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Source Citation: Moser, C. "Eroticism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. William A. Darity, Jr.. Vol. 2. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 626-627. 

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3045300734


Although there is no accepted definition of eroticism, it is understood in this entry to describe the focus of an individual’s sexual arousal pattern. It differs from erotica (the story, picture, or other media), which depicts and appeals to someone’s eroticism. A different perspective defines eroticism as a component of sexuality involving a focus on pleasure and the heightening of arousal for its own sake (Kleinplatz 1996).

It is said that anything can be and everything has been eroticized. The subject of an eroticism can be specific or general, stable or fluid over time, and necessary, preferred, or irrelevant for a satisfactory sexual response. The intensity and importance of an eroticism can and does change over time. Sometimes those changes are substantive, sometimes minimal. Eroticisms are idiosyncratic; what one person finds extremely erotic is only somewhat arousing to the next, neutral to another, boring to someone else, and disgusting to the last person. Having an eroticism does not imply necessarily an interest in acting it out; fantasy can be sufficient. Sexual interests may affect each other; an interest in feet, for example, can lead to an interest in shoes. Additionally, a shoe eroticism may be expressed differently depending on sexual orientation (e.g., work boots for a homosexual man and high heels for a heterosexual man).

Every society attempts to restrict the sexual behavior of its members, even though they are usually unsuccessful. The control methods include making the act (or even a depiction of the act) a crime, immoral, a violation of religious teachings, or pathognomonic of an illness. Individuals who flout the societal mores are subject to imprisonment, shunning, eternal damnation, medical or surgical interventions, involuntary hospitalization, and civil penalties. Individuals have been imprisoned or disowned and have lost jobs, inheritances, security clearances, custody of their children, their standing in the community, and their marriages for violating these mores. This can involve admitting an interest in, promoting acceptance of, distributing or creating depictions of, or engaging in the proscribed acts.

Societal attempts to control an eroticism often include trying to censor the erotica, now labeled as indecent or obscene, that depict that eroticism. What legally constitutes obscenity continues to be debated extensively; it varies from society to society, within each society, and changes over time. What was once accepted can become proscribed and what was proscribed can become accepted.

A basic and unanswered question is how specific eroticisms develop and how many different developmental mechanisms exist. Other important social science questions include: What is the importance of having eroticisms? Why does every society try to control eroticisms and fail? How can eroticisms be changed or influenced? What is the relationship between sexual orientation and eroticism? How do the eroticisms of men and women differ?

There is great debate among both professionals and the public concerning the effect of exposure to sexually explicit material on one’s eroticism or sexual behavior. We know eroticisms can evolve or change over time, but psychotherapy has been ineffective in directing those changes purposefully. Although controversial, it is improbable that exposure to erotica has any significant or lasting effect on one’s sexual interests, or they would be easy to change. It is more probable that exposure allows individuals to recognize the nature of their own eroticism. Additionally, there is great concern about the effects of erotica on minors. Some believe that the material will provoke the minor to engage in the depicted sexual activity or incorporate it into a new eroticism; others suggest that lack of exposure stymies sex rehearsal play, which eventuates in adult sexual dysfunction or other sexual concerns.

Although rare, there are people who have no eroticism. These individuals often present with inhibited sexual desire, arousal difficulties, indifference to, or avoidance of sex. Nevertheless, on further evaluation they are quite capable of a “normal” sexual response; they just have nothing upon which to focus sexually.

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Recognition of one’s eroticisms enhances an individual’s sex life, can enrich a couple’s sex interactions, helps individuals connect with others who share their eroticisms, and promotes a feeling of completeness as a person.


Kleinplatz, Peggy J. 1996. The Erotic Encounter. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 36 (3): 105-123.

Charles Moser