As we ease into February, Susan Zelouf is in an erotic mood …
Walking through Dublin of a tenebrous midwinter afternoon, I catch myself staring into the window of Baggot Street’s Barbiere (the Italian word for barber) at leather-holstered stylists wielding straight razors and strops, watching men get haircuts and beard trims, an activity I would include on a list of guilty pleasures, where it languishes somewhere between shopping for a man and talking dirty. Witnessing perfect strangers submit to intimate acts of grooming is pleasurable, thrilling, erotic even. Observing a man’s vulnerability under the blade brings out my inner Delilah, seductive and treacherous, leaving me as excited as I am mystified. Who am I? Still, I make a mental note to tease my husband with scissors, opening and closing them (a dangerous pair of muscular thighs) millimetres from his tender earlobe, the next time he asks me to tidy up his flattop: “Do me, baby.”
In the final episode of the second series of The White Lotus, a show about desire, Daphne says: “We never really know what goes on in people’s minds or what they do, right? You spend every second with somebody and there’s still this part that’s a mystery. A little mystery? It’s kinda sexy. I’m a mystery to myself, honestly, I surprise myself all the time.” While desire is universal, a biological imperative designed to ensure the survival of our species, eroticism is deeply personal and wildly diverse, unmoored to procreation, common sense and sensibility, tethered instead to baser instincts, inexplicable drives and constant cravings. Erotic desire is not even in the top ten of Steven Reiss’ 16 Basic Desires Theory, bested by the #1 need to be appreciated. Surprisingly, the need for sex is ranked #11, sandwiched between the desire for power and the need to accumulate things. Without sex, we wouldn’t be in a position to satisfy desire #4, the need to care for one’s offspring. And, speaking for myself, stripped of erotic desire, daydreaming would involve more shopping, less stropping.
With the abundance of material out there plumping for the sexiness of breasts, butts, lips, eyes, hair, feet, backs, midriffs, vaginas (extra credit to treasure hunters seeking the elusive clitoris), you’d be forgiven for overlooking the most strategic sex organ: the brain. Case in point is the viral success of Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love essay for The New York Times referring to a study by psychologist Arthur Aron in which a series of increasingly intimate questions, asked and answered by two strangers, can conceivably lead to love or something like it. www.36questionsinlove.com is chalking up an impressive track record of reigniting snuffed-out passions and/or accelerating intimacy on Hinge dates.
Blame the inflated cost of a dozen Valentine’s Day roses on cherubic Cupid, the Roman god of desire and his Greek counterpart Eros, god of carnal love. Not until he was nicked by one of his own golden arrows did Cupid fall crazy in love with Psyche, goddess of the soul, depicted sporting butterfly wings; their union resulted in the birth of Voluptus, goddess of sensual pleasure, and the rest is the stuff of erotic novels, from The Story of O by Pauline Réage to Normal People by Ireland’s own Sally Rooney. This month, make a date with yourself and have it off, at least in your own imagination, with Barry White’s Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe playing on repeat.
1. I’M GIVING as good as I get with Wexford chocolatiers www.beanandgoose.ie Totally Love Collection.
2. I’M LOVING The Louvre for giving house room to Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss.
3. I’M A WILLING slave to love in a Síne Vasquez Pillar T-bar pendant in 14K recycled gold, oxidised silver and olive green diamonds. €1,850; www.sinevasquezjewellery.ie.
4. I’M PLEASURING myself with Betony Vernon’s String of Pearls Massage Ring, worn on my middle finger, turned into the palm of my hand. www.xenses-shop.com.
5. I’M WEARING a Mugler X Wolford Flock Shaping Dress with an invisible zipper punctuating its sheer back panel. €550; www.wolfordshop.ie.
6. I’M SPEAKING in tongues: bheith ina liobair (in ribbons) over Glenn Marten’s spring couture collection for Jean Paul Gaultier. Photo by Arnaud Lajeunie.
7. I’M HAVING Anonymous Sex, an anthology of elegant erotica by award-winning writers.
8. I’M BORROWING Anais Nin’s erotic classic Delta of Venus from my local library. Shhhh! Or for audio erotica, www.tryquinn.com.
9. I’M STRAPPING IN for a bumpy ride in Bordelle’s bondage-inspired Angela dress in burnt red. www.bordelle.co.uk.
10. I’M MAKING a mix tape of Prince classics for date nights. Get off!
11. I’M POINTING Alaia’s La Bombe heels at the ceiling – in nude, of course!
12. I’M TRAILING a scent of Frédéric Malle’s Carnal Flower, available at Brown Thomas.
13. I’M SEDUCING the milkman in nothing but Valentino Donna. Now, who can I get to play the milkman?
14. I’M HYPNOTISING my lover in Louis Vuitton’s heady Spell on You; because you’re mine.
15. I’M TABLING a motion to proceed on an NVL Table by Jean Nouvel in lipstick red. To order, at Minima, Hanover Quay, Dublin 2.