People often ask me how I became an expert on relationships and sexuality. The truth is， it was entirely unexpected.
My parents Sala Ferlegier and Icek Perel were survivors of the Nazi concentration camps， and sole survivors of their respective families.1 For four years， my parents stood face to face with death. Trauma was woven into the fabric of my family history2 （and would inspire my work for years to come）. They came out of that experience wanting to charge at life with a vengeance and to make the most of each day.3 They both felt that they had been granted a unique gift： living life again. My parents didn’t just want to survive， they wanted to revive4. I owe them much of my perspective on life， as well as my belief in the power of will， the search for meaning， and the resilience of the human spirit.5 To me， there is a world of difference between “not being dead” and “being alive”. I owe this understanding to my parents.
I grew up in Antwerp， the Flemish part of Belgium， studied in Jerusalem， and came to the United States for graduate school.6 I planned to stay one year， but never used my return ticket. I fell in love with New York—and with the man who is still my husband today. I went on to study the nature of cultural and religious identity； how we negotiate tradition and modernity， individualism and collectivism.7 For the first 20 years of my career， I was particularly interested in couples and families who were in cultural transition8. I drew directly from my own experience and that of my family.
I worked with refugees and internationals，9 exploring both voluntary and forced migration. As I traveled the world， I witnessed the falls of political regimes10. I became curious how this played out directly in the kitchens and the bedrooms of the families that I worked with. But the bulk of my endeavors culminated in working with mixed couples.11 Intercultural， interracial and interreligious12 families were also in a state of cultural negotiation， playing out in their own homes. My primary interest was in how cultural forces affect gender roles and child rearing13 practices.
Over the next years， I had two sons and I was involved in my own cultural experiment： motherhood in New York City. When my oldest son turned eight， and my youngest five， my schedule and mind space began to clear and I felt ready to take on a new big project. I wrote an article called “In Search of Erotic Intelligence”， about couples and sexuality from the perspective of a foreign therapist observing American sexuality.14 The article went viral15， and it led to an offer to write a book， which I gladly accepted.
I wanted Mating in Captivity： Unlocking Erotic Intelligence to be an honest， enlightened， and provocative conversation on relationships and sexuality that was beyond the common labels of smut or sanctimony.16 I wanted people to question themselves， to speak the unspoken， and to be unafraid to challenge sexual and emotional correctness. I encouraged my audience to grapple with17 the tensions， obstacles， and anxieties that arise when our quest for love and security conflicts with our pursuit of adventure and freedom.
The vastness of the subject of sexuality fascinated me. I discovered that the most traditional aspects of a culture and the most progressive and radical changes in a society take place around sexuality. History， sociology， religion， anthropology， art， psychology were all part and parcel of the erotic matrix.18
I didn’t know if I could write a book. This was the first time that I took on a project without any certainty that I could deliver. All I knew was that I had poured my soul into it and done my best.
Ten years later， with 25 translations and thousands of letters in my inbox， it’s clear that I struck a chord19. I am moved that I was able to elucidate a common dilemma with which so many of us struggle with； there is a paradoxical tension between the erotic and the domestic.20
I enjoy explaining the mysteries of the human condition in simple words. I like to help people all over the world feel understood， confront their joys and pains， and be motivated to change. All this gives me energy when I wake up in the morning. The modern ideology of love is compelling.21 Never before has the couple been such a central unit in our social organization. Never have we expected more from our intimate relationships， and never have we crumbled22 under the weight of so many expectations.
Couples therapy is probably the hardest type of therapy to be in and to practice； and I have been on both sides.23 In my work as a therapist， I see despair， entrenched patterns， loneliness in the presence of another， contempt， violence， lack of any physical touch； so many couples come to me way beyond due date.24 I learn， daily， how to master the art of couple therapy. I continually study neuroscience， attachment theory， neuro-linguistic programming， and psychodrama.25 The great thing about being a therapist is that I don’t have to worry about ageism26 and boredom. It’s not like keeping up with technology： as long as my brain works， I can practice till I drop—and I certainly intend to.
Some famous quotes by Esther Perel：
Marriage is not the end of romance， it is the beginning. They know that they have years in which to deepen their connection， to experiment， to regress27， and even to fail. They see their relationship as something alive and ongoing， not a fait accompli28. It’s a story that they are writing together， one with many chapters， and neither partner knows how it will end. There’s always a place they haven’t gone yet， always something about the other still to be discovered.
Love rests on two pillars： surrender and autonomy.29 Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.
It’s hard to feel attracted to someone who has abandoned her sense of autonomy.
We used to moralize； today we normalize， and performance anxiety is the secular version of our old religious guilt.30
Love is at once an affirmation and a transcendence of who we are.31
1. Nazi concentration camp：納粹集中营；respective：各自的，分别的。
2. 创伤被永远载入了我的家族史。trauma： 创伤；weave： 编织；fabric： 结构，构造。
3. charge at： 猛攻，冲击；with a vengeance： 猛烈地，极度地。
4. revive： 恢复生机。
5. owe： 应感激；resilience：适应力，弹性。
6. Antwerp： 安特卫普（比利时城市）；Flemish： 佛兰德的，佛兰德是比利时西部的一个地区，人口主要是弗拉芒人，说荷兰语（又称“弗拉芒语”）；Jerusalem： 耶路撒冷，伊斯兰教、犹太教和基督教的圣地（目前该地为以色列还是巴勒斯坦的首都仍有争议）。
7. individualism： 强调（或坚持）个人的独特性；collectivism： 集体主义。
8. cultural transition： 文化转型，文化变迁。
9. refugee： 难民；international： 侨居外国的人。
10. regime： 政体，政权。
11. bulk： 大部分；endeavor： 尝试，努力；culminate： 达到顶点。
12. intercultural， interracial and interreligious： 跨文化、跨种族和跨宗教的。
13. child rearing： 育儿，抚养孩子。
14. erotic： 情色的，性爱的；therapist：治疗师。
15. viral： 病毒的，病毒式传播。
16. Mating in Captivity： Unlocking Erotic Intelligence： 《被囚禁的爱：解开性学智慧》；enlightened：开明的，有见识的；provocative：引起讨论（或争论、深思、好奇心等）的；smut： 污秽内容；sanctimony： 假装神圣或虔诚。
17. grapple with： 努力解决。
18. sociology： 社会学；anthropology： 人类学；part and parcel of： ……的必要或重要部分；matrix： 母体，发源地。
19. strike a chord： 引起共鸣，chord是和弦的意思。
20. 令我感动的是，我终于搞清了一个常见的令无数人纠结的两难问题，即人们在情色与正常夫妻关系之间出现的矛盾性焦虑。elucidate： 阐明；dilemma： 困境；paradoxical：自相矛盾的；domestic： 家庭的，这里指配偶关系。
21. ideology： 意识形态；compelling： 激发兴趣的。
22. crumble： 崩溃，破灭。
23. 夫妻俩同时进行心理咨询可能是最困难的治疗方式，不论是作为病人还是医师，我都经历过。couples therapy：夫妻治疗，婚姻咨询与治疗。
24. entrenched： 根深蒂固的；contempt：轻视；due： 预定的。
25. attachment theory： 依恋理论；psychodrama： 心理表演疗法，一种治疗精神疾病的方法，要求人们参与某场景的表演从而帮助他们了解自己的情感。
26. ageism： 对老年人的歧视。
27. regress： 退步，倒退。
28. fait accompli： 既成事实。
29. pillar： 支柱，重要的原则；surrender：放弃，让出；autonomy： 自由，自主权。
30. moralize： 说教，从道德角度解释；normalize： 使正常化；secular： 世俗的，尘世的。
31. affirmation： 肯定；transcendence： 超越，卓越。