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The Erotic Urge: What's Behind Our Sexual Attractions?

From basic biology to early childhood attachment, the roots of eroticism are complex.
 
 
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A version of this post first appeared on Psychology Today. 

What makes something erotic

Sex is not new; nor the idea that erotic taste varies from person to person. Some like big, some small, wild, or cultured, vixen or modest, ripped or boy next door, tall, or short, settled or a nomad, in charge or submissive, loving or selfish. 

Personality counts as well.  Pick up Plato’s 2500 year old dialogue on love called The Symposium. The main character, Socrates, had no money, no looks and no position. But he was  charismatic, brilliant and compelling, and others found him exciting.   

Or to be more modern, consider a scene by Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin. In it, Jon Snow, the son of a Lord, finds nomadic Ygritte, truly compelling:

At a lord’s court the girl (Ygritte) would never have been considered anything but common, he (Jon) knew.  She had a round peasant face, a pug nose and slightly crooked teeth, and her eyes were too far apart…Lately, though he was noticing some other things. When she grinned, the crooked teeth didn’t seem to matter. And maybe her eyes were too far apart, but they were a pretty blue-grey color and lively as any eyes he knew. Sometimes she sang in a low husky that stirred him. And, sometimes by the cook fire when she sat hugging her knees with the flames waking echoes in her red hair, and looked at him, just smiling…well, that stirred some things as well. (George Martin: A Storm of Swords)

We find eroticism in basic biology as well; think fertility and virility. You may not know this, but many of the ancient idols where naked, nubile women. And, Roman soldiers often wore penile neck chains.  The erotic's been with us throughout history, as it’s with us today.

Then there's attractiveness. 

There's a scene when Jerry Seinfeld questions Elaine about her upcoming blind date. 

Have you ever hear of the concept of a DEAF DATE, he asks?   

What is the value of talking to a person, Jerry points out, when all you really need to know is found by looking at her picture?  Seinfeld’s quip is funny because it’s painfully true.

Here we'll explore many of the sources of erotic excitement. It's a great subject, and not JUST because its about sex. Each person's erotic trigger is his or her own, defined by one's unique biology, cultural and family influences, life experience and even, the capacity to play. Today the focus will be on biology and  attachment, topics that deserve book length treatments. 

Let this be the start of a good conversation; I am interested in  your thoughts as well.

Biology & Sex:

The basis for attraction has its source in fertility, whether we like it or not. 

The female of our species have wanted (and still often want) men who are strong, virile and capable in this world.  It’s probably the reason why rich men and  phallic narcissists have so many women excited about them.  Such men are exciting and offer women a sense of safety in the biologically driven game of children. And, leaving the wish for children aside, a strong man can make a woman feel at ease and protected.  It’s a powerful erotic turn-on in traditional societies and witnessed in modern culture in such things as our fascination with  alpha male athletes, actorsand fantasy novels like 50 Shades of Grey by E L James.

“I want to bite this lip,” he murmurs against my mouth, and carefully he tugs at it with his teeth.”  (E L  James: Fifty Shades of Grey)

 
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