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YourTango Expert Esther Perel questions some of our most basic beliefs about intimacy.
4. Male sexuality is uncomplicated, mechanical and biologically motivated rather than relational. Women, on the other hand, are creatures of meaning. Women require a long list of conditions to generate sexual desire and yield sexual satisfaction. Men just need frequent, constant, spontaneous sex; they are biologically driven and rigid, always interested in sex and less affected by moods than their female counterparts. Let me challenge these assumptions.
In fact, men's sexuality is no less influenced by their internal state than women's. Just look at any man who is depressed, anxious or angry. Those emotions undoubtedly affect his sexual desire and performance. The difference? Men are more likely than women to turn to sex to help them with their internal state. Men use sex as a mood regulator. However, that's not to say that male sexuality isn't relational. In fact, men have a lot of fear and shame about performance pressure and fear of rejection by women, motivating men to concern themselves deeply with their partners' satisfaction. Thus, male sexuality is no less relational than female. Nor is it simply biological or automatic.
5. The ideal union is egalitarian in nature. Rather, the best relationships are complementary. They honor the partners' differences. The most successful couples are creative about maximizing rather than reducing or downplaying the complementarity between them. Moreover, it's never the difference between the people that is the problem; it's how they handle that difference. What couples fight about has little if anything to do with content. They fight because they feel unheard, disrespected, devalued and not acknowledged. They feel alone. That's what people really suffer from in relationships.
You see, we live in the era of self-criticism. We constantly strive to improve ourselves. Otherwise, we wouldn't shop so much! And that view has entered the individual psyche as well as couple's psyche. Couples spend more time criticizing themselves than appreciating each other. And, unfortunately, people are sometimes far more eloquent about criticism than praise. We need to become better equipped to express praise, to acknowledge what's good and what works. Only then will we be able to appreciate what we have – our lives, ourselves, our partners and our marriages.
Click below to see Esther's TED talk in which she discusses America's "crisis of desire."