By Adam D. Blum, MFT, Gay Therapy Center Founder and Director
"What is hot?" Jack Morin, Ph.D, wrote the The Erotic Mind* back in 1995 and essentially answered that question. Eighteen years later, the book is still in print.
Dr. Morin did extensive research on the topic of sexual desire by collecting detailed written surveys about sexual excitement from hundreds of study subjects. His findings can be summarized by the following equation:
Attraction + Obstacles = Excitement
That sounds like the tired plotline of every Hollywood romantic comedy but also describes universal themes about what makes sex more exciting.
This basic equation can be elaborated by what Morin calls "The Four Cornerstones of Eroticism." They are:
This is why "naughty" can be such a turn on for so many people. Fantasy can release us from our own moral constraints and taboos. And fortunately, unlike real life, there is little chance anyone can get hurt.
"Searching for Power"
Power can be very affirming for both partners. Through his or her excitement, the more dominant partner demonstrates that the more submissive partner is desirable. And the more submissive partner shows the irresistible erotic power of the aggressor.
"Longing and Anticipation"
The experience of longing is why crushes are so powerful. The feeling of anticipation makes foreplay exciting. Both explain why sex with your partner can be better after he or she has been out of town for a while. It also explains why for some people an affair can be an aphrodisiac, since it involves longing for one who isn't available.
Some people draw and repel us at the same time. Ambivalent attractions refuse to be limited by logic or reason. That's why some people are attracted to partners who may hold values they abhor.
Most of us have what Morin calls a "core erotic theme" that tends to follow one or more of the above cornerstones. Like many of our core personal themes in life, they are influenced by our childhood experiences.
Monogamy and Obstacles
If "obstacles" are sexy and a long term monogamous relationship tends to eliminate them, how do you maintain the excitement over the years?
The answer is through exploration of fantasy with your partner based on your own core erotic themes.
This is not easy for many people to do. Your partner has great power to hurt you. We risk being belittled for our fantasies, or having them ignored. That's why poor communication skills often lead to poor sex.
If you and your partner are not good at supporting each other with your words and actions then it's difficult to imagine a productive conversation about something as vulnerable as sex.
How To Talk About Sex
Approach conversations about sex with a spirit of fun. After all, the whole point of sex is to create something enjoyable. You wouldn't try to create a great party or a wonderful vacation by starting with a litany of complaints. You would attempt to stay positive. The same approach works well with sex.
Tell your partner, with verbal as well as non-verbal cues, when he or she is doing something you like. Don't bring up sexual issues when either one of you is in a bad mood or distracted. Talk about sex when you are having a good time together, like over a good dinner.
If the thought of talking about your fantasies seems impossible, consider sending your partner a written plot line or a web link to a video or erotic story that you like.
There are few topics that can invoke guilt and shame faster than the subject of sexuality. Each of us, straight or non-straight, gets a hefty dose of shaming messages about sex from centuries of cultural beliefs.
According to Morin, "Erotically healthy people accept and appreciate their sexual uniqueness rather than fear it or fight it."
You can continue to reduce your own shame quotient by understanding how much your sexuality has in common with almost everyone else on the planet. When it comes to sex, the answer to the question "Am I normal?" is usually "yes".
*Morin, Jack. (1995) The Erotic Mind. New York: HarperCollins Publishers
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