Build Your Erotic Brain
Have you ever wondered why your sexual desires change and evolve over time? There are many factors that contribute to our internal changes, but this experience can be paired down to the term neuroplasticity. While this may sounds overly scientific, the idea is something you probably already understand: your brain can change over time, the more you use it.
“When we use [a] part of our brain, it becomes stronger, more developed, with more blood flow and neurotransmitters, and as a result it will also become better at doing X in general,” Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus describes in her book Sex Points. In other words, neuroplasticity is the mental form of ‘use it or lose it.’
Though neuroplasticity applies to everything from public speaking to Sudoku, you can think of it specifically in terms of your sex life, otherwise known as your “erotic plasticity.” An article published in the Sexual and Relationship Therapy journal best describes erotic plasticity as “the extent to which the sex drive can be shaped by social, cultural, and situational factors.” In other words, your environment and behavior can have an impact on the way your body processes sexual desire and stimuli.
What’s more, the article points out that levels of erotic plasticity can vary from person to person. In other words, some people are more open to their erotic desires changing or strengthening than their peers or friends. So if your sexual interests seem to evolve more quickly than your partner’s do, you’re totally normal — it’s literally how your brain is rewiring itself.
What Does This Mean For Your Sex Life?
The answer is yes.
Whether you feel stagnant and unfulfilled in your sex life or simply want to grow in your sexuality, erotic plasticity is a worthwhile concept to explore. You can exercise the sexual part of your brain by practicing erotic mindfulness. Try to honor and explore your fantasies, for example, or read or watch erotic content.
That’s only the first step, though. It takes time for your brain to change and adapt. Just like exercising in the gym, your erotic “training” must remain consistent to notice a difference. By repeating mindful erotic behaviors, you can strengthen underlying neuronal pathways and “exercise” the erotic parts of brain. This might even enhance your own sexual awareness, as well as your experience.
How Can I Explore Erotic Plasticity?
The most difficult part of developing a new habit — such as an erotic one — is knowing where to start. Luckily, Dr. Marcus shares a few helpful ideas in Sex Points:
1. Read three minutes of an erotic short story, then take a few minutes to expand the story in your mind and make it “better” for whatever you specifically are into. Not only is this a good thinking exercise, but you can explore what turns you on in a completely safe space.
2. Try an erotic thinking exercise without a prompt. In other words, think about a sexual scenario that piques your curiosity and take it from there. Note what your body seems to respond to. As Dr. Marcus recommends, it’s worth acknowledging that a fantasy is just a fantasy, and it may bear little resemblance to what you want in real life.
3. Climb into bed totally naked — either alone or with your partner — and simply take a few minutes to breathe. Appreciate being vulnerable, sensual, and relaxed.
Does Erotic Plasticity Vary By Gender?
The concept of erotic plasticity shows us that sexual preferences are fluid for everyone. However, some researchers suggest that female eroticism in particular is “inherently more amenable than male sexuality to be influenced by cultural events, historical circumstance, socialization, peer influence, and other social variables.” In fact, a 2000 study published in “Psychological Bulletin” found that women exhibit more variation and less consistency in their sexual behavior compared to men.
Why? Roy Baumeister, the study’s lead researcher, has several theories.
- One is that women have always had to conform to more stringent sexual standards than their male counterparts, meaning they are used to adaptation.
- Another possibility is the overall sense of change that might occur for some women — that they might not find a male partner sexually attractive one day, and gradually feel a sense of positive change toward him over time. This theory assumes that someone’s ability to be convinced or “won over” correlates with greater openness to sexual experiences.
- Finally, Baumeister points towards the pervasive stereotype that women experience less of a sex drive than men do. This has been debunked over the year, and perhaps erotic exploration might be a key part of strengthening a person’s sex drive. As a result, women who want to feel more of a sex drive might be more receptive to exploring their erotic plasticity.
Whether the idea that erotic plasticity differs by gender is true or not, the generalization excludes other gender identities and relies heavily on heteronormative cultural standards. The overall research is clear: Regardless of gender identity, exercising your erotic plasticity has obvious benefits.
A Final Note On Sexuality
Openness towards new sexual experiences may lead to choices that impact your sense of identity. However, it is important to distinguish between practicing erotic plasticity and sexuality.
“Developing a sexual identity may involve exploring a variety of sexual experiences that may not conform to distinct categories of lesbian, gay male, bisexual, or heterosexual,” researchers found in a 2008 study published in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy.
In other words: just because you try something, whether as a thought experiment or in real life, doesn’t mean that it is your long-term preference. So it’s important to be mindful of potential partners whose sexualities are a core part of their identity, as well as their feelings. Communicating with your partner about your intentions is always crucial, but even more so when trying something new.
- Marcus, Bat Sheva. Sex Points: Reclaim Your Sex Life with the Revolutionary Multi-Point System. Hachette Go, 2021.
- Baumeister, Roy F. "Gender and erotic plasticity: Sociocultural influences on the sex drive." Sexual and relationship therapy 19.2 (2004): 133-139.
- McElwain, Alyssa D., Michele E. Grimes, and Melissa L. McVicker. "The implications of erotic plasticity and social constructionism in the formation of female sexual identity." Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 21.2 (2009): 125-139.
- Baumeister, Roy F. "Gender differences in erotic plasticity: the female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive." Psychological bulletin 126.3 (2000): 347.