Ideas of Eroticism

The themes of love and sensuality arouse our deepest emotions and inflame our wildest desires. The surge of mainstream erotica in its various forms continues to capture our eyes and imagination in a way that no other medium has been able to accomplish. As viewers of erotic portrayals in media, we seem to be innately capable of being mesmerized by them. The myriad of forms of erotica that we view or hear are linked to an exploration of our long hidden sensual feelings. It is the intent of this monthly column to explore the exciting evolution of mainstream erotica in the media and how the trends affect us as we witness them unfolding before our eyes. What makes something erotic as depicted in the media is an age old question. Mainstream erotica definitely arouses the senses and captures feelings of sexuality, but what is considered erotic is in the eye of the beholder. Since people are multi-faceted with shifting moods, what is pleasurable in the present moment can fluctuate from one day to the next depending on one’s feelings at any given time. Erotic feelings can be elicited through visual portrayals such as in film, photography, literature or painting as well as through hearing particular music or dialogue. But each medium is capable of touching all of our senses simultaneously. The eyes, in particular are considered to be the keys to sexual attraction as our sight is the window to the soul. So is it a coincidence that since the eye itself is round that we are aroused by round forms in erotic art? The lips, mouth, breasts and buttocks have always been important symbols in mainstream erotic art forms. A short glimpse of these symbols in a film allows our fantasies to transport us to the entrance of the perfect world of the imagination where nothing is uncomfortable or inhibited. Unlike the real world, the outcomes in our fantasies are always pleasurable with a happy ending. A closer look at our ideas of eroticism can be seen from prominent examples in film. The sights and sounds in a movie where we witness first-hand a certain spark in the eyes, provocative body language or alluring tone of voice can ignite our passions to their core. Who can forget, for example, the sultry voice of Kathleen Turner in the erotic thriller “Body Heat” (1981), as she maneuvers her lithe figure from one erotic scene to the next? In the midst of a steamy Florida heat wave, the male lead played by William Hurt is so overwhelmed by his desire for her that he shatters a window with a chair to gain access to her. During one of their first exchanges in reference to the searing heat, she tilts slightly toward him and says, “My temperature runs high, around a hundred. I don’t mind it’s the engine or something”. “Maybe you should get a tune-up or something,” he replies. In her inimitable way she comes back quickly with “Don’t tell me. You have just the right tool”. This film which evolved from another famous erotic thriller ‘Double Indemnity” (1944), starring actress Barbara Stanwyck, entices the audience into a web of eroticism and deceit that sets the precedent for almost every contemporary erotic thriller. In a later film “Basic Instinct” (1992), the erotic thriller is taken to new heights. Catherine Tramell is a brilliant and seductive novelist played by Sharon Stone who maneuvers her way through a titillating plot full of surprises with erotic themes. The sexual tension entwined with voyeurism and bisexuality certainly gives the audience a run for their money through all the various plot twists and turns. The famous scene in the police station where Catherine is being interrogated while seductively holding a cigarette and crossing and uncrossing her legs drives the detectives and the audience wild with anticipation. When told there was no smoking in the building by one of the detectives she asks coquettishly, opening her legs ever so slightly,” What are you going to do arrest me for smoking”? The cigarette in this film as in many other films was brilliantly used as a metaphor for the sexual act. For weeks critics and fans alike were abuzz as to whether she actually was wearing underwear or not in that scene. The erotic nature of these very mainstream films that are entwined with a seductively thrilling plot seem to challenge, enthrall and mystify us. Each of these cinematic gems has a strong, independent and brilliant female lead character that mixes intelligence and wry humor with seductiveness that is captivating to men and women alike. These femme fatales take us back to earlier erotic film icons such as Mae West, who as a sexy, strong woman delivered hysterically funny erotic phrasing to entice the viewers in a more playful way. Her sexuality and humorous wise cracks in movies such as “She Done Him Wrong” (1933) and “I’m No Angel” included such memorable lines such as “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better” and “It’s not the men in your life that counts, it’s the life in your men”. These comments were considered to be racy and irreverent at the time. However, the dialogue in her films became so popular that people today still use her quotes in flirtatious situations. A more recent film in 2008 “Sex and the City” like the television series of the same name, again depicts independent, desirable women who know what they want sexually and aren’t shy about sharing these needs with a prospective partner. The character of Samantha Jones is the unabashed voice of lust for the modern woman. I witnessed firsthand the visceral reaction from a mostly female theater audience when, unexpectedly Samantha caught a glimpse of her neighbor in his outdoor shower. For less than 30 seconds, the camera pans to this absolutely gorgeous man that she had been watching in various sexual positions for months. And as he slowly unveils his nakedness, the audience went wild with screams and gasps. This was a rare moment that represents a shift in modern filmmaking which reflects our new culture where women can fully experience and openly express their erotic desires. It is this mixture of sensuality and independence that when first introduced in film years ago seemed racy, but has become an accepted theme of modern erotica. Through sensual themes in mainstream films we can experience sexual content firsthand and explore our fantasies as part of the exhilarating adventure of sexuality in our own lives. It leaves us with our own thoughts and fantasies and allows us to contemplate the myriad of possibilities that may lie ahead in our future. And, as always, we look forward to the journey with excitement and anticipation.