"Good lovers aren't born, they are made. You cultivate the erotic. It takes an active focus and intention to see your partner as an erotic person." These are the words of Esther Perel, a star in the world of sex therapy. In her popular book Mating in Captivity, Perel discusses how to preserve desire and romance in long term relationships.
When asked when they find themselves most drawn to their partner, most people will say something like, when I see them radiant, in their element, passionate or joyful. They see their partner as “the other”, where there is absolutely no caretaking. They are curious and don’t assume to know everything about them. Knowing that life still has surprises, that there is more to discover about your partner is the key to an erotic revival.
One way to bring back the excitement is to utilize an extra email address just to be seductive with each other, suggests Perel. The alternative email address becomes an erotic space that exists only for the sake of playing and flirting. You can come up with different personas in yourself or live out a role play you always wanted to engage in.
In a recent podcast, Perel reminds us that eroticism is not the same as sexuality. While sex is an action, eros happens very much in the mind. “Eroticism means connecting with aliveness”, says the sex therapist.
A good sexual fantasy often offers the solution to the widespread boredom in longterm relationships. Whatever turns you on – toys, stories, things – can be utilized to spice up your sex life.
Too much safety in a relationship can become an obstacle to sexual interest. It especially becomes an issue when one person feels that he or she is doing too much of the care taking. Women in particular get worn out by providing care and nurture, and may experience attending to their spouses’ sexual needs as just another burden.
Perel suggests that it is important to take responsibility when we contribute to the disconnect by not taking enough time for ourselves. She has coined the phrase “I turn myself off when…” (for example “…I spend all my energy on taking care of the kids”) in order to bring the attention back to the partner who is uninterested in sex. Rather than saying “nothing is turning me on” the phrase “I turn myself off” brings the focus back to the place where desire isn’t owned. Desire requires us to take an interest in oneself.
Perel believes that monogamy is harder on women. Women are hardwired to try and create safety for their offspring, and that focus can lead to setting aside their sex life for the sake of safety. Many women struggle with how to deal with motherhood and taking care of the whole family at same time.
The prejudice is that women don’t want sex, but the truth is that the need to create safety and to nurture everybody else has depleted them from feeling their own sexuality. They may not have been seen, nor have they seen themselves as a sexual being in a long time. When the partner brings up eroticism, they really are trying to remind them not to forget that part of themselves.
When one partner is uninterested, yet the other is, the latter is put into a painful state of longing. And when that longing is chronically ignored or even ridiculed, it causes frustration. That is when the conversation about what was lost needs to begin. And one thing that was lost is aliveness, which some people attempt to recover with an affair.
“Affairs are not about sex, they are about feeling alive again”, so Perel. When sex is being withheld, there is lots of frustration. At this point, the best thing to do is to have a conversation about missing the other, missing what has been lost and that is not necessarily sex alone. Starting the conversation is paramount.
Infidelity, so Perel, doesn’t always mean that something was missing from the relationship other than simple aliveness. In that case, the infidelity is simply an alarm to put more energy into regenerating the relationship.
How you can learn to navigate the stalemate around one partner wanting sex and one who does not, click here.
Gerti Schoen is a writer and psychotherapist. In her spare time she enjoys learning, being in nature and around animals.