Erotic Love in Cultures Around the World

Many laypeople and academics are interested in sexual and erotic themes. The topics of this kind are related to how people experience and express love.

As I said in another article, love and sex are intimately interconnected and sometimes difficult to distinguish. For their better understanding, several questions should be answered. Among those are: What is sex? What is love? What is sexual love? What is erotic love? I recently explained what erotic love is. Here I talk about erotic love across human cultures.

Erotic Art and Erotic Love

People had sex from the early origins of human evolution. It was natural and biologically embedded in their species. However, erotic love appeared on the scene with the onset of culture.

The cultural ideas of erotic art and literature have been depicted in painting, sculpture, music, songs, dances, theater, and fashion design. These artistic mediums conveyed the aesthetic values of body shape and movement, the structure and expressiveness of the face, and the melody and rhythm of music and singing.

What is “erotic” in erotic love?

In the same way that erotic art does, erotic love characterizes the physical attractiveness of a person and the setting in which they are situated. A person who is feeling erotic love looks at the body with admiration. He or she perceives the beautiful body as “nude” rather than “naked.”

Look at the dictionaries, and you’ll see the meaningful differences between the two. The impression of a beloved’s nude form is about the presence of his or her attractive physique, but the impression of a naked figure is about the absence of clothes. Both can have various connotations hidden beneath the surface.

When you are in a museum of sculpture and painting, you look at the nude figures and admire their beauty. Looking at a nude figure in the museum, you don’t experience sexual arousal every single time, don’t you? It is because you experience erotic love, not a sexual one. You experience erotic feelings, but usually non-sexual ones. Both together are not compatible in that context.

In the same way, when you are alone with your beloved being without clothes in bed, looking at her or him, you see them nude and experience erotic feelings. Yet, you don’t feel sexual arousal every single time you look at them. You feel erotic rather than sexual love.

At another time, however, you can experience both erotic and sexual love for them, perceiving them both naked and nude. One of these experiences can prevail over another or not. 

Two Examples of How Erotic Love Was Represented in European and Eastern Cultures of the Past

In the course of the history of art across different cultures, a wide variety of cultural models of erotic art and erotic love have been portrayed. Both men and women were depicted as the objects of erotic love in ancient Greek and Roman art, as well as in Indian art, yet in different cultural contexts and settings. They can still be seen today in the form of paintings and sculptures in the museums of the world.

European Examples of Erotic Art

The depiction of nude women and men in art during the Renaissance period was fashionable and generally conveyed positive associations. Erotic images of women and men can be found in the works of many poets and painters. In nude figures, artists personified their ideals of beauty, graciousness, soul, and love. During the Renaissance, great artists like Giorgione, Leonardo, Titian, Michelangelo, and Veronese created works that praised erotic beauty.

For instance, the “Venus of Urbino” painting depicted “a humanly beautiful nude woman whose pose is borrowed from the idealized beauty of Gorgione’s “Sleeping Venus.” This love allegory represents a European cultural model of love of that time, depicting the victory of love over temptation and time (Grabski, 1999, p.9).

Eastern Examples of Erotic Art

The Sanskrit aesthetic philosophy and art of Indian culture elevated the feeling of “shringara,” one of the nine rasas. “Shringara” means “erotic love” as an attraction to beauty. This feeling is related to the feeling of “rati,” meaning passionate love and sexual pleasure. Nevertheless, these two feelings are still emotionally different.

The love lyrics in Sanskrit and ancient Indian paintings and sculptures beautifully portrayed the stunning pictures of shringara, an Indian culture of “erotic love.” The concept was described as being evidently different from “kama” as presented in ancient Indian medical literature. The diverse feelings of kama were about desires and sensual pleasures of the body (Orsini 2006, p. 10). The Kamasutra, an old Sanskrit text dated to 400 BCE–200 CE, presented a lot of ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom about sexuality, erotic pleasure, and emotional pleasure. This literary text identified and vividly described four types of sexual experiences. Those distinctively referred to sex, sexual love, erotic love, or associated feelings.