What our affairs say about what we desire…

Esther Perel is everywhere right now (well, everywhere if you read a lot of women’s lifestyle media.) She has given incredibly popular TED talks on desire in long-term relationships and rethinking infidelity. And now, she has written a book called The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity that takes a deep dive into affairs and infidelity — and what those encounters say about desire.

For Lenny Letter, Esther Perel revealed three central themes she was surprised to learn about female sexuality and desire, uncovered through stories of affairs. One woman she talks to — “Madison” — is a 31-year-old woman who has been with her partner “Steve” for 5 years. She reconnected recently with her college boyfriend on Facebook, and they’ve been hooking up since then.

Perel explores, nonjudgmentally it’s worth adding, why Madison had this affair. The erotic self, a term you’ll hear/read frequently if you’re a Perel acolyte, was not charged in her current relationship, it turns out, and Madison was able to get back in touch with that self through her affair. It’s by talking to women like Madison that Perel has learned about why we cheat — and what that says about our sexuality. Here are some highlights from her essay on Lenny Letter:

Women tire of monogamy faster than men: “If it were true that women’s sexuality is primarily dependent on relational connectedness — love, commitment, and security — then shouldn’t sex be thriving in loving, committed relationships? But too often, it’s not…In many cases, though surely not all, when the spark dies, it’s a woman who shuts down first and loses interest in her partner — male or female.”

Be selfish: “We often hear straight men say that nothing turns them on more than to see a woman who’s really into it. But that’s rarely what I hear women say about their partners. What turns a woman on is to be the turn-on. The unspoken truth about women’s sexuality is how narcissistic it is. I’m using that term not in a pejorative sense but as an indicator of a woman’s ability to focus on herself, away from her caretaking identity.”

Commitment isn’t always sexy: “Rooted in evolutionary theories, we tend to think of women’s desire as more discriminating. When a woman wants a man, he can be pretty sure that it’s him she wants. But we see men’s desire as more indiscriminate. Hence, when a man wants a woman, she’s never really sure if he wants her or just wants sex. And this is even more true in committed relationships, where the woman may suspect that she is simply the convenient object of desire, rather than the chosen subject.”

Esther Perel’s newest book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity is out now.

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