NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, July 2, 2023

What is Eroticism?

The topic of this article is eroticism, which most people reduce to mean only sex, but eroticism is much more than sex. So, let's start by defining eroticism and then explore how eroticism develops.

What is Eroticism?
The word erotic comes from the Greek word, Eros, the Greek god of erotic love and desire.  

Understanding Eroticism

In her 1978 essay, "Uses of the Erotic," the poet, writer and Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde defined the erotic as a source of knowledge, power and transformation.  She also defined it as a vital life force and a source of deep satisfaction, fulfillment and joy.

Similarly, according to relationship and sex therapist, Dr. Esther Perel, who wrote the book, Mating in Captivity, eroticism is the capacity to maintain aliveness, vitality, curiosity, spontaneity and life energy. 

Dr. Perel describes the difference between animals and humans having sex: When humans have sex, they are capable of eroticism. But when animals have sex, they are following their instinctual urge to procreate.  They don't have the capacity to be erotic.

How to Develop the Capacity For Eroticism
According to Dr. Perel, eroticism is pleasure for its own sake which you can develop through your creative imagination. 

Understanding Eroticism

Using your imagination and creative capacity, you have the ability to anticipate and imagine yourself in an erotic act where you can have multiple orgasms alone or with others.  Unlike animals, you can imagine the act without ever enacting it.

Dr. Perel grew up in a Belgium community of Holocaust survivors, which included her parents who survived the camps. She talks about there being two groups in that community, "those who didn't die" and "those who came back to life."

The people who didn't die, according to Dr. Perel, were those who couldn't experience pleasure because they couldn't trust. Due to their trauma, they were vigilant, anxious, and insecure.  This made it impossible for them to be imaginative and playful, which are necessary ingredients for eroticism.

The people who came back to life understood that eroticism was the cure for feeling dead inside.  Even though they experienced trauma, they understood that eroticism was the key to feeling alive with vitality, joy and playfulness.

When Do You Turn Yourself Off Erotically?
Dr. Perel distinguishes the questions "when do you turn yourself off?" from the usual question that most people ask themselves or their partner, which is "what turns me off?" or referring to "things you do to turn me off" (referring to a partner).

This is an important distinction.  Instead of looking outside yourself, she says you need look inside yourself to understand your part in whether or not you feel erotic.

    Erotic Turn-Offs
  • Feeling dead inside
  • Having a negative body image
  • Not taking time for yourself
  • Feeling a lack of confidence
  • Feeling you don't have the right to want, take or receive pleasure
    Erotic Turn-Ons:
  • Feeling alive, vibrant, imaginative, creative, playful
  • Accepting your body
  • Taking time for yourself
  • Feeling confident 
  • Feeling entitled to want, take and receive pleasure
Eroticism Isn't About Sexual Performance
People often think in terms of performative sex when they think of eroticism, but performative sex is the opposite of eroticism (see my article: What is Performative Sex?).

If you want a vibrant erotic life, instead of focusing on performance, focus on aliveness, curiosity, mystery, transcendence and especially on developing your imagination so you can be more erotically creative.  

Understanding Eroticism

According to Dr. Perel, eroticism is not something you do.  It's a place where you go inside yourself either alone or with a partner.

When you want to develop your erotic capacity, you allow your imagination to soar, which  includes allowing yourself to have erotic fantasies whether you have any intention of enacting  them or not (see my article:  The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

Understanding Eroticism

My Other Articles About Eroticism
Also see my prior articles about eroticism:

Getting Help in Sex Therapy
If you're struggling erotically as an individual or as someone who is in a relationship, you're not alone.  This is a common problem people talk about in sex therapy.

Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

There is no nudity, exams or sex during a sex therapy session (see my article: What Are Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy?).

Individuals and couples seek help in sex therapy for many different reasons (see my article: What Are Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

A skilled sex therapist can help you to connect to your erotic self so that you can feel alive, vibrant, imaginative and creative.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help in sex therapy so you can feel alive erotically.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex 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 or email me.