Not coincidentally, this entire emotional history plays itself out in the physicality of sex. The body is the purest, most primal tool we have for communicating. As Roland Barthes wrote, “What language conceals is said through my body. My body is a stubborn child; my language is a very civilized adult.” The body is our mother tongue—our mediator with the world long before we speak our first words. From the moment we come into being, love flows from adult to child sensuously—and dare I say erotically as well.
Bodily sensations dominate our first awareness of our environment and our earliest interactions with our caregivers. The body is a memory bank for the sensual pleasures of the skin. How often do I hear men and women in my office implore each other, “Can you just hold me?” The soothing powers of a hug hold at forty no less than at five. The body is also a storage facility for the distress and the frustration we have endured, and the pain we have suffered. Cleverly, our bodies remember what our minds may have chosen to forget, both light and dark. Perhaps this is why our deepest fears and most persistent longings emerge in intimate sex: the immensity of our neediness, the fear of desertion, the terror of being engulfed, the yearning for omnipotence.
Erotic intimacy is an act of generosity and self-centeredness, of giving and taking. We need to be able to enter the body or the erotic space of another, without the terror that we will be swallowed and lose ourselves. At the same time we need to be able to enter inside ourselves, to surrender to self-absorption while in the other’s presence, believing that the other will still be there when we return, that he or she won’t feel rejected by our momentary absence. We need to be able to connect without the terror of obliteration, and we need to be able to experience our separateness without the terror of abandonment.
Mating in Captivity
Esther Perel 2006