Esther Perel

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Esther Perel
Esther Perel 2017.jpg
Perel in 2017
Born1958 (age 63–64)
Antwerp, Belgium
Notable work
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence (2006)
Spouse(s)Jack Saul
Alma materHebrew University of Jerusalem
Scientific career
InstitutionsNew York University

Esther Perel (born 1958) is a Belgian psychotherapist of Polish-Jewish descent who has explored the tension between the need for security (love, belonging and closeness) and the need for freedom (erotic desire, adventure and distance) in human relationships.[1]

Perel promoted the concept of "erotic intelligence" in her book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence (2006), which has been translated into 24 languages.[2] After publishing the book, she became an international advisor on sex and relationships.[3] She gave a TED talk in February 2013 called "The secret to desire in a long-term relationship",[4] and another in March 2015 called "Rethinking infidelity ... a talk for anyone who has ever loved."[5]

Perel is the host of the podcast Where Should We Begin?, which is based inside her therapist's office as she sees anonymous couples in search of insight into topics such as infidelity, sexlessness and grief.

In 2016, Perel was added to Oprah Winfrey's Supersoul 100 list of visionaries and influential leaders.[6]

In July 2021, Perel launched the card game, Where Should We Begin - A Game of Stories to inspire deeper connections and dialogues. "It's really about relationship enhancing, relationship creation, connecting, reconnecting, countering social anxiety, and controlling social atrophy," Perel explains. As of October 2021, the game is only available within the United States.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Perel, the daughter of two Polish-born Holocaust survivors, was raised in Antwerp, Belgium,[8] and attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel,[9] where she earned a B.A. in educational psychology and French literature, and subsequently earned a master's degree in expressive art therapy from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[10]

Perel grew up amongst Holocaust survivors in Antwerp, and noted two groups around her: "those who didn't die, and those who came back to life".[4] She observed that "those who didn't die were people who lived tethered to the ground, afraid, untrusting. The world was dangerous, and pleasure was not an option. You cannot play, take risks, or be creative when you don't have a minimum of safety, because you need a level of unself-consciousness to be able to experience excitement and pleasure. Those who came back to life were those who understood eroticism as an antidote to death."[4][11]


Perel subsequently trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy before finding a professional home in family systems theory.[12] She initially worked as a cross-cultural psychotherapist with couples and families. For 13 years she was a clinical instructor at the New York University School of Medicine.[13]

Perel has also worked as an actress (appearing in the 2017 film, Newness, as herself) and run a clothing boutique in Antwerp.[9]

Perel in Boston in 2017

Personal life[edit]

Perel is Jewish and is married to Jack Saul, Assistant Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, with whom she has two sons, Adam and Noam.[14]


Perel argues that, due to trends such as the secularization of Western society, the rise of individualism, and the societal "mandate" for personal happiness, the expectations for romantic relationships are higher than ever:[15]

Never before have our expectations of marriage taken on such epic proportions. We still want everything the traditional family was meant to provide—security, children, property, and respectability—but now we also want our partner to love us, to desire us, to be interested in us. We should be best friends, trusted confidants, and passionate lovers to boot.[16]

She also notes the ideals of modern marriage are often contradictory: "We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability—all the anchoring experiences. And we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk."[16] Perel calls for a more open and honest discussion of monogamy to reconcile this conflict between the erotic and the domestic.


Perel is the host of two podcasts: Where Should We Begin? and How's Work?

  • Where Should We Begin? brings the listeners inside Perel's therapist's office as she sees anonymous couples in search of insight on everything from infidelity to sexlessness to grief. The unique format combines live recordings of the therapy session, with Perel's reflections on what she heard, and what techniques she tried.[17][18] The New York Times writes: "it feels more like an unraveling mystery story than a relationship advice show."[19] The couples include both heterosexual and same-sex couples. The first episode aired on Audible in May 2017, and became publicly available on iTunes on October 9, 2017.[20] Three seasons have been released as of December 2019. Where Should We Begin? received a 2018 Gracie Award.[21]
  • How's Work? is Perel's second podcast. It follows a format similar to the couples therapy session in Where Should We Begin? — but this time the couple seeking Perel's advice are cofounders or colleagues, navigating the challenges that play out in work relationships.[22][23] HuffPost describes each episode as a "one-time therapy session between Perel and various co-founders, members of family businesses and partners with a thriving operation but deteriorating relations on the job."[24] As described in one review: "The podcast aims to shine light on the things that form us as individuals and how those things relate to life in the workplace. Because, honestly, a lot of people hold their careers and workplace relationships as dearly and tightly as they do their romantic relationships."[25] How's Work? is created by Gimlet Media, and available exclusively on Spotify.[26] The show first aired in November 2019.[27]


  • Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence (2006, Harper, ISBN 978-0060753634)
  • The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity (2017, Harper, ISBN 978-0062322586)


  • 2016: Named to Oprah Winfrey's Supersoul 100 list of visionaries and influential leaders.[28]
  • Perel was selected for the inaugural 2021 Forbes 50 Over 50; made up of entrepreneurs, leaders, scientists and creators who are over the age of 50.[29]


  1. ^ Perel, Esther. "Erotic Intelligence: Reconciling Sensuality and Domesticity" (PDF). The Psychotherapy Networker, May/Jun 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  2. ^ Perel, Esther (2006). Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Harper. ISBN 978-0060753634.
  3. ^ "Unorthodox advice for rescuing a marriage". The Economist. 12 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Perel, Esther (February 2013). "The secret to desire in a long-term relationship". TEDSalon NY2013. Retrieved 24 December 2020. When I began to think about eroticism (...) I had to go back to the original definition of eroticism, the mystical definition (...) by looking actually at trauma, which is the other side. And I looked at it as 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.
  5. ^ Perel, Esther (March 2015). "Rethinking infidelity... a talk for anyone who has ever loved". TED2015. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  6. ^ "SuperSoul 100: The Complete List".
  7. ^ Eldor, Karin. "Esther Perel's New Card Game Of Stories, 'Where Should We Begin,' Inspires Play At Home And At The Office". Forbes. Forbes Media LLC.
  8. ^ Polly Vernon (8 October 2006). "So, how's your sex life these days?". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  9. ^ a b Dominus, Susan (24 January 2014). "The Sexual Healer". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  10. ^ Musleah, Rahel (25 April 2019). "Therapist Esther Perel on Reframing Our Relationships". Hadassah Magazine. The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  11. ^ A-Fest by Mindvalley (2017-11-26), In Search Of Erotic Intelligence | Esther Perel, retrieved 2018-06-24
  12. ^ Lori Schwanbeck (2012). "Esther Perel on Mating in Captivity (interview)". Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  13. ^ Quito, Anne. "Esther Perel is America's first clear-eyed public intellectual on love". Quartz Media, Inc. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  14. ^ Dominus, Susan. "The Sexual Healer: The Couples Therapy Expert Esther Perel Takes On Sex and Sexuality". Fashion & Style. New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  15. ^ Schwartz, Alexandra. "Love Is Not a Permanent State of Enthusiasm: An Interview with Esther Perel". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-08-17.
  16. ^ a b Perel, Esther (10 October 2017). The state of affairs : rethinking infidelity (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-06-232258-6. OCLC 1005357589.
  17. ^ Sawyer, Miranda (Oct 29, 2017). "The Week in Radio Podcasts: Where Should We Begin". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved Dec 31, 2018.
  18. ^ Schwartz, Alexandra (May 31, 2017). "Esther Perel Lets Us Listen in On Couple's Secrets". The New Yorker. Retrieved Dec 31, 2018.
  19. ^ Hess, Amanda (Aug 1, 2017). "The Art of the Taboo Podcast Interview". The New York Times. Retrieved Dec 31, 2018.
  20. ^ "Where Should We Begin? Podcast - on iTunes". Retrieved Dec 31, 2018.
  21. ^ "2018 Gracie Awards". Retrieved Dec 31, 2018.
  22. ^ "How's Work Podcast".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ MacLellan, Lila (Oct 30, 2019). "Esther Perel, renowned couples therapist, is starting a podcast about work". Quartz. Retrieved Jan 26, 2020.
  24. ^ Torres, Monica (Nov 11, 2019). "For Esther Perel, Work Is Personal ― And The Topic Of Her Brand-New Podcast". HuffPost. Retrieved Jan 26, 2020.
  25. ^ "How's Work with Esther Perel Podcast Review". Podcast Maniac. December 3, 2019. Retrieved Jan 26, 2020.
  26. ^ "How's Work? with Esther Perel". Gimlet. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  27. ^ "How's Work? with Esther Perel - Esther Perel Global Media & Gimlet". Spotify. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  28. ^ "Meet the SuperSoul100: The World's Biggest Trailblazers in One Room". O Magazine. 1 Aug 2016. Retrieved 5 Jul 2018.
  29. ^ Gross, Elana Lyn; Voytko, Lisette; McGrath, Maggie (2021-06-02). "The New Golden Age". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-06-02.


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