I was prompted to write this post based on my observation that most clients who present with a sexual dysfunction or experience performance anxiety (because they are overly focused on the mechanics of sex) have lost touch with their ability to experience eroticism. Put it another way, a common cause of loss of physical arousal in people is the loss of erotic focus. Erotic focus means being fully mindful of the sexy, arousing thoughts and sensations during masturbation or sex with another.
What is eroticism?
So what exactly is eroticism? It is a concept that is actually quite hard to define as I soon discovered after trawling through the internet for a definition. Although there are differing descriptions for this term, a couple of dominant themes emerged to encapsulate this word.
The first is that eroticism is a state of sexual arousal or sexual excitement (an insistent sexual impulse, desire, or pattern of thoughts) or anticipation of such.
The second definition of eroticism is something that has the quality or character of being able to arouse sexual excitement or feelings. This quality may be found in any form of artwork, including painting, photography, drama, film, music and literature as well as in advertsing.
I also agree with a definition in one of my reference books which included the subjective experience of eroticism by defining it as one’s ability to experience sexual thoughts, desire and sensations.
How is eroticism different to sexual functioning?
Probably the definition or description of eroticism which resonates with me is from Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity – Unlocking Erotic Intelligence whom I have referred to in my other blog posts.
In her Youtube video on the difference between sexuality and eroticism, Perel points out that when it comes to sexuality, there is a profound distinction between animals and humans. Whilst animals have sex because it is the procreative urge, only humans have an erotic life. In other words, sex in humans is transformed or socialised by eroticism. Here are some of Perel’s central ideas of what eroticism is:
- An expression of individual/personal freedom and sovereignty.
- The cultivation of pleasure for its own sake.
- A capacity of capturing and/or maintaining aliveness, vibrancy, vitality, life source and life energy through sex.
- A reconnection with that quality of renewal, of playfulness, of aliveness, of curiosity, of mystery, of transcendence.
- Is fuelled by our creativity and imagination.
- Involves expansiveness and going outside of our usual boundaries.
- Is a space you enter, a place you go inside yourself with another or others rather than just something that you do.
- Embraces novelty and novelty in this context is about who you bring to the experience.
Such esoteric concepts of what constitutes eroticism is certainly a far cry from the usual ingredients suggested for spicing up one’s sex life such as new positions and toys.
What does it mean to have an erotic life?
By now, you have probably got the idea that Perel’s idea of eroticism (which I subscribe to) is more about the meaning of sex rather than doing sex.
One’s erotic life is therefore an internal world of sensual and sexual experiences permeated by preferences, fantasies and wishes often to satisfy our unmet needs, unfulfilled longings and unresolved conflicts. According to Perel, access to one’s erotic life is gained through asking questions such as: Where are you travelling to? What do you channel there? Where does it take you? What do you express there? What parts of life, of mystery, of the spiritual do you connect with?
Ways for increasing eroticism
Get the right attitude
Probably the most important ingredient for heightened eroticism is not technique but attitude. Eroticism requires comfort with your own body and an attitude of playfulness and openness to exploration. It also entails a capacity for self-expression, interest in, and readiness to give pleasure and to be pleasured.
Investing time in your erotic life
When it comes to sex, most people believe that it should be spontaneous in nature yet having such a mindset limits opportunities to get in touch with our erotic self and to find pleasure in sensual and sexual thoughts and feelings. An important part of enhancing your eroticism is actively seeking out opportunities to be sensual and to expand your capacity to experience and appreciate physical pleasure. This means being intentional in your actions such as planning time each week to explore and enjoy your sexuality. It is not necessary to have a partner to have this type of experience. Masturbation is an ideal environment for increasing eroticism. It provides a safe, private, relaxed opportunity for you to explore your body and how it responds to stimulation. By prioritising time for your sexual expression, you will enjoy the pleasure of anticipation as well as the satisfaction from the event itself.
Re-igniting your personal passions
Sex is not the only way to get in touch with the source of your life energy. Recall what Perel says about the essence of eroticism as having that quality of playfulness, aliveness and curiosity. With that in mind, start engaging in activities, interests and personal passions which define who you are and what makes you an interesting, vital and attractive person. Take a trip somewhere, play an instrument or learn to dance. Regardless of what you choose to do, the important thing is to bring back to your life and relationships, a fresh sense of excitement and passion.
‘The secret garden’ – the world of sexual fantasy
There is no doubt that the central agent of the eroticism is our creativity and our imagination, the thing that separates us from other animals. Sexual fantasies play a crucial role in heightening eroticism and maintaining the erotic focus that is critical for sexual arousal.
What goes through your mind will impact on how pleasurable and satisfying the experience will be. When you fantasize, you are taking advantage of the novelty that imagination can create to heighten your sexual excitement. Fantasies are highly personal and can be incredibly diverse. Because people are unique, there will be a great deal of variability in what each person finds arousing in a sexual fantasy.
It’s important to remember that fantasies are not necessarily wishes. People often fantasize about things they would never act on in real life, even if the opportunity presented itself. Within the safety and anonymity of the world of make-believe, the unthinkable can lead to novel excitement which is what makes it so thrilling and arousing. Fantasy allows you to flirt with outrageous and totally out of character sexual behaviour without any risk of harm.
Here are some tips for increasing eroticism through fantasy:
- Make time to let your mind wander to sensual thoughts. If you watch a movie or read a book or erotic fiction that has a scenario you find sensual and exciting, replay it in your mind, casting yourself as the main character.
- Recall an exciting sexual experience in the past in vivid detail. Write about it in your journal. Embellish the details to make it even more dramatic, romantic and arousing.
- Read examples of other people’s fantasies. Nancy Friday’s Forbidden Flowers and Men in Love feature an array of female and male sexual fantasies which may surprise you.
Sources and resources:
- Esther Perel on the difference between sexuality and eroticism -
- Perel, E. Mating in captivity: Unlocking erotic intelligence. Harper, 2006.
- Foley, S., Kope S., & Sugrue, D. Sex matters for women: A complete guide to taking care of your sexual self. The Guilford Pr+ess, 2012.
- Friday, N. Forbidden Flowers. Pocket Books, 1975.
- Friday, N. Men in Love. Delta Publishing, 1980.