Sunday, March 18 , 2018, 2:48 am | Fair 47º


The Domestic and the Erotic: Strange Bedfellows?

Best-selling author Esther Perel to explore the topic of 'mating in captivity.'

Half of my psychotherapy practice for the past 27 years has been with couples, married and unmarried, gay and straight, wealthy and poor, from a vast assortment of ethnic and religious backgrounds. Finding and keeping closeness and joy in relationships is of utmost importance to almost everyone I talk to. Helping my clients learn tools and gain the necessary information to be more successful in their intimate bonds is my daily goal.


I’ve easily read a hundred books on the subject over the years. There are many excellent ones out there but few with such a fresh new perspective that I find myself captivated. When I listened to Esther Perel, couples therapist and author of the best-selling book, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, I felt like the doorman greeting Dorothy at the gates of Oz, “Now that’s a horse of a different color!” It was then and there I decided that The Family Therapy Institute should bring Esther Perel to speak to Santa Barbara and to provide training to both professionals and the general public.

Many others around the world evidently join me in my interest in Perel’s ideas. Her book, published by Harper-Collins in 2006, has already gone to paperback and has been translated into 20 languages. Harriet Lerner, well-known author of a series of bestsellers: Dance of Anger, Dance of Intimacy, and Dance of Deception, describes Perel as “a fearless writer and thinker who will challenge your views about sex in a radical and fundamental way. She has the most original, edgy, intelligent and high-spirited voice out there on passionless sex vs. erotic vitality.”

Lest you think this is more Sex and the City fare in which single women look for love and sexual encounters, Perel’s book comes from a professional who has also remained married to the same man for more than 20 years and knows first-hand the difficulties of balancing motherhood, work and keeping the home fires burning. She is not judgmental as she addresses how low libido, or lack of sexual desire and intimacy, is plaguing otherwise happy, loving committed couples. She is not critical of either men or women as she describes how our workaholic kid-focused culture has negatively affected our once erotic and exciting connections with our partners.

So many people bring personal agendas to this topic. Perel instead invites us to think about marriage and committed relationship from both a socio-political perspective and a psychological one. When she began to interview couples for her book, her most surprising finding, the one that got her thinking in new directions, was from talking to couples who lovingly spoke of their partners as their “best friend.” Perel was shocked when these very couples described relationships with no sex, or too little sex or lifeless sex.


Esther Perel, author of the international bestseller, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, will explore the topic in a public lecture at 7:30 p.m. May 8 at Victoria Hall, 33 W. Victoria St. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.

An in-depth training workshop will follow from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. May 9 and 9 a.m.-noon May 10.

Click here for more information or to register online, or call 805.569.2272 x111.

Wondering about this finding that seemed to fly in the face of common wisdom that emotional intimacy makes for better sex, Perel began to explore a more radical perspective. Is it possible that the very closeness one needs in order to feel safe and secure in a relationship sometimes paradoxically is the culprit of dwindling desire? The paradox that she uncovered in her work was how eroticism, fueled by a sense of mystery and curiosity, requires a certain amount of distance as well.

If you are thinking this all sounds too intellectual and theoretical, Perel goes from theory to down-to-earth practical suggestions for couples who want to keep their sex lives interesting and mutually fulfilling. She dissolves a few more myths along the way … like the idea that for sex to be great it has to be spontaneous. She offers suggestions for how to keep love and sex alive, certainly something that most of us could benefit from.

I wouldn’t miss Perel’s lecture and workshop.

Debra Manchester, LCSW, is a couples and family therapist and executive director of The Family Therapy Institute.

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