Mating in Captivity

Esther Perel


...psychotherapist Perel's first book sets forth a thesis for today's couples... Languishing desire in a relationship actually results from all the factors people look for in love and marriage: grounding, meaning, continuity. Partnerships are supposed to provide "a bulwark against the vicissitudes of modern life," Perel notes, and in one person we turn for all the emotional connections that the greater society (church, community, family) can no longer provide. Habit and certainty kill desire, yet how to live comfortably with the elements of unpredictability and risk that are necessary for healthy eroticism?

Perel supports her nicely accessible work with case studies of couples both heterosexual and gay, spanning all ages, with kids and without, in an attempt to cure what ails their sex life. Some of the proposals Perel recommends for rekindling eroticism involve cultivating separateness (e.g., autonomy) in a relationship rather than closeness (entrapment); exploring dynamics of power and control (i.e., submission, spanking); and learning to surrender to a "sexual ruthlessness" that liberates us from shame and guilt. In short, Perel sanctions fantasy and play and offers the estranged modern couple a unique richness of experience.

Sample reviews

1) ... to address the dilemma of intimacy and desire: (1) Don't assume you know everything about your partner, and cultivate a certain amount of mystery; (2) Don't expect desire to be "spontaneous" - it can be kindled just as well (or better) through forethought, scheduling and careful planning - just like a great meal or a long-ago date; (3) Sexual fantasy is ok; and (4) imaginary or real third parties add spice to relationships - a little jealousy is a good thing, and don't take your partner for granted.

2) Most importantly, she helped me understand my desire. She helped me understand why I enjoyed thinking of my wife in certain ways. It helped me understand my desire and find new ways of experiencing passion.

3) I can basically summarize her book: you need to look at your significant other as someone erotic and not the father or mother of your child. You must find ways to turn yourself on within the relationship and not see it as a mundane stagnant relationship. Basically, she advocates a balance between intimacy, love, respect, tenderness, closeness AND raw passion, erotic, whatever you can do to turn each other on (ie, porn, role play, flirting with each other).