Continuing our topic of love, let’s discuss something thought-provoking, bold, and let’s shift those paradigms. Sexual desire. Yes. It’s important because it’s a need that individuals have that affects the quality of a long-term relationship. It’s particularly important to understand what puts out the fire that we call desire. Time? Routine? Boredom? Most of us would automatically point to aspects that appear on the surface. Esther Perel, psychotherapist and author of “Mating in Captivity; Unlocking Erotic Intelligence”, says it’s commitment, certainty, even intimacy, against popular belief, that kill off desire. Esther writes that humans have two equally important and natural yet strikingly opposite needs: our need for security and our need for adventure. Our need for connection and our need for separateness. Our need for togetherness and our need for autonomy. Our need for the erotic and the domestic.
Esther illustrates that we ask from one person what an entire village once provided. This phenomenon was very apparent in the couples she worked with and caused her to question what she had always been told and to deeply examine the dynamic between love and desire. Perel saw over and over again that when the relationship is good or gets better, the sex isn’t good or doesn’t get better necessarily. Growing intimacy at times stifles desire. She adds this quote that express this dilemma well. “One tragedy in life is to not get what we want. But the other is to get it”. And the ultimate question is, “Can we want what we already have?”, and for Perel the answer is yes. That the rules of the kitchen are drastically different from the rules of the bedroom is important to be aware of. She eloquently describes the crisis of desire and the secret to unlocking erotic intelligence.
Perel has found that desire and passion come and go in waves and the fire returns when there is comfortable distance, space, individualism, when one sees their spouse in their element, when the perspective on their spouse changes from something they have to something they want. When there is play, imagination, mystery, surprise, even a sense of danger. Sometimes the very same things that we stay away from during the daytime, we are drawn to at night. Ultimately, when there is space for desire to be felt. “Eroticism thrives in the space between the self and the other”. Perel affirms that it’s not about how often a couple has sex. It’s about what sex means to them. It’s about what is expressed during sex. Couples with high erotic intelligence do not own their partner’s sexuality. It’s simply something they do not have possession of, and therefore something they crave and go after. And Perel stresses that passion and eroticism aren’t things that occur spontaneously. The are something that are equally as strong as love, its antidote, and need space to grow. We need to leave responsibility and care out of the bedroom, because as beautiful and appreciated as those traits are, they simply do not make us feel wanted.
Perel recommends individuals to ask themselves what am I turned on by? or what am I awakened by? instead of what turns me on? and what makes me feel alive?. In other words, taking full charge of your sexuality and working on feeling desirable rather than desired; Cultivating your sacred vitality and feeling a healthy sense of entitlement for who you are and what sex and desire mean to you. “Reconciling the erotic and domestic is not a problem to solve, it is a paradox to manage”. Although these are complex and challenging ideas, we first have to examine what we believe about love and desire, to determine if our beliefs help or hinder the growth within ourselves and our relationships. And at that point do we decide to adopt a new perspective, and if so which one. It would also serve to our benefit to examine why a particular new concept is unnerving and what sets of beliefs it appears to be challenging. Esther Perel’s concepts of love and desire are not meant to diminish the value of love, commitment, and intimacy. She adds a whole new layer to love, one that is very real, and one that will inevitably sustain, strengthen and deepen intimacy.