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.

Esther Perel on the Difference Between Sexuality and Eroticism

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

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Mathematical model shows how the Nazis could have won WWII's Battle of Britain

With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.

Photo: Heinrich Hoffmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
  • Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
  • A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Keep reading Show less

New data reveals Earth closer to a black hole and 16,000 mph faster

A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.

Position and velocity map of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Credit: NAOJ
Surprising Science
  • A Japanese radio astronomy project revealed Earth is 2,000 light years closer to the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way's center.
  • The data also showed the planet is moving 7 km/s or 16,000 mph faster in orbit around the Galactic Center.
  • The findings don't mean Earth is in more danger from the black hole but reflect better modeling of the galaxy.
  • Keep reading Show less

    How has technology changed — and changed us — in the past 20 years?

    Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.

    PEDRO UGARTE/AFP via Getty Images
    Technology & Innovation
    Just over 20 years ago, the dotcom bubble burst, causing the stocks of many tech firms to tumble.
    Keep reading Show less
    Surprising Science

    The magic of mushrooms: A mycological trip

    A biologist-reporter investigates his fungal namesake.

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast