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Book Review: Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

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If you're lucky, you may have some down time over the holidays to sink into your favorite spot on the couch under a warm blanket while catching up on some of your cherished reading. I thought I'd share a review of one of my favorite sex & relationship books: Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.

"Erotic intelligence is about creating distance, then bringing that space to life."

Long-term relationships don't have to be the death of erotic vitality! Esther Perel breaks down the correlation that often exists between an increase of familiarity and closeness in a relationship with a decrease of erotic passion. Dichotomies like these seem to be a theme that she weaves poetically throughout the book: "Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy." "Eroticism resides in the ambiguous space between anxiety and fascination." "Fire needs air." However, finding a new partner is not always the solution, because then you have sacrificed the deeper intimacy- an intimacy that only comes to fruition as a result of "time and repetition."

That said, one of the aspects I appreciate about this book, is that Perel acknowledges that there isn't any one-size-fits-all solution, and she doesn't shy away from the ones that other relationship therapists avoid like the plague: polyamory, living separately, or actually just breaking up. However, these are not her go-to solutions, as her focus is mostly on strengthening a relationship, rather than dissolving it.

So how does she reconcile the safety of intimacy with the wildness of eroticism? First by analyzing what the underlying mechanisms of erotic passion are, as well as the specific dynamics that act as dampeners of this passion. For Perel, mystery and otherness is the oxygen that fuels the fire of erotic passion because the tension, uncertainty, and awe that accompanies these, literally serve as a physical charge.

The merging of personality that often occurs in relationships is the blanket that smothers this mystery. On the one hand, the sense of safety that is created with unifying a life in this way allows for a sharing of vulnerabilities, a deeper connection, and also serves as a wonderful sedative. Having the same friends, same hobbies, same schedules, same vacations, same kids, same bills, etc. can make it difficult to remember that there is always more to discover about our partners. They are independent beings with an unknowable depth that resides within them—an exciting mystery that can continuously be explored. Sometimes all it takes is to take a step back and ask, "Who is that hot thing standing in the bathroom naked right now?"

It does not have to be all or nothing. Depending on the situation, it can be okay to have a few separate friends, take a couple separate trips, start a new extracurricular activity that is all your own. These things can provide a sense of separateness that we then fill with our desire to close the gap. Like magnets that you pull apart just enough to feel the attraction trying to draw them back together again.

If Perel considers mystery and otherness as the oxygen for the fires of passion, then she considers power exchange, sexual fantasies, and shadow play as logs for the flame. Not only do the wings of our erotic imagination have the opportunity to stretch and fly, but safely and consensually* exploring aggression, power, surrender, and taboo can unleash a wealth of erotic desire that we keep deeply submerged at all other times.

In this context, "consensually" means enthusiastic consent. A simple "yes" does not constitute enthusiastic consent if any degree of coercion, manipulation, nagging, guilt tripping, emotional blackmailing, and/or chronic pestering was involved. There is no place here for emotional tone-deafness. And use safe words.

Want to know more? Read the book!

Ally Booker is a pleasure activist passionate about educating herself and others on cool sexuality related things like communication skills, creating and respecting boundaries, sexual self-determination, destigmatization, gender and sexual expressions, sex toy use and safety, and all the other mechanics of pleasure. You can often find her at her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St.. You can reach her at 777-9434 or AllyBooker@Jellywink.com.

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