Have been reading Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity and am… captivated! Perel is exquisite and articulate in describing the erotic landscape, replete with intimacy, perils, dead ends and rejuvenation! Seeing the difference between the comfort, familiarity and security needs of an enduring, stable relationship and the exciting desires and distance mechanisms that stoke the fires of passionate romance is a worthy task! Differentiation is where the growth in ourselves and our relationships occur. Many opt for the more stable ground of habit rather than risk the adventure that erotic intimacy can bring.

Be careful about putting your loved one in a cage! Perel writes: “our need for constancy limits how much we are willing to know the person who’s next to us. we are invested in having him or her conform to an image that is often a creation of our own imagination, based on our own set of needs… neutralizing the others complexity affords us a kind of manageable otherness.

Perel describes how love need closeness, but desire needs distance. Separateness as a precondition for connection. How much do you want someone you have? The heart needs to miss someone to desire them. Our need for autonomy and separateness are parallel to our needs for warmth, touch, love, intimacy and togetherness. How do these aspects balance in you and in your primary relationships?

How free is your imagination? How flexible and fluid are your thoughts, your emotions, your behavioral responses and your sexual proclivities? What binds you and what liberates you? How free are you to have these kind of conversations with your lover?

Perel also addresses power dynamics, brilliantly! She quotes from the psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell that the capacity to (have and) contain aggression is a precondition for the capacity to love. We must integrate our aggression rather than eradicate it… “the degradation of romance, the waning of desire, is due not to the contamination of love by aggression, but to the inability to sustain the necessary tension between them.”

“you can’t choose between inhaling and exhaling; you have to do both. Its the same thing with intimacy and passion… its the tension between security and adventure is a paradox to manage, not a problem to solve”.          Love and Sex are not an either/ or but an ebb and flow.

We are programmed from our youngest days to relate to our bodies, to pleasure, to intimacy… these messages are scripted into our impressionable minds and can be decoded by an exploration of the archaeology of desire, in the roots of our sexual development. Sensual aliveness, erotic awakeness, pleasure, aggression… how were these qualities embodied and modeled in your family of origin? Has your autonomy been respected and appreciated or has it been challenged as too threatening, either by parents, spouses, or other significant people in your life? The body is the purest, most primal tool we have for communicating who we are. and we are watching others for their aliveness and vitality too!

As I read Mating in Captivity, I become increasingly free, not just in my own sensuality and aliveness, but in my sense of power and capacity. I am “in charge” of my charge, of my physiological arousal and energy system. There is much potential for us to be alive, and many opportunities we have to squelch, suppress, compromise or be co-opted by our own or another’s morality. Enlivened intimacy beats boredom in the bedroom. Its riskier, but its rewards are great. You may prefer to have a comfortable friendship with your spouse, based on shared values, goals, stability and security. You are entitled to that preference and practice. Just know that more is possible, should you choose to be brave in your imagination and your explorations. Don’t sell the possible short, is my encouragement. Passionate, enlivened intimacy is worthwhile terrain to explore.


be well,

michael gelbart, lcsw