Esther Perel is a marriage and family
therapist practicing privately in New York City. She is a faculty member of the
International Trauma studies program at Columbia University. She is also a
member of the American Family Therapy Academy and has appeared on television
programs including ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’, ‘Good Day New York’ CBS This
Morning and HBO’s ‘Women Aloud’. She lives in New York City with her husband
and two children

Esther Perel was born in 1958 in
Belgium. She is a psychotherapist known for exploring the urges between the
need for love belonging and closeness which is human security and the need for
freedom which manifests itself in erotic desire, adventure and distance in
human relationships. Perel enlightens people on the concept of Erotic
Intelligence in her best seller book (Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic
Intelligence) published in 2006. The book has since been translated into twenty-four
different languages.

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On completion of publishing the book,
she embarked on advising people on sex and relationships internationally. ‘The
secret to desire in a long-term relationship’, a talk she gave at TED in
February 2013 received more than 7.5 million views on TED’s website as of
January 2016. A second talk named ‘Rethinking Infidelity…a talk for anyone who
has ever loved’ she gave at TED in March 2015 has over .7 million views on
TED’s website as of August 2015.

Esther Perel is of Jewish origin, she is
a daughter to two Polish-born Holocaust survivors. Born and raised in Antwerp
she attended a Hebrew University. Perel grew up amongst Holocaust survivors in
Antwerp, Belgium and realized two groups of people around her: “those who
didn’t die, and those who came back to life”. Her finding was that
“those who didn’t die were people who lived tied to the ground, afraid and
with trust issues. The world was wild, and pleasure was inevitable. You cannot
be free, take risks, or be creative when you don’t have a minimum of security,
because every human needs to be self-unconscious to be able to experience
excitement and pleasure. Those who came back to life were those who understood
eroticism as a cure to death.”

Perel repeatedly trained in
psychodynamic psychotherapy before settling professionally in family systems
theory. She first worked as a cross-cultural psychologist with couples and
families. Perel has also worked as an actress and has run a clothing boutique in
Antwerp. In 2017 she released her new book The State of Affairs: Rethinking
Infidelity. Perel is married to Jack Saul who is Assistant Professor of
Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of
Public Health, with whom she has two sons.

The book is titled, ‘Mating in
Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence Paperback’ and was published in
October 30, 2007. The book explores the paradox between relationships and how
culture and sexual desires could be combined in couples to build intense
intimate relationships. The author is a therapist in NY and draws on cases to
illustrate her points. It’s engaging, the topic is fascinating, and Perel has
some refreshingly smart suggestions for maintaining or recapturing eroticism in
relationships. Note that this book probably won’t resonate with everybody: some
of her suggestions have a healthy disregard for the status quo.

Perel is particularly interested in
couples and families who are in cultural transition. Perel believes that human
connection has transformative power in all aspects of our lives. Her primary
interest on human relationships is how cultural forces affect gender roles and
child bearing practices. She explains the mysteries of the human condition in
simple words and enjoys helping people all over the world who feel
misunderstood, be there for them in terms of joy and pain and be motivated
towards change.

It tells you how to have the security,
stability, comfort, that are required for a healthy a long-term relationship
while at the same time creating the uncertainty, mystery, and risk that are required
for passion.  Perel’s core topic is well
stated early on and summarized in a piece of her own words. “I point out
to Adele that if we are to maintain desire with one person over time we must be
able to bring a sense of unknown into a familiar space.” Adele, it seems,
has been suffering from “contemporary angst” and now stands in as
closer to the larger condition that many face regarding sex within committed
long-term relationships.

In the pages that follow, several
stereotypical characters who are her clients is rolled out for the reader while
she herself revealing meaning to truth. In another section, Perel describes the
disadvantages of the spoken word in the pursuit of everlasting sexual bliss.
Her advice on the matter is that Couples should start by ceasing the feminized
language of emotion from the bedroom where, instead, we might reintroduce the
“mother tongue” that is our body.

Finally, the next chapter on monogamy
convincingly points out that despite the breakdown of many sexual taboos in our
society which are homosexuality, premarital sex and birth control, americans
remain steadfastly committed to monogamy in a single ideal within all types of
relationships. Perel correctly points out that for many couples, “fidelity
is defined not by sexual exclusivity but by the strength of their
commitment” and that monogamy and its alternatives should be negotiated
rather than imposed.

The writing has little perceptible
weight, and even at times elegant, but sadly only rarely achieves the intensity
that the topic deserves. Throughout, it’s never quite clear whether this is a
legitimate self-help manual or a series of ideas on the rough.

Personally, I would have preferred the
author to engage in a more vigorous analysis of both the psychology and the
anthropology factor of sexual relations within non long-term relationships-in
other words more Barthes, de Beauvoir, and Fisher-and less emphasis on the
self-selected and exaggerated accounts of Alan, Adele, Zoe, Naomi, and Jed,
among others.

In a well-written chapter titled
“The Pitfalls of Modern Intimacy,” Perel draws out the logic of
removing pragmatism from relationship building. Using romantic love as a
measure to assess long-term compatibility, we create unreasonable expectations
about the role of passion in providing the sustenance of permanency;
expectations that can hardly be met by the self as an emotion-laden being, let
alone by the self as orchestrated by a never ending series of chemical
carbon-based reactions.

More often than enlightening, however,
the content was repetitive and replaceable. While easy to find humor in
chapters explaining how democratic politics have left Eros limp and how the
protestant work ethic leaves no room for eroticism, the anecdotal cases kept
emerging even when their application felt forced. Perel did include a limited
number of same sex couples along the way, but they were treated as synonymous
with more traditional relationships and their explanatory power was thus
limited.

Perhaps the most repetitive was the
condescension displayed towards her subjects; both those in the first degree,
her clients, and those in the second, her readers. Her own cosmopolitanism (the
Belgian daughter of holocaust survivors, educated in Israel and practicing
professionally in Manhattan) often seemed needlessly dismissive of American
cultural mores pertaining to sex and intimacy. “Some of America’s best
features,” she says “result in very boring sex.”

Perel says that not a chance could the
American Therapists remedy the situation. The American clinicians at one
particular conference completely pathologized consensual and non-violent sex
involving domination and submission. She took strong exception to their
inability to fathom the complexity of fantasy and play within loving
relationships, while stressing her own thinking of such matters.

Though admitting her “relative
outsider” status and using it to provoke American culture, her narrative
paradoxically contains itself within that very collective identity.
“Nowhere is our profound discomfort with sex more apparent than in the way
we approach teenage sexuality,” she states before then describing the more
enlightened attitudes of Europeans who “view adolescent sexuality as normal
“and “not a problem.”

Such statements are easy to agree with.
But often, at least for this book, the distance drew me away from her
arguments. I suspect that many of her readers will find such ideas similarly
worth brushing off. Additionally, many of the situations in which she described
her heroic interventions were offensive. The line between worthwhile social
science and a personal advertisement copy was never very clear.

Overall, the book was innovative,
provoking but very flawed. With its cherry red cover, half-clad lengths, and
provocative vocabulary on the title, it wasn’t always the most pleasant book to
read in crowded places. The looks, especially from those of the females felt
unfortunate. And while some of the ideas contained within are worth thinking
about, I will probably only recommend it to a few of my friends, for its
ability to surprise people alone. Note that this book probably won’t resonate
with everybody: some of her suggestions have a healthy disregard for the status
quo, which the iconoclastic realist in me appreciates.

 

 

 

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