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Monday, May 30, 2022

Anger as an Emotional Aphrodisiac

I began a discussion about emotional aphrodisiacs based on Dr. Jack Morin's book, The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment, in my last article, What Are Emotional Aphrodisiacs?

Anger as an Emotional Aphrodisiac

The current article is part of a series which you can read as a standalone article, but to get a more in depth understanding of emotional aphrodisiacs, you can read my prior articles in the following order: 

A Brief and Important Note: When I refer to anger, I'm referring to common experiences that everyone has with anger.  I'm not referring to out of control or violent behavior.  Also, consent between two capable adults is essential in all sexual activities.

Anger as a Paradoxical Emotion
To recap from my last article:  Anger is a paradoxical emotion.

Paradoxical means seemingly contradictory.  

The word "seemingly" is important in the context of this discussion because these emotions often have the opposite effect to what is normally expected.

Erotically speaking, anger, as well as guilt and anxiety, are considered paradoxical emotions because these emotions can have an unexpected aphrodisiac effect.

For instance, anger's unexpected aphrodisiac effect can be seen in the heat of the moment when a couple is having an argument and the stress hormone, cortisol, spikes. At that point, people often yearn for a release of the tension as well as the closeness that sex can provide.  

This is one of the reasons why "make up sex" can be so hot after an argument.

Angry Sex and Romance Novels
Angry sex is the kind of sex written about in bodice-ripping romance novels where the hero and heroine can no longer contain their passion.

In these stories, even before the anger, the two main characters have each experienced a build up of eroticism (based on terms coined by Dr. Morin, which are The Erotic Equation and the Four Cornerstones of Eroticism).

Popular romance novels usually include the following elements before the hero and heroine get to live happily ever after:
  • sexual attraction and obstacles: This often occurs when the hero and heroine meet, feel an attraction, but they can't be together due to societal norms, customs or other issues that get in their way.
  • longing and anticipation: Long and anticipation develop because, even though they can't be together (at least not at the beginning of the story), they can't stop thinking about each other obsessively.
  • violating prohibitions by breaking the rules: Their longing and anticipation is often fueled by the prohibitions that keep them apart. When they can no longer contain their longing for each other, they might find a way to have a secret meeting alone.  The secret meeting away from disapproving eyes is also taboo.
  • overcoming ambivalence: Overcoming their ambivalence is usually the stage where they overcome the prohibitions that keep them apart as well the anger they feel about it.  In a fit of passion, they overcome their ambivalence, throw caution to the wind, and consummate their passion for each other.
Whether you love them or hate them, romance novels are a billion dollar industry, and the elements described above is what often makes them so popular.  

Readers get to imagine themselves as part of the story, so they experience the passion vicariously through the characters with a guaranteed happy ending.

Angry Sex in Movies
There are also many examples of angry sex in movies. 

One example is in the classic movie, From Here to Eternity, winner of eight Academy Awards.

Initially, there is a build up of thwarted passion between Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) before they have that iconic passionate scene on the beach.  

At the beginning of the movie, they try to resist each other because Karen is married to Warden's superior, Captain Dana Holmes.  Warden risks going to jail if they are caught having a love affair and Karen risks getting caught cheating on her husband.

Prior to their involvement, the anger each of them feels is for one another and the sexual attraction they are trying to resist, and towards Captain Holmes for mistreating Karen and being an obstacle to their romance.  Then, there is also the overall tense situation they find themselves in as they are anticipating war.

In the dynamic between Milton and Karen, there are the same elements as in many romance novels, including: attraction, obstacles, longing and anticipation, breaking the rules and, ultimately, overcoming ambivalence with their love scene on the beach.

Angry Sex in Real Life
When it works, angry sex can be passionate, fiery and exciting.  It can also release tension and frustration built up during the course of an argument when cortisol spikes.

An example of angry sex not working is when a couple uses angry sex is avoid having a difficult conversation.  

In addition to serving as a release, angry sex can help a couple to reconnect and repair.

Clinical Vignette:
The following clinical vignette illustrates how anger adds to eroticism between two consenting adults in a relationship:

Jill and Ted
After dating for a year, Ted moved in with Jill after the lease on his apartment expired.

Before they moved in together, they got along well and they loved spending time together.  Aside from the love they shared, they also shared similar interests and values.

But after Ted moved in, tension gradually mounted as they encountered differences they had not anticipated.

It all started when Ted told Jill that he didn't have enough space for his clothes in their shared closet.  

Jill thought she was generous with the space she allowed Ted, so she felt annoyed.  Even though she tried to hide her anger from Ted, he could tell she was angry.  But neither of them addressed it.

Grudgingly, Jill made more space for Ted's clothes in her closet.  She felt this was a big compromise.  But, from Jill's perspective, no sooner had she made the space than Ted was complaining that it was hard for him to feel like the apartment was also his because it only had Jill's furniture and possessions.  He wanted to put up some of his pictures and add pieces of his furniture.

After a few days of building anger and tension, they had a big argument.  First, Jill accused Ted of trying to take over the space in the apartment, and then Ted countered that Jill was being selfish.  

After hurling angry accusations at each other, at the peak of their argument they both looked at each other and Ted said, "Are you feeling as turned on as I am?" and when Jill nodded, they both fell into bed and had the most passionate sex they had ever had in their relationship.

Afterwards, in the afterglow of their lovemaking, they cuddled in each other's arms.  By then, the anger had subsided to the point where they could repair their differences, talk calmly about their problems and make compromises.

Anger as an emotional aphrodisiac is a common theme that often comes up in novels, movies, TV programs as well as in real life.

Anger is also considered a paradoxical emotion because its seemingly contradictory to what we normally think of as leading to passionate sex. But once you consider familiar examples, it makes sense why anger can lead to passionate sex.

Without realizing it, some couples rely on anger as an aphrodisiac, especially in unstable relationships where there are frequent breakups and makeups (see my article: The On Again, Off Again Relationship).

The uncertainty involved with unstable relationships is what usually makes them so fiery and passionate.  But, in the long run, these relationships are unhealthy and they usually don't last.

Some couples use angry sex to avoid having difficult conversations.  The problem with this is obvious: Problems in the relationship don't get resolved.  So, context is important.

Occasional angry sex in a stable relationship (where there are two capable consenting adults) can be exciting and fun as well as serve as an emotional repair between the two individuals.

In upcoming articles I will discuss the other emotional aphrodisiacs, which are also paradoxical emotions, anxiety and guilt.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been struggling with unresolved problems, you're not alone.  

Everyone needs help at some point.

Working through unresolved problems with a licensed mental health professional can help you to 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 (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?

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.