The Power & Responsibility of the Erotic Imagination: Esther Perel

The Power & Responsibility of the Erotic Imagination: Esther Perel

. 4 min read

Sex Could Be A Playground But We're Treating It Like A Cubicle.

Erotic imagination is the essence of creativity and vitality, and a necessity for feeling truly alive.

Esther Perel, the renowned psychotherapist, talks a lot about the erotic imagination. Among the serious relationship therapists who are her peers, only she has made it a major focus of her work. I first understood why when I heard her as a guest on the Tim Ferriss show, where she spent considerable time describing her childhood and its profound influence on her worldview.* Raised in Belgium by two Holocaust survivors in a community of children raised by survivors, Perel speaks about how she noticed even as a young girl that some people survived the Holocaust, but others were alive. The difference, according to Perel? The creativity and vitality of the mind - erotic imagination.

In "Bringing Home the Erotic: 5 Ways to Create Meaningful Connections with Your Partner," Perel says: “The central agent of eroticism is our imaginations. The most overlooked erotic organ is our mind.”

Though erotic intelligence is important to a loving relationship, to think of it exclusively as something that links you to others is missing the point. Eroticism is a about you, your self-care, your own vitality and thus, your relationship with yourself. Do you want to feel alive - separate and apart from whatever you've got going on. Do you want to be alive? It's a commitment to yourself.

You are the responsible party for your desire.

Desire is a life force, and erotic imagination is the source of it. “We carry the responsibility of our desire,” says Perel in “Why Eroticism Should Be Part of your Self-Care Plan.” 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. 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.

This may be hard to hear for people who like to link their desire to a partner, but according to Perel it starts with the individual. And it requires a practice.

Sex could be a playground, but we’re treating it like a cubicle.

It’s the erotic imagination that transforms sex into a something that makes you feel alive. Perel speaks at length about how sex can be an animalistic, biological desire, using no more brainpower than it takes to empty the trash. But she goes on to say that we can elevate sex by using our ingenuity to make it feel new each time. When we don’t, sex doesn’t even count as erotic; according to her, “Eroticism isn’t sex; it’s sexuality transformed by the human imagination.”

A sense of routine undermines any sense of surprise, suspense or longing. How can someone possibly long for something they are tired of? People who cook the same meal over and over will come to tire of it, if not loathe it. And people who have the same kind of sex repeatedly often find that they no longer want it. Their desire plummets. Perel believes that we can solve it simply by engaging our minds. During her interview on the Ten Percent Happier podcast hosted by Dan Harris (at 24:25), she talks about how our imagination is the gateway to adding artfulness—even poetry—to sex. There’s nothing basic about sex, especially when we aspire to create rather than to climax—though that’s important, too.

How to engage the erotic imagination? Explore what brings you vibrancy. To each their own - creativity is the heart of the erotic - but we have ideas: reading erotic literature (Vox by Nicholson Baker is a great place to start - if you have a partner try reading it aloud to each other); trying a new sex toy or product; perfecting your sexting (we love Foria’s Guide to Sexting); reading some erotic poetry aloud (we might begin with Charles Simic’s Breasts). Perel provides a sampling of some of the best steamy movies in “The Best Steamy Movie Scenes and Why You Should Indulge.”

The erotic imagination is a reminder that we’re not just literal beings. We’re mysterious, unknowable souls. We can explore and play and connect with our vitality and the things that make us feel alive. It’s important for sex and our relationships. But the magic of the erotic is something we have to own for ourselves - the responsibility for knowing how to switch it on, and the commitment to do so. It's the essence of life.

*The show’s first twenty minutes on growing up in the Flemish “hood,” on her mother hiding in the woods for a year to escape nazi’s, on the five languages spoken at home and sitting in her parent’s dress shop observing in detail the ways people related are not only the high point of the podcast, but also the only place where she’s gone into the significant detail on the background that shaped her.)

Esther Perel has many specific resources on the erotic, here are some of our favorites. Blog Posts: “Why Eroticism Should Be Part of Your Self-Care Plan,” “Bringing Home the Erotic: 5 Ways to Create Meaningful Connections with Your Partner,” “How to Introduce Role Play and Fantasy into Your Relationship.”

Videos: “What is Erotic Intelligence?” “How Eroticism and Fantasy Can Help You Embrace A New Year

Podcast: “The Erotic Is An Antidote to Death” On Being with Krista Tippett

If you’re only going to take in only one thing on Perel and Desire then it should be the podcast podcast: Cultivating Desire” [The Knowledge Project Ep. #71] Farnham Street with Shane Parrish

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


'Merci'! to Emily in Paris for one of the most riverting women in pop culture "Divorce, Baby, Divorce" by Liza Lentini "Don't Touch My Hat.*" Midlife Men & Loneliness "This is a Tale of Modern Love ..." 2022 2024 Hit List 3 things I'm crushing on 5 Books to Help You Chill TF Out 5 Great Boutique Hotels Around NYC. By Jeanne Bosse 5 things that turn our crush readers on A Book That Could Unf*ck Your Relationship: I Want This To Work By Elizabeth Earnshaw. Reviewed By Angela Kempf. A Circle of Crones. By Elayne Clift A Roman Love Affair. By Lady Verity A Turntable and a Candle: F-ing Classics About Face: Skincare Essentials for Men An Upbeat Playlist for the Divorce-curious And I Wondered ... Do We Really Need A SATC Reboot? And Just Like That... Who Are These People?? By Jeanne Bosse And so this is Another brother gained and lost. By Jeanne Bosse Ask Dish Bedtime Rituals for Couples. By Lauren D. Weinstein Bisexually Anxious Among the Noodges. Review: shiva Baby Bloody Good Sex Book review Book Review: A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers Book Review: I'm With The Band by Pamela Des Barres. Reviewed by Evie Arnaude Book Review: Maurice Book Review: Norma Kamali: I Am Invincible Book Review: Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina by Georgina Pazcoguins. Reviewed By Lady Varity Book Review: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It Every Time By Maria Konnikova' Book Review: The Lover. By Marguerite Duras. Book Review: The Story of O Book Review: VOX by Nicholson Baker. Reviewed by Christian Pan Building The Perfect Music Collection Calm App Review: “If I Traveled Or Worked In An Office, I Would Rely On This App Heavily”. By Evie Arnaude Christian Pan CRUSH Summer Reading List! From CRUSH Reader Sharon Weinberg, Owner of The Chatham Bookstore Culture/Comments Dear Dish devour DEVOUR {things to do, have & know about} Devour: Reads we think you should devour Dish Gets A Kink Assessment. Dish Stanley Dish Stanley's Rules for Polite Society Doing Nothing With Friends Effortless, Natural Holiday Makeup. By Lauren D. Weinstein Emily In Paris Extended Encounters. By Lisa Ellex F*ck Songs. Three Best Jazz Albums for a Sexy Night In. By Lisa Ellex Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style and Attitude: Mireille Guiliano. Reviewed by Evie Arnaude Five Best Jazz Clubs Around The Country. By Lisa Ellex Foria's Totally Useful Guide to Sexting Four Indie Bookstore That Stayed In My Life Long After I Left Town. By Dish Stanley French Kiss: French Girls Do It Better, Right? friendship Fun in the sun skincare tips get your spy thrill on Girl Crush. By Lady Verity Grief. By Lauren D. Weinstein Healing Through Change. By Lauren D Weinstein Heard It at The Grammys: Dishs Crush on Silk Sonic Hefner. By Bob Guccione, Jr Hide A Love Note In Their Pocket. Hit List Holiday Invites Holiday Perspectives. By Dean Christopher Hook Ups Hot Thots How to Be the Most Charming Person at a Holiday Party. By Evie Arnaude How to find porn thats actually good I am my own family I just turned 60 but I feel 22 I redesigned my closet. I'm Dish, the Master of Ceremonies Im glad my mom died In Good Hands. Kathy: This Is A Love Story About Three Friends La Mia Famiglia by Lisa Ellex Lamentations on the Lost Art of Kissing. By Elisabeth C. Lamotte Leave the husband, bring the cannoli. By A.K.A. Darla Let's Reconsider, with Adam Grant Love & Mike's "Bad Girl Pasta" Love/Sex/Moon Magick By Lynn Eaton LXIX. By A.K.A. Darla Meeting Across the River Melissa Biggs Bradley's New Book Safari Style Makes Me Want To Go On A Safari midlife MIDLIFE CRISIS: When Reality Strikes, By Dean Christopher Movie Magic. By Amy Ferris My First Solo Trip: Mexico, Part I. By Dawn Larsen My Prostate Journey: A Personal Story My Tits Contain MulTITudes Naked & Not afraid by KC Roth Oasis in the Desert. One woman's honest journey through vaginal rejuvenation. OMG Yes. Pamela Anderson: What Her Story Says About Us paris Pillow Tawk (or NOT)? Play well with others. By Dish Stanley Playing Games: A Review of Esther Perel's New Sold Out Card Game. Podcast Review: Dying for Sex. Why You Need to Listen to Molly's Journey. political thrillers PrimeCrush & Chill: Movies Worth a Re-Watch PrimeCrush Bookshop PrimeCrush Cocktail Coaster Giveaway! QUIVER. Sexual Debut Stories. recommedations Red Flags Reports from the edge. By Jane Boon separate bedrooms Sexual Frustrations. By Elisabeth C Lamotte Shameless Quick & Easy Mac & Cheese. By Evie Arnaude Sighs & Moans. By Ralph Greco SIP. Best Lines from the Double Dates Podcast Hosted by Marlo Thomas & Phil Donahue Six Ways to Get the Friends Who Count Snapshot Rec: Get Yourself Sexify-ed on Netflix. Snapshot Rec: Read Liza Lentini on the Indigo Girls in SPIN Solo in my Sixties. By Jeanne Bosse Songs That Make You Wanna F*ck. Stanley Tucci Is Paradise Stories to Read Aloud to a Lover. By A.K.A. Darla Tell Me More. By Dish Stanley The 3 Things You're Really Fighting About The 4 Most Common Skincare Issues for Men (But Were Afraid to Ask). By Lauren D. Weinstein The Crush Letter 44 The Crush Letter 51: DEVOUR The Crush Letter 58 the crush letter 72 the crush letter 73 The Crush Letter 75 the crush letter 77 The Crush Letter Its a tune The Crush Letter No 33 The Crush letter No 36 The Crush Letter No 39 The Crush Letter No 40 The Crush Letter No 41: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 42 The Crush Letter No 43 The Crush Letter No 45 The Crush Letter No 46: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 50 The Crush Letter No 53 The Crush Letter No 54 The Crush Letter No 55 The Crush Letter No 56 DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 57 The Crush Letter No 59 The Crush Letter No 60: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 61 The Crush Letter No 62 the crush letter no 63 The Crush Letter No 64 The Crush Letter No 65: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 66 The Crush Letter No 67 The Crush Letter No 68 The Crush Letter No 69 The Crush letter No 70 The Crush Letter No 74: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 78 The Crush Letter No 80 The Crush Letter No 81 The Crush Letter No 82 The Crush Letter No 83: DEVOUR The Crush Letter No 84 The Crush letter No 85 The Crush Letter No 86: The Toy Tester Report The Crush letter No:71 DEVOUR The Crush Letter No. 79 The Crush Letter No. 94 The Crush Letter: Culture / Comment The Dynamics of Friendhip By Lauren D. Weinstein The Friendship Files By AKA Darla The Golden Bachelor The Hole. By Kiva Schuler The Holiday Anti-Checklist By Liza Lentini The New Menopause By Dr. Mary Claire Haver The Perfect Snowy Saturday. By Jeanne Bosse The Ritual of Comforts. By Lady Verity The Sex Position Report. By Dish Stanley The Solo Series Thee Timeless Travel Books. By Bob Guccione Jr. Things To Let Go Of. By Dish Stanley This must be the place To get all of us, subscribe. Top Ten Jazz Albums To Soothe Your Soul. By Lisa Ellex TOPIX Transitions Travel tips Treats: A Sex Toy Tester Update Under The Radar Series. By Dish Stanley Valentines day what dead to me taught me about family. Who Are CRUSH Readers Grateful For? Women of a Certain Age Whose Style I Admire You're My Medicine Your Big Green Heart. By Liza Lentini Your Love Is King & Queen, GQ Zits a poppin Zoning Out in Comfort. By Dean Christopher