NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A Cornerstone of Eroticism: Searching For Power

In my recent articles I have been writing about The Four Cornerstones of Eroticism based on the book, The Erotic Mind - Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment by sex therapist and researcher Dr. Jack Morin (see my prior articles: A Cornerstone of Eroticism: Longing and Anticipation and Violating Sexual Prohibitions).

A Cornerstone of Eroticism: Searching For Power

The Four Cornerstones of Eroticism
As I mentioned in my first article about this topic, according to Dr. Morin, the Four Cornerstones of Eroticism are:
  • Longing and Anticipation
  • Violating Sexual Prohibitions
  • Searching For Power 
  • Overcoming Ambivalence
Searching For Power
In the current article, I'm focusing on the third cornerstone that Dr. Morin discusses in his book, which is Searching For Power.  

As a normal part of children's development, from the age of about two years old, babies vacillate from being dependent on their parents to wanting some independence.  This is the stage known as "The Terrible Twos," which is an unfortunate name for this stage, because although this stage might be frustrating for the parents at times, it's normal.

Babies don't have the communication skills to ask for what they want (or what they don't want) so during this stage they learn to say "No" by crying, having temper tantrums, flailing about or other ways of expressing their discontent.

The point is they learn through their actions that they can get their parents' attention and have some power over their situation in certain instances to get what they want and reject what they don't want.

Later on, during adolescence, children also rebel in an effort to have some degree of power and autonomy, which is also a normal stage of development.  Beyond adolescence, throughout the life cycle, adults learn to have direct and indirect power in situations.  

Many people, who are in a subordinate role socially or professionally, learn to have power in subtle and not so subtle ways.  For example, employees learn to "manage up" with regard to their boss.  Other people learn to finesse certain situations so they are more empowered in situations where they are, at least on the surface, in a subordinate role.

There are also more dysfunctional examples of people who learn to manipulate by "playing the victim" in certain situations where they get what they want by making others feel guilty.  In those situation, they might act like the victim, but they're using their so-called victim role to get what they want.

Sexual Power Play in Fantasy and Reality
According to Dr. Morin's research, 28% of his respondents indicated they and their partner are (or they were at some point) involved in sexual power play--either in fantasy or in real life (see my articles: What is Power Play? and The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

With regard to sexual fantasies, the popularity of romance novels, which accounts for over $1 billion in book sales, is due in part to at least some elements of dominance and submission.  

Even if there isn't explicit BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism) in the story, there is usually at least an element of relational power play with a heterosexual "alpha male" character who pursues the more submissive heterosexual woman.  Although the "alpha male" might be in control with regard to the chase, the female character in these stories often obtains power by being adored and cherished by the man.

Part of the appeal of romance novels for many women is that the stories usually have the basic elements of the Erotic Equation as part of the story: There is a sexual attraction and there are often numerous obstacles the two characters must overcome to be together.  Often the obstacles seem insurmountable almost to the end, which adds excitement for the reader. 

In addition, most romance novels also contain various elements of the Four Cornerstones of Eroticism: There is usually longing and anticipation throughout most of the story.  In erotic romance novels, in addition to the breaking of sexual taboos, there are often class and race differences, age differences, and various other violations of societal norms. 

Furthermore, romance novel readers, who are mostly women, get to fantasize about being the heroine as the readers become immersed in the story.  

The other obvious appeal is that, after the hero and heroine overcome the obstacles that keep them apart, they get to live happily ever after, which is different from the more complex problems of real relationships.

Sexual Power Play: Establishing Consent and Safety First
In consensual power play, both people agree beforehand about what they will do and what is off limits.  Some people write up a power and submission agreement where they negotiate what they want so everything is clear to each person and consensual.

They also agree beforehand to a safe word, which is a code word they use when either of them wants to stop the role play--either temporarily or permanently during that scene. 

For example, if the agreed upon safe word is "red," it's understood that if the the person in the submissive role, known as the sub, says any other word, like, "Stop" or "No more," the dominant person, known as the dom, won't stop unless the sub says "red" because it's understood that this is part of the power play and adds to the sexual pleasure. 

After an agreement has been reached about what they will and won't do, the sub "submits" to the dom within the limits of the agreement they made beforehand.  This could include spanking, being tied up or whatever is in their agreement.

According to Dr. Morin, his research has revealed that, with regard to safety, heterosexual women. who take on the sub role, feel safest when the men they are with are "strong yet gentle."  This preference is indicative of their awareness that there is a potential for unwanted male aggression in power play situations. 

Most people only engage in these roles during the power play scene they create, but there are also couples who continue in relational power play (even when they're not being sexual) unless one or both of them want to de-role temporarily for a particular reason. 

Among individuals who have power-related fantasies, many of them, who explore the origins of their fantasies, discover that they are related to situations they either saw or experienced in childhood that have become eroticized for them.

The Paradox of Sexual Power Play
It is important to note the paradox of sexual power play: When two people enact consensual power play, although it appears on the surface as if the sub is in a powerless position, in reality the sub has a lot of control with regard to the original agreement, the safe word and when to stop, and the dom must adhere to the sub's wishes.

Either person can stop the power play scene at any time.  But since it's often the sub who is being acted upon, the sub is usually the one who is more likely to pause, modify or stop the scene and the dom is the one who will acquiesce.

Switching Roles in Power Play
People often have an affinity for either being a sub or a dom. But there are also people who like to switch roles at various times.

For instance, a heterosexual man, who considers himself to be an "alpha male" in real life, might enjoy occasionally being the sub with his partner as the dom.  

This is often true for people who are in powerful positions in real life who want to experience, for a change, giving over control to someone else.  

According to Dr. Morin, some heterosexual "alpha males" who fantasize about being dominated, have problems giving over control to a dominant woman in reality.

Similarly, a heterosexual woman, who tends to be more submissive in real life, might like to feel what it's like to be in the dominant role for a change.  If she has a receptive partner, she can play with being in the power position either in fantasy or in an actual BDSM scene.

Searching for Power is an important part of the Four Cornerstones of Eroticism.

Power play is a big topic, so I have really only scratched the surface in this blog article, but I hope I have given you an idea of what's involved.

Whether two people engage in fantasy or they engage in an actual BDSM scene, sexual power play is a big turn on for many people.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point in their life.

If you have unresolved problems that are getting in the way of your sense of well-being, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who has an expertise in the area causing you a problem.

Once you have overcome your problem, you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.