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What Is The Difference Between Sex And Eroticism?

I get asked a lot what I mean by the term ‘eroticism’, in contrast to ‘sex’. Why do I not call myself a ‘sex coach’? What’s the difference between sex and eroticism?

There are lots of definitions of the two terms, but here are mine: ‘Sex’ or ‘sexual’, is pertaining to the physical act of sex (be that solo or with a partner or partners). Non-human animals have a sexual life. ‘Erotic’ is pertaining to the meaning and emotions with which we as human surround the act of sex.

Eroticism is expressed in a multitude of ways in our personal lives and in society. We all have our own beliefs, opinions and feelings about sex, our own habits and rituals, and choose how to express ourselves as sexual beings in public and in private. In society we have the arts (painting, sculpture, music, film) as a mean of erotic expression, religion as means of rule-setting around sex, literal rule-setting with laws, and the media disseminating messaging on what is ‘normal’ and acceptable, and what isn’t. The personal and societal spheres overlap and influence each other.

Erotic energy is a life force that isn’t necessarily about a sexual act.

I’ll give an example, experienced while I was sat outside in my little yard, writing my notes for this article. It was a hot sunny day (I love the heat). I had been absorbed for a while in writing notes when a warm breeze travelled across the yard and caressed my skin. This brought my attention into my physical body and awakened my senses. I paused in my writing and looked up. I noticed how blue the sky was, how green the hedge was, and paused to enjoy the colours. I became aware of the smell of flowers from a neighbour’ garden which I hadn’t noticed before. My ears picked up the sound of laughter from someone the other side of the road. My body felt alive and I was suddenly aware of every part of it – including my genitals. I felt warm energy settling in that area.

To me, this is erotic arousal. If my husband had been at home it could very easily have morphed into sexual arousal, but he wasn’t and it didn’t. It was enjoyable in its own right without having to become about sex. My brain felt sharper and clearer, as well as my body doing so. ‘Turned on’ is a great expression for this – body and brain and senses.

From this state of heightened erotic energy, we are more alert to and engaged with the world around us. This state is (for most of us) related to a freedom from stress and fear; we become more curious, open-minded and compassionate. We have more energy for others. We are awake in our life rather than operating on autopilot. When we are in this state we have the drive and courage to strive for happiness and satisfaction in our lives.

Sexually, in this state, we are more engaged with our bodies and our partner (if we are with another person), more able to be in the moment, to both generously give and joyously receive. For most of us it may be the case that erotic arousal begins most familiarly with sexual activity – with flirting and kissing and touching. Exploring eroticism through examining one’s sexual life is a natural place to start. But ultimately it leads to empowerment in many areas of one’s life, not just sexually.

So this is why I usually call myself an erotic empowerment coach rather than a sex coach; or to be even clearer, I am a life coach specialising in erotic empowerment.

The feminist writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde (1934 to 1992) expressed the importance of erotic energy, beyond the sexual act, wonderfully in her 1978 essay, ‘The Uses Of The Erotic: The Erotic As Power’ [I include a link to her reading her essay at the bottom of this article]. She describes how erotic energy is a force for empowerment, for freedom, and a fuel for striving to better oneself and one’s world. “Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes as lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence,” she writes. “For as we begin to recognise our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society… Recognising the power of the erotic within our lives gives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world.”

Recognising ourselves as erotic beings is a first step in developing this ‘erotic knowledge’. We all have an erotic core, or ‘kernel’ as Lorde puts it [except perhaps a tiny minority who are truly asexual], but this may have become deeply buried, for example by layers of shame; or have become dulled from years of being unrecognised by others, such as in a sexless marriage. Through gentle self-exploration (maybe with the help of a counsellor or coach, as appropriate), this core can be reached and a journey of knowledge then begins – a journey which leads to a vivid aliveness which can transform the world.

Audre Lorde reading her essay at the 4th Berkshire Conference Of The History of Women, at Mount Holyoke in 1978:


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