Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel


“One of the world’s most respected voices on erotic intelligence, Esther Perel offers a bold, provocative new take on intimacy and sex. Mating in Captivity invites us to explore the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire, and explains what it takes to bring lust home.

Drawing on more than twenty years of experience as a couples therapist, Perel examines the complexities of sustaining desire. Through case studies and lively discussion, Perel demonstrates how more exciting, playful, and even poetic sex is possible in long-term relationships. Wise, witty, and as revelatory as it is straightforward, Mating in Captivity is a sensational book that will transform the way you live and love.” – the blurb on the back of my copy.


I read this book on recommendation from my therapist. If you’re several years into a committed relationship and feel bad, weird, alone, or any other kind of unpleasant emotion because your sex life isn’t what it used to be and you don’t quite understand why, I recommend reading this book.

Cover of Mating in Captivity


There’s a lot of good content in this book, particularly in the first chapter and the last 4 chapters, but it’s longer than it needs to be. It feels like this book started as a long essay and was padded out from there. The first chapter is full of lightbulb moments, but then chapters 2 through 7 feel like Perel describing those same lightbulbs in slightly different ways, and it gets laborious quickly. While reading those intervening chapters I found myself wishing for much less rephrasing of the same abstract thought–that intimacy and desire are separate and opposite in a way, but most people need both of them to have a healthy and satisfying relationship although they mostly only know how to cultivate the former and leave the latter to rot–and more contextualized examples of how this problem and its potential solutions can manifest.

Thankfully, my wish was more or less granted in the last four chapters, which each benefit from being focused on different aspects of relationships instead of trying to tackle relationships holistically. However, when I finished the book I had a “what now?” feeling, as there is very little practical guidance about what to do next if you read the book, feel that its insights apply to you, and want to take steps to improve your situation.

Perel is originally from Belgium, and a lot of her most interesting insights about romantic, intimate, and sexual dynamics in American relationships are informed by her outsider’s perspective. She does a lot of helpful cultural and historical genealogy of modern relationship trends, analyzing why common archetypes and problems are what they are and how they came to be that way.

…This review isn’t very long because I feel shy about talking about the particular ways that the contents of this book are relevant to my life. I still think it’s important to share to the extent that I feel comfortable doing so now, though, so that maybe someone will read this and feel a little less alone.

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