Rethinking Eroticism

The word “erotic” is often narrowed to speak solely to sex, but has a much more robust and creative meaning. We consider psychotherapist Esther Perel’s definition, and explore what eroticism can really look like.

With September being Sexual Health Month, a lot of conversations are happening in which the word “erotic” is closely associated with our sexual lives and experiences. But although eroticism may seem solely sexual in nature, the word has a much more robust and creative meaning. Psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel defines eroticism as “the qualities of vitality, curiosity, and spontaneity that make us feel alive.” Eroticism has a lot to do with curiosity, and the many ways we find excitement, cultivate pleasure, and bring adventure into our lives.

If you’ve ever traveled to a new place and felt alive simply by exploring the streets, you’ve experienced eroticism first hand. But, in the midst of our everyday routines and responsibilities, it can be easy to lose touch with this feeling of excitement. The key to accessing eroticism is in first believing we are deserving and in the choice to be both curious and open. 

Flipping the Script
Despite eroticism typically being tied to a relationship between two people, it’s something we can experience on an individual level, whether or not we are involved in romantic partnerships. It starts with something Perel describes as “owning the wanting,” a sentiment that involves feeling worthy of wanting and receiving. Eroticism and desire are deeply tied to self-worth, and we have to begin to shift the narrative in our heads to one that centers us as deserving. We deserve to experience pleasure, and we deserve to experience pleasure whether or not it involves another person. 

Choosing Curiosity 
So...how do we access eroticism? It’s all about being open to the world (and the people) around us. On an individual level, making eroticism a part of a self-care routine can look like trying a new restaurant, visiting a new place, making time for an old friend, exploring your body and what you like and dislike, or practicing yoga or meditation. Perel recommends completing the sentences “I turn myself on when…” and “I turn myself off when…” and thinking about these sentences in terms beyond just sex. Anything that zaps or boosts your energy can qualify, and something like going for a walk or dancing may fit into the definition of what turns you on. 

When it comes to sparking erocitism within a relationship, curiosity is super important. We can lose that feeling of excitement in our relationships, especially when we choose to view our partners as people we know entirely, people who exist as both predictable and familiar. Instead, choosing to view our partners as people we are curious about creates space for continued interest and mystery. We can never fully know our partners, and embracing that and the unknown can shift our perspectives of the people we love. 

There is so much to gain when we choose to view eroticism outside of its limiting association with sex. Our desire is vast, as are the possibilities we have to truly feel alive in this life, and taking the time to cultivate pleasure can help us have a powerful and meaningful relationship with the world. 


This editorial article deeply considers the work of Psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel, whose concepts of eroticism and erotic intelligence are reflected here. Learn more about Esther and her work at www.estherperel.com