Most of us are familiar with the term “eros”. Culturally we think of romance or lust, or in terms of it being the root word of “erotic”.
Eros can be capricious this way, but the more we learn about it, (like the other forms of love we talked about) we discover it too has a light and dark side.
What’s in a word?
The word “eros” come from the Greek, and translates to mean “the love of beauty.” It’s slightly ironic that it would be the root word of the term “erotic”, when erotic is defined as “of, devoted to, or tending to arouse sexual love or desire.”[i]
Or, is it ironic? Let’s take a closer look.
“Because it is also characterized by powerful physical attraction, eros epitomizes “love at first sight.” This is the kind of love often described in romance novels, where the lovers are immediately love-struck and experience palpitating hearts, light-headedness, and intense emotional desire.
Erotic lovers want to know everything about the loved one---what she or he dreamed about last night and what happened on the way to work today. Erotic lovers often like to wear matching T-shirts, identical bracelets, and matching colors, to order the same foods when dining out, and to be identified with each other as totally as possible.” [ii]
It sounds a little like limerance, [iii]and I hope you can hear the echos of it in there. As limerance is a kind of love, we will discuss it at length in later articles.
If eros is a love of beauty, then the erotic could be a manifestation of how we respond mentally, physiologically, and spiritually to certain kinds of beauty or what we feel attracted to, such as a favorite celebrity you may consider “eye candy”, for example.
Attraction to Beauty is Good and Worthy!
In his address “To the Single Adult Sisters of the Church” (1998,96-97) President Ezra Taft Benson said:
“Keep yourselves attractive…Of course, he should be attractive to you…”[iv]
The context in which this was given was that there are other qualities and characteristics that are important to maintain as well as look for in a mate, but for our purposes I give this quote to show that eros, or “the love of beauty” is part of God’s plan and does have a righteous purpose and place.
In this context, it is saying that some dessert should be part of a nutritious meal… but not the meal itself. There is a deeper nutrition that is lost if all we focus on is dessert.
Elder Holland said,
“A woman not of our faith once wrote something to the effect that in her years of working with beautiful women she had seen several things they all had in common, and not one of them had anything to do with sizes and shapes.She said the loveliest women she had known had a glow of health, a warm personality, a love of learning, stability of character, and integrity. If we may add the sweet and gentle Spirit of the Lord carried by such a woman, then this describes the loveliness of women in any age or time, every element of which is emphasized in and attainable through the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[v]
May I also suggest that the same qualities of inner and outer eros can be developed in men who are living in the gospel as well.
The love of these types of beauty are also “eros” and can be “erotic” - the kind of sacred erotic that a man or woman has for their spouse.
When eros is profaned or defiled…
When eros is profaned, it is a sin before God…at least, to us as Latter-Day Saints.[vi] What form the sin of immorality can take happens in many ways and on many levels.
“Bridle your passions, that ye may be filled with love…” is not a contradiction in terms. It is a prophetic plea to keep eros within the principles of obedience, happiness and trust the Lord has set. When we do, we can feel all forms of love more fully, and not go out of balance.
Elder Christofferson, in a speech at BYU regarding that which is sacred, once said:
“The importance of having a sense of the sacred is simply this—if one does not appreciate holy things, he will lose them. Absent a feeling of reverence, he will grow increasingly casual in attitude and lax in conduct. He will drift from the moorings that his covenants with God could provide. His feeling of accountability to God will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, he will care only about his own comfort and satisfying his uncontrolled appetites. Finally, he will come to despise sacred things, even God, and then he will despise himself.”[vii]
The erotic is sacred, and there is “sacred” erotica
It was expressed to me by a member of the church that there is no such thing as sacred erotica; that all erotica can only express profane feelings and attitudes.
I have to respectfully disagree with this view. In my article, “Mormons Take Pleasure in Sacred Erotica”[viii], I point out that all things that are erotic between a husband and wife, and in the bounds of the law of chastity, are sacred, and that these activities only become profaned, or defiled, when they’re pulled out of this protected framework.
Removing them from the holy framework of marriage makes them to seem cheap or common, but it doesn’t change the fact that these activities are still sacred. Think of the temple – if the ordinances were practiced by someone outside the temple, the individuals would defile themselves with their actions, but it wouldn’t make the ordinances any less sacred.
In continuing his thought on appreciating and respecting those things which are sacred, Elder Christofferson also said,
“On the other hand, with a sense of the sacred, one grows in understanding and truth. The Holy Spirit becomes his frequent and then constant companion. More and more he will stand in holy places and be entrusted with holy things. Just the opposite of cynicism and despair, his end is eternal life.”[ix]
What role does eros play in the LDS marriage bed?
Doing things that enhance our appearance and attractiveness to each other are sacred activities. Continuing to court one another helps maintain feelings of eros between a couple. Gratitude for each other, and a continuing appreciation for what is beautiful in each other, will bring feelings of eros without forcing or straining. Trying to be Christlike in our behavior towards each other and to others maintains those feelings of eros, as well as helps us keep our friendship with each other and helps us develop the trust that facilitates full sexual expression for a married couple.
Such things in an LDS marriage are not only guarded by standards and commandments and need to be kept between husband and wife, but should also be relished, engaged in freely, and even celebrated between the husband and wife.
Those feelings of attraction, appreciation of your spouse’s inner and outer beauty, and romantic love that often brings two people together was never intended by the Lord to disappear with marriage.
“ Our natural affections are planted in us by the Spirit of God, for a wise purpose; and they are the very main-springs of life and happiness – they are the cement of all virtuous and heavenly society …There are not a more pure and holy principle in existence than the affection which glows in the bosom of a virtuous man for his companion;…The fact is, God made man, male and female; he planted in their bosoms those affections which are calculated to promote their happiness and union.”[x]
~ Parley P. Pratt
In my next article in this series, we will examine the form of love known as mania.
[ii] Benokraitis, Nijole, Marriages and Families 5th ed. Pearson Education Inc. 2005, 149-150
[iii] Beam, Joe. The Truth About Limerance Affairs. Marriage Helper, Inc. Apr 30 2015. http://joebeam.com/blog/limerence
[iv] Benson, President Ezra Taft, Ensign, Nov. 1998,96-97
[v] Holland, Jeffrey R. To Young Women. Ensign. October 2005. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2005/10/to-young-women?lang=eng
[vi] See Guide to the Scriptures, Sexual Immorality: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/sexual-immorality?lang=eng
[vii] Christofferson, D. Todd. A Sense of the Sacred. 7 Nov 2004. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/d-todd-christofferson_sense-sacred/
[viii] Zaragoza, Sam. Mormons Take Pleasure in Sacred Erotica. 17 Sep 2013. http://ldsmarriagebed.blogspot.com/2013/09/mormons-take-pleasure-in-sacred-erotica.html
[ix] Christofferson, D. Todd. A Sense of the Sacred. 7 Nov 2004. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/d-todd-christofferson_sense-sacred/
[x] Writings of Parley P. Pratt, pg. 52-53, as quoted from the Eternal Marriage Student Manual