How to Cultivate Erotic Intelligence


Leave Your Politics at the Door

Equality, fairness and being clear about what you want may be good for society and democracy, but those ideals can take the fire out of a couple’s sex life, according to Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, and a native of Belgium who has had a therapy practice in New York for 30 years.

“Sexual desire doesn’t play by the same rules as good citizenship…,” said Perel in a September 2014 article in Psychotherapy Networker. “Sexual excitement is politically incorrect, often thriving on power play, role reversals, unfair advantages, imperious demands, seductive manipulations and subtle cruelties.”

Lessen the Conflict of Smart and Sexy

While she recognizes the political and social achievements made by American women in the past few decades, Perel says sexual territory is different. Clues for igniting sexual desire might be taken from Perel’s understanding of European women.

“It seem to me, women on the other side of the Atlantic feel less conflict between being smart and being sexy,” she said. “In Europe, to sexualize a woman doesn’t mean to denigrate her intelligence or competence or authority.” That wider perspective allows European women to enjoy being both professional in their careers and objects of desire, she said.

Erotic Intelligence Invites Imagination

Perel’s view is that each person in a couple might think they know the other and become bored. But partners may not truly know each other’s depths, so awakening curiosity about each other can spark not just sexual activity, but an erotic relationship.

Perel quotes Mexican essayist Octavio Paz: “Eroticism reveals to us another world. Inside this world, the senses become servants of the imagination and let us see the invisible and hear the inaudible.”

Sexual Relationships Still a Mystery For Many

While curiosity may be a guide to an erotic relationship, lingering patterns of childhood relationships and the changing landscape of sexual and romantic pairings can toss social patterns, and even therapies, into complex territory.

“Sexual satisfaction is an important goal, a key component in a good relationship and a good life. Yet, surprisingly, our understanding of the concept is quite limited and incomplete,” said psychologist Noam Shpancer in “Sexual Satisfaction: Highly Valued, Poorly Understood” in Psychology Today.

In contrast to Perel’s theory that being too egalitarian can water down sexual desire, Shpancer says studies have found that, “In the context of relationships, sexual assertiveness - the ability to stand your ground, establish clear boundaries, clarify what you want and need in sex, what works for you and what doesn’t - predicts increased satisfaction.”

Sexual satisfaction goes along with a good relationship, said Shpancer.

Psychologist Barry W. McCarthy, in “Guidelines for Revitalizing and Maintaining Sexual Desire,” published in Psychology Today, said that “personal turn-ons, including fantasies, special celebrations or memories, R- or X-rated videos, sex toys, music and candles, as well as being sexual outside the bedroom and a weekend away without the kids, facilitate sexual anticipation and desire.”

McCarthy said what’s not a mystery are the benefits of a good sexual relationship, including “…a tension reducer to deal with the stresses of life and a relationship, shared pleasure and a means to reinforce and deepen intimacy.”

Perel, Esther, “Cultivating Erotic Intelligence in Couples Therapy: Reconciling Sensuality and Domesticity,” Psychotherapy Networker, September 30, 2014.

Shpancer, Noam, “Sexual Satisfaction: Highly Valued, Poorly Understood,” Psychology Today, Feb. 16, 2014.

McCarthy, Barry W., “Guidelines for Revitalizing and Maintaining Sexual Desire,” Psychology Today, Jan. 26, 2011.