The Definition of Erotic Desire

The word desire comes from the union of the terms 'de' and 'sidere' (the sidereal). It comes from the world that transcends the mind and body to reach the stars, the divine, and the unintelligible. This is just one of the definitions of erotic desire.
The Definition of Erotic Desire
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 March, 2023

It’s likely that you think erotic desire simply involves the impulse to have sex. However, this isn’t quite correct. In fact, to speak of desire is to transcend to a higher plane, one that’s both sophisticated and intimate. It’s a yearning for caresses and physical contact. It’s the motivation to feel close to another person and experience pleasure, to enjoy cossetting one another, laughing, and skin-to-skin contact.

Today, it’s curious to imagine that erotic desire used to be seen as a simple irrational impulse. For, in reality, this behavior is largely governed by a rational choice. Indeed, you choose with whom you want to engage in erotic activity. Moreover, not everyone awakens these emotions, feelings, instincts, and desires in you.

Psychology claims that erotic desire is much more than an experience governed solely by hormonal factors. It also requires mental activation. In effect, it’s a perfect emotional symphony that drives, directs, and motivates you toward the object of your desire.

Plato pointed out that desire belonged to the sphere of souls.

hands of a couple in bed representing what is erotic desire

Erotic desire

Erotic desire can be defined as the motivation that surrounds and drives sexual behavior. That said, it should be remembered that achieving intercourse often isn’t the only objective. The real aim is to delight ourselves with everything that surrounds sex. This can give shape to a whole series of broad experiences and sensations that vary from one individual to another.

Studies such as those conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison (United States) claim that erotic desire is one of the most complex dimensions of the human being.

Erotica can change from one couple to another. For instance, it might be simpler or richer in terms of language and behaviors. This research also highlights that social and cultural factors shouldn’t be ignored. For instance, often, the weight of gender roles, educational, and even religious factors can completely limit our abilities to express and even feel erotic desire freely.

The three components of erotic desire

One pioneer in the field of sexology was undoubtedly Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan of Cornell University (USA). She wrote books like The New Sex Therapy and The Sexual Desire Disorders which laid down the foundations of this science. In fact, if you’re wondering what erotic desire is, it’s almost obligatory to delve into the components that make it up and that Dr. Kaplan defined. They’re the following:

  • Impulse. It defines the effect that arises from the activation of the bio-physiological bases. It’s the excitement that another individual causes you to feel.
  • Longing. It refers to the desire and need to touch, feel, and have that person close to you. It also includes all those erotic desires that you often feel when someone attracts you. For instance, the desire for caresses, cossetting, kisses, hugs, etc.
  • The motive. It represents the disposition toward erotic and also sexual conduct. This component goes beyond the physiological and hormonal bases. In fact, it also includes personal factors. For instance, sometimes, you don’t want someone for the sole reason that you’re physically attracted to them. There are other subjective elements that are just as decisive. Perhaps they remind you of someone else or arouse intense emotions in you.

On the other hand, we must emphasize that erotic desire isn’t the same as sexual arousal. The former always starts from a subjective dimension (Bozman and Beck, 1991).

Characteristics of erotic desire

Sexologists admit that it’s really difficult to exactly define erotic desire. However, it’s a dimension that we’ve all experienced on more than one occasion. Therefore, it’s easier to specify it through its characteristics. For example:

  • You can’t always control who you experience erotic desire for. Sometimes, and without knowing why, you may feel attracted to someone you hate. Why is this? Who knows? The world of emotions and attraction is sometimes inexplicable.
  • It’s involuntary. It arises spontaneously. Moreover, it’s not something that you can force to appear or, alternatively, repress, so that it never appears in front of that individual again.
  • Complex. Erotic desire is more than complex. It’s flowery, flexible, impulsive, creative… Your mind thrives on fantasies and ways to express this impulse, longing, and motivation. If your feelings are reciprocated by the object of your desire, you can give free rein to all your fantasies.

Erotic desire according to philosophy

Beyond the field of sexology and psychology, lies the world of philosophy. Aristotle claimed that one of the components of desire is appetite. Yet, far from being a mere impulse or biological need, he saw it as a premeditated act where each one chooses who to desire and what they desire from them. In effect, it’s a deliberate desire. On the other hand, Plato claimed that erotic desire is a passion of the soul.

One contemporary philosopher is Michel Onfay. In his book, A Hedonist Manifesto, he reminds us that the word desire derives etymologically from the terms de and sidere (of the sidereal).

Consequently, he suggests that desire unites with the celestial, the divine, and the stars of the cosmos where Saturn and Venus, Mars and Jupiter dance, and melancholy and love, war, and power intermingle. It’s a dimension where everything is forced to come together and reconcile to finally reach ecstasy.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Alfonso, V. C., Allison, D. B., & Dunn, G. M. (1992). Sexual fantasies and satisfaction: A multidimensional analysis of gender differences. Journal of Psychology.
  • Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347-374.
  • Regan, P. C., & Berscheid, E. (1996). Beliefs about the state, goals, and objects of sexual desire. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 22, 110-120.
  • Wallen, K. (1995). The evolution of female sexual desire. In P. R. Abramson & S. D. Pinkerton (Eds.)

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.