Esther Perel on the Difference Between Sexuality and Eroticism

Perel, a world-renowned psychologist and relationship expert, defines the division between sexuality and eroticism as similar to the difference between animals and human beings.

It's fair to say that Esther Perel probably doesn't subscribe to the Bloodhound Gang school of sexuality.


Perel, a world-renowned psychologist and relationship expert, is author of the best-selling book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. She defines the division between sexuality and eroticism as similar to the difference between animals and human beings:

"Animals have sex and it is the nature, it is the primary urge, it is the instinct, it is procreative. [Humans] have an erotic life. We transform sexuality. We socialize sexuality through our imagination. And the central agent of the erotic act is our creativity, our imagination, or ability to renew, our ability to anticipate... We can envision the act without having to actually enact it. And it is the cultivation of pleasure for its own sake."

Eroticism implies sex as a vibrant and transcendent experience. Perel calls it "a place you go inside yourself with another." The fuel for this transcendent travel is one's own individual creativity. And it's through the exploration of erotic imagination that fantasies arise. Your boundaries become widened and new realities are forged. Thus, the focus of eroticism and erotic intelligence is not "doing sex" but rather "the meaning of sex." Transcendence is that meaning.

Perel also points to novelty as another important piece of the sexual/erotic divide. Novelty, she explains, is not about wild positions, but rather what you as a participant bring to the experience: emotion, lust, passion, spirit. This combination of novelty and creativity are imperative for maintaining a healthy relationship. 

"And I would say both of them are profound experiences of freedom and of individual expressions, of personal expressions, profound personal expressions of sovereignty. You cannot force creativity like you cannot force desire. You can force people to have sex, you can never force them to want it. The wanting is one of the last things that remains profoundly a part of our sovereignty and our freedom. And in that sense they really meet."

For more on the creative nature of eroticism, watch the following clip from Perel's Big Think interview:

Esther Perel is the best-selling author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. She is offering a special digital workshop this month at her website, www.estherperelclasses.com

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