Must Read | Mating in Captivity

Mating in Captivity| Unlocking Erotic Intelligence

Esther Perel

1st Edition (2006)

Harper  | ISBN 978-0-06-075363-4


About The Book

This is not, ostensibly, a book about swinging, non-monogamy, or polyamory. Mating In Captivity “examines the complexities of sustaining desire” within committed relationships.

It was written by Esther Perel, a NYC psychotherapist currently enjoying a great deal of fame and acclaim — both of which we think are well-deserved, after reading this book. Perel uses case studies from her own practice as well as plentiful references to others’ work to lay out the reasons desire often wanes within the “confines of marriage” (or other committed relationships) and what couples can do to counteract those things and infuse or retain the erotic in their relationships.

Spoiler Alert: This may include ethical non-monogamy.

The book includes an introduction and 11 chapters, plus a “notes” section with information about books, articles, and ideas the author mentions within each chapter, and a bibliography.

The chapters are helpfully titled and subtitled in such a way that merely listing them here provides a pretty solid idea of what each covers:

1 From Adventure to Captivity | Why the Quest for Security Saps Erotic Vitality

2 More Intimacy, Less Sex | Love Seeks Closeness, but Desire Needs Distance

3 The Pitfalls of Modern Intimacy | Talk is Not the Only Avenue to Closeness

4 Democracy Versus Hot Sex | Desire and Egalitarianism Don’t Play by The Same Rules

5 Can Do! | The Protestant Work Ethic Takes on the Degradation of Desire

6 Sex is Dirty, Save It for Someone You Love | When Puritanism and Hedonism Collide

7 Erotic Blueprints | Tell Me How You Were Loved, and I’ll Tell You How You Make Love

8 Parenthood | When Three Threatens Two

9 Of Flesh and Fantasy | In the Sanctuary of the Erotic Mind We Find a Direct Route to Pleasure

10 The Shadow of a Third | Rethinking Fidelity

11 Putting the X Back in Sex | Bringing the Erotic Home

While the entire book is relevant to — if not directed at — those already ensconced in (or dipping their toes into) the world of ethical non-monogamy, chapter 2, chapter 10, and chapter 11 speak especially loudly to those in our tribe.


What We Thought

To be succinct, we would like for all couples to read this book. It’s that good, and that important.

It may be most beneficial for folks to read this a few (or many) years into their relationship, since a couple still in the honeymoon phase may not yet recognize from experience the vast truthiness of what this book has to say. In particular, we would like to recommend this book to anyone entertaining the notion that non-monogamy might save an ailing sexual relationship. It provides tools for understanding how to heal from within the couple rather than presuming the answer comes from somewhere outside it.

In particular, we would like to recommend this book to anyone entertaining the notion that non-monogamy might save an ailing sexual relationship.

As noted above, this book isn’t written specifically for those in the swinger community. But throughout its pages can be found whispers about why ethical non-monogamy may make sense for some couples. And, in certain chapters, those whispers become highly audible assertions.

There are a lot of ways to invite the third into the relationship that don’t include extramarital sex, and a few that do….Even our most entrenched beliefs about sexuality are susceptible to revision. We once shunned premarital sex and homosexuality; they are now more or less accepted in most circles. In recent years, a small group of men and women have taken on monogamy as the next big battle in their personal fight for sexual emancipation….Swinging is a form of consensual adultery. It also accords equal freedom to both partners.

This is from chapter 10. In that chapter, Perel goes on to discuss the cultural and societal stigma against non-monogamy and to suggest that it is — for at least some couples — largely misplaced. Generally speaking, Perel presents an attitude of acceptance toward non-monogamy of an ethical, consensual sort. She positively references couples who spend vacations at Lifestyle resorts and couples who swing. As they read this book, introspective CNM couples will find lots of answers to why the LS appeals to them and works for them.

As they read this book, introspective CNM couples will find lots of answers to why the LS appeals to them and works for them.

By now, if you’ve read any of our other reviews, you know that writing style is as important to us as content. Perhaps our highest praise is this: This book does not read like a self-help book.

This right here? This is a thinking-person’s book. Esther Perel unapologetically requires a reader in possession of a fairly expansive vocabulary, or the willingness to acquire one. One of the things we (perhaps snobbishly) like about this book is that it is not written at a grade-school level in diction or concept. Perel gives her reader credit for needing no footnotes nor glossary to grasp her meanings. Her reader must be comfortable with words like élan, nascence, fillip, companionate, discursive, enigma, interlocutor, etc.

This right here? This is a thinking-person’s book.

But Perel’s prose isn’t arduously dense and comes across as neither pedantic nor imperious, nor particularly didactic. This is in large part because — as a speaker of eight languages — she knows her way around words. She weaves them in such a way that her elevated vocabulary and abstractions play just fine in the sandbox next to more colloquial phrasing and concrete imagery — with which she is equally adept.

Perel is clearly an academic but — mercifully and wisely — she does not cling to stuffy notions of grammatical propriety when it comes to her writing. And she obviously knows the value of sentence variety to readability. The result is elevated diction and abstract concepts made quite cozy, palatable, and relatable. An example:

Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other. With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. There is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused — when two become one — connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.

Perel states in the introduction that the stories she shares from clients appear “almost verbatim.” There were definitely multiple instances when we doubted the veracity of that statement. Perhaps all of the people she has quoted are incredibly self-aware, enviably articulate, and possess an expansive vocabulary suspiciously similar to Perel’s, or perhaps the “almost” in her phrasing is super key. Either way, it’s neither egregious nor distracting enough for us to call this a flaw.

One final note — we enjoyed the Audible version of this book, read by the author herself (though we also bought the print version for referencing later). We highly recommend the book on Audible, if for no other reason than to enjoy Perel’s charmingly accented English — but also because her articulation of the many quotations and quips from her clients brings each of the couples, their struggles and their triumphs, vividly to life.


CLICK HERE to see what else is on our reading list for 2019 or CLICK HERE to read our other REVIEWS.


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featured photo | Nicoleta Ionescu

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