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Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic Hardcover – September 5, 2006

342 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Developed originally from an article she wrote on "erotic intelligence," psychotherapist Perel's first book sets forth a thesis for today's couples that is as revelatory as it is straightforward. Languishing desire in a relationship actually results from all the factors people look for in love and marriage: grounding, meaning, continuity. Partnerships are supposed to provide "a bulwark against the vicissitudes of modern life," Perel notes, and in one person we turn for all the emotional connections that the greater society (church, community, family) can no longer provide. Habit and certainty kill desire, yet how to live comfortably with the elements of unpredictability and risk that are necessary for healthy eroticism? Perel supports her nicely accessible work with case studies of couples both heterosexual and gay, spanning all ages, with kids and without, in an attempt to cure what ails their sex life. Some of the proposals Perel recommends for rekindling eroticism involve cultivating separateness (e.g., autonomy) in a relationship rather than closeness (entrapment); exploring dynamics of power and control (i.e., submission, spanking); and learning to surrender to a "sexual ruthlessness" that liberates us from shame and guilt. In short, Perel sanctions fantasy and play and offers the estranged modern couple a unique richness of experience. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Her advice is refreshingly counterintuitive.” (

“Mating in Captivity...articulates a poignant and unacknowledged modern crisis for the first time.” (The Evening Standard (London))

“An elegant sociological study, complete with erudite literary and anthropological references.” (Daily Telegraph (London))

“A charming blend of wit and wisdom...this book will give you a fresh perspective on long-term love.” (Gold Coast Bulletin (Australia))

“Well argued points written with considerable eloquence.” (Jerusalem Post)

“This is a brave book...refreshing.” (The Times Higher Education Supplement)

“So honest it hurts.” (Irish Times)

“An excellent book, full of provocative prose and entertaining case illustrations.” (Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060753633
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060753634
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (342 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Esther Perel is recognized as one of the world's most original and insightful voices on couples and sexuality across cultures. She is a celebrated speaker sought around the globe for her expertise in emotional and erotic intelligence, work-life balance, cross-cultural relations, conflict resolution and identity of modern marriage and family. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, an AASECT certified sex therapist, a member of the American Family Therapy Academy and of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

398 of 441 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Everyone knows that familiarity breeds contempt. Especially if familiarity comes with a wedding ring attached. A book about sex in marriage --- now there's a thin book!

But here comes Esther Perel to suggest that we --- men and women alike --- have it wrong. Good sex doesn't have to end when the hormones cool. Lust doesn't have to devolve into companionship. You can be a mom and a sex kitten. And as for "intimacy" the bedroom, a little goes a long way.

Who is this wild woman? A therapist in New York who's been working with couples and families for two decades. Belgian-born, to Holocaust survivors. Married (to her original husband). Two kids. Speaks eight languages --- including common sense.

Not for Perel a how-to book of ridiculous exercises you can practice to rekindle the passion you once knew. If she had her way, you'd never consult a manual again. You might, however, write a dirty letter about all the hot things you'd like to do to your partner --- or that you'd like done to you. Or maybe you should start two e-mail accounts just for the sexual dialogue between you and your mate.

But she's the mother of your child!

But he's the guy who only gets his kicks from online porn!

Perel has heard all that. Many times. She's not fooled --- underneath those smart New York rationalizations are hearts that still want to believe in hot sex with someone you know. The problem, she says, lie in the unspoken assumptions of most marriages.

Like: To love is to merge. Wrong. Merging is what happens when you see the Other as your security. That's death to sex. Good sex requires a spark. A spark requires a gap. Cross the gap, feel the sizzle. No gap? The best you can hope for is a cuddle.
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508 of 567 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth on October 9, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like having my viewpoints challenged and this provocative book did that. Her point about intimacy needing closeness but desire needing distance was an interesting point to chew on. Her discussion on sexual fantasies vs everyday fantasies was also interesting, too.

However, I strongly disagree with her belief that confessing to an affair is disrespectful. The real disrespect is betraying a partner's trust via an affair. You show respect by allowing your partner to make an informed decision to either leave you or stay - and if they stay, their trust is earned back on their terms rather than yours. Withhold that truth, though, and you keep your partner bound to you through controlling and manipulative means, which the author tries to reframe to sound positive. It's a surprising argument, too, coming from an author who earlier argued against possessiveness.
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112 of 123 people found the following review helpful By C. Slocum on January 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
Esther Perel's Mating in Captivity is a book for helping marriages that are going well in every way but sexuality. The author wisely notes that the expectations of modern marriages are such that one's spouse is to fulfill one in every way. She posits that good sex and companionship exist on a continuum of tradeoffs between closeness and distances. The strength of this book is that it is thought-provoking. The challenge of this book is that its ideas are the author's, backed up by her experiences with her clients alone, with a narrow focus on a single topic.

Being a graduate student in sociology, I will admit a bias for the likes of John Gottman's work in part because it's based on social science research. Perel's research is not - its subjects are her clients, and selected accordingly. Another reviewer writes that Perel uses the word "perhaps" very often - she does. This book is full of speculation and opinion. Clinician based research means that her ideas work well for her clients - as far as she knows - but anyone who has sought a therapist knows that it can be very difficult to find a therapist that one works well with. Would she be a good match for you? Maybe, maybe not.

Her writing is good, and there are a couple "aha!" moments in the book. She discusses how sex is viewed in contradictory terms, and that women in particular struggle with the baggage of being "good" and being sexy. She argues that lovers need to rediscover the creativity that led them to pursue their spouses in the first place, and to think of them more as lovers and less like the wife or husband-role with the cultural baggage that comes with this. In the introduction, Perel writes that she uses the word "marriage" to refer to "all long-term emotional commitments".
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77 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Cameron on March 18, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book for myself and my mate of 45 years, after hearing the author on NPR. She sounded innovative and interesting in the interview. Sadly, the book is the opposite. This is a writer with one essential idea: intimacy and desire are at cross purposes with each other. In case you think this is a new idea, you have only to remember age-old quotes like "familiarity breeds contempt" to recall that this is a very OLD idea.

The author makes this one point over an over again, starting with the introduction, and then repeating herself, in slightly different words (or sometimes even the same words) throughout the book.

She makes a very spare number of specific recommendations to address the dilemma of intimacy and desire: (1) Don't assume you know everything about your partner, and cultivate a certain amount of mystery; (2) Don't expect desire to be "spontaneous" - it can be kindled just as well (or better) through forethought, scheduling and careful planning - just like a great meal or a long-ago date; (3) Sexual fantasy is ok; and (4) imaginary or real third parties add spice to relationships - a little jealousy is a good thing, and don't take your partner for granted.

OK. That's the book. If you want to read a lot of her chatty case studies, or hear her repeat herself over and over again, buy the book. The writer is in dire need of an editor. But then again, if she eliminated the repetition, the book could be reduced to one page, or even one paragraph, and there is no money in that kind of efficiency!
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