Episode 28: Esther Perel: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic

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Why does great sex so often fade for couples who claim to love each other as much as ever? Can we want what we already have? Why does the transition to parenthood so often spell erotic disaster? Does good intimacy always make for good sex? Esther Perel, psychotherapist and author of _Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence,_ takes on these tough questions, grappling with the obstacles and anxieties that arise when our quest for secure love conflicts with our pursuit of passion. She invites us to explore the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire, and explains what it takes to bring lust home. And don't miss Esther's deeply insightful exercise during the interview.

Transcript

Announcer:  This program is intended for mature audiences only.

Chip August: Welcome to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August and on today’s show I’m very pleased to have Esther Perel. Esther Perel has written an amazing book called Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. It’s available in 21 languages, it’s a best-seller, it’s just extraordinary, and it’s just my pleasure to have her here. Esther is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and she’s spent about half of her life treating patients and the other half of her life coaching and consulting and training for organizations and lay and professional audiences. She’s a frequently referenced author. Her book Mating in Captivity is available, as I said, in 21 languages. It was published in 2006. Her 2002 essay Erotic Intelligence: Reconciling Sensuality and Domesticity was featured on the front cover of Utney Reader and was included in the anthology Best Erotic Writings of 2004. She has a private psycho therapy practice in New York.

Esther Perel: There is a different kind of intimacy. You know, there’s a question I’ve been asking in the 16 countries that I’ve traveled this year, and it’s remarkable how similar the answers are. When I say, “Desire needs space. Desire is built on differences and separateness” it sounds a bit abstract.

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: But when I actually ask people, “Tell me a moment when you find yourself particularly drawn to your partner”, I rarely get, if ever, an answer where, “We’re gazing into each other’s eyes, 10 centimeter for each other and we’re melding into one.”

Esther Perel: But we don’t all want that uncertainty at least at home. And at the same time you don’t have to cultivate uncertainty. I think uncertainty is part of love. You know, any time you love, you live with a certain fear lust.

Chip August: Oh yeah? Right.

Esther Perel: Too much fear, no you can’t function. But a little bit of fear is actually essential to desire.

Esther Perel: And so the moment people start to think about someone else it gets interpreted as, “Maybe I don’t have enough at home. Maybe my partner isn’t enough. Maybe I’m not enough for him or for her”, and we start to experience a dozen insecurity, rather than knowing that, you know, the other person is alive and well and is responding to all kinds of things.

Chip August: Welcome Esther Perel.

Esther Perel: Thank you.

Chip August: I was saying to you before we went on here that I’m just totally taken with your book and want to jump right in and ask you lots of questions about it, so if you don’t mind we’ll just dive right in. I think the place to start, in your introduction of the book, you just wrote some words that I thought is the perfect place to start this interview. You wrote, “Is there something inherent in commitment that deadens desire? Can we ever maintain security without succumbing to monotony? The real question are these: Can we have both love and desire in the same relationship over time? How? What exactly would that kind of relationship be?” Those are the questions, those are great questions. So can we actually have love and desire in the same relationship?

Esther Perel: Yes I think we can, but it requires us to actually understand that love and desire, they relate but they also conflict, and herein lies the mystery of eroticism. You see, I think that what struck me was that people would come to my office time and again loving each other very much, claiming caring, open relationships and desire was gone, or their sexuality was devoid of eroticism. And time and again they would emphasize for me the paradoxical relation between domesticity and erotic desire, between our need for security and safety and predictability that brings us to committed relationships and the fact that eroticism thrives on novelty, mystery and even risk. You know, if you think about love, you think about having. You think about love is about closing the gap, neutralizing the threat, minimizing the distance. It’s that very proximal no tension that we really seek in the way that we feel accepted by our partner. But on the other end, when you think about desire you think about wanting and wanting has an energy to it, it has a drive to it, a striving, and in order to want there needs to be somebody on the other side of the bridge that you can go and meet and then bring closer to you. And so while love seeks closeness, desire needs space to thrive, and so that’s when I began to think greater intimacy doesn’t guarantee good sex. And why is that? Because love flourishes in an atmosphere of mutuality, of reciprophety, of protection. We care about the one we love, we worry about them, we feel responsible for them. And sometimes those are the very emotions that can block the unselfconsciousness and the freedom that is needed in desire. And that’s why contrary to what sometimes we expect, growing, flourishing intimacy often leads to decreased desire.

Chip August: It’s very confusing to me. I don’t disagree, but it’s very confusing to me. Are you saying then that to keep desire alive we need to lessen the amount of intimacy?

Esther Perel: No, but there is a different kind of intimacy. You know, there’s a question I’ve been asking in the 16 countries that I’ve traveled this year, and it’s remarkable how similar the answers are. When I say, “Desire needs space. Desire is built on differences and separateness”, it sounds a bit abstract.

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: But when I actually ask people, “Tell me a moment when you find yourself particularly drawn to your partner”, I rarely get, if ever, an answer, “When we’re gazing into each others eyes 10 centimeters for each other and we’re melding into one.” And I note, don’t, I don’t get an answer, “When the other person is so far away that I can no longer distinguish them or see them.” It’s always, it’s as if you’re holding your finger like 30 centimeters away at a comfortable distance and you look at the other person and the answers are, “When I see him playing with the kids.” That’s a particular female answer actually.

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: “When he plays the piano.” “When I see him surfing.” When I see him on stage.” “When she’s giving a talk.” “When I see how other people are looking at her.” “When I see him look at another woman the way he used to look at me.” “When I see him talking and people are charmed by him.” “When she’s passionate.” “When she’s laughing.” “When she’s dancing.” It’s always, “When I look at the other person in their separateness doing something that they are passionate about, that is in their element, and I am looking at them from a distance. I’m certainly not taking care of them…” because that’s a powerful anti-aphrodisiac, and this person who is already so familiar is momentarily once again somewhat elusive, somewhat mysterious, somewhat unknown and in that space is the erotic elon. And people understand that desire needs space. It’s in their answers, they get it. But when you describe it in conceptual terms it feels sometimes very abstract.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: But when they love they describe very different kinds of feelings.

Chip August: Yeah so, even the word, I get it, the words themselves get in our way, “When do I desire my partner?” Well, really what we’re asking here is, “When do I absolutely feel erotic desire for this person?” And that’s going to get a little confused, even just asking the question, “When do I desire?” I get it, it’s going to get confused here. You’re basically saying we, eroticism is fueled by seeing the other person as sexy, and so when you’re seeing them do something sexy, when you’re seeing them out in the world as sexy, you’re reminded they’re sexy. Is that about right?

Esther Perel: Yup. Sexy, smart, interesting.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: When you have curiosity for them. When you anticipate their return. You know, desire is rooted in absence and in longing. Desire needs anticipation. The difference between sex and eroticism is that animals have sex. We are the only ones that are doted with an erotic experience. We are the only ones who can make love to somebody in our head for four hours and touch no one. Because we can imagine it, because we can anticipate it, because we can experience it even without doing it. And that is the difference. You know, my question was, you know, why is it that people can have the act but when they complain about the listlessness of their sex lives, most people, sometimes they want more, but they always want better. And what they long to reconnect with is the feeling of renewal, of connection, of playfulness that sex used to afford them. When you talk about eroticism in a relationship, it’s about what maintains a sense of aliveness, of vibrancy, of vitality. And sexuality is one avenue to that, it certainly is not the only one, but that’s what is, what the mystical meaning of the word erotic is about, in a way long before modernity assigned to it a strict sexual definition, it kind of narrowed it. And it is a certain tension, you know, that good friends, for example, you know in friendship you don’t necessarily have that kind of tension and desire thrives on that kind of tension. When I ask people, “When you think of love what comes to mind?”, you have words like compassion, acceptance, mutuality, friendship, comfort, warm, warm, warm comes back all the time. And when you ask people, “What do you think about when you think about sex?”, you get words like energy, urgency, hunger, drive, powerful, excited. It’s a different experience.

Chip August: Yeah, yeah.

Esther Perel: They relate, but they are not the same experience. They actually often spring from different sources. One is our need for security and the other is our need for adventure. And they pull us in different directions.

Chip August: So it almost sounds like I need to have two different pairs of glasses when I’m looking at my partner, that there are times when I need to look at my partner through the domestic glasses of, you know, how well we run a house together and how well we raise our kids together and how well we can talk to each other about our problems. But then it’s like I need to put on a different pair of glasses to remind myself also, to sort of see her new in all her beauty and desirability.

Esther Perel: But it’s also how you see the other, but it’s also how you are seen and who you are bringing…

Chip August: Right.

Esther Perel: who, you know, inside yourself you are, you’re bringing there. You know, sometimes people say that mystery, it’s like security on the inside and passion and mystery on the outside, and I say, “No. Sometimes actually mystery is right next to you. It’s just sometime no more than a shift of perception.” But if desire is fueled by the unknown, by the unexpected, by the mysterious, that is, that unknown makes us sometimes anxious. And we don’t want that kind of anxiety in the same relationship where we seek stability and safety.

Chip August: Right.

Esther Perel: And so we then close ourselves off sometimes to the very erotic vitality that brought the relationship into being. We try to corner ourself as well as our partner in a kind of fixed noble entity where there should not be any surprise. At first the relationship springs from a surprise. You couldn’t plan it. It’s chance combined with choice and you like this unexpected moment or you would never have met. And then slowly as you make the relationship more reliable, and as you try to secure love, you sometimes start to ward off the unknown, the unexpected, the very ingredients that create erotic vitality.

Chip August: Right.

Esther Perel: And that’s what, that’s the thing that sometimes happens. I don’t think security is inherently un-erotic, but I think that the way we go about securing our relationships. We end up trading comfort for exciting, excitement, we end up trading security for passion and maybe all we’re doing is trading one fantasy for another.

Chip August: And so maybe there’s an advantage to instead of running towards safety to sort of run from safety.

Esther Perel: You know, I think that passion is commensurate with the amount of uncertainty that we can tolerate.

Chip August: Mmm.

Esther Perel: But we don’t all want that uncertainty, at least at home. And at the same time, you don’t have to cultivate uncertainty. I think uncertainty is part of love. You know, any time you love, you live with a certain fear of lust.

Chip August: Oh yeah. Right.

Esther Perel: Too much fear, no you can’t function. But a little bit of fear is actually essential to desire.

Chip August: This is, this wonderful. I’m loving this conversation and talking to you is like uncorking, like it’s just this stream of great information and we need to take a short break, so we’re going to take a break and give a chance to let our sponsors support us and us support our sponsors. Those of you listening, please do listen to the breaks because there’s some good deals for you and when you support our sponsors you support this show. This is Chip August and you’re listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy and we’ll be right back.

Chip August: Welcome back to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August. I’m talking to Esther Perel. She’s written an amazing book called Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. We were just talking a little bit about, about how safety can kill passion and how there seems to be sort of a dynamic tension between creating sort of this perfect domestic bliss and creating this wild sexual life and I’m loving what you’re saying and I’m just wondering a little bit about jealousy, you know? It feels like you’re opening the doors, now it feels like what we do in our relationship is when we finally, we’ve attached on to someone and they’ve attached on to us is we sort of close the doors to jealousy and it feels like you’re opening them up.

Esther Perel: Well, you know, I think there’s a kind of set of paradoxical emotions that actually Jack Morrine talks about, which are often powerful aphrodisiacs. A little bit of guilt can be enormously exciting. A little bit of anger, a little bit of anxiety. When people talk about the excitement of the beginning, they always link it to the insecurities, “I didn’t know if he was going to call. I didn’t know if he was going to come.” They understand that the two seem to go hand and hand, they just don’t want that insecurity in their stable long-term relationship. I understand that too, but, and the same is true for jealousy, too much of it and you shut down and it’s unbearable. Fear cannot become an obsession. But it’s also clear that when you think of your partner as this person who you take for granted, who can never leave you, who belongs to you, who’s yours, who’s given their entire sexual self over to you, you start to flatten the desire in a way, you know? And that’s the whole point. Desire needs a certain amount of tension and that tension comes with the unknown and the unpredictable.

Chip August: I think also, often when we talk about jealousy, we’re really, there, there are things that get collapsed in there. I think it’s very mammalian to feel possessive of your partner. I just noticed I’ve had two dogs and, you know, they will vie for my attention. I’ve had two horses in my time and they will vie for my attention. I don’t think that sort of that “I want you all to myself” thing is a bad thing. I just noticed that in the name of jealousy we also lump in low self-esteem and wanting to control someone and those things I think make prison.

Esther Perel: Yes, but for me when I think about jealousy I think about it in the healthy sense as a natural ingredient of love.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: Jealousy in its best is the expression that your partner doesn’t belong to you. And in that sense if you want to maintain them and if you want to continue an erotic engagement with them, you have to cultivate it and you have to keep them interested and vice versa. And in that sense you know that they have a sexual sovereignty, that they are their own person, they are free and they choose to be with you. You know, the image I often use to explain what does it mean reconciling closeness and freedom if you want is when you have little children, and anyone whose ever had a little kid on their lap will have had know that experience. This little kid sits there comfortable, cozy, well nested, and at some point he jumps off and she starts to run and they want to see and discover the world and explore and see what’s out there and they are savoring their freedom and their autonomy, and at one point they turn around and they look at this adult and if the adult says, “Go for it kiddo. Enjoy it. I’m here. You know, go see what else is out there”, what does the kid do? Turns around and goes further and is experiencing at the same time the confidence and the trust of the connection that allows them to savor their freedom. But if when they turn around, they see this adult that says, “I’m lonely. I’m depressed. I’m worried. How come you’re having such a great time and I’m not involved? You know, I’m feel, I’m going to make you feel guilty for that. I am at a loss”, then the kid has a few options. One of them is that they instantly come back and they sit on your lap and they understand that closeness means compromising your own autonomy, but if you don’t want to lose the other, you will lose part of yourself. And that actually is often the very person who later on will have a harder time making love to the person they love. Because they, they’re not able to maintain that freedom, that separateness that you need in order to experience sexual pleasure.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: Or the little kid is zesty and still wants to go on, and then they look over their shoulder all the time, “Are you not going to punish me? Are you not going to be gone? Are you not going to abandon me?” And that’s the person who often is unable later on to experience enough pleasure ‘cause they’re spending all their time in their partners head, and not enough inside their own body. “Are you bored? Am I taking too long? Are you having a good time? Is this good for you?”, you know. But in a way where they constantly need reassurance. And when you are in reassuring a partner during love making, you enter care taking mode and when you are into care taking mode you are no longer into the erotic realm.

Chip August: Right.

Esther Perel: You’re in love, but you’re not in desire.

Chip August: Right, right. And you may be having sex, but the likelihood is it’s not very passionate and it’s not the sex you were really aiming for.

Esther Perel: No because in order to have sex that is passionate where you can combine the best of self-absorption and generosity, where you can at the same time be inside the other person’s space or body, as well as inside yourself, you need to know that the person that’s next to you is strong, is resilient, and that you don’t have to take care of them, otherwise you can’t retreat and go inside yourself. That’s really when, you know, when people talk about letting go, you can only let go with someone who you feel is solid and is not going to be too fragile and will be able to resist and welcome even the raw edge of your desire and your lust, you know, sexuality’s powerful.

Chip August: And so, is it our fear then, our fear that the sexuality will somehow be more powerful than our love, and so we’ll lose love?

Esther Perel: No. I think our fear is that if, you know one of the questions that I often ask, people are very bogged down with statistics these days, you know?

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: “Do you still have sex? How often? How hard? How long? How many?” I tend to shy away from much of these questions ‘cause I find that they tell you very little, but what I do ask is what the sex means to you.

Chip August: Mmm.

Esther Perel: What are the emotional needs, what are the expectations, the yearnings, the desires, the vulnerabilities that you bring into the sexual encounter? Is it rebellion? Is it a spiritual connection? Is it a moment when you can finally not have to feel responsible and somebody can take care of you? Is it a playfulness? Is it vengeance? Is it jealousy? You know, is it power? Is it surrender? What the sex means for you.

Chip August: And can people answer these questions?

Esther Perel: Yes, it’s really interesting because they’ve never been asked that question.

Chip August: Right.

Esther Perel: It’s actually one of the very interesting conversations partners will often have with each other, you know, where you find that, when you actually understand why is that thing important to them or why is that thing frightening to them or why is it something that they would rather avoid if they could. You get a good sense of it because our sexuality and particularly our erotic fantasies probably convey some of our deepest truths, a certain kind of truth about ourselves that words can only gloss over. You know, our mother tongue is our physical language, long before we could utter any words.

Chip August: Well….

Esther Perel: What we say with our body is often, it’s, you know, quite separate from what we can talk about.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: And it’s that that makes you very vulnerable. In some way I would say there is no such thing as safe sex, you know, when you actually bring yourself to your partner in such a way, it’s vulnerable. What stops people more than stress, more than tired, more than busy is the fact that it’s fearful, it’s vulnerable to reveal yourself like that to the person that you depend upon for so much.

Chip August: Yeah, which…

Esther Perel: You can do it with people you don’t care about…

Chip August: which is…

Esther Perel: much more easily.

Chip August: which is sort of a paradox though because, okay, so…

Esther Perel: Yes, it’s not what you would expect, right?

Chip August: Well more than that though. That I need to have a certain level of genuine intimate connection, to feel safe enough to go to that edge…

Esther Perel: Yes.

Chip August: And yet at the same time I need not to have that intimate connection get in the way of me going to that edge, so that I want to feel, it is exactly your parallel, I think our sex live in our child, in the child that lives inside us. I want to know that I’m free to jump off of mommy’s lap, but I want to know that the lap will still be there and if I can find the dynamic balance between those two, maybe then I can have the experience I’m looking for.

Esther Perel: Kids play hide and seek…

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: We do that in sex.

Chip August: Yeah, exactly.

Esther Perel: The adult version of hide and seek is our erotic life.

Chip August: Exactly…

Esther Perel: Exactly that. It’s the ability to do both and we straddle both from the moment that we are born actually. But when you play with the image of a kid, you understand instantly that they need to be able to experience the trust, the intimacy, the connection, in order to be able to delight in their freedom.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: But it’s the same for the adults.

Chip August: Yeah. Now I notice you’re a very big advocate of fantasy, you, in the book you actually said that you think that fantasy’s a valuable imaginative resource and, did you say more about how fantasies play a role in all this?

Esther Perel: Yes, but I think that the problem with the word ‘fantasy’ is that it often conjures up immediate associations to toys and aprons and masks and, you know, characters and plots.

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: When I use the word fantasy, I really talk about your erotic imagination…

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: because that’s what makes desire. Desire is really an imaginative production that takes place in our heads. You know, it’s what we can imagine, it’s what we can anticipate, it’s seduction, it’s curiosity, it’s all of that, and when people have a breakdown in desire they often actually have a breakdown in the imaginative production. Not of the mechanics of sex, not of the positions, but of the ability to imagine themselves differently with that same person over time and to see that person through a different lens. It’s that. So what happens, when you have imagination, you can remember what it was like in the past. When you have imagination, you can remember the breasts you no longer have, you can imagine yourself suddenly chasing someone just with your own fantasy as you’re sitting at the red light in your car. I mean it’s that meangering, that freedom of the mind that is so essential to keeping our own erotic selves alive. And it’s really with ones self first. Most times it’s not necessary to share our erotic fantasies with anybody.

Chip August: So you’re not suggesting for instance that the fact that I fantasize about some other person, that I don’t, while I’m sitting in my car at a traffic light, I don’t need to come home immediately to my wife and say, “Wow, I just had the most erotic fantasy about so and so”, you’re just suggesting that we need to allow that fantasy life to have full play in our lives.

Esther Perel: Yes because when you, you know you can go home and share that with your partner if your partner is into it and if that’s part of your erotic plots and narratives, you know if that’s part of your playfulness and they like to hear it and they like to peek in your own red light district…

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: take them there. But if you go home just because you feel that you have transgressed, just because you had a thought, just because you had a temptation, rather than understand it, you are allowed to think whatever you want and then you still come home. And you bring that aliveness, the fact that you have those thoughts back to your partner. I think that that’s actually often very nourishing to the relationship, but you see there’s something in the romantic ideal that told us, “If you choose me, then that means, and I chose you and we found each other, we will never need anybody else”, because the romantic ideal says there is one person with whom you can have everything and for forty years these days.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: And so the moment people start to think about someone else it gets interpreted as, “Maybe I don’t have enough at home. Maybe my partner isn’t enough. Maybe I’m not enough for him or for her”, and we start to experience a dozen insecurities rather than knowing that, you know, the other person is alive and well and is responding to all kinds of things. And we don’t have that insecurity when they have thoughts of other kinds of stuff. It’s particularly about erotic thoughts that we tend to feel, “I’m being replaced. I’m no longer the only one. I’m no longer unique”, and we live with that fear that that already is a certain form of leaving rather than knowing that actually the person has that experience and they voluntarily freely choose to come home, like the little kid who runs back after they’ve seen enough.

Chip August: Well and I, it’s also clear to me that if what we do, if what we practice all the time all day long is to turn off our erotic thoughts, turn off our fantasies, turn off that part of our being, it’s not, if that’s the thing we practice, that’s the thing we get good at. And I often think that the death of eroticism in relationship is simply that we’ve stopped being an erotic being in any part of our life, except the bedroom with our partner, and it’s very hard to just turn it on like a switch. It doesn’t work that way.

Esther Perel: Well, people have two other outlets these days to experience a sense of eroticism maintained in the definition that I use, right? This kind of aliveness…

Chip August: Yup.

Esther Perel: this vibrancy, this exuberance, work and more importantly children.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: Because what you see often today is that with this kind of unprecedented child sensuality that we are facing in many western countries, people will actually often redirect the erotic energies. They will play with the kids and they’ll do the same old with their partner. They’ll look for new things with the children, they’ll dress the kids in the most beautiful fashion and they will walk around in these old sweatpants. The kids will get the languorous hugs and the couple will survive on a diet of quick pecks. The erotic energy is often alive and well, but it’s heiress redirected, is what I call it.

Chip August: Wow. That’s fascinating. We have to pause for a break again. I’m, I just love talking to you. My name’s Chip August, you’re listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy, and please listen to these messages from our sponsor and don’t forget to come right back ‘cause Esther Perel’s going to give us an exercise you can do to help the intimacy and love in your own life. We’ll be back in just a moment.

Chip August: Welcome back to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August. We’re talking to Esther Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity, and we’ve been talking about desire and sexuality and how to keep desire and sexuality alive in our relationship. I’d love to know, in your book you have a really nice, you talk very well about monogamy, and so I, would you say, sort of, what is monogamy to you, what do you mean by that word and is this, is it okay, is it dying, is it alright?

Esther Perel: It’s a whole chapter, it’s called The Shadow of the Third actually and then colon: Rethinking Fidelity. But what I began to try to understand was, you know, originally when I began to think about the book it started to incubate during the Clinton affair.

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: And I was very struck by how in the United States the country was often quite at ease with multiple divorces as a society, but rather intolerant of infidelity.

Chip August: Exactly.

Esther Perel:  And the rest of the world actually often seemed to be more tolerant of infidelity and more intransigent toward divorce.

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: And then I began to think, you know, what is it about monogamy. I mean monogamy is the sacred cow of the romantic ideal. It is notion that because we chose each other and we were going to be everything for each other we would forever be faithful. And then it became a matter of total sexual explicitity. Of course I think that most people today, certainly in this country, will have two or three relationships in the course of their life except that some will do it with the same person, you know?

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: We live twice as long and we’re not going to have one relationship and we’re not going to have one sexuality. We’re going to have in the course of our own life multiple sexualities and multiple relationships, sometimes with the same partner. Monogamy, what happens is that it often is assumed rather than negotiated. And so what happens is many times people will negotiate it privately in their own head, they create their own rules. Every couple has boundaries, even an open relationship has boundaries. There is a sense, a line that is drawn and if you cross that line you have betrayed, you have violated the trust, you have gone outside our agreement, so there is no such a thing as a couple without boundaries.

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: Monogamy delineates that boundary. But today we do serial monogamy. You know, we go from one person to the next. In the past it would have been one partner for life. Now it is one partner during the time of that particular relationship, you know? And so I began to rethink fidelity with the help of a lot of the gay couples that I was working with.

Chip August: Mm hmm.

Esther Perel: Because they did not necessarily immediately link monogamy with sexual explicitity. They actually linked it with commitment, with loyalty to a primary relationship with an emotional engagement and not necessarily with the sexual component of it. And then from there I began to think, you know, it’s remarkable how many times I see couple who are sexually exclusive and yet they betray each other in so many other ways.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: You know? They, the primacy of the sexual betrayal as if that one stands above all others when people can for years be neglectful of each other, be indifferent, be dismissive, be disqualifying, be rejecting, and all of those forms of betrayal don’t seem to get the same kind of resonance because, because what? What is it about sexual betrayal that seems to hit us in a spot that is beyond all others? And I think part of it is because it really touches the fantasy of oneness that we have in the can of intimate coupling that we are involved with today. Now I’m not the person who is going to tell people to be or not to be monogamous, and for that matter nobody needs Perel to cheat, you know, they do it on their own. But I wanted to have a possibility of having a critical thoughtful conversation on the subject of infidelity and of monogamy and of the fact that contrary to what we often think, infidelity is not always the symptom of a problematic relationship. People stray for a multitude of reasons. And that what’s most important is to understand the nature of the infidelity. And more importantly people sometimes stray while they love their partner dearly and while they are actually quite content in their relationship. But sometimes there’s something that suddenly struck them that they didn’t even know existed for that matter. You know, it’s not always that they were looking for something, sometimes it’s just the fact that they didn’t resist an occurrence of life, and more importantly, and that’s been actually, you know, one of the points that has often been asked from me is that I must say that sometimes I see certain infidelities stabilize the relationship.

Chip August: Wow.

Esther Perel: They make it actually possible for people to stay married to the same person, to maintain their family, to stay close to their children, etcetera. They don’t really want to leave. But sometimes they find that there is something in the relationship that they don’t experience, sometimes their partner is utterly not interested in a sexual connection with them, sometimes there’s a kind of lack of attention and disenfranchisement that has taken place, and so people begin to compartmentalize. And I really don’t think I need to be the person to justify or descend it, but I wanted to make myself available to study it, to understand it and to be a witness for multitude and countless of couples who would come to me in variations of infidelity.

Chip August: To be fair, I don’t think you are telling people they should be unfaithful or they shouldn’t be unfaithful, and if you are a student of history, if anybody is a student of history, just read biographies, pick your great person and just read biographies, forever there have been relationships which stood the test of time and also included sometimes sex outside that relationship. And that it’s not really clear to me, its just, I get that it’s, that if there are as many couples as there are, that’s how many different relationships there are, and everybody has to really find their own path and find their own way.

Esther Perel: But you know historically monogamy was basically an imposition from the patriarchy on women.

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: It had nothing to do with love.

Chip August: Yes, but there was Thomas Jefferson having, clearly having offspring with Sally Hennings and there was Franklin Roosevelt having an affair with his secretary, and Dwight D. Eisenhower having an affair with, and, you know, pick your era or pick your person and what you discover is relationships can be powerful and strong and actually work well together and also sometimes include sexual activity that happens outside of that relationship and sometimes sexual activity outside that relationship is actually a cancer that’s just the beginning of the end. You can’t tell just from the sexual activity.

Esther Perel: I think that some infidelities will often finish off a relationship…

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: that was already gasping.

Chip August: I agree.

Esther Perel: Sometimes they will create a tear, an emotional tear that is beyond repair, and sometimes they actually become the most invigorating alarm system that a couple could have hoped for…

Chip August: Yeah.

Esther Perel: even though that’s not what they planned and that’s not how they would have wanted to do it, but that’s what it did.

Chip August: I could talk to you forever and we’re starting to run out of time here. If people wanted to get your book or find your website where would they find you?

Esther Perel: The book is Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence and it’s actually coming our in paperback in the U.S. this week. They can go to my website, estherperel.com, and it is linked to Amazon. It is to be found in every bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Borders, etcetera, and they can order it in all the other languages also through the website and through the local Amazon’s in each country.

Chip August: You have been a delight to talk to. Those of you who are listening if you don’t want to write all that down or didn’t remember to write all that down, if you just go to www.personallifemedia.com, you can find text and transcripts for all of the Personal Life Media shows including this one and in the transcript is a link to Esther Perel’s site, so you don’t have to remember it, you can just go on our site and we’ll link you right up to her site. Also, if you have feedback for me and you’d like to send it to me, I can be reached at chip@personallifemedia.com, and I’m happy to read your feedback and I’m always interested in what you have to say. If you feel like you want to leave that feedback verbally rather than in email, you can, we have a voice message machine, a voicemail machine at 206-350-5333, that’s 206-350-5333. Please leave your name, the name of my show, Sex, Love and Intimacy, leave your question or comment and your phone number and/or email address, and just know that when you leave a message on our voicemail system, it indicates to us that you, we have your agreement for us to potentially use it on air if we would like to. So if you don’t want it used on air, please don’t leave it there. Before we go I always like to have my guest give us an exercise, something that can help you at home with your own love, intimacy and sexuality and so Esther have you got something for people?

Esther Perel: Yes, I actually wanted to take the example that I gave during the interview and have you kind of develop it together, and you take a sheet of paper, you divide it in two and on the left you ask yourself, “When I think of love what comes to mind?” And you just allow yourself to free associate, your own images, associations, metaphors, thoughts. And then after that, “When I am loved I feel...” And then below that, “When I love I feel...” And on the other side, “When I think of sex what comes to mind?” And then after that, “When I am wanted I feel…” And then after that, “When I want I feel…” And if you want you can have a fourth category in which you think, “And when I think about the love between me and my partner or when I think about desire between me and my partner I think of…” so that you go from the large to the specific into your own relationship. And then if you want you just read them out loud to each other or you read your partners and you get a sense together. You know, in what way does love and desire intersect for you, because to some of us they’re inseparable and for some of us they are quite disconnected. And what are actually the most powerful feelings that you see drive each of these experiences for you? And what would you like more of? What would you like to experience more with your partner, erotically speaking? Where do you feel yourself most free? And when do you experience your relationship as most erotic? Those are the kinds of questions that I think would give you a very interesting chat and one that is quite different from the way that often couples talk when they talk about their sex lives.

Chip August: Yeah, I think that could definitely open up some doors between people. I want to thank you very much for being my guest on the show.

Esther Perel: It’s a pleasure.

Chip August: And I want to thank you listeners for listening. This brings us to the end of another episode. Please keep listening and I’ll be talking to you again soon.

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