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  • So, why does good sex so often fade,

  • even for couples who continue to love each other as much as ever?

  • And why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex,

  • contrary to popular belief?

  • Or, the next question would be,

  • can we want what we already have?

  • That's the million-dollar question, right?

  • And why is the forbidden so erotic?

  • What is it about transgression that makes desire so potent?

  • And why does sex make babies,

  • and babies spell erotic disaster in couples?

  • It's kind of the fatal erotic blow, isn't it?

  • And when you love, how does it feel?

  • And when you desire, how is it different?

  • These are some of the questions

  • that are at the center of my exploration

  • on the nature of erotic desire

  • and its concomitant dilemmas in modern love.

  • So I travel the globe,

  • and what I'm noticing is that

  • everywhere where romanticism has entered,

  • there seems to be a crisis of desire.

  • A crisis of desire, as in owning the wanting --

  • desire as an expression of our individuality,

  • of our free choice, of our preferences, of our identity --

  • desire that has become a central concept

  • as part of modern love and individualistic societies.

  • You know, this is the first time in the history of humankind

  • where we are trying to experience sexuality in the long term,

  • not because we want 14 children,

  • for which we need to have even more because many of them won't make it,

  • and not because it is exclusively a woman's marital duty.

  • This is the first time that we want sex over time

  • about pleasure and connection that is rooted in desire.

  • So what sustains desire, and why is it so difficult?

  • And at the heart of sustaining desire in a committed relationship,

  • I think is the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs.

  • On the one hand, our need for security, for predictability,

  • for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence --

  • all these anchoring, grounding experiences of our lives

  • that we call home.

  • But we also have an equally strong need -- men and women --

  • for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger,

  • for the unknown, for the unexpected, surprise --

  • you get the gist -- for journey, for travel.

  • So reconciling our need for security

  • and our need for adventure into one relationship,

  • or what we today like to call a passionate marriage,

  • used to be a contradiction in terms.

  • Marriage was an economic institution

  • in which you were given a partnership for life

  • in terms of children and social status

  • and succession and companionship.

  • But now we want our partner to still give us all these things,

  • but in addition I want you to be my best friend

  • and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot,

  • and we live twice as long.

  • (Laughter)

  • So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them

  • to give us what once an entire village used to provide:

  • Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity,

  • but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.

  • Give me comfort, give me edge.

  • Give me novelty, give me familiarity.

  • Give me predictability, give me surprise.

  • And we think it's a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.

  • (Applause)

  • So now we get to the existential reality of the story, right?

  • Because I think, in some way -- and I'll come back to that --

  • but the crisis of desire is often a crisis of the imagination.

  • So why does good sex so often fade?

  • What is the relationship between love and desire?

  • How do they relate, and how do they conflict?

  • Because therein lies the mystery of eroticism.

  • So if there is a verb, for me, that comes with love, it's "to have."

  • And if there is a verb that comes with desire, it is "to want."

  • In love, we want to have, we want to know the beloved.

  • We want to minimize the distance. We want to contract that gap.

  • We want to neutralize the tensions. We want closeness.

  • But in desire, we tend to not really want to go back to the places we've already gone.

  • Forgone conclusion does not keep our interest.

  • In desire, we want an Other, somebody on the other side that we can go visit,

  • that we can go spend some time with,

  • that we can go see what goes on in their red light district.

  • In desire, we want a bridge to cross.

  • Or in other words, I sometimes say, fire needs air.

  • Desire needs space.

  • And when it's said like that, it's often quite abstract.

  • But then I took a question with me.

  • And I've gone to more than 20 countries in the last few years

  • with "Mating in Captivity," and I asked people,

  • when do you find yourself most drawn to your partner?

  • Not attracted sexually, per se, but most drawn.

  • And across culture, across religion, and across gender --

  • except for one -- there are a few answers that just keep coming back.

  • So the first group is: I am most drawn to my partner

  • when she is away, when we are apart, when we reunite.

  • Basically, when I get back in touch

  • with my ability to imagine myself with my partner,

  • when my imagination comes back in the picture,

  • and when I can root it in absence and in longing,

  • which is a major component of desire.

  • But then the second group is even more interesting:

  • I am most drawn to my partner

  • when I see him in the studio, when she is onstage,

  • when he is in his element, when she's doing something she's passionate about,

  • when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him,

  • when I see her hold court.

  • Basically, when I look at my partner radiant and confident,

  • probably the biggest turn-on across the board.

  • Radiant, as in self-sustaining.

  • I look at this person -- by the way, in desire

  • people rarely talk about it, when we are blended into one,

  • five centimeters from each other. I don't know in inches how much that is.

  • But it's also not when the other person is that far apart

  • that you no longer see them.

  • It's when I'm looking at my partner from a comfortable distance,

  • where this person that is already so familiar, so known,

  • is momentarily once again somewhat mysterious, somewhat elusive.

  • And in this space between me and the other lies the erotic élan,

  • lies that movement toward the other.

  • Because sometimes, as Proust says,

  • mystery is not about traveling to new places,

  • but it's about looking with new eyes.

  • And so, when I see my partner on his own or her own,

  • doing something in which they are enveloped,

  • I look at this person and I momentarily get a shift in perception,

  • and I stay open to the mysteries that are living right next to me.

  • And then, more importantly, in this description about the other

  • or myself -- it's the same -- what is most interesting

  • is that there is no neediness in desire.

  • Nobody needs anybody.

  • There is no caretaking in desire.

  • Caretaking is mightily loving. It's a powerful anti-aphrodisiac.

  • I have yet to see somebody who is so turned on

  • by somebody who needs them.

  • Wanting them is one thing. Needing them is a shutdown,

  • and women have known that forever,

  • because anything that will bring up parenthood

  • will usually decrease the erotic charge.

  • For good reasons, right?

  • And then the third group of answers usually would be

  • when I'm surprised, when we laugh together,

  • as somebody said to me in the office today,

  • when he's in his tux, so I said, you know,

  • it's either the tux or the cowboy boots.

  • But basically it's when there is novelty.

  • But novelty isn't about new positions. It isn't a repertoire of techniques.

  • Novelty is, what parts of you do you bring out?

  • What parts of you are just being seen?

  • Because in some way one could say

  • sex isn't something you do, eh?

  • Sex is a place you go. It's a space you enter

  • inside yourself and with another, or others.

  • So where do you go in sex?

  • What parts of you do you connect to?

  • What do you seek to express there?

  • Is it a place for transcendence and spiritual union?

  • Is it a place for naughtiness and is it a place to be safely aggressive?

  • Is it a place where you can finally surrender

  • and not have to take responsibility for everything?

  • Is it a place where you can express your infantile wishes?

  • What comes out there? It's a language.

  • It isn't just a behavior.

  • And it's the poetic of that language that I'm interested in,

  • which is why I began to explore this concept of erotic intelligence.

  • You know, animals have sex.

  • It's the pivot, it's biology, it's the natural instinct.

  • We are the only ones who have an erotic life,

  • which means that it's sexuality transformed by the human imagination.

  • We are the only ones who can make love for hours,

  • have a blissful time, multiple orgasms,

  • and touch nobody, just because we can imagine it.

  • We can hint at it. We don't even have to do it.

  • We can experience that powerful thing called anticipation,

  • which is a mortar to desire,

  • the ability to imagine it, as if it's happening,

  • to experience it as if it's happening, while nothing is happening

  • and everything is happening at the same time.

  • So when I began to think about eroticism,

  • I began to think about the poetics of sex,

  • and if I look at it as an intelligence,

  • then it's something that you cultivate.

  • What are the ingredients? Imagination, playfulness,

  • novelty, curiosity, mystery.

  • But the central agent is really that piece called the imagination.

  • But more importantly, for me to begin to understand

  • who are the couples who have an erotic spark,

  • what sustains desire, I had to go back

  • to the original definition of eroticism,

  • the mystical definition, and I went through it

  • through a bifurcation by looking actually at trauma,

  • which is the other side, and I looked at it

  • looking at the community that I had grown up in,

  • which was a community in Belgium, all Holocaust survivors,

  • and in my community there were two groups:

  • those who didn't die, and those who came back to life.

  • And those who didn't die lived often very tethered to the ground,

  • could not experience pleasure, could not trust,

  • because when you're vigilant, worried, anxious,

  • and insecure, you can't lift your head

  • to go and take off in space and be playful and safe and imaginative.

  • Those who came back to life were those

  • who understood the erotic as an antidote to death.

  • They knew how to keep themselves alive.

  • And when I began to listen to the sexlessness of the couples that I work with,

  • I sometimes would hear people say, "I want more sex,"

  • but generally people want better sex,

  • and better is to reconnect with that quality of aliveness,

  • of vibrancy, of renewal, of vitality, of eros, of energy

  • that sex used to afford them, or that they've hoped

  • it would afford them.

  • And so I began to ask a different question.

  • "I shut myself off when ..." began to be the question.

  • "I turn off my desires when ..." which is not the same question as,

  • "What turns me of is ..." and "You turn me off when ..."

  • And people began to say, "I turn myself off when

  • I feel dead inside, when I don't like my body,

  • when I feel old, when I haven't had time for myself,

  • when I haven't had a chance to even check in with you,

  • when I don't perform well at work,

  • when I feel low self esteem, when I don't have a sense of self-worth,

  • when I don't feel like I have a right to want, to take,

  • to receive pleasure."

  • And then I began to ask the reverse question.

  • "I turn myself on when ..." Because most of the time,

  • people like to ask the question, "You turn me on,

  • what turns me on," and I'm out of the question. You know?

  • Now, if you are dead inside, the other person can do a lot of things for Valentine's.

  • It won't make a dent. There is nobody at the reception desk.

  • (Laughter)

  • So I turn myself on when,

  • I turn my desires, I wake up when ...

  • Now, in this paradox between love and desire,

  • what seems to be so puzzling is that the very ingredients

  • that nurture love -- mutuality, reciprocity,

  • protection, worry, responsibility for the other --

  • are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire.

  • Because desire comes with a host of feelings

  • that are not always such favorites of love:

  • jealousy, possessiveness, aggression, power, dominance,

  • naughtiness, mischief.

  • Basically most of us will get turned on at night