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Sexuality —
and Love

 

 

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Page Contents: Introduction / Perversion / Courtly Love / True Love / Imitations of True Love / Fear of Love / The Love-Hate Flip-flop / Abusive “Lovers” / Sexual Addictions / “Victimless” Sex / Sexual Fantasies / About Sexual Preference / An Example from Aviation / A Dream / Psychological and Spiritual Conclusions / Summary

 

Introduction

AS STRANGE as it might seem, psychology really cannot say much about human sexuality. It’s true that psychology can be used to treat sexual dysfunction, and psychologists know that coerced sex, such as child abuse or rape, leaves lasting emotional scars on the victims. But psychology really cannot offer much advice to consenting adults as to what sexual activities are appropriate or inappropriate. Not much, that is, except this: You can get into all kinds of trouble if you fail to understand something about the nature of perversion and love.

 


 

Perversion

Perversion. This is a word not heard much in today’s world. The verb to pervert literally means “to lead astray” or “to misdirect,” and perversion usually is used in the moral sense to refer to something that leads a person away from what is good or right. But I will be using the word in the psychological sense of something that leads a person away from a psychological goal.

As an example, consider the nature of alcohol abuse. Psychologically speaking, alcoholics drink in order to avoid the pain of facing up to and making amends for all the times they have failed to take responsibility for their lives. Hence the abuse of alcohol can be called a perversion because it leads a person away from the true aim of dealing with the guilt and into a drunken state of illusory well-being.

To be clever, we could say, then, that the point of a perversion
is to always miss the point
.

With more direct language, we can say that a perversion leads you away from the true depths of your emotional pain—and from the psychological healing that could happen if you were to work therapeutically with that pain—by distracting you with something apparently pleasurable.

The connection between sex and perversions is found in love. But when talking about love we need to be clear what we are really talking about.

 


 

Courtly
 
Love

If you study the history of human sexuality and marriage through ancient and primitive cultures, you will find that communal sex and polygamy predominate. Communal sex tends to predominate in matriarchal societies—that is, societies in which power tends to pass through women, and property is more or less communal—where women mate with whomever they want, without any particular, or lasting, emotional attachment.

In patriarchal societies, where property passes through the male lineage, knowing a child’s father is of greatest importance; hence men tend to be promiscuous, while women are carefully guarded sexually.

And then there are those curious mixtures of elements, such as in cultures where a man would offer his wife for the night to a guest, as a token of hospitality.

Yes, there are occasional stories, some very poetic—and tragic—about a man and a woman, each promised in an arranged marriage to someone else, who became passionately attracted to each other. But, as with most things in life, these exceptions only prove the rule: through most of human history, about the only thing that hardly ever seemed to influence mating was romantic love.

Yet, when individuals in Western cultures think about “finding a mate” they tend to think of romantic love. And one of the most enduring images of romantic love is the medieval knight in shining armor, the strong but pure man who rescued the lady in distress . . . and they lived happily ever after.

In reality, most medieval knights were anything but pure, and “marriages,” as in pagan cultures, lasted only as long as convenient. If you read medieval history carefully, you will find that European feudal society, especially under the influence of the Albigensians in the 11th to 13th centuries, was barbarian and chaotic, rife with murder, massacre, and cruelty. Knights, if they were anything, were nothing more than thugs and rapists who preyed upon any defenseless persons they came across. The knightly sexual ideal was to seduce a married woman, and, if she refused, to rape her. The literature of this “age of chivalry” essentially idealized adultery.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “That’s not what I learned about courtly love. Courtly love was pure and ideal. So what happened?”

Well, the troubadours and their Provençal poetry “happened.” 

In the later middle ages, the troubadours, under the influence of Christianity, transformed an old literature based on hedonism into a new European literature based on the idealization of love.[1] Thus the knights went from lusting after their friends’ wives to swooning in love over a woman’s glove. The literature idealized “love” to such an extent, and set so many obstacles in front of it, that this love became almost impossible to attain. And so romance became a poetic quest for an unattainable ideal of wholeness.

The aristocracy upheld this ideal of courtly love on the surface—while doing what it wanted behind the scenes, of course—and it provided the underlying European moral influence for the masses, for the last several centuries. Consequently, bolstered by Hollywood cinema in the 20th century, romantic “love” became the obsessive secular quest of life in the Western—and Western-influenced—world. And then, with the collapse of sexual morality beginning in the 1960s, the final transformation was made: the long sought chalice of courtly love was filled with erotic sexuality; that is, lust. 

Notice, however, that this courtly “love” is not a pagan concept, and, though it was influenced by Christian morality, Jacques Lacan it has nothing in common with real Christian love either. Like the famous quest for the Holy Grail, courtly love is a medieval literary creation. 

Which is why the brilliant French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, declared that courtly love “is an altogether refined way of making up for the absence of sexual relation by pretending that it is we who put up an obstacle to it.” [2] 

In other words, the chalice of courtly love—and all the romantic sentiments and eroticism that fill it—is an illusion.[3] It’s impossible to find love through sexuality. It’s impossible to use your body to hide your emotional pain. It’s impossible to heal your own emotional brokenness through the body of another person as mortal and broken as you are. [4]

  

This absence of a sexual relation, as taught by Lacan in his psychoanalytic concept of the impossible, can be approximated by the question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
 
For example, I have seen both men and women who have tried to seduce a woman to get from her the nurturing and attention they never received from their mothers. And I have seen both women and men who have tried to seduce a man to get from him the protection and attention they never received from their fathers. And in the end it’s all an impossibility. The moral is simple, and cuts across the board, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual: You can never seduce your despair, and you can never find real love through any form of sexual activity.
 
Thus, one does not need a “sex life” to be a good person. Notice, though, that a good person is not the same as a good citizen. A good citizen is an empty-headed, insatiable consumer, and, because of the efforts of Madison Avenue and Hollywood, lust has become a prime consumer activity. So let’s give a round of applause to Madison Avenue and Hollywood. Ah, can you hear it—the pathetic sound of one hand clapping?

  

 


 

True
 
Love

Most persons don’t realize this, but the common, or popular, view of “love” involves an element of receiving something. “I love chocolate” really means that “I enjoy getting the experience of the taste of chocolate.” Similarly, “I love you” commonly implies “I enjoy playing with your body,” or “I enjoy believing that you will give me security or protection,” or “I enjoy feeling sexual pleasure with your body” (or “I want to have sexual pleasure with your body.”) As a result, Lacan, in his teachings about love, described the typical act of love as “polymorphous perversion.” [5]

Don’t be put off by the big words. You already know what perversion means. Polymorphous simply means “having many forms.” So this amounts to saying, like the popular song from the 1980s, that we’re looking for love in all the wrong places. That is, we look for satisfaction in all the various titillating parts of the body but never find what is truly sought.

What is “truly sought” is something we all experience as painfully missing from life: some comforting sense of absolute belonging and acceptance. Those who are fortunate get a sense of this feeling as babies, under a parent’s protection, although the feeling is fractured more often than not by ordinary parental empathic failures, and then it is lost entirely as children become older and independent and the awareness of their essential human isolation and mortality sets in. Those who are less fortunate suffer a deeper lack: some parents are emotionally or physically distant and rarely provide any comfort and acceptance to their children; and some parents are outright abusive, leaving their children to languish in an environment of criticism and neglect.

  

Suffering from the lack of parental acceptance, some people skip from one “partner” to another over the surface of existential pain, like a stone skipping over water. As long as they stay above the surface they’re perfectly happy; but when an affair ends, and they come crashing down, they’re desperate for the next leap, sometimes searching for a new partner even at the funeral for the old one. Yet sooner or later the stone loses vitality, and with a final splunk falls into the depths of tribulation. 

  

Lacan points out that although “love”—that is, in its common, popular sense—is, in essence, a futile chasing after something that doesn’t exist, there is nevertheless a love beyond this “making love,” a love that exists beyond lack and limitation and that involves a sort of ecstasy of being,[6] as a matter of soul,[7] not of the body. The irony is that in the common act of “making love” we think we know what we want, but it turns out to be an illusion, while this other love touches on a real experience of which we know nothing. It’s a mystical sort of thing, as Lacan acknowledges.[8]

Now, although Lacan doesn’t say it this way, the difference between these two kinds of love—common “love” and true love (or real love)—can be conceived of as the difference between receiving and giving.

  

Note carefully, though, that giving does not refer to the mere sharing of material objects or wealth; it refers to the expression of profound emotional qualities such as patience, forbearance, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.
 
This all goes to show that it’s easy enough to “love” those who “love” us: parents who protect us, “partners” who make us feel received, animals who never threaten us. But can we love those who annoy us . . . irritate us . . . obstruct us . . . scorn us . . . hate us? Can we love our enemies? That’s the real test of real love.

  

And it was out of a true understanding of the difference between common “love” and true love that a man such as St. Francis of Assisi was led—led right to the point, actually—to pray that he might seek “not so much to be loved as to love.”

 


 

Imitations
 
of
 
True
 
Love

As shocking as it might sound, most of us who claim to be loving are not giving selflessly. Instead, we are addressing a covert psychological desire either to avoid being abandoned or to feel powerful.

 
“Love” as Bribery

Most men who give flowers to women, for example, are either saying, “I desire to use your body for my erotic pleasure,” or they are trying to satisfy the woman’s demand for recognition—and to avoid her anger and rejection if the recognition is forgotten—on a birthday or anniversary.

Similarly, many parents who give excessive money or presents to children or grandchildren are unconsciously trying to buy allegiance and favor. Unable to accept and understand the child’s deepest emotional experiences, the parent will offer an easily procurable object to make the child feel happy. And the child, unable consciously to express the covert cover-up occurring under his or her very nose, will accept the present under the assumption that “this must be love.”

Sad to say, therefore, the apparent generosity of common “love” is really an act of bribery.

 
“Love” as Power

We commonly believe that the desire to erotically arouse another person is a sign of love. The deep psychological truth, however, is that such a desire masks amore hidden desire: to manipulate someone because you have been manipulated by others. That is, because you as a child felt the helplessness and resentment of being emotionally and physically manipulated by your parents, as an adult you will unconsciously compensate for this helplessness by seeking out ways to manipulate others. You will do this because we all do it. We can do this with wealth, we can do this with education, we can do this with social status, we can do this with physical strength, and we can do this with lust.

Sad to say, therefore, the thrill of arousing lust in another person is really an act of self-serving power over that person.

  

Child abuse, too, is a form of power over another gained through common “love.” But whereas most common “love” takes the form of willing manipulation, child abuse is coercive: the abuser preys upon a child’s moral and intellectual helplessness. The abuser gets all the self-satisfaction he or she wants and in the process leaves the child with a life-long emotional scar of having been exposed to the manipulative aspects of eroticism well before having developed healthy defense mechanisms to cope with such psychological assaults. The abuser walks away smacking his lips, and the child is left as bones for the garbage.

  

 
Summary

Therefore, those who have the most to gain have the greatest desire to deceive. Those who have the least to gain—and who want nothing, and who give everything, like the saints—can love perfectly. And this perfect, true love is no imitation.

  

Most persons today will say, “Oh, come on. As long as I love my partner, it’s OK.” Yet consider all the orphaned children around the world whose parents—now dead—became infected with AIDS while saying “I love you.” So does saying I love you make it OK?

  

 


 

Fear
 
of
 
Love

Believe it or not, most of us are brought up in modern culture to fear love. This is a radical statement, so pause a bit and consider it.

How often were your deepest human needs for comfort, protection, and guidance as a child ignored or stifled by your parents? How often were you, as a child, criticized and laughed at for expressing your honest feelings? How often are you now used, in our culture of merchandising, as an object to be manipulated in order to satisfy some other person’s desire for profit and power? How often do you shape yourself—with fad diets, implants, cosmetic surgery, workouts, jewelry, tattoos, makeup, hair dye, and clothing—to meet the expectations of someone’s desire?

And how often, in the midst of all this exploitation, has anyone ever done anything for your own growth and welfare, without thought of what could be had in return?

So what does a person learn from such experiences other than that this is a world of competition, strife, and conflict, geared toward the survival of the “fittest”—or in today’s world, the meanest—in which honesty and compassion are foolish weakness?

Is it any wonder, then, that when denied the comfort and respect of true love, the fear and panic can be so blinding that children will blame themselves, believing that they don’t deserve love, and will fall headlong into self-loathing and masochism? 

In contrast, true love is an act of will, not something that you “fall” into. You can fall into desperate desire, and you can fall into fatal attraction, but you can’t fall into love. Love is not a feeling. Love is a sacrifice of sorts, and it’s a sacrifice of all the illusions that our culture expects from us. To offer true love—to wish good to someone [9]—is to stand against the culture—not as a revolutionary or terrorist, but with a humble offering of understanding and compassion, something better than what others “see” in their blindness.

True love, therefore, forsakes the prestige offered by the culture in its illusions. Yet, when we have been taught from childhood to covet this prestige as our very identity, is it any wonder that we fear love?

Far easier—and safer—isn’t it, to hide behind illusions and games of wealth, power, violence, intrigue, and seduction?

 


 

The
 
Love-Hate
 
Flip-flop

One of Sigmund Freud’s early disciples, Melanie Klein, took up the task of applying the techniques of psychoanalysis to children. She considered her work a natural extension of Freud’s theories, rather than any sort of innovation in psychoanalysis; still, she met considerable criticism from her psychoanalytic colleagues. And rightly so, for her work is characterized by speculative and fantastic explanations of, well, infant fantasy.

Nevertheless, Klein did bring to light the “ugly” side of infant development, for she saw in infants a mass of angry and hostile impulses toward the mother when the infant did not get its needs met. In essence, the infant constantly flip-flops between love and hate: love when its needs are met, and hate when its needs are ignored or frustrated. In her work, Klein tried to explain the process by which the infant seeks to repair the damage of its hostility to its mother. In fact, the titles of two of her most significant collections of works, Envy and Gratitude and Love, Guilt, and Reparation, tell the story almost as well as the writings themselves.

Ultimately, though, Klein’s theories—through their influence on the subsequent psychoanalytic theory called object relations—can lead to a grave error in psychological treatment, for they tend to make the psychotherapeutic process a dyadic process between the psychotherapist and client. At its worst, this makes psychotherapy into a mothering process of caring for the needs of the client, and it reduces the “therapist” to a paid friend—or nanny. 

Lacan saw through these errors and taught that psychoanalysis must involve three persons: the client, the analyst, and the unconscious. Just as healthy emotional development depends on a father coming between the mother and child, to sever the child’s emotional enmeshment with the mother, good psychotherapeutic work must let the unconscious come between the client and psychotherapist. This means that the psychotherapeutic process must always involve a symbolic fathering [10] by which clients are led to recognize and overcome the illusions of their unconscious identifications with others and, in the process, to heal the aggression and hostility that underlie those identifications.

  

This explains why “lovers,” friends, and blog readers, with all their personal needs and desires, cannot function psychotherapeutically. And it explains philosophically—above and beyond any laws or professional ethics—why psychotherapists cannot be friends or “lovers” to their clients. If they try, it will lead to psychological disaster, for without the third person of the unconscious in the consulting room the psychotherapy can degenerate into all sorts of perversions.

  

And, of course, this all explains the ultimate “kink” in human sexuality: the love-hate flip-flop.

As unpleasant as it may be to admit it, eroticism is based on infantile needs to be received, accepted, and satisfied. When a person feels intensely received, accepted, and satisfied, then he or she is “in love.” But sooner or later that intensity will be broken. The break doesn’t even have to be the result of malicious neglect; it can simply be the result of a need to attend to other obligations in the world, and, in the person feeling neglected, intense jealousy can flare up.

  

Often people fear that someone or something they love will be stolen from them by someone else. But in true love there is no jealousy. When you have nothing to lose, and nothing to gain, how can you fear a “rival”?
 
But, because romance is not based in true love, romance is, in technical psychological terms, a game—and in playing this game, you put yourself in competition with everyone else playing the same game. This explains the essence of jealousy: in your fear of losing what you desperately want, you hate any person who might come between you and what you want.

  

So, regardless of how it happens, as those primitive needs are not met, then the “love” flip-flops into hatred and aggression. If you don’t believe it, take a look at the ugly process of our divorce courts for a perfect example. The world is cluttered with broken relationships that began in sweet love and ended in bitter anger and hate.

And all of this proves that true love, which is based in giving, not receiving, is pure and eternal, is never fleeting, and can never flip-flop into hate.

It’s just a shame that true love—the only true reparation—is feared by most families and is hardly ever taught to anyone, children or adults.

 


 

Abusive
 
“Lovers”

A client suffering in an abusive relationship will often look up through streaming tears after describing the abuser’s behavior and say to the psychologist, “But I love him.”

Fair enough, you might think. Offer love in spite of the abuse. After all, aren’t we told since childhood to “Do to others as you would have them do to you”? Isn’t that what love is?

Well, it is true that many saintly individuals have patiently suffered through difficult marriages. But saintly individuals do not need psychologists. If the abuse gets violent, police protection may be needed, but no one who understands true love will ever have to sit in front of a psychologist offering excuses.

Excuses serve to justify repeated behavior. And, as Freud discovered, repetition is the return of the repressed. What, then, is this repressed which keeps getting repeated? It can’t be love because true love can never be repressed.

The repressed is desire, and in abusive relationships it is a desire often hidden in plain sight. It’s the desire to receive what you are futilely trying to give away. It’s the desire to be wanted. And it’s such a desperate desire that you will suffer almost anything—from one failed “lover” to another—to maintain the illusion that someone wants you.

To bring this illusion to light, just consider the case of a person “involved” with an abusive “lover.” Then ask this question: If you weren’t having sex with her or receiving monetary support from him, would you still stick around? If the answer is “No,” then you have the lie in plain sight. And if the answer is “Yes,” then why not take in every bum in the neighborhood and be a real saint?

So there you have it. “But I love him” really means you don’t understand love at all.

 


  

Sexual
 
Addiction?

If you look in the DSM-IV,[11] you can find a Sexual Desire Disorder called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder which refers to “deficient (or absent) sexual fantasies or desire for sexual activity.” The fact that the DSM-IV does not have a Hyperactive Sexual Desire Disorder says quite a lot about our culture. Apparently, we seem to believe that “not enough” is a bad thing, but “too much”—at least, in regard to sex—is never too much.

Nevertheless, some persons are troubled by their sexual desires, especially masturbation. Consequently, the term sexual addiction may be used, but it is really just a politically correct way to make it seem that sexual behaviors are matters for medical oversight and control rather than matters of personal responsibility. The truth is, you seek your identity in sexuality because you have been duped by society into believing that sexuality has the power to redeem your emotional emptiness.

You have been duped especially by the entertainment industry, an industry that has worked subversively through movies and television to glamorize the image of lust in our culture. For example, it may seem on the surface that “the woman” has been idealized, but the underlying motive has been to defile the feminine, stripping the female body of its dignity and reducing it, often with violent overtones, to a soulless sex object.

Psychologically, all this fascination with lust has its roots in the emotional emptiness that a person wants to push out of awareness with the illusory thrill of intoxication. This intoxication doesn’t have to be chemical—even gambling can provide quite a “high.” Why else would we talk about any kind of arousal as getting “turned on” by something? 

  

In the 1950s, psychological researchers began to experiment with the intensely pleasurable effects of electrical stimulation of the brain on animal behavior.[12] One study [13] allowed rats to press a lever that stimulated the pleasure area of the hypothalamus; the rats pressed the lever continuously, several thousand times per hour, even to the point of collapsing from fatigue. Another study [14] found that female rats would even abandon their own newly born pups for the sake of the brain stimulation.

  

And so it is with erotic pleasure. The psychological problem with the intoxication by real or imagined sexual stimulation, therefore, is that the pleasure becomes an end in itself.

In the clinical setting, many persons in psychotherapy will confess that, in their childhood and adolescence, they lacked a clear sense of what they wanted to do with their lives because they did not experience real love and guidance from their parents. As a way to cope with the frustration of being overwhelmed by the obligations of a life to which they didn’t feel any commitment in the first place, they turned to a preoccupation with any stimulation divested of any responsibility or commitment. Thus they got caught up in the meaningless euphoria of an impossible quest for a lost meaning to their lives.

Thus pornography takes on the excitement of the search for a stimulating image. Dating takes on the excitement of the search for a stimulating body. Masturbation takes on the excitement of the search for stimulation itself. But it’s all an impossible quest for the real love that a mother and father failed to provide.

  

Now, some persons might try to justify their unconscious quest by saying that erotic pleasure is “natural.” That’s the real underlying philosophy to the Marquis de Sade’s writings, for example. And his name—de Sade— provides the underlying origin of our word sadism. It all comes down to saying, “Any body—man, woman, child, or animal—is as good as any other body. Anything goes—even someone’s pain—if it serves your pleasure.”
 
So there’s the “natural” for you.
 
Moreover, like all natural disasters, lust leaves nothing in its path but destruction—a barren swath of sadistic or masochistic emotional destruction.

  

So it is that in the obsession with erotic pleasure you don’t want to see the human destruction it causes. And, as long as you’re intoxicated, you can’t see it. As a result, instead of taking personal responsibility to detach yourself from social illusions, you willingly consume them. You have been duped into believing that you can use your own body to heal your emotional despair. It’s not an addiction that troubles you, it’s cultural brainwashing.

  

Speaking of intoxication, some persons wonder what effect alcohol has on sexual desire. Well, actually, it has no effect. Alcohol simply deadens the inhibitory function of the frontal lobe of the brain. So while the frontal lobe is trying to tell you, “Stop! This isn’t right!” the intoxicating effect of alcohol intercepts that message and substitutes its own subversive message: “Hey, if it feels good, do it.”

  

 


 

“Victimless”
 
Sex

I have seen parents who say to their children, “If you are going to smoke, I don’t want you smoking in the house. If you are going to drink alcohol, I don’t want you to bring alcohol into the house. If you are going to have sex, I want you to use protection. If you are going to have your boyfriend stay overnight, I want to see him sleeping on the couch in the living room when I get up in the morning. If you have a car accident, I want you to get it fixed yourself.” And then they turn to me and say, “See? We’re teaching our children responsibility.”

The parents glow with an air of self-satisfied serenity.

In reality, they’re like the eye of a hurricane, calm and peaceful, blind to the storm spreading moral chaos all around them.

And this “serenity” is the attitude behind a tolerance for “victimless” sex.

“What’s wrong with pornography or prostitution? As long as no one gets hurt, no harm is done,” we say.

But is it true that no harm is done? Maybe, like the parents in the example above, we just don’t want to see it. Maybe we don’t want to see the corruption, the fraud, the theft, the abuse—the murders even—that support our habits. Conveniently out of our sight, “no harm” is done.

Maybe you don’t want to see the children who are killed by their own mothers even before they have a chance to live. Maybe you don’t want to see the lost children—conceived by “mistake”—who wander the world in confusion. Maybe you don’t want to see the children who have to suffer the agony of their parents’ adultery and divorce. Maybe you don’t want to see the children who have to see their parents’ alcoholism and drug abuse. Maybe you don’t want to see the children who have to see their parents prostitute themselves for affection, money, or drugs. Maybe you don’t want to see the children who are physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by their parents’ “lovers.”

“I just want to have fun. I don’t see any harm in that,” you say.

 


 

Sexual
 
Fantasies

Just about everyone has had some sort of sexual fantasy. Some persons find their fantasies—spontaneous mental images that evoke certain emotional reactions or thought processes, often called daydreams—to be quite enjoyable. Many persons, however, find their fantasies to be quite troubling; fantasies can lead to repetitive acts of masturbation (genital self-excitation) that ultimately become more frustrating than satisfying, and, if the fantasies have a criminal or anti-social trend, they can trap a person in feelings of shame, guilt, and fear of discovery.

So why should a person be troubled with a desire for something he or she really doesn’t want? Well, the answer begins with the fact that fantasies are intellectual products, not acts of will.

OK. Maybe that statement needs some explanation. Consider for a moment that criminologists, for example, often speak about a hypothetically “elegant” crime. By this they mean that the crime is so brilliantly designed (as in a detective story) that one can actually admire it intellectually. But still it’s a crime, and no one in his or her right mind would actually want to carry it out. Or so we would hope.

  

Fantasies occur simply because it is intellectually possible to conceive of them. If you walk past a bank and think of how it could be robbed, you are thinking only of a possibility. The fact that a fantasy occurs does not necessarily say anything about who or what you are as a person.

  

Now, at the stage of hypothetical contemplation, the crime is nothing but an intellectual product. But to carry it out a person would have to will its execution, and even deliberately overcome any moral qualms about doing so. So you can see that there is a big difference between the intellectual product and the willful act itself.

And this difference between the intellect and the will leads us to another radical concept: sexual fantasies usually have an unconscious intent that isn’t even sexual.

We can understand this fact through reference to Sigmund Freud’s concept of infantile sexuality. Actually, Freud Sigmund Freudmissed the point by claiming that all adult unconscious conflicts derive from repressed infantile sexual impulses, because they don’t. But still, in missing the point, Freud points to the right thing: infantile experience.

Think about this for a moment. What experience must every infant encounter? Well, it’s the experience of lying naked and helpless during dressing, feeding, bathing, etc. And in this experience are complex emotions of both pleasure and violation. Part of the infant enjoys the attention and stimulation resulting from its helplessness, while part of the infant resents being “used” and wants nothing but the ability to put an end to its helplessness and start taking command of its own life. Although making the transition from total helplessness as a mere object to total responsibility in subjective being defines the normative psychological task of child development, this process can have an unconscious component of revenge; that is, the anger of having been “used” receives its satisfaction in finding ways to “use” others.

Consequently, adult sexual fantasies have two components: a desire for being used (the desire for acceptance) and a desire for using others (the desire for revenge).
 

The Desire for Acceptance

The desire for acceptance in our adult sexual fantasies reveals a deep yearning to gain access to the unknown and to transcend a profound existential lack, a hunger for the ecstasy of real love from our parents that then extends to a hunger for an emotional closeness to others that is sadly missing in our limited, bodily reality. Thus the fantasies intoxicate us with a euphoric and expansive imaginary fulfillment of the physical senses—as with the “hunger of the eyes” in lust. Sometimes the fantasies become so euphoric that they can even seem to be “spiritual.” Nevertheless, by distracting us from our true limitations, the fantasies really cause us to miss the whole point about spiritual responsibility. The governing drive of all these fantasies can be represented as an arrow that, in its deepest unconscious sense, does not seek out another in real love but instead returns narcissistically to itself, in a desire to make itself seen in the presence of another, and thereby to make itself into an object for its own satisfaction.[15a]

  

In this same regard, having homosexual fantasies does not mean that you are homosexual. Instead, these fantasies point to some emotional wound from childhood you are unconsciously trying to resolve in yourself.

For example, a woman who looks at the breasts and buttocks of another woman may be looking at “herself” as her father looked at her; thus she may be struggling to resolve feelings of being used or criticized. At the same time, she may be looking at—that is, desiring—the other woman’s softness as something she wanted, but never received, from her own mother.

In a similar way, a man who looks at the genitals of another man may be looking for the strength and protection his father did not give him; at the same time, he may be looking at the other man with an admiration that wanted his mother to have for his father.

Or, the fantasies may be unconsciously re-enacting a molestation that occurred in infancy, an experience with vague emotional memories but not accessible to conscious memory.
 

  

The Desire for Revenge

The desire for revenge in our adult sexual fantasies is very subtle, and most persons either do not recognize it in themselves or they deny its reality. Nevertheless, whenever we experience pleasure by imagining or seeing others seemingly having erotic pleasure, we are using them for our own satisfaction, in the expectation of our immediate, tangible gratification, often in defiance of moral responsibility. 

Moreover, fantasies such as bondage, rape, and anal penetration betray an even darker side of “getting what you want.” The erotic element of such fantasies is directed to “getting” the feeling of defiling the other, or being defiled yourself, and it derives from the anger of having been made into an object—indeed, a piece of garbage—as a child, when human dignity was surrendered and defiled. It wasn’t just a matter of being used, it was a matter of being abused by the lack of real love. Hence these fantasies lead you right into the psychological dead-end of sado-masochism.[16]

  

Pornography, in its own way, derives from the urge to defile an other. On the surface, it may seem that pornography is simply about erotic pleasure. But when the human body is made into a biological toy, it is stripped of all human dignity, and this defilement is an act of aggression. The hostility may be unconscious or it may be openly violent, but, either way, it has its basis in resentment.

And to whom is the resentment directed?

Well, as in all things psychological, the resentment primarily goes back to the parents. Deep down, under all the apparent excitement, and despite the attraction to what is seen, lurks the dark urge to hurt and insult—to “get back at”—what is behind the scenes: a mother who devoured, rejected, or abandoned, rather than nurtured, or a father who failed to teach, guide, and protect.

The resentment can also be directed to individuals responsible for a molestation that happened in childhood.

Thus, when you feel resentment for some current deprivation—of recognition, guidance, acceptance, resources, or time—old resentments get tangled up with current frustrations and you are drawn to pornography—and even though it may feel exciting, you are really defiling someone in order to create a fantasy that you are wanted by someone.

  

Summary

In all erotic fantasies you take from the “other” some sort of unconscious compensation for the love you did not receive from your parents or that was stolen from you by molestation. That missing love—that lack—is a wound that drives you to attempt to fill its emptiness with the allure of acceptance or the satisfaction of revenge. None of this drive has anything to do with true love, except for the fact that, in all the arousal, true love is missing.

With this, then, we return to the opening question. If you willfully act out the fantasy with masturbation or with a “partner” in perversion, rather than explore it psychotherapeutically, all healing capacity is lost, and you are left with nothing but a perversion that endlessly misses the point, leaving you lost in your emotional emptiness.

 


 

About
 
Sexual
 
Preference

Even as a psychologist working in San Francisco, I take the position that existential human issues, not one’s erotic desires per se, should govern the course of psychotherapy. Let’s be honest here and admit that the unconscious is far from being “politically correct,” and so from my own clinical practice I have learned that many aspects of life commonly seen in the homosexual community—unconscious hostility and anger; fear of conflict; life dissatisfaction and depression; self-hatred; fear of love; risky self-destructive behavior; promiscuity; the “buying” of friendship with sexual services; problems with gender identity; heterophobia; and discomfort with non-sexual same-sex emotional closeness (often called homophobia)—are residual effects of childhood emotional wounds and can be better healed in psychotherapy than normalized in a radical political arena. 

The origin of homosexuality in any person is a complex issue; that is, there are so many factors (the psychological and emotional aspects of the conception, intra-uterine experiences, family dynamics, and social conditioning) so intertwined that no single explanation can fit all cases. For the most part, homosexual feelings, like all feelings, are not something an individual necessarily chooses consciously, because they tend to derive from subtle unconscious conflicts in childhood [17] resulting from parental empathic failures. Moreover, homosexual desires can be a product of the prevailing culture through social influence and political advocacy in education, entertainment, and advertising. Furthermore, homosexual feelings can be planted directly in a person through an experience of childhood abuse or seduction as an adult.

Consequently, homosexual feelings do not mean that you are homosexual; nor do homosexual feelings mean that you were born homosexual. The real psychological point here is that one’s sexual lifestyle—that is, the sexual activity one pursues (or does not pursue, for spiritual reasons), regardless of sexual preferences—is fully a matter of personal choice and personal responsibility. Like any other form of identity, such a lifestyle—and any unconscious psychological defenses that lie behind it—must be open to psychological examination. For, as I said above, it’s impossible to heal your own emotional brokenness through the body of another person as mortal and broken as you are.

 


 

An
 
Example
 
from
 
Aviation

Here is a fictitious story, derived from aviation, that illustrates a real-life difference between common love and true love. It shows how peer pressure cannot dissuade true love from its concern for the good, and how true love persists even in the face of hatred. And how sad that so many lives are stained with tragedy because common love is so often our only reason for living—and dying.

Common Love

A woman, preoccupied with plans for her friend’s wedding the next day, arrives at the small airport three hours late; she says to her husband, a new pilot, “What do you mean, ‘We’re already late and it’s getting dark’? We have to get there tonight, honey. If you love me you’ll get this plane in the air right now.”

True Love

Her husband replies, “Look. We’ll be flying over dark water, and there could be clouds. I’m not instrument rated. It’s just not safe. It’s because I love you that I won’t risk our lives over this.”

The Love-hate Flip-flop

“But we have to get there tonight! I have to get my hair done tomorrow morning before the wedding, and there’s the ultimate salon there. If this gets messed up, it will be a disaster. You wimp! And you call yourself a pilot!”

True Love Affirmed

“I understand how important it all seems to you, and yet it’s foolhardy to risk our lives for something as frivolous as a hair style.”

Hatred as Revenge

“‘It all seems to me?’ ‘Frivolous?’ Listen, if we don’t leave right now, you can sleep on the couch tonight!”

True Love Re-affirmed

“Well, so be it. But I’m not flying tonight. I’m not going to get us killed. That’s final.”

 


 

A Dream

A man in treatment for depression, and prone to sexual fantasies and affairs, had a dream.

He was walking through vast, empty fields. Suddenly, a great wall loomed up before him; it had the appearance of shimmering, crystalline light.
    He approached a door. On the ground was a metal bucket filled with tiny transparent crystals, like sand, but stained and discolored, and with a stench worse than rotting fish. He knocked on the door.
    A voice from the other side answered. “You may not enter. Go away.” After a pause, it continued. “The price of entry is tears of love, cried out in prayer. Look down at the bucket by your feet. That is what your life has amounted to; that is all you have to offer: a bucket of rotten orgasms.” And he woke up.

 


 

Psychological
 
and
 
Spiritual
 
Conclusions

Here, then, is the psychological lesson: As long as you pursue sexuality out of a need to be loved—as a form of something you want—you will be led right behind illusions straight into perversion. As long as you try to fill your inner, psychological and spiritual emptiness with another person—that is, through common love—you will remain unconsciously broken and empty. Even marriage, in the true religious sense of Holy Matrimony, does not depend on a romantic attraction to hold it together; instead it derives its meaning as an unbreakable act of family and societal service between a man and a woman to a mutual divine love. Therefore, only a renunciation of what you think you want and a dedication to loving—giving true love rather than desperately searching to be loved—can lead to anything psychologically and spiritually productive, and it’s the only attitude that can begin to carry you through the agony of human limitation and mortality.

This view, however, is not at all popular in the U.S., and especially not in San Francisco.

WARNING
Some material on this website may be banned in California schools.
For the approved California version,
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Nevertheless, see for yourself if you don’t find anything, in the end, but the emptiness of lies, betrayal, and death in your desperate seeking to be “loved.” 

  

It is interesting to note that a religious perspective can be even more focused than the psychological perspective. It has long been understood that chastity is a core aspect of religious experience. Sexuality, after all, is not a recreational sport. The erotic desire for “recognition” in another person—supported by the contemporary social pressure for every individual to be in a “relationship”—amounts to nothing but a narcissistic [15b] renunciation of love itself.
 
Think about that. Are you tired of AIDS, sexual diseases, prostitution, pornography, unwanted pregnancies, abortion, adultery, divorce, and using others and being used? All great religious mystics have discovered for themselves the same secret: until you stop being obsessed with lust you will never be able to find true life; until you die to yourself—and your selfish desires—you will never have life. 

  

Therefore, regardless of whether you approach the matter from moral theology or from the psychology of the unconscious, you will discover that the final choice in regard to sexuality is really between glorifying yourself and glorifying something greater than yourself. So take consolation and remember—if you only partially apply this principle to your life you will still experience great psychological benefits.[18]

 


 

Summary

So what does all this discussion of sexuality—and perversion—have to do with psychotherapy in general? Well, there’s an interesting parallel here between how you treat others and how you treat yourself.
 
True healing involves two things: (a) to see clearly what is wrong and (b) to have the compassion to call it to change. This means, first of all, that unconditional acceptance of anything gets you nowhere. If you take no responsibility for the world around you, and if you’re unwilling to call error for what it is—that is, if you’re always missing the point—then you contribute nothing of any healing value to the world. And that’s not love. On the other hand, if you treat error with hatred, condemning it to hell, the bitter poison in your own heart will end up condemning you to hell. And that’s not love either.

So it is with your own mental health. First you have to recognize your life for what it is, being honest about your emotional pain and all the mistakes and errors you’ve committed trying to hide from your despair. And then you have to listen to that despair with compassion and let it tell its whole story, so that the very core of your heart will be transformed—rather than push your despair into some dark corner of your unconscious to be seduced with . . . perversion.

 


 

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Notes:

1. Robert Briffault, The Mothers (abridged by G. R. Taylor). (New York: Atheneum, 1977). See chapters 27 and 28, “Romance (I)” and “Romance (II).”

2. Jacques Lacan, “God and the Jouissance of Woman.” In Mitchell, J. & Rose, J. (Eds.), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985). Quotation from p. 141.
    [That’s right—the The of The Woman is crossed through, signifying that having been created in the fantasy of phallic sexuality, “Woman” as an essence does not exist, and that oneness with her is impossible. That’s what Lacan means when he speaks of the absence of a sexual relation. No other person can make your psychologically broken life into something whole and complete. See also:
   Jacques Lacan, “The signification of the phallus.” In Écrits: A selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), p. 287:
    “In any case, man cannot aim at being whole (the ‘total personality’ is another of the deviant premises of modern psychotherapy), while ever the play of displacement and condensation to which he is doomed in the exercise of his functions marks his relation as subject to the signifier.”

3. To say that something is an illusion does not mean that it is not “real”—it means that it functions as a psychological defense.

4. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981). See “The Presence of the Analyst,” p. 133:
    “In persuading the other that he has that which may complement us, we assure ourselves of being able to continue to misunderstand precisely what we lack.”

5. Jacques Lacan, “God and the Jouissance of Woman.” In Mitchell, J. & Rose, J. (Eds.), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985). See p. 143:
    “The act of love is the polymorphous perversion of the male, in the case of the speaking being.”

6. Jacques Lacan, “God and the Jouissance of Woman.” In Mitchell, J. & Rose, J. (Eds.), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985). See p. 144-145:
    “. . . she has, in relation to what the phallic function designates of jouissance, a supplementary jouissance. . . . a jouissance proper to her, and of which she herself may know nothing, except that she experiences it—that much she does know.”

7. Jacques Lacan, “God and the Jouissance of Woman.” In Mitchell, J. & Rose, J. (Eds.), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985). See p. 155:
    “In effect, as long as soul souls for soul there is no sex in the affair.”

8. Jacques Lacan, “God and the Jouissance of Woman.” In Mitchell, J. & Rose, J. (Eds.), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985). See pp. 146-147:
    “The mystical . . . is something serious, which a few people teach us about, and most often women or highly gifted people like St. John of the Cross — since when you are male you don’t have to put yourself on the side of [lack and limitation]. . . . they sense that there must be a jouissance which goes beyond. That is what we call a mystic. . . . It is clear that the essential testimony of the mystics is that they are experiencing it but know nothing about it.”

9. Aristotle, Rhet. ii, 4.

10. Technically, Lacan speaks of the symbolic “phallus,” and all it signifies in the symbolic realm of the psyche, in contrast to all interpersonal identifications in the imaginary realm. See “The signification of the phallus,” in Écrits: A selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977).

11. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

12. Olds, J., & Milner, P. (1954). Positive reinforcement produced by electrical stimulation of the septal area and other regions of the rat brain. Journal of comparative and physiological psychology, 47, 419–428.

13. Olds, J. (1958). Satiation effects in self-stimulation of the brain. Journal of comparative and physiological psychology, 51, 675–678.

14. Sonderegger, T. B. (1970). Intracranial stimulation and maternal behavior. APA convention proceedings, 78th meeting, 245–246.

15a,b. Jacques Lacan, “The Partial Drive and its Circuit” and “From Love to the Libido.” In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981).
    “Strictly speaking, [the structure of perversion] is an inverted effect of the phantasy. It is the subject who determines himself as object, in his encounter with the division of subjectivity” (p. 185).
    “. . . The root of the scopic drive is to be found entirely in the subject, in the fact that the subject sees himself. . . . in his sexual member. . . . Whereas making oneself seen is indicated by an arrow that really comes back towards the subject, making oneself heard goes towards the other” (pp. 194–195).

16. See, for example, Novick, K. & Novick, J. (1987). The Essence of Masochism. In The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, ed. A. Solnit, & P. Neubauer. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 353–384.

17. Many persons fail to recognize these conflicts for what they are because psychological conflicts are often extremely subtle and have unconscious meanings that are discovered primarily through psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Rather than do all this hard work, it’s far easier to shrug your shoulders and say, “I was born this way,” and let it go at that.
    Clinical work, however, shows that, for a boy, these conflicts often result from a love-hate relation with a father. On the one hand the father is desired as a source of guidance and wisdom; on the other hand, the father is hated either for being too critical and authoritarian or for being too weak to defend the boy against an overbearing, critical mother.
    Such a conflict about his father can cause a boy—even a boy of heterosexual desires—to be attracted to another man’s attractiveness or creativity or emotional sensitivity (as a symbolic yearning for what the father failed to provide) while also secretly disliking the other man because of some personality flaw he has.
    Consequently, men who act out the male-to-male love-hate conflict sexually tend to adopt behavior characterized by both vanity (the desire to be desired) and jealousy (unconscious hatred). Moreover, the effeminate affectations of some of these men can be explained as an unconscious identification with the feared mother, a defense technically called Identification with the Aggressor. It’s as if the pretense of being a woman provides a cloak of stealth by which the man hopes to avoid detection by his mother’s male-hating “radar.”
    In lesbian sexuality, other unconscious conflicts tend to be at work. For example, in healthy psychosexual development, the daughter’s bond of dependent neediness on the mother must be broken through her affection for her father. By “coming between” the daughter and the mother, the father ensures that the girl will eventually be able to function independently in the world. But if the father bungles his role, the master-slave dialectic by which one woman gives herself in total submission to another woman represents an angry mockery of the father’s proper symbolic protection of the family.
    Moreover, the masculine affectations of the “master” in such a relationship represent an identification with masculine brutality—which is a form of Identification with the Aggressor. This master-slave dialectic can also be motivated by the girl’s unconscious hatred for her mother for failing to be a trustworthy source of emotional consolation. The dialectic thereby reduces true motherly love to caricatured extremes: the “mother’s” complete domination of the “child,” and the “child’s” complete submission to the “mother.”

18. See, for example, Finger R, Thelen T, Vessey JT, Mohn JK, & Mann JR. Association of Virginity at Age 18 With Educational, Economic, Social, and Health Outcomes in Middle Adulthood. Adolescent and Family Health 2005; vol. 3, no. 4:
    “. . . men and women who were virgins at age 18, when evaluated approximately 20 years later, had about half the risk of divorce, had completed about an additional year of education and had annual incomes nearly 20 percent higher than those who were not virgins at 18. . . . these better outcomes were not merely the result of avoiding teenage pregnancy or fatherhood. . . . The outcomes are inherent to remaining abstinent [through adolescence].”
 

 
Additional Resources
 
Addiction:
Sexual Addiction and Sexual Compulsivity Treatment Resources
 
Chastity:
Chastity: A Guide for Teens and Young Adults
Courage Apostolate  is “an apostolate of the Roman Catholic church whose purpose is to minister to those with same-sex attractions.”
 
Domestic Violence:
Domestic Violence - International Resources
Domestic violence: Ways to get help  from the Mayo Clinic.
Family Violence Prevention Fund
Marital Rape
National Clearinghouse on Family Violence (NCFV), Health Canada
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
On-line Domestic Violence Survival Kit
The White Ribbon Campaign  —Educational Materials: Men working to end men’s violence against women.
 
Lacan:
The Lacanian School of Psychoanalysis  in the San Francisco Bay area, offers training in Lacanian psychoanalysis.
The San Francisco Society for Lacanian Studies  provides lectures and information about Lacanian psychoanalysis.
 
Related pages within A Guide to Psychology and its Practice:
Anger: Insult, Revenge, and Forgiveness
Catholic Links
Death—and the Seduction of Despair
Fear
Forgiveness
Identity and Loneliness
Questions and Answers about Psychotherapy
Spiritual Healing
Spirituality and Psychology
The Unconscious
 
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