Eroticism (from the Greek ἔρως, eros—"desire") is generally understood to refer to a state of sexual arousal or anticipation of such – an insistent sexual impulse, desire, or pattern of thoughts, as well as a philosophical contemplation concerning the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality and romantic love. As French novelist Honore de Balzac pointed out, eroticism is dependent not just upon an individual's sexual morality, but the culture and time that individual resides in as well.
Because the nature of what is erotic is fluid, early definitions of the term attempted to conceive eroticism as some form of sensual or romantic love or as the human sex drive (libido); for example, the Encyclopédie of 1755 states that the erotic "is an epithet which is applied to everything with a connection to the love of the sexes; one employs it particularly to characterize...a dissoluteness, an excess". However, because eroticism is wholly dependent on the viewer's culture and personal tastes pertaining to what, exactly, defines the erotic, critics have often confused eroticism with pornography, going so far as to say: "[Eroticism] is simply high-class pornography; better produced, better conceived, better executed, better packaged, designed for a better class of consumer." This confusion, as Lynn Hunt writes, "demonstrate the difficulty of drawing...a clear generic demarcation between the erotic and the pornographic": indeed arguably "the history of the separation of pornography from eroticism...remains to be written".
For a psychoanalytical definition, as early as Freud psychotherapists have turned to the ancient Greek philosophy's "overturning of mythology" as a definition to understanding of the heightened aesthetic. For Plato, Eros takes an almost transcendent manifestation when the subject seeks to go beyond itself and form a communion with the objectival other: "the true order of going...to the things of love, is to use the beauties of earth as steps...to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty".
Modern French conceptions of eroticism can be traced to The Enlightenment, when "in the eighteenth century, dictionaries defined the erotic as that which concerned love...eroticism was the intrusion into the public sphere of something that was at base private". This theme of intrusion or transgression was taken up in the twentieth century by the French philosopher Georges Bataille, who argued that eroticism performs a function of dissolving boundaries between human subjectivity and humanity, a transgression that dissolves the rational world but is always temporary, as well as that, "Desire in eroticism is the desire that triumphs over the taboo. It presupposes man in conflict with himself". For Bataille, as well as many French theorists, "Eroticism, unlike simple sexual activity, is a psychological quest...eroticism is assenting to life even in death".