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In several previous posts, I have written about the importance of being able to talk openly with your partner about your sex life. Whether you talk about your sexual history, the difficulties you’re having in your current relationship, or what your desires are, opening up communication is critical to improving your sex life. Another area that many people struggle to talk about is eroticism. Especially if you are someone who finds it difficult to ask for what you want, being honest with your partner about what turns you on can be a challenge. But eroticism is what makes sex fun. That’s why is the last of my nine tenants of a healthy sex life.

Phase 9 – Exploring Eroticism

Early in a relationship, there is often plenty to get excited about. The two of you generally have enough overlap in your sexual interests to find at least some room to play. But over time, you may have gotten into a sexual rut. Throughout a relationship, you tend to take anything off the table that makes either of you uncomfortable. Unfortunately, you may have ways of being sexually intimate that you really like or are interested in that were taken off the menu in those early days when everything was new and exciting. Being careful to not make your partner uncomfortable, you may have gotten to a place now where you feel like you’re really missing something. It’s also common to play it safe with your partner and not make yourself uncomfortable. You don’t reveal too much about what really turns you on.

It’s been said that the brain is the biggest sex organ, so if you’re not using yours, you’re missing out. The brain is what adds meaning and psychological depth to what you’re doing. The brain is what turns words, gestures, and acts into erotic stimuli. If you leave out eroticism, you risk dulling your sexual experience.

You each have an eroticism that is uniquely yours. There are specific things that turn you on. And it’s not just the specific physical acts but the meaning of those acts (the energetics around them) that make them exciting. There can be themes of power, romanticism, prohibition, danger, mystery, presence, and more that underlie what really “flips your switch.” Your eroticism is revealed in your sexual preferences, your fantasies, and your reactions to erotic media, both written and visual. If you aren’t clear about your own eroticism, you can explore fantasies and erotica to see where it leads you.

There is a lot of fuel in your eroticism; it has power. And if you’ve been going through your sex life without tapping into what is erotic for each of you, you’re not maximizing your interest and arousal. If sex is seeming stale and boring, exploring eroticism is one powerful way to breathe new life into it.

Of course, a lot of people don’t ever get to this level of exploration because it’s very intimate to share your eroticism with your partner, and that can be scary. You may not have ever thought about what’s hot to you, never explored this at all, so you don’t know where to start. Or if you do know, you may not know how to share it with someone who may or may not accept it. You may not want to rock the boat or risk the anxiety of showing someone else this side of you.

Now that you have shifted from avoiding sex to actively engaging with your partner to change the dynamics, and you’ve worked through the other phases of this process, you can explore eroticism together. Making sex erotic is powerful fuel for sexual interest and arousal.

Beginning to explore your own eroticism with your partner can open new levels of intimacy and intensity. This is not for the faint of heart; it can feel very risky to show this side of your sexual self. You may be ashamed of your sexual turn-ons, and you don’t know until you share them whether or not your partner will embrace them. Coming to terms with your eroticism and making room for it in the conversation with your partner, whether or not you will incorporate it into your sex life, can take some time and patience.

The first step, once you’ve got some idea of what turns you on and what is salient in your eroticism, is to imagine how you can bring that about with your partner. What would you have to ask your partner to do to explore your deepest erotic desires? Then you can discuss this with them. I recommend sharing scenes with each other that you each find hot. Go into this with the agreement that you won’t criticize each other. Try to keep curiosity and openness about what you each find to be a turn on. You are not, at this point, talking about doing anything with this information; you are just learning about each other. You can share scenes from written erotica, movies or TV shows, or from visual erotica, including pornography, if you wish. You can point out which part(s) of the scene are fundamental to your response to it—which parts are hot and which parts don’t matter or get erased in your mind, so you can focus on what turns you on. Sharing more than one scene allows both of you to see the basic theme of what underlies your unique eroticism.

The next step might be to share your actual sexual fantasies. Knowing that your partner might not respond especially well to your ideas, agree to the same respect and lack of criticism as when you shared other people’s scenes. Since these are created in your mind, they only include elements that work for you. There are no off-putting elements that you must overlook, as there often are in porn or other media. After all, why add elements to a fantasy that would make it worse? This means it’s more personal, too, since your fantasies are pure erotic material that reveal your core erotic nature. When you let your partner see this level of detail about what turns you on, you are showing them extremely personal information about you and your essence.

Through this exploration with your partner, you’re going to get an idea of where you overlap in eroticism and where you don’t. It is my belief that no two people choose each other if there isn’t at least some overlap in what they find erotic. It’s not a problem if you don’t find the exact same things arousing. You’ll want to find the overlap and start there. Then you can start to explore those things that are outside your comfort zone, but that you might be willing to entertain because it’s pleasing to your partner. And vice versa.

The places where you overlap are easy to use and play with. Whether you decide to do some of the things that turn either of you on (whether acting out a whole scene or just playing with parts of it), or you harness the erotic energy by just talking about or imagining it, you can start to incorporate the energy right away. Some of the erotic ideas that don’t overlap can still be part of your sex life. You can use some of them, even though it’s out of your comfort zone. Or maybe you’re willing to role play or imagine some of the things that excite your partner even though it doesn’t excite you. Sometimes you can build ways to play that use elements from each of your fantasies, finding how they can go together in a way that works. Other erotic elements may just be off the table in your relationship (giving you another opportunity to practice saying or hearing no). In that case, those themes can be explored and enjoyed in solo sex.

Using the Giver/Receiver Exercise – Exploring Eroticism

You can use the Giver/Receiver Exercise to explore eroticism once you have made good progress with all the other phases of this process. Because you are directing your partner, in exquisite detail, about what you want, you can capture elements of your eroticism in your requests. Eroticism is more about how things are done, and sometimes less about what things are done. See what it’s like to add this dimension to what you describe to your partner when it’s your turn to receive.

Pitfall 1: Inability to Put Your Erotic Desires into Words

You don’t know how to describe what you want. There’s something you want to feel, but it’s vague to you and hard to name. You feel embarrassed about what you like, so it’s hard for you to be clear about the details that really make the experience powerful for you. You worry that your partner won’t react well or will judge you for your desires.

Breakthrough 1: Finding a Way to Communicate with Your Partner So They Can Meet Your Desires, as They Are Able

You use the ideas above, about sharing erotic media and fantasies, outside of the exercise time to help communicate the subtlety of what you want. You are open with your partner about which parts are essential to your arousal. You validate your own desires and tolerate any judgment or ambivalence from your partner. You develop some language to help you describe exactly what you want. You have experiences that tap into your erotic mind and infuse your sex life with new energy.

Pitfall 2: Not Enjoying the Same Erotic Scenes That Your Partner Does, and It Seems to Go Badly

You can’t enjoy your turn if your partner isn’t into it. You worry about how they’re feeling instead of allowing yourself your pleasure. You hold back what you really want since you know (or suspect) that it isn’t such a turn on for them. Or you push hard for what you want, trying to pressure your partner into participating in something they really don’t like. When the Giver, you fail to discern when you need to say no and end up having a negative experience. Or you let your discomfort with your partner’s requests keep you from trying to play in that space with them and expanding your sexual repertoire.

Breakthrough 2: Working with Your Overlap as Well as Playing Within Boundaries That Make It a Positive Experience

You and your partner have had a lot of discussion and exploration about what makes sex erotic to each of you. You get adept at knowing what is a hard no for you and what you can try to explore (and even enjoy). You make your requests clear, and you don’t push your partner beyond their appropriate boundaries.

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