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Eroticism is an aesthetic focus on sexual desire, especially the feelings of anticipation of sexual activity. It is not only the state of arousal and anticipation, but also the attempt through whatever means of representation to incite those feelings.

The word "eroticism" is derived from the name of the Greek god of love, Eros. It is conceived as sensual love or the human sex drive (libido). Philosophers and theologians discern three kinds of love: eros, philia, and agape. Of the three, eros is considered the most egocentric, focusing on care for the self.

Ancient Greek philosophy’s overturning of mythology defines in many ways our understanding of the heightened aesthetic sense in eroticism and the question of sexuality. Eros was after all the primordial god of unhinged sexual desire in addition to homoeroticism, which is the yearning of sexual desire from the opposite sex. In the Platonic ordered system of ideal forms, Eros corresponds to the subject's yearning for ideal beauty and finality. It is the harmonious unification not only between bodies, but between knowledge and pleasure. Eros takes an almost transcendent manifestation when the subject seeks to go beyond itself and form a communion with the objectival other. This corresponds to attaining orgasms in erotic love-making. The French philosopher Georges Bataille believed eroticism was a movement towards the limits of our own subjectivity and humanitiy - a transgression that dissolves the rational world but is always transitory.

Yet an objection to eros and erotic representation (pornography) is that it fosters a subject/object relationship in which the object of desire is mere projection of the needs of desiring subject. Love as eros is considered more base than philia (friendship) or agape (self-sacrificing love). But erotic engagement paradoxically individuates and de-individuates the desirer.

Some believe defining eroticism may be difficult since perceptions of what is erotic fluctuate. For example, a voluptuous nude painting by Peter Paul Rubens could have been considered erotic or pornographic when it was created for a private patron in the 17th century. Similarly in the United Kingdom and United States, D. H. Lawrence's sexually explicit novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was considered obscene and unfit for publication and circulation in many nations thirty years after it was completed in 1928, but may now be part of standard literary school texts in some areas. In a different context, a sculpture of a phallus in Africa may be considered a traditional symbol of potency though not overtly erotic.


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