Eroticism and Desire

Artists, writers, poets and lovers have been exploring the intricacies of eroticism and desire for millenia. It is a truism that the brain is the most important sexual organ: here is where we dream, create fantasies, and attend to that which fascinates. There are as many paths to the erotic as there are minds to conceive of them.

Yet in the West we are forgetful of these mysteries, as we are surrounded by images and narratives that strive to homogenize and concretize the erotic nature of human loving. The books reviewed below are an excellent introduction to more nuanced thinking about (and experiencing of) eroticism and desire.

Recommended Books on Eroticism and Desire

Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies by Michael J. BaderArousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies

In Arousal, Bader discusses the role of sexual fantasy as an unconscious problem solver and describes how his patients have come to understand the background, logic, and positive messages of their fantasies. Bader offers case studies of patients (both heterosexual and gay), and analyzes their sexual fantasies in light of their desires, guilt, and past and current relationships. He interprets common sex fantasies and discusses sexual boredom in ongoing relationships, the power of pathogenic (irrational and self-defeating) beliefs, and sexual fantasies as a therapeutic key to problems that seem independent of sexuality, such as depression. 2003, St. Martin's Griffin

A Billion Wicked ThoughtsA Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire

In this startling book, Ogas and Gaddam analyze a billion web searches in order to understand the true differences between male and female desires. Their findings include: men and women are wired with different sets of sexual cues (no surprise there); the male sexual brain resembles a reckless hunter, while the female sexual brain resembles a cautious detective agency; men form their sexual interests during adolescence and rarely change, while women's sexual interests are plastic and change frequently; a single stimulus can arouse the male sexual brain, while the female sexual brain requires many simultaneous stimuli to arouse it. Fascinating research. 2011, Dutton Adult

Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life

Emily Nagoski has written a fascinating book drawing together the strands of current research on Female Sexuality. She highlights the challenges of "being sex-positive in a sex-negative culture," and emphasizes the importance of context in understanding sexual interactions. Female sexuality is different from male sexuality and she helps the reader understand this in terms of physiology and brain science. Nagoski stresses that variability in sexual responsivity is normal and urges her readers to celebrate their uniqueness. She cites cutting-edge research to emphasize that the most important factor in sexual satisfaction is not technique or number of orgasms, but how you feel about it. This absorbing book is filled with down to earth wisdom and guidance based on the latest research. 2015, Simon & Schuster

Desire: The Tantric Path to Awakening by Daniel OdierDesire: The Tantric Path to Awakening

Rather than looking at desire as an obstacle to personal growth and enlightenment, Daniel Odier, a scholar and teacher of Tantra, maintains that it is the only true path to liberation. He teaches a meditative practice based on hightening your awareness of sensory perception -- wherever you are. Luminosity of existence thus pervades everything and even the smallest things give pleasure. 2001, Inner Traditions

The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism by Octavio PazThe Double Flame: Love and Eroticism

This work by the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1990) consists of reflections on the diverse manifestations of sex, eroticism, and love from ancient to contemporary times. "Sex is the primordial source. Eroticism and love are forms derived from the sexual instinct: crystallizations, sublimations, perversions, and condensations which transform sexuality." From Plato and the great civilizations of antiquity to the modern period (including an examination of medieval courtly love and side excursions into Eastern approaches), the themes are studied through their literary and philosophical aspects. This is an erudite, thought-provoking work. 1996, Harvest/HBJ Books

Eastern Erotica: Chinese, Indian, and Japanese Eroticism in Art and Literature by Bret NortonEastern Erotica: Chinese, Indian, and Japanese Eroticism in Art and Literature

Acknowledging that there are many similarities between the Chinese, Indian, and Japanese approaches to love and erotica, this book examines the recurring topics that appear in the erotic literature and art of the East: the obligation to pleasure the woman, ways to fortify the male's virility, suggestions for variety and daring in sex, and emphasis on the power of love beyond lust. It offers a sophisticated examination of the traditional texts of the Chinese Golden Lotus, the Indian Kama Sutra, and the Japanese Shunga scrolls and extracts the lessons they teach about the sexuality of yin and yang, improving lovemaking, genital size, positions, and problems such as premature ejaculation. This new study presents the essence of the original texts in a clear and sophisticated manner with exquisite full-color illustrations. 2003, Astrolog Publishing House

The Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity (ideologies of Desier) by Vernon A. Rosario IIThe Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity (Ideologies of Desire)

Drawing upon the writings of literary figures, physicians and psychologists, Vernon Rosario argues that the modern idea of the perverse first emerged in late 18th-century France and was shaped largely by the strange confluence of medical writings, patient confessions, and literary narratives. Beginning with the shocking revelations of masturbation and masochism in Rousseau's Confessions, and the widespread public alarm over the "fatal convenience" of the "solitary vice," The Erotic Imagination illuminates precisely how various forms of eroticism came to be classified as perversions. Rosario takes the reader through a dizzying proliferation of "pathologies"--including the bizarre theories which enabled doctors to identify homosexuals, or "inverts," according to bodily stigmata, to the "uterine fury" of nymphomania, to an astonishing range of hysterias, fetishes, and erotomanias until finally only marital, reproductive sex survived as normal. Such "perversification" of sexual desire attempted to close off and regulate those erotic expressions seen as threatening to the social order, national population, military power, and the supremacy of will and reason. In each case, Rosario argues, the original culprit of deviant behavior was identified as the imagination--a perilous site beyond surveillance, highly susceptible to the salacious effects of literature, where irrational associations might take root and usurp the "reality" of conventional sexuality. 1997, Oxford University Press

The Erotic Impulse by David SteinbergThe Erotic Impulse

This book is a wake-up call to the erotic spirit in all of us. Drawing on the insights of counselors and the wisdom of poets, The Erotic Impulse serves up a feast of thoughts, feelings, findings, and fantasies about our erotic nature. It explores sexual differences between men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals and contains moving tales of erotic initiation and passage. It describes the stimulating role of erotic art and the imagination and celebrates the emerging landscape of erotic frontiers. The Erotic Impulse celebrates sexual spirituality and self-discovery and offers a liberating vision of human sexual potential. 1992, Jeremy P. Tarcher

The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment by Jack MorinThe Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment

Sex therapist and psychotherapist Morin asserts that our erotic psyches are worthy of detailed examination. More specifically, he claims that understanding our peak sexual experiences and fantasies offers the greatest opportunity for self-discovery and, thus, revitalized sexual experiences. Based on a groundbreaking, in-depth study of more than 1000 provocative confessional stories, Morin's theories are supported here by excerpts and analysis. His new perspective offers insight into the many paradoxes of erotic life, such as how anxiety, guilt, and anger - generally thought to have a negative impact on sexual arousal - often turn out to be aphrodisiacs and why the best sex is dynamic and risky rather than static and safe. 1996, Harper

The Erotic Phenomenon by Jean-Luc MarionThe Erotic Phenomenon

While humanists have pondered the subject of love to the point of obsessiveness, philosophers have steadfastly ignored it. In The Erotic Phenomenon, Jean-Luc Marion asks this fundamental question of philosophy, while reviving inquiry into the concept of love itself. He begins this profound and personal book with a critique of Descartes' equation of the ego's ability to doubt with the certainty that one exists -- "I think, therefore I am" -- arguing that this is worse than vain. We encounter being, he says, when we first experience love: I am loved, therefore I am; and this love is the reason I care whether I exist or not. This philosophical base allows Marion to probe several manifestations of love and its variations, including carnal excitement, self-hate, lying and perversion, fidelity, the generation of children, and the love of God. Throughout, Marion stresses that all erotic phenomena, including sentimentality, pornography, and even boasts about one's sexual conquests, stem not from the ego as popularly understood but instead from love. 2008, University Of Chicago Press

Eroticism: Death and Sensuality by Georges BatailleErotism: Death and Sensuality

Taboo and sacrifice, transgression and language, death and sensuality-Georges Bataille pursues these themes with an original, often startling perspective. He challenges any single discourse on the erotic. The scope of his inquiry ranges from Emily Bronte to Sade, from St. Therese to Claude Levi-Strauss and Dr. Kinsey; and the subjects he covers include prostitution, mythical ecstasy, cruelty, and organized war. Investigating desire prior to and extending beyond the realm of sexuality, he argues that eroticism is "a psychological quest not alien to death. 2001, City Lights Publishers

The Evolution of Desire - Revised Edition 4 by David M. BussThe Evolution Of Desire - Revised Edition 4

In the pursuit of a mate, women prefer men who possess money, resources, power and high social status, while men tend to seek attractive, youthful women who will remain sexually faithful. This finding emerged from a global survey by Buss and colleagues of 10,047 persons in 37 cultures, from Australia to Zambia. Women and men are often at cross-purposes in mate selection, sexual relations and affairs. In this provocative study, Professor Buss attributes these differences to ingrained psychological mechanisms which he argues are universal across cultures and rooted in each gender's adaptive responses over millennia of human evolution. 2003, Basic Books

The Heart and Soul of Sex: Making the ISIS Connection by Gina OgdenThe Heart and Soul of Sex: Making the ISIS Connection

Based on a landmark sex survey, researcher and sex therapist Ogden found "the language of spiritual experience comes closest to expressing the fullness of our sexual response, for it is the language of connection and ecstasy." The book guides the reader on a path to her sexual "center" where healing, ecstasy and transformation occur. 2006, Trumpeter
Read an extensive review of The Heart and Soul of Sex »

The Heart of Desire: Keys to the Pleasures of Love by Stella ResnickThe Heart of Desire: Keys to the Pleasures of Love

Psychologist and sex therapist Stella Resnick, PhD draws on the latest research for clues to unravel the love-lust dilemma. This puzzling conundrum affects many men and women who find it difficult or impossible to feel strong desire for the person they love deeply. Dr. Resnick explains how early socialization can inhibit desire as lovers grow into commitment and start to feel like family members. She offers a groundbreaking 10-Step Loving Sex Program to help lovers restart their emotional and erotic intimate connection. 2012, Wiley

An Interpretation of Desire: Essays in the Study of Sexuality (Worlds of Desire: The Chicago Series of Sexuality, Gender, and Culture) by John GagnonAn Interpretation of Desire: Essays in the Study of Sexuality (Worlds of Desire: The Chicago Series on Sexuality, Gender, and Culture)

An Interpretation of Desire offers a bracing collection of major essays by John Gagnon, one of the leading and most inspiring figures in sexual research. Spanning his work from the 1970s, when he explored the idea that sexuality is mediated through social processes and categories -- thus paving the way for Foucault -- and then extending through his turn to issues of desire during the 1990s, these essays constitute an essential entrée to the study of sexuality in the twentieth century. 2004, University of Chicago Press

Love and Desire: Photoworks by William A. EwingLove and Desire: Photoworks

Love and Desire collects a diverse range of images that attest to Ewing's belief that "all photographs are, at some level, about love, and all photographs are triggered, to varying degrees, by desire." In pursuing this theme, Ewing classifies the photographs into eight different categories--Bonds, Icons, Observation, Propositions, Tokens, Libidos, Reveries, and Obsessions. Each of these chapters begins with an essay in which Ewing draws on his deep knowledge of the history of photography to explain the relevance of the selected images. The photos themselves run a full gamut of historical imagery, from the beginning days of the medium up through contemporary art and recent commercial photography. Julia Margaret Cameron explores a family bond in her depiction of the Madonna and child, dated 1865. In 1955, Frank Horvat, in all likelihood standing on a Paris bridge, observes a couple kissing on the quay below. Helmut Newton explores obsession in the mid-1980s with his portrait of a stockinged ankle and foot in a black stiletto heel. Brassaï's 1932 portrait of Janet--in which Janet is depicted from the waist up, lying back on a bed, her eyes closed, with a look of ecstasy on her face--opens the Libidos chapter. There are hundreds of other compelling images here, and together they go far to define the complex nature of human love and desire. 1999, Thames & Hudson Ltd

Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic by Esther PerelMating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic

Focusing on "erotic intelligence", psychotherapist Perel asserts that languishing desire in a relationship actually results from all the factors people look for in love and marriage: grounding, meaning, continuity. She recommends several proposals for rekindling eroticism: cultivating separateness (autonomy) in a relationship rather than closeness (entrapment); exploring dynamics of power and control (i.e., submission, spanking); and learning to surrender to a "sexual ruthlessness" that liberates us from shame and guilt. Perel sanctions fantasy and play and offers the estranged modern couple a unique richness of experience. 2006, HarperCollins

Observing the Erotic Imagination by Robert J. Stoller, M.D.Observing the Erotic Imagination

Observing the Erotic Imagination is an investigation into the origins of human sexual excitement. Psychiatrist Stoller uses as source material pornography, daydreams and rituals that are commonly regarded as perverted. He suggests that similar elements are present in the erotic fantasies of both perverse and non-perverse people. 1992, Yale University Press

The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing by Daniel BergnerThe Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing

How can we understand the relationship between the transcendent and the physical, the contrast between the wish for love and the anarchy of the erotic? Daniel Bergner looks for answers in the stories of four people with very different longings: a devoted husband burdened by an insatiable foot fetish, a clothing designer who finds ecstasy in the pain of others, a man smitten with his young stepdaughter, and an advertising director who is attracted only to amputees. Bergner finds in their desires metaphors for the issues that confront us all and raises fascinating questions about the erotic differences between men and women and the nature of ecstasy itself. Bergner has written a provocative, profoundly insightful, and brilliantly illuminating book about the most fundamental of human needs. 2009, Ecco

Red Thread of Passion by David GuyRed Thread of Passion

What do Walt Whitman and Annie Sprinkle have in common, or D. H. Lawrence and a porn queen? They share experiential knowledge that sex is one of the most profoundly spiritual human experiences. In an engagingly confessional voice, Guy describes his lifelong quest to understand the place of sexual passion in our spiritual lives. His self-revelation redeemingly serves as a bridge to the more extreme experiences he finds in literature and in life. This is a genuinely lusty book and a genuinely spiritual one, too. 1999, Shambhala

Sexual Awareness: Couple Sexuality for the Twenty-First Century by Barry and Emily McCarthySexual Awareness: Couple Sexuality for the Twenty-First Century

This book is written for people who want to enhance intimacy and sexual satisfaction. It is a practical, confidence-building book that shows you how to increase your sexual pleasure, focusing on feelings and fulfillment for both partners. 2002, Carroll & Graf Publishers; Revised and updated edition

Sexual Excitement: Dynamics of Erotic Life by Robert J. StollerSexual Excitement: Dynamics of Erotic Life

Stoller was a pioneering psychoanalyst who studied many aspects of sexuality. In this early work he championed focusing on "erotics" -- by which he meant the mental dynamics of sexuality -- rather than only on behavior which is subject to various interpretations. He also led the way to de-pathologizing any particular form of sexual behavior. 1986, Karnac Books

Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire by Lisa M. DiamondSexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire

Many women experience a fluid sexual desire that is responsive to a person rather than a specific gender, argues Diamond in this fascinating and controversial study. Professor Diamond details, with vivid examples, how scientific studies of sexual desire and behavior have focused on the experience of men, for whom the heterosexual/homosexual divide seems mostly fixed. Diamond says traditional labels for sexual desire are inadequate; for some women even bisexual does not truly express the protean nature of their sexuality. 2008, Harvard University Press

Sexual Health and Erotic Freedom by Barnaby B. BarrattSexual Health and Erotic Freedom

Eminent sexologist Barnaby Barrett discusses the tragedy of America's bipolar sexual compulsions, that of sex-phobia and sex-obsession, which create a volatile and unhealthy social environment. Rather than gloomily cataloguing the sexual ills of American society, Barratt presents a bold vision for sexual health and erotic freedom that incorporates the broad scope of healthy sexual expression across cultures, psychological research, and medical knowledge. 2005, Xlibris

A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-first Century by Cristina NehringA Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-first Century

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, political correctness, cynicism, pragmatism, and the commodification of sex have reduced romantic love to a discredited myth or a recreational sport -- "a cause for embarrassment," argues Cristina Nehring. In her brilliantly researched first book, Nehring wrests romantic love from the clutches of retrograde feminists and cutting-edge capitalists, thrill-seeking convenience shoppers and safe-sex moralists. With help from celebrated lovers ranging from Heloise and Abelard to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and from literature as diverse as Ovid's Art of Love and the poems of Emily Dickinson, Nehring celebrates the wild, irreverent, and uncompromising models of love we have inherited. As she rediscovers romantic love's fearless and heroic provenance, she challenges readers to demand partnerships that fully engage body, heart, and mind. 2009, Harper

Wild Nights by David DeidaWild Nights

Wild Nights presents David Deida's remarkable account of his days with Mykonos, the unconventional teacher who revealed to him the deeper wisdom of the erotic path to the divine. From our very first encounter to the "burden of bliss" that is his parting gift, Mykonos challenges our understanding of what makes a spiritual life. Brutally candid, he offers his teaching to anyone ready to listen, with an uncanny ability to see into the hearts and minds of his students better than they can their own. Charged with provocative scenes of unbridled passion and play, Deida's book explodes with spiritual insights into our choice to "open as love, or close and suffer", and posits that for some, full sexual expression is a requirement of spiritual maturation. 2005, Sounds True, Incorporated

With Pleasure: Thoughts on the Nature of Human Sexuality by Paul R. Abramson, Steven D. PinkertonWith Pleasure: Thoughts on the Nature of Human Sexuality

Abramson and Pinkerton amass an array of evidence that sexuality in all of its myriad manifestations is inherently pleasurable. Moreover, they argue that sex-as-pleasure is primary over sex-as-reproduction as the evolutionary and psychological motivator for seeking sexual outlets. Furthermore, they insist that embracing all consensual, adult sexuality will make sex safer and perpetuate the species but with increased pleasure. Thus With Pleasure is a scholarly, provocative, and brave book that will both evoke discomfort in the sexual puritan and instill hope in the sexual liberal as it increases the tolerance of all to the celebration of sexual pleasure. 2002, Oxford University Press

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