Esther Perel is a world-renowned sex and relationships expert and the best-selling author of Mating in Captivity. Her exclusive mbg class, The Essential Guide to Sparking Your Erotic Intelligence, will help you create the relationship you’ve always wanted and take your sex life to a whole new level.
We often define love as security and comfort, which is at odds with our view of desire. Desire conjures freedom, excitement, and adventure. During my many years as a therapist in New York City, I frequently encountered this complaint: Couples love each other but their sex lives have become rote, tedious, and devoid of eroticism.
A secure and loving relationship can give us stability and comfort—someone to cuddle with on the couch and binge-watch TV with—but this is at odds with our equally strong need for adventure, novelty, and discovery. Paradoxically, we strive to have both connection and freedom, to be close and safe but also to fan the enticing white-hot flames of our desire.
What makes us feel emotionally secure is not always what turns us on sexually. Instead of looking to the other to meet your needs, if you want to reignite your love life, you must take on the responsibility of your own desire. Here are some ways to begin:
1. Make a list of 10 things you do to turn yourself on.
How we feel about ourselves is key to how we respond during sex. So, flip the script. Instead of saying: "You turn me on when..." or "What turns me on is..." own your wanting by saying, "I turn myself on by... " and "I awaken my desire when..." and "I come to life by..."
I turn myself on when ...
- I go dancing.
- I regale a group of people with a funny story.
- I remember a sexy encounter.
I turn myself off and shut down my desires when...
- I worry about money.
- I worry about the kids.
- I don’t exercise.
2. Don't wait for chance. Plan sex in advance.
You spent all morning planning the linguine you are making for dinner, down to the lemon zest, the herbs, the fresh pasta but conversely, without any planning, you expect sex to happen at a moment’s notice. It’s not that couples stop being interested in sex, but their interest wanes because the sex they are having has lost its zest: It is no longer interesting.
Imagination is an essential erotic ingredient. To stay erotically engaged with someone for the long haul is an active engagement. Committed sex is premeditated sex; it is willful and intentional. Put effort toward making time for and creatively planning for intimacy.
3. Remember that you don't own your partner.
When you come home at night, you expect your partner to be there. When you text them, they answer with that familiar emoji that is your private language of love. You know how they smell so intimiately that it has lodged itself in your chemical makeup. Like an explorer, you’ve colonized your partner’s body and mind as your own and vice versa. But another person, even one you are married to, is on loan, with an option to renew.
They are separate from you. So much so that you can never inhabit their thoughts; you cannot read their mind or know them completely. This is a good thing. Recognizing our partner’s sovereignty can ignite eroticism because we are recognizing their separateness from ourselves. Curiosity is a key erotic element, as it keeps us interested in ourselves and in our partner.
4. See your partner with fresh eyes.
Love is an exercise in selective perception. Novelty is the ability to let the unknown in, even in the midst of the familiar. When we see the person we know once again as somewhat mysterious, somewhat elusive, and somewhat unknown, it can give us a change in perspective. You'll notice also that there is no caretaking in desire, no one needs the other, and that creates a space. In that space between me and you lies the erotic élan. Ask yourself, "When do I find myself most drawn to my partner?" Not just sexually attracted to but drawn to.