Transcript – Esther Perel TED talks on The Secret to Desire In A Long-Term Relationship
Esther Perel – Sex Therapist
So, why does good sex so often fade, even for couples who continue to love each other as much as ever?
And why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex, contrary to popular belief?
Or, the next question would be, can we want what we already have? That’s the million-dollar question, right?
And why is the forbidden so erotic? What is it about transgression that makes desire so potent?
And why does sex make babies, and babies spell erotic disaster in couples? It’s kind of the fatal erotic blow, isn’t it?
And when you love, how does it feel? And when you desire, how is it different?
These are some of the questions that are at the center of my exploration on the nature of erotic desire and its concomitant dilemmas in modern love.
So I travel the globe, and what I’m noticing is that everywhere where romanticism has entered, there seems to be a crisis of desire. A crisis of desire, as in owning the wanting… desire as an expression of our individuality, of our free choice, of our preferences, of our identity… desire that has become a central concept as part of modern love and individualistic societies.
You know, this is the first time in the history of humankind where we are trying to experience sexuality in the long term, not because we want 14 children, for which we need to have even more because many of them won’t make it, and not because it is exclusively a woman’s marital duty. This is the first time that we want sex over time about pleasure and connection that is rooted in desire.
So what sustains desire, and why is it so difficult?
And at the heart of sustaining desire in a committed relationship, I think is the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs. On the one hand, our need for security, for predictability, for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence — all these anchoring, grounding experiences of our lives that we call home.
But we also have an equally strong need — men and women — for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected, surprise — you get the gist — for journey, for travel.
So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship.
But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long.
So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise. And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.
So now we get to the existential reality of the story, right? Because I think, in some way — and I’ll come back to that — but the crisis of desire is often a crisis of the imagination.
Love versus Desire
So why does good sex so often fade? What is the relationship between love and desire? How do they relate, and how do they conflict? Because therein lies the mystery of eroticism.
So if there is a verb, for me, that comes with love, it’s to have. And if there is a verb that comes with desire, it is to want.
In love, we want to have, we want to know the beloved. We want to minimize the distance. We want to contract that gap. We want to neutralize the tensions. We want closeness.
But in desire, we tend to not really want to go back to the places we’ve already gone. Forgone conclusion does not keep our interest.
In desire, we want an other, somebody on the other side that we can go visit, that we can go spend some time with, that we can go see what goes on in their red light district. In desire, we want a bridge to cross. Or in other words, I sometimes say, fire needs air. Desire needs space. And when it’s said like that, it’s often quite abstract.
But then I took a question with me. And I’ve gone to more than 20 countries in the last few years with Mating in Captivity, and I asked people, when do you find yourself most drawn to your partner? Not attracted sexually, per se, but most drawn. And across culture, across religion, and across gender — except for one — there are a few answers that just keep coming back.