We each carry the responsibility of our desire. Why? Because desire is an expression of our free will. Nobody can force us to want. So if it is ours, then it is also our responsibility to activate it. Freedom always comes with responsibility. We can turn ourselves on and we can turn ourselves off. We can have thoughts that will instantly shut us down and thoughts that will keep us open to possibility and curiosity. We can enliven ourselves and we can numb ourselves. Eroticism blooms from the tension between excitation and inhibition and manifests in the things we say and do, by how we act, and by how we think. We tend to think of eroticism as a sexual state shared by two or more people, but really, it starts with the individual. And it requires practice.
What Is Eroticism?
Eroticism isn’t sex; it’s sexuality transformed by the human imagination. It’s the thoughts, dreams, anticipation, unruly impulses, and even painful memories which make up our vast erotic landscapes. It’s energized by our entire human experience, layered with early childhood experiences of touch, play, or trauma, which later become cornerstones of our erotic life. We know that even things that give us the most pleasure can come from the most painful sources. Eroticism is not comfortable and neat. It unveils inner struggles, emotional tensions, a mix of excitement and anxiety.
Experts often talk about how couples who are plagued by sexual boredom find themselves there because of a lack of vulnerability with their partners. They prioritize getting it done over exploring the hidden desires that turn them on. The same can be said for the individual. When we’re on our own, we mostly know what gets “the job” done. Porn. Toys. Intense focus on a specific sweet spot followed by a quick finish. But to truly experience the benefits of eroticism, it can’t be treated as a job. So why are we so quick to punch in and punch out? Are we afraid of what may happen when we slow down and really spend some quality time with ourselves?
Erotic self-care begins with diminishing our inner-critic and giving ourselves simply the permission to feel beautiful, to enjoy our own company, to be more compassionate and realistic with ourselves without vacillating between excess and repression. Why use your fingers to swipe the multitude of possibilities—better kept fantasy than reality—when those same fingers could be used pleasuring yourself?
I Turn Myself Off When…
Incorporating eroticism into a self-care plan is basically about loosening the noose of a highly-developed cultural mandate about self-control so that we may explore what brings vibrancy and vitality into our lives. Whether we seek to explore eroticism on our own or with a partner, it always starts at the source: our self.
Complete this sentence: “I turn myself off when…” The answers are endless. “I turn myself off when…I check email before bed; when I worry about the kids; when I stress about work or the state of my finances; when I overeat or don’t exercise; when I don’t take care of myself.” Notice that, in this list, there is very little that is specifically sexual. What turns us off are the things that sap the energy and liveliness out of us.
I Turn Myself On When…
The same is true in the reverse. Complete the sentence, “I turn myself on when….” and the answers usually have to do with taking time for self-care: going into nature; dancing; pampering; connecting to body and sensuality, nurturing. We turn ourselves on when we energize ourselves, when we are embodied and focused—not on any particular goal, such as having an orgasm, but on the present moment. Maybe it’s the sensation of a small square of dark chocolate melting on our tongue. Or the moment when, in the shower, we start noticing the hot water on the nape of the neck, underarm, and chest. There are so many parts of our bodies that we never think to wash, check, or touch.
Sometimes we ignore these parts of us because somewhere along the line, we began to shut them down. Maybe we were deeply wounded and don’t trust ourselves to open up again. Maybe we feel like we no longer deserve to be attractive because we no longer have the fit body or full head of hair we once had. Or perhaps illness has transformed us, confiscated our breasts, uterus, testicles or another part of us, that makes us feel unsexy or unattractive. Sometimes we are in mourning or feel guilty, as if we don’t deserve to be sensual or awakened because we’ve just lost somebody. Sometimes we’re just annoyed.
From everyday stresses and resentments to deeper wounds, there are a lot of reasons for people to feel out of touch with their erotic selves. Often, shutting down feels like the only thing we can control. Incorporating eroticism into our self-care plans can alter our relationship with control and transform our state of being.
It’s About Being Receptive, Willing, Open, And Responsive.
These are very important verbs in the realm of the erotic. It’s not about saying yes or no to everything; it’s about a willing to be influenced, receptive, curious. When we’re shut down for a prolonged period of time, we don’t feel open or responsive. We want others to make us want but that doesn’t work so well, remember? Wanting is something that we fully own. No one can make us want except for ourselves.
Desire and self-worth go hand in hand. In order to want, we need to feel deserving. Sadly, way too often when we don’t feel attractive, we can’t imagine that somebody else sees us with different eyes than the way we see ourselves. And we certainly don’t feel like we deserve their sensual touch or our own, for that matter. This is one of the ways that self-rejection speaks.
Change the script and say: I deserve to take a break. I deserve to stop working. I deserve to lay down. I deserve to make myself feel good. In that healthy sense of entitlement, we don’t produce anything; there’s nothing to measure. It’s a radiant interlude, a decision to notice what we generally don’t pay attention to, to open ourselves up to receive and respond.
Incorporating Eroticism Into Your Self-Care Plan
Self-care isn’t just about facemasks and mindfulness, though those are great, too. It’s about tuning into our bodies and letting them teach us what we like, what we don’t like, and what we don’t know about ourselves yet. There are so many ways to incorporate eroticism into our self-care plan, from integrating different types of touch—energetic, affectionate, sexual, and erotic—to exploring massage, stroking, tickling, and kinky playing. Try this: let your fingers roll from your elbow to your wrist in the absolute slowest way you can. Then go even slower.
Remember: it’s a pleasurable, sensual connection that reminds us that life is worth living even when we are in pain or struggling. If we want to be able to connect better with our bodies, we must invite ourselves to explore different experiences around our senses, and around our sensuality. Befriending our bodies and making peace with them is the beginning of one of the best relationships we can ever have: the relationship with ourselves.