What Turns You On? The Allure of the Forbidden

Forbidden Turns You On

Miriam turned to her husband Zane and sheepishly whispered:

“We were so crazy sexually. Remember the time after the concert we stayed in the parking lot and had sex? I’m surprised we didn’t get arrested. We had to be in our early twenties then, right?”

Zane replied:

“Oh my God, that was so hot. I almost forgot! I’m actually turned on just thinking about it. I don’t even remember the concert, but I remember we were going at it in the car and then in the bushes behind the parking lot. The security car kept driving by and we didn’t even care.”


(Laughing) “I think we were getting even more turned on at the idea of giving him a show! Looking back on it, I can’t even believe that was really me. I mean, the idea of getting caught in that situation scares me to death when I think about it now, but for some reason in that moment it made things totally hot.”

When I ask couples in long-term relationships or marriages to describe their earlier sexual experiences with each other, a theme emerges in some of their descriptions. When you listen to these couples discuss what got them really turned on, an erotic, sexually-charged storyline unfolds, one involving the pushing of self- and sexual-boundaries.

What Turns You On? Entering the Playground of the Sexually Provocative

What is it that these couples found so sexually arousing? What about the sexual context described by Miriam and Zane elevated their sexual experience to such a degree that they didn’t even care about getting caught by theater security?

What these couples are describing is coming face-to-face with something that feels forbidden, a sexually provocative experience that felt a little risky and risque. Playing within the space that separates the appropriate from the inappropriate, a psychological charge is created that consists of a mixture of excitement, anxiety and naughtiness.

Looking back, many of the couples would describe themselves and their behavior as somewhat “uncharacteristic.” We often define ourselves (our self-perception) based upon our behavior, behavior that we ordinarily feel is being directed by our values, intentions and goals. Our consistency (our sameness) defines us to a degree.

But when our desires and fantasies awaken, when a sexual yearning is stirred within us, it can feel like the self we are both comfortable with and familiar with is hijacked—the person we are/know is overtaken by forces that make us act and feel in ways that we don’t fully recognize. We momentarily become unknowable to ourselves and, possibly, to our partner/spouse. Moving between the self that is knowable and unknowable, recognizable and unrecognizable, brings us into new and exciting psychological territory. Creativity exists here, as does the possibility for enlivened self-expansion. This can also be an anxiety-provoking place, and if anxiety predominates, we might retreat into the familiar parts of ourselves where comfort and safety exists.

Stepping out of ourselves in this way is what makes the forbidden exciting. After all, if we always acted in an uncharacteristic way (if Miriam and Zane always had sex in their car or semi-hidden in public) then that would become the norm; what was once forbidden and sexually provocative would morph into the familiar and characteristic. When this happens, the sexual-psychological charge and eroticism are dampened.

What Would You Consider Sexually Provocative?

It’s important to note that sexual play that is experienced as provocative and exciting is a totally subjective experience. What is considered forbidden and exciting to one person might be perceived as suffocatingly mundane by another. Behavior that one person finds erotically exciting and a huge turn-on can be experienced as way too risky/dangerous or totally unappealing to another. Only you can identify where your sexual edges are and how much you want to play and push against these edges (or whether or not this even appeals to you).

Couples describe at least three ways in which the provocative-forbidden is a sexual turn on;

1) The Sexually Provocative Act

There are certain sexual behaviors that are part of a couple’s ordinary sexual routine; then there are those sexual behaviors you and your partner might consider totally-off limits. And then there is everything in between. Trying a new sexual behavior (whether perceived as provocative or not) can add spice to a couple’s sex life, but it’s imperative that you and your partner communicate about this. Sexual experimentation should rest on communication that makes you both feel emotionally safe and ready to take any next steps.

2) The Sexually Provocative Setting

This is what drove Zane and Miriam wild sexually. Changing the setting where sex happens can add a level of novelty that is fun and exciting. How much you and your partner care to push these limits in order to ramp up the forbidden-excitement element to sex is something that should be negotiated beforehand, if possible. An experience that tips from being sexually exciting and risque to being sexually overwhelming or too anxiety-provoking is obviously not the desired outcome. The context that surrounds sex can have a dramatic impact on the level of eroticism created (this is why couples frequently report greater passionate love-making while on vacation).

3) The Sexually Provocative Secret

Couples who meander in the sexual playground of the forbidden typically don’t share this information with many people. Having a shared secret about your sexual adventures in and of itself can be a big turn-on. As a wife once shared:

“Our friends and family would never believe in a million years that we’re swingers. They probably think we’re sexually conservative. Yet every year we go to Vegas for the annual swingers’ convention. It’s like we live in two worlds occupied by different people and different rules… I love that Vince and I have this shared secret; it makes me feel particularly naughty. And I love feeling that way!”

A good rule of thumb for couples is to start small. Openly communicate about your sexual desires and fantasies without judgment or shaming criticism. Not understanding why your partner finds something sexually exciting isn’t a reason to judge her/him. There will always be something we don’t understand about our partner. The goal in these instances is to create a safe emotional space for each other to share and learn about the other. In short, communication is key as you embark on your next sexual adventure together.

If you’d like more information about how to create a more fulfilling and exciting sex life with your partner, check out my sexual intimacy guide for couples.

Here’s to spicing up your relationship!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

(Featured image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)