Esther Perel: Rekindling Desire
Unlocking the mystery of sexuality, intimacy and desire in the 21st Century
Photo Courtesy of the Author
Esther Perel, author, psychotherapist focused on couples therapy, and organizational consultant gave a talk on Rekindling Desire at the Emerging Women’s Conference in San Francisco this past fall.
Perel was working as a couple’s therapist when she realized that the same questions surfaced repeatedly: Why does good sex so often fade even in couples who love each other as much as ever? Why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex? Why does sex make babies, and babies make erotic disaster in couples? Can we want what we already have? And why is the forbidden so desired?
Perel’s own desire to make meaning out of our current society’s relationship to erotism, intimacy and desire in the modern day relationship led her to connect the dots from where we came from to where we are going. “We have taken sex out of biology,” Perel explains. “This is the first time in human history where we have created a model of relationships where we have a sexuality that is rooted in desire. (at least in the west). We are not having sex so we can have six children (but actually 10 because a few won’t make it), and we are not having sex because it is a woman’s marital duty…Due to the woman’s movement, the gay revolution, sex has been socialized so it’s no longer a part of our condition, but a part of our identity.”
Perel explains that the shift in our modern culture and away from communal living has had a devastating effect on our intimate relationships. “This is a grand experiment of the human kind. We want companionship, economic support, social status, family life. And then a best friend, a confident, a passionate lover, and for a few decades to go. We are asking one person to do what a village used to provide.”
Perel explored how the shift from rural community oriented living to the industrial revolution and a mass move to the cities has impacted our intimate relationships. “When we were more communal in nature, intimacy used to involve sharing the experiences of everyday life: milking the cows, living together, cleaning, sharing the children’s burdens. Community life gave us a sense of continuity, a sense of identity, and a sense of belonging. Then we moved to the cities, where we are a lot more free, and a lot more alone.
“Now when I talk to you, I want you to look at me, because I need those mirror neurons. And I want you to make me feel that I matter. When I share with you I am going to share my most precious assets: my fears, feeling, aspirations, longings, and my dreams. And you are going to validate me. You are going to reflect back to me. You are going to make me feel that I matter so that momentarily, through you, I can transcend my existential aloneness. This is modern intimacy.”