Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

I began reading this book out of curiosity on what insights Dr. Esther Perel, a psychotherapist whose work and counseling focuses on sexual relationships, could offer in the subject matter of married sex lives. I had found her speaking events to be quite educational and useful for understanding people’s sexual inhibitions and preferences. Seeing her tackle issues of social norms of marriage and how the US may be going about it the wrong way in the age of openness was refreshing.

I think this book is most definitely worth reading for anyone. Regardless of if your interests are marriage or the single life, there’s definitely useful information to be gleaned in this book.

Perel details that one of the reasons married couples have less sex, outside of the context of raising a young child before their kindergarten years, is because they stress togetherness too much and holding nothing back from each other. Instead of seeing their spouses in terms of husband and wife, with a secure and quick reference, we should strive to maintain their otherness and acknowledge their separateness as individuals who exist for themselves so as not to generalize who they are in connection to you.

Perel notes how certain married couples lost the erotic drive because they think of their spouse in terms of mother and father of their children and feel it’s somehow unnatural or even out of the bounds of what’s socially acceptable to eroticize their spouse. This revelation genuinely perplexed me. Evidently, spouses who cheat have this issue and speaking with a married co-worker when I explained this revelation from Perel’s research into the thoughts and feelings of those who cheat also came as a surprise to them. After all, why should society dictate one’s relationship to one’s spouse? That seems altogether ridiculous, but evidently many married couples humble themselves to the norms of a society that largely doesn’t care what they do in the bedroom.

Long story short, the best way is to work towards making a romantic setting (even romance requires effort and doesn’t come easy) and to remember to emphasize separateness / Otherness. The reason you should focus on Otherness is to emphasize your spouse or sexual partner as their own individual apart from you. The passion and eroticism is unlikely to return unless that is emphasized. You don’t need to share everything and it ruins the passion in a romance when people take that path due to the lack of mystery and surprise. In effect, Otherness in marriage and recognizing your partner as their own entity separate from you can go a long way in bringing the passion back into the relationship.

There is more subject matter to be gleaned as this summary is just an overview. For instance, BDSM culture isn’t unhealthy when you have two consenting partners and Dr. Perel lists an anecdote where a breast cancer survivor used such for foreplay and eroticism to get her husband back into feeling passionate for her in the bedroom.

If you’re interested in clearer explanations of all this material, I recommend reading the entire book as this is simply a summary of what Dr. Perel details in her book.

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