'lillin'.

They were hideously ugly with sharp claws and could not stand upright, being forced by their warped and twisted bodies to crawl on the ground. Notably unique, the Arabian version was a sub-class of Djinn, and wandered the wastes and deserts. All versions of them were irredeemably and unapologetically evil.

Almost all original stories regarding these creatures involve one of two themes: seducing males and forcing themselves upon them in order to forcibly steal their seed, OR kidnapping and murdering (sometimes devouring) young children, especially newborns. Oddly, it seems one or the other, the stories never mix the two themes, at least none that I have found. Some ancient cultures would even make warding talismans which were worn by babies until they were too old to attract the demons.

As demons and devils are incapable of reproduction, a succubus would steal the seed of a human male through rape, pass it to an incubus (the male version) via intimacy, after which the now corrupted and tainted seed would be passed to a human female, again via rape, and the resulting offspring of the human woman would become a 'cambion'.

As a side note, there are theories that these stories were originally invented as an attempt to explain sleep paralysis and nocturnal emissions.


What do you want?

As we have covered, the major themes of the original succubus were evil, seduction, rape, theft, death, and hunger. Lust was not part of the succubus theme as men and women alike were horrified and traumatized to be raped by these demons; the lust angle was a modern addition after they stopped being ugly and deformed.

Is PG-13 tame enough for Young Adult fiction?

In any case, as you have stated, you want a lust-themed succubus, that is tame enough to fit PG-13. Considering that there are PG rated media which contains nudity and even nude sex scenes in PG-13 movies, I think you'll need to be a trifle more specific in what is and isn't going to be allowed.

I will make some assumptions and go with no nudity or sex?


Since 'lust' is going to be the major theme, let's ask the obvious question: What is lust?

At it's core, lust is selfishness expressed through possessive and unrestrained desire. Lust places what you want to have, possess, or control above what anyone else wants. This is why it is actually a form of selfishness. After all, one can lust for power, for money, for a car or boat or house, for going somewhere, for doing something, for doing something with someone or even for the person themselves. In modern times, the term lust has acquired a sexual sub-theme.

This gives us some new themes to work with.


The new, more tame, incarnation of lust

As we have reviewed, other than sexually oriented, a lustful person could be controlling, they could be possessive, and they could be selfish. A lustful person could be forceful, inconsiderate of other's feelings and desires, as their own lusts are obviously more important. What they lust after need not be sex, or sexuality, it could be an object, a person, an action, or even a location. Le'ts brainstorm some alternate versions of lust and what that might look like:

  • Lust for a location: someone who lusts for a location would do everything in their power to travel to that location, and then stay there. They would do anything to get there, and woe betide the person who stands in their way, or who attempts to force them away. They might decide to preserve the location exactly the way it was when they first saw it, violently reacting to anyone who attempts to change it. Possible characters: terrorist against a land developer, a murderer who targets people who litter in a park, a preservationist or expert restorer of old buildings.
  • Lust for money: someone who obsessively seeks to hoard money and other things worth a lot of money. Possible characters: a miser, an artifact hunter, someone who controls the banks of a certain neutral country.
  • Lust for an object: someone who has a favorite object or type of objects and will do anything they can to obtain them. Possible characters: an anime figurine collector, a bibliophile librarian (woe betide those who return a damaged book or are late) or book collector, a car collector.

Something old, something new

Finally, we can touch upon a toned down version of the more stereotypical succubus: someone who either lusts after a person, category of person, or an activity with a person.

  • A person who lusts after a person may take the form of an obsessive girlfriend, relative, friend, or just the girl-next-door who can't stand anyone getting close to the person of their focus. An example of this might be Jeremy's little sister from Phineas and Ferb, who can't stand any girl getting close to her brother.
  • Another option involving category of person could be the girl who has to have the attention of all the boys, no matter what, and no matter who they are with or what they are doing. She expects all men to pay homage to her the instant she walks in the room. Anyone who fails to do so earns her ire.
  • Finally, a person who lusts after a particular activity could take the form of someone obsessed with holding onto the hand or arm of the person of their focus, or cuddling, or even riding upon their shoulders. Should you prefer the ultra-traditional version of actual intimacy, then kissing or simply implying that they are going off-stage to do "that" could meet the goal.

In conclusion, be creative and open-minded as to how one defines 'lust', as well as how and what one can obsesses over, and I believe that you will find many possible options available.

2

You can think of lust as the more physical aspect as love as the more emotional aspect if you want. So a succubus in a story for a YA audience could be constantly seeking actions we consider physical validations of love.

So you could have a succubus that likes to hold hands, hug or cuddle a lot but doesn't seem to show anymore care for their current cuddle friend than they do for anyone else. Add in no respect for personal privacy to this dysfunctional behavior - they aren't a bad person, they will just cheerfully go up to and hug a guy before starting to talk about how great a person another guy is without understanding the problem with it - and you could show that this behavior is not right, without having anything sexual or making it seem like hugs are the problem.

It also leaves room for the succubus to grow into realizing that physical shows of affection should actually come hand in hand with actual affection.

2

Non-sexual seduction is perfectly good for G genre, which leaves you a plenty of room to turn on the heat towards PG13. Think of Hans from "Frozen" or, even more succubic, Vanessa, who is Ursula's disguise in "The Little Mermaid", or (less known) Princess Cadance from "My Little Pony" or Sedusa from "The Powerpuff Girls".

You can always play on "Prince charming" stereotype for any age. For PG13, you can (and even should) include romantic love.

1

How to write a PG13 Succubus character?

You can't.

How was the concept of succubus invented? First, we have witches. They go to sabbaths. What are they doing there? They have sex with the Satan himself. Why? To bear his offspring, of course. But wait, it's already stated that Satan cannot create anything. Not even the tiniest Act of Creation that husband and wife are capable of. So how do we explain where do Satan takes the semen from? Let's invent agents of Satan (succubi), they will have sex with men, collect their semen, deliver it to the Devil, he will infuse it with his evilness and then use it to impregnate witches (via incubi). Boom, all the loose ends are tied, we can put it in Malleus Maleficarum now. You should not even try to call it "succubus" if the sex is not its primary function.

The succubus was invented to literally collect semen via sex. You can't make that PG13.

The problem with lust is that it can't be explained to pre-adolescents because they have never felt it. For adolescents, as it was already stated here, lust is as much scary as it is a desire. It's a very adult sin by definition. And you can work with that - in American Pie there is the character Stifler's Mom - she's a woman fully aware of her sexuality and that alone is enough to make her both irresistible and scary to the horny teenagers. The key point of flirt is talking in riddles to maintain plausible deniability. Your Lust shouldn't do actual sex, because satisfaction quenches lust. The power that lust wields over people is not the actual sex, but sex being the distant goal they chase.

Please note how we're all automatically assuming Lust to be a woman : )

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