Esther Perel discusses the very important distinction between sex and eroticism, the latter being exclusive to humans. Perel is recognized as one of the world’s most original and insightful voices on personal and professional relationships. She is the best-selling author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, translated into 25 languages.
Esther Perel: So, one way to distinguish between sexuality and eroticism, which I think is actually a profound distinction, is that animals have sex and it is the nature, it is the primary urge, it is the instinct, it is procreative. We 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, to imagine ourselves in an act in which we may have a blissful time with multiple orgasms without touching anybody just because we can imagine ourselves in it. We can envision the act without having to actually enact it. And it is the cultivation of pleasure for its own sake. But I think modernity really narrowed the erotic into its bare sexual meaning. Whereas historically the mystics looked at eroticism as that capacity of maintaining aliveness, vibrancy, vitality, life source, life energy.
When I listen to couples complain about the listlessness of their sex lives, they sometimes may want more sex but they always want better. And the better is to reconnect with that quality of renewal, of playfulness, of aliveness, of curiosity, of mystery, of transcendence, that is part of the erotic. It is that erotic intelligence that I have actually focused on in helping people and couples develop. It's not about statistics and performance, how often, how hard, how long, how many. The erotic is profoundly unproductive. It is a radiant state. It is a moment of interlude in between all our productive life. When you are actually just feeling good for it's own sake. And that is a very different conception of sexuality. No longer just as something that you do but as a space you enter, a place you go inside yourself with another. Where are you traveling? Where does it take you? What do you express there? What parts of life, of mystery, of the spiritual do you connect with? That's a very different question looking at the meaning of sex rather than doing sex.
First of all, when you are creative you often are erotic. You feel alive. You feel radiant. You feel vibrant. Sometimes you feel very confident. Sometimes you don't feel confident, you are in pain but you feel alive so you can experience both of these extremes. They very much intersect. That's why for all of history we used to call it the erotic arts. We didn't call it erotic intelligence the way we – today our organizing concept is more around intelligence if you want, which fits the times. So creativity is about going outside of the boundaries. It's about being non-linear. It's about expansiveness. It's about connecting dots that are not necessarily so obvious to connect and then to create a whole new reality with it. And our erotic imagination actually plays along very similar lines. It takes you outside of your boundaries. It takes you into a reality that often exists only in the imaginary world. Many of us will fantasize about things that we would never want in real life. We actually would be demonstrating against it in real life. But there is something about going beyond our consciousness, beyond our self-definition, beyond our boundaries that I guess we call transcendence. And that is very much a part of the erotic experience and therefore it feels very creative.
It also embraces novelty and novelty is not about new positions, it is about who do you bring to this experience? What do you channel there? 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.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton