Esther Perel is a couples therapist who has been around for years, but whom I’ve only recently discovered. She has Tedtalks, podcasts and a book called Mating in Captivity – Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.*
She speaks about the difficulty of keeping sexual passion alive in the long-term monogamous relationships.
Perel attributes this to our relatively recent obsession with the marriage as the place where all your needs are met. The marriage partner is to be your best friend, your confidant, a care-giver, your intellectual equal, and your sole sexual mate. We assume that if we only spend our energies on developing an emotionally intimate relationship, that the passion will always be there. But erotic drive needs to be cultivated, and this happens in a very different way from cultivating emotional intimacy. She speaks about ensuring that each person is able to have time to re-charge from their regular responsibilities, in order to be able to get in touch with their own sexual desires.
Perel takes a fairly comprehensive look at North American ideals regarding parenthood and questions the use of children to fulfill adults emotional needs. She suggests that we have put children’s care above our adult relationship, forgetting that care for the adult relationship also benefits the children.
Forcing yourself to connect sexually, when libido is low, is not something Perel advocates for. But she suggests being sure to get ‘refuelling time’ in order to get back in touch with sexuality, and then to use words like, “maybe” or “convince me” instead of immediate, outright rejection. I would add: ensure that any outstanding issues be resolved or physical challenges investigated. She warns against looking at the penis as a central object in sex and states that this puts too much pressure on it, which is counter-productive.
Infidelity is also a major topic for Perel. Her next book, coming out this month, is primarily on that topic. Her TedTalk, “Rethinking Infidelity” gives a glimpse into this topic, but she does address it near the end of Mating in Captivity.
Perel does not, in any way, advocate for infidelity, or minimize the emotional impact of it. She does, however, question infidelity’s current place at the top of the hierarchy of sins within a relationship, noting that divorce does way more damage, emotionally and financially, to ourselves and our children, and we do not shun those who are divorced (nor should we) the way we do those who have ‘cheated.’
She suggests that our incredible fear of infidelity results in taboos around friendships with people whose gender matches our sexual preference, which may be contributing to high rates of infidelity.
Compounding this is the taboo against men showing affection towards each other (see my previous post, Men), leaving them with their only source of emotional connection and affection, being their sexual partner. If she or he is unavailable, for whatever reason, there is a big gap.
Because of these taboos, we find ourselves with less connections and more latent desire to find someone who finds us attractive, particularly when things have been a bit dry in the bedroom, or the ‘spark’ just isn’t the same anymore.
When plutonic connection is denied, we may be at higher risk to try to connect in more subversive ways, which can result in trust being broken in our primary relationship, despite whether physical contact happened, or not.
This is a sex positive book. Her goal is to increase positive sexual experiences in committed relationships.
It challenges many current norms.
Considering nearly half of all marriages end in divorce (this does not include common law relationships) it’s high time we re-think what we’re doing.
I highly recommend this book.
Mating in Captivity – Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. By Esther Perel*
*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.
Also check out Sex – How Much is Enough?
Also, check out 8 Steps to Communicating with your Partner about Big Life Issues
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