“Sex is not something you do, it is a place you go, it is a space you enter with another person, and what do you find there?” – Esther Perel
Esther Perel is a sex therapist who has spent decades exploring the dynamics of love and desire with couples all over the globe. Her international best-selling book, “Mating in Captivity,” captures her work in over 20 countries, spanning cultures, languages, genders, and religions.
In her talk, viewed by over 20 million on the TED stage, Perel shares her humor and a stinging truth as she introduces us to the concept of erotic intelligence, and guides us through modern love and it’s current “ crisis of desire.”
According to Perel, the traditional ideas of security and care-taking, central to long-term commitment, have become powerful anti-aphrodisiacs, as “what nurtures love can often stifle desire.” The couples in Perel’s research found themselves all, “missing the spark” at some point. While some choose to release their need for desire, maintaining love on its own, others were committed to keeping both love and desire alive in their relationship.
It is in the understanding of how we have evolved as individuals in society and where we are today in terms of committed relationships that she shares both the lack of and the need for, erotic balance.
Where “to love, is to have” , “to want, is to desire,” the simple yet powerful use of these verbs, reminds us that love and desire require very different practices. In love we want to minimize the distance, to hold, to feel our beloved in our arms. This is very transparent, comfortable and familiar. While, desire drives in us a need for space, for mystery, and novelty. This space is a little more challenging as it requires unlimited imagination. This is something that the couples who were able to keep both desire and love alive knew all along.
One answer kept coming back in her thousands of interviews with couples, “It’s when I am looking at my partner from a comfortable distance, where this person is already so familiar, and momentarily once again somewhat mysterious… It is in this space between me and the other that lies the erotic élan.”
Erotic intelligence, as Perel coined the term, teaches us that mystery is not about travelling to new places, but about looking with new eyes. As we become aware of the tension at play, we can begin to exercise our imagination and recreate connection. With just a simple shift in perception, “We can open up to the mysteries that are living right next to us” and reignite the flame that even in the best of loving relationships is dimmed in the day-to-day sharing of life.
You can find this podcast and more from Esther Perel at: https://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_the_secret_to_desire_in_a_long_term_relationship?language=en