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Book Review: Mating in Captivity, Unlocking Erotic Intelligence


“Mating in Captivity Unlocking Erotic Intelligence” by Esther Perel is one of the best relationship books I have read so far in my venture as The Unlaced Librarian. I love this book. The prose is easy to read, with a humor and straightforward narrative that is never insulting. The information is very practical and the scenarios dissected within the pages can be applied to so many different types of relationships.

The book is focused on people in long term sexual relationships and seeks to unravel the conflicts that arise in sustaining erotic feelings over years and decades. Perel is a couples and family therapist and she uses a wide range of couples and situations to illustrate her points. She writes about both heterosexual and same-sex couples and the language is very inclusive.

This is not a new book (my paperback copy was published by Harper in 2007) but the information in the book is still cutting edge. The author confronts some alarming realities of sexual relationships: The various dynamics at play where men and women have different needs from sex. The power exchange inherent in nearly all intimate relationships. And the ever threatening “Shadow of the Third,” where the author examines the boundaries and social expectations of fidelity and how that impacts eroticism. These are only three examples, and the book explores many avenues to answer these questions: Can we desire what we already have? Does good intimacy always make for hot sex?

Recently, Perel has been speaking and writing about infidelity. Her TED talk, posted below, is well worth a listen, even if infidelity is far from your current romantic landscape, as she reveals many truths and nuances of intimate relationships that are very valuable.


Overall, this book is a fearless resource for those struggling with erotic conflicts in long term relationships. None of the topics covered are handled with velvet gloves – Perel sheds light on big truths with far-sighted consequences. From “Desire Needs Distance,” to “Talk is Not the Only Avenue to Closeness,” and “The Protestant Work Ethic Takes On the Degradation of Desire” this book takes an all-encompassing look at intimate relationships and does so with a masterful eye and a true understanding of human motivation, needs, and desires.

I highly recommend this book to anyone in a long term relationship. Seriously, I think that when a couple moves in together they should be given a set of drink coasters and this book. Even if you do not have a dire conflict surrounding intimacy or sex, the insights in this book are fabulous tools for building a healthier relationship that can endure the years, and yes, even the decades.

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