I have a large gold mirror in my bedroom that I got at a vintage store out where my parents live in rural Illinois. “Large” might be an understatement. It took my brother and husband joining forces to mount it on my wall, opposite the bed.
This enormous ornate mirror may seem like a decorative piece, a la Marie Antoinette, but it’s really a strategically placed sex object. Namely, so my partner and I can watch ourselves have sex. Well, so he can watch us having sex. I’m mostly looking at myself and thinking, “Damn, you look good.”
Before you cast me onto the Island of Self-Indulgent Women, let me assure you that this is not an uncommon practice, for both sexes. This is called “Erotic Self-Focus.” ESF is the act of focusing on oneself during sex, devoting your attention to your participation in the sexual play, and getting turned on by it.
Society would be pretty quick to call a person who focuses on their image during sex as conceited or self-obsessed.
To be honest, there is nothing wrong with this at all. You SHOULD think you’re hot and be turned on by yourself. “I actually encourage my clients to practice self-pleasuring while focusing on their bodies so they can see how they look when they're aroused and how their body is responding. Watching yourself masturbate in front of a mirror can be incredibly liberating and sexually empowering,” says Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist.
Here is everything you need to know Erotic Self-Focus, and why you should embrace it, baby.
Why do we focus on ourselves during sex?
What’s so sexy about our own bodies? Well, besides everything. Just kidding. Kind of.
When it comes to sex, we want to be wanted. Everyone wants their partner to feel like they’re the sexiest person on planet Earth when they’re getting nasty.
“Research into women and sexual arousal has found that ‘being desired’ is one of the most important ingredients in feeling sexually aroused,” says Dr. Gail Saltz is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine. “A method of keying into being sexually desired is to imagine seeing yourself through your partner’s eyes, or actually seeing yourself as if you were your partner.”
Your sexiness is good fodder for the erotic imagination.
Is ESF normal?
While wanting to feel desired may be a component of ESF, anthropologist Wednesday Martin points out in her book Untrue that sometimes you just think you’re damn hot and find your body to be sexually exciting. And that’s completely fine.
Sarah Martin, MA, a certified sex coach, says that “beyond being normal, I'd actually call this a necessity for pleasurable, mutually satisfying partner sex. Focusing on pleasurable sensations is the pathway most likely to lead to experiencing orgasm.”
Saltz explains that erotically focusing on yourself is totally normal during masturbation, sex, and fantasy. “It is healthy to feel you are sexy and look sexy and desirable.” The only time she says you should be wary is if you only focus on yourself during sex and don’t even engage with your partner. “This may interrupt a healthy sexual relationship which requires some back and forth, but this is not typical,” she says.
It’s not just about “looking.”
Martin says that this idea that women erotically self-focus more than men lacks a feminist lens. It’s more about wanting a partner who cares about your orgasm than the desire to be desired.
If you’re having sex with yourself, you know all of your needs will be met. Who knows your body better than you? “Having sex with yourself, your partner would know what felt good, would pay attention to the activities that feel good, and you would also know what feels good for them. Sex with yourself, in this context for many women, might be a fantasy of the best shot at physical sexual pleasure,” she explains.
While “visual sight” is one of the main components of ESF, it isn’t limited to simply staring at yourself and thinking, “Damn. I’d have sex with me”. “Erotic self-focus is focusing on the pleasurable sensations you feel within your body when being sexual with yourself or others. This can include focusing on any of your five senses - taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. A lot that's been written about erotic self-focus zeroes in on sight - getting turned on by looking at yourself - and leaves out the other four,” Martin says.
At the end of the day, Erotic Self-Focus is totally normal and most of us have engaged in it at some point or other. If you’re interested in giving it a try, might I suggest you get a mirror for the bedroom like I did?