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Sex, Love and Parenthood

ModdedMomma: Every parent needs to read your book. It would be a great gift with the purchase of a stroller.
Esther Perel: If every time you buy a stroller, you get a book that reminds you of another focus that you are likely to forget at that time, that would be incredible.

ModdedMomma: You are so likely to forget about your sex life when you’re mired in your life with little children. It’s often the first thing that parents give up on. In your book, you talk about overzealous parenting. A lot of media and child-related companies have picked up on the overzealous trend and have exploited parents by playing on their worst fears that their child won’t be successful or happy or smart or pretty or won’t be liked unless this is done or that is done. And so we play into this fearmongering by giving up our own lives and our own identities for the sake of our children. It really strips a woman—and probably a man, too—of sexuality.
Esther Perel: Well, it’s not helping families—that’s the main thing. The divorce rate is very high, and for those who stay together, it’s very hard, too. There is something so isolating about overzealous parenting that disempowers them. It empowers the child but disempowers the adults.

ModdedMomma: Let’s talk about security and passion. We need both in our lives, but how can we as parents who really need security and the ability to foster security re-establish the passion?
Esther Perel: If I were to take the general frame, I would say that Mating in Captivity came out of my work as a therapist with many happy couples who have good, caring, loving relationships but whose sexual lives are dull. Time and again, they would describe to me the paradoxical relationship between the security, the familiarity, and the predictability that people seek in their committed relationships and the eroticism, the novelty, the mystery, and even risk.

How can we reconcile these two sometimes conflicting human needs? How can we sustain desire over the long haul with one person—especially given that we live much longer than we did before? The idea of reconciling security and passion is in itself very new. It is not something that we thought to do in our marriages or committed relationships historically. Marriage was for companionship, economic support, and family life. Passion existed somewhere else, if anywhere at all. We must understand that this is a new expectation that we bring to our relationships. We marry out of love—it’s a free choice enterprise these days in the West. We come with expectations about intimacy and sexual gratification. What happens when people transition to the family is that they begin to bolster the security needs and begin to make themselves more of an anchor so that their children can become the ones who will go out to explore and discover the world. They will be the adventurous ones, but in order for them to do so, they need to have a secure base, emotionally speaking. There is a tendency in us to begin to suppress our other side during that transition. This is not the time to race the motorcycle—it’s the time to trade it in for a car with safety belts and airbags. This is not a time when you can decide at the spur of the moment to go out, because there is somebody else here who needs you at home.

So you slowly begin to change your own adventurous needs and your own desires for the spontaneous and playful. The transition is a shock to the system—a shock that sometimes takes a long time for people to work through, to find their bearings, and to get some time back for themselves. It often takes people a long time to remember the beginning of the book when they reach the end—especially when it’s taken months and months to read the book.

Parents must learn to be able to cordon off an erotic space in time, where they can be adults with each other and not just together in their parental, responsible, caretaking roles. The joke is often that sex must be out the window as soon as children enter the picture. When you look at this new modern family, you notice that the erotic energy is very much there, but it is transferred onto the children. The children get to experience novelty—you look for the latest activity to do with them—and the adults often become mired in repetition and routine when they try to do something together. The kids get to wear the latest fashions, and we walk around in our colored sweatpants. Kids get long hugs, and the parents are left with a diet of quick pecks. So at some point, the erotic energy needs to be brought back to the couple. You are not going to live in a steady state of passion—desire doesn’t flow all the time—but there is a need for the adults to reintroduce the X in sex. Bring back playfulness, curiosity, novelty, and imagination into your own life instead of cordoning it off exclusively in the realm of parenting.

Esther Perel, author of “Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic”

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