Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More than a metaphor

by Esther Perel

In the time leading up to the completion of my book, I began to take notes of everything in my work that had some relevance to the topic of sexuality. I read voraciously in the field of sexology, sexual health, couples therapy, anthropology. The literature in sexology was concerned more with sexual functioning than sexual feeling and the field had veered towards the medicalization of sexuality. Couples' therapy literature had little to say about sexuality. Both fields had little to say about the erotic. I'm often struck by the fact that clinical talk about sex often yields an enormous panorama of pathologies, and rarely (if ever) makes mention of pleasure or eroticism.

There are numerous ideas circulating as much in professional circles as in women's magazines. One of these is the idea that sexual problems are the result of relationship problems--namely, lack of communication. Find out about the state of the union first; see how it manifests in the bedroom second. The premise is that if sexual problems are the consequence of the relationship, fix the relationship and the sex will follow.

Sex is not a metaphor for a relationship, it's a parallel narrative. It speaks its own language. Love and desire are two different languages. We would like to think that they flow from each other. While love and desire relate, they also conflict. Love thrives in an atmosphere of reciprocity, harmony, and congruence. Desire is more selfish. In fact, at times, the very elements that nurture love: comfort, stability, safety, for example, can extinguish desire.

In my experience, I'd helped many couples improve their relationship--they felt closer, laughed together, they communicated more. But this did nothing for the bedroom. Emotional fulfillment does not necessarily translate to sexual excitement. My work with couples is to illicit strivings, longing, and novelty--to make interesting what is sufficiently available

Rather than ask how often do you do it, find out what does sex mean to you. What are the needs and expectations that you bring to the sexual encounter? Our deepest wishes, our persistent needs, our vulnerabilities are expressed in sex. Sexuality expresses truths about ourselves that are hard to get at otherwise; it reveals us at our most bare.

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