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Wednesday, 24 May 2006 00:00

Use Eagles if Necessary, Chapter 8: Sex and Sexuality

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We shrinks have been accused of starting the sexual revolution, which began in the mid-20th century. This isn’t true. A case could be made that it was the Irish writer, James Joyce, (no relation) who started the sexual revolution, at least in modern literature. After the obscenity ban on his novel Ulysses was lifted, other novelists piled on by filling up their works with explicit sexual content. (Ulysses has been acclaimed by many scholars as the best novel of the 20th century. If you have infinite patience, and three PhD’s, you may get through it, finding it at once brilliant, tedious and filthy.)

The goal of psychoanalysis is to enable people to love, work and create, not to prance around naked or have sex with no commitment. Before the sexual revolution, sex had been a taboo topic in film but now you can’t see many movies or watch a television sitcom without being inundated by it. We psychoanalysts not only didn’t start the revolution, we don’t support it either. We are as offended as you are. (Or as you should be.) Sex in the city, and out in the country, is being trivialized. It’s de-humanizing.

The sexual revolution can be attributed to many factors including Dr. John Rock’s invention of the birth control pill, Vietnam (make love not war) and, of course, Playboy magazine. Playboy took women’s clothes off exposing their naked bodies to the world. Hugh Heffner, the magazine’s creator, was rightfully accused of exploiting and demeaning women. What I’ve never heard is how exploiting and demeaning his magazine has been to men, also, and in my opinion, more so. Who is it that takes the magazine into the bathroom and locks the door? The “Old Hefmeister” demeaned both sexes.

Sexual intercourse can be thrilling, fulfilling, rewarding, loving, giving, caring, joyful, playful, the most fun we can have and, at orgasm, the most pleasant physical sensation we are capable of experiencing. But sex can also be embarrassing, cruel, hateful, terrifying, painful, demeaning, degrading, demoralizing, dangerous and even deadly. It is a complicated issue. But before we proceed, I want to tell you about my pigs.

You will recall I raised 12 of them: five were sows (female), six were barrows (neutered), and one remained a boar (male). When my first sow was ready to mate I herded her into the pen in the barn where the boar lived. The boar, a huge red-haired brute, nudged her and she nudged him back. She coyly went to the corner of the pen and looked back at him, and he slowly followed her bumping her sides and her rump with his huge snout. They exchanged playful nips and low grunts. This foreplay went on for many minutes before sexual intercourse began. It was amazing. He was a gentleman and she was a lady. Who knew?

When I went back to the barn to check on the pigs, they were lying together fast asleep, their huge bodies snuggled tight. They were snoring. The boar and sow had had two goals: To sexually satisfy themselves and their partner and to make little pigs. They had no ax to grind from the past (they’d just met) and they’d probably never see each other again. This made their sex act very simple. But human beings live together, raise kids together, have friends, neighbors, and intertwined families together and in doing so create a milieu of issues between them, all of which can cloud up the marriage bed. It doesn’t take long for “having sex” to get complicated.

Another cloud over the marriage bed is the concept that having sexual intercourse is the ultimate expression of physical love. This puts a heavy burden on the couple to feel especially loving toward their partner when engaged in sex and is sometimes the source of much guilt. Dozens of times patients would say in anguish, “I was having sex with my husband/wife but I was thinking about someone else! There must be something really wrong with me and my marriage.” When I told them this fantasy was not an indicator of a bad marriage and was, in fact, quite normal, their relief was immediate. Happily married people have no reason to stray physically, but to stray via fantasy is simply being human. The ultimate expression of physical love may well be the holding of a spouse’s head when she is vomiting, or changing a spouse’s diaper when he’s too old or sick to get out of bed.

We shrinks have also been accused of being preoccupied by sex, and we are, but only because sex acts are symptomatic of what’s going on in the unconscious. Sex acts, or lack of them, can reveal worlds of information about a person’s psychic make-up and should never be neglected or glossed over in analysis. Sex is often — some say mostly — the source of neuroses, but is, at first, unrecognizable as such. Sex is embarrassing for many people to talk about, especially concerning themselves, and we have to be very careful to not broach the topic too soon lest we scare the patient off. But if a patient’s sex life, including fantasies, has not been thoroughly analyzed then no analysis has taken place. It’s that important.

Once a solid rapport of trust has been established with the patient sex talk can begin. Sex acts are often thinly disguised in dreams, which gives an opening with reticent patients. Other patients, like my first one, “Trisha,” are almost immediately forthcoming. Interestingly, I found that my women patients had an easier time talking about sex than the men.

Following are some typical “sex problems,” and possible psychological causes of them. To get to the causes we ask questions, and if they are not on the mark they are certainly in the areas in which we begin to probe. Remember, sex acts are symbolic of deeper, more important, personality functioning.

Excessive masturbation: Why are you anxious? What’s the near future hold for you? (The symbol is stopping time.)

Pre-mature ejaculation: Are you afraid of women? (The symbol is “Get me out of here!”) (It could also symbolize anger at women — not staying to give her pleasure.)

Unable to climax: Are you afraid to trust someone of the opposite sex? (The symbol is fear of being out of control.)

Dislike sex: What fears or guilts have you experienced after having sex? (Symbol is sex is dirty, sinful or shameful.)

Afraid of sex: Has anything bad happened to you regarding sex? (Symbol is sexual childhood abuse.)

Gigolo/nymphomaniac: Have you experienced more than your share of frustration in life, especially from your parent of the opposite sex? (Symbol is insatiable needs.)

One-night-stand specialists: What’s your fear of getting to know someone as a person rather than only as a sex object? Is there something about you that you don’t want anyone to find out? (Symbol is “Gotta go. See ya.”)

Perpetual adulterers: What is your fear of making a total commitment to your spouse? What terrible thing would happen? (Symbol is keeping options open so you’re not “trapped.”)

The answers to these questions, even if totally candid (this wouldn’t happen) will not “cure” the patient of his dysfunction immediately. The questions and their answers merely get a dialogue started and allow the patient to settle into it. Because a part of his unconscious has been touched, if only lightly, he will be evasive and defensive, and that’s fine. Mainly the questions say: You have a sexual dysfunction; it does not stand alone; it is a symptom of something deeper within you and my interest is in that deeper you. The questions set the tone that the patient is much larger than his presenting problem. He already knows that, and for the analyst to reaffirm it is a great relief to him enhancing his ability to trust. The individual presenting problems will correct themself over time as the trust and dialogue continue. In fact, they may never be mentioned again. But there’ll be no short cuts. It takes years to customize an unconscious mind. To think it can be changed in weeks or even months is naive.

Another contributor to emotional problems is confusion regarding our “sexuality.” The first and most important thing we learn about ourselves is: Am I a boy or a girl? Thanks to Carl Jung, 1875-1961, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, we’ve learned the answer is “yes.” Jung came up with a theory called “anima-animus” regarding the human psyche. Anima is female – animus is male. Jung discovered that we carry the emotional traits of both sexes within us. He knew, of course, that our biological genders were determined at conception, but his research made him aware that our emotional genders did not always follow suit. Every person is both male and female emotionally. It is then a matter of “Who’s in charge?”

You are familiar with the expression, “The battle of the sexes.” This battle actually begins within each individual: the little boy within scrambling for dominance over his little girl within, in the case of a male child, and vice versa in the case of a female. In most cases this battle is an easy one. If the proper role models are in place — ideally the natural parents — and are not overly aggressive or seductive with their children, the battle is won without a shot being fired. But sometimes a gender role model is weak or missing; a role model of the child’s opposite sex ridicules or denigrates the child’s biological gender, or sexually seduces that child. Then the battle is fierce.

In the model family there is a mom, a dad and some kids. The girls take on their mom’s gender traits and the boys take on their dad’s. But sometimes a boy will take on some of the mother’s traits and the girls will do the same with the father. Ideally, the children will mostly identify with the parent of their own sex, but this identification will not be total — there will be overlap. This is how it’s supposed to be. Such identifications enrich individual personalities and the species. For example, I am mostly like my dad in my intolerance and quickness to anger, but I have a lot of my mom in me, too. I love to cook and don’t mind watering the plants. My sister is mostly like our mom: nothing is more interesting to her than her children, but sometimes I see our dad come through in her — when she’s too generous for her own good. She can also fix the dishwasher.

No analysis would be complete without spending some time getting to understand “both sides” of the patient. It is always enlightening, and will produce emotional growth, especially when the subservient side is rediscovered and given room to blossom.

Male and female personality traits vary from culture to culture. In the U.S. culture (more a society than a culture), it is usually the man who will fix the car and the woman who will fix the dinner, but not always. The man is the predominant moneymaker while the woman augments his income. Dad cuts the grass, mom makes the beds. The husband is stoic in the presence of tragedy, the wife cries openly. Dad is distantly aware of his children’s activities. Mom is intimately involved in them. These are generalizations, of course, and in any of these instances a reversal of the roles is acceptable.

What is unacceptable in our society, and everybody else’s, is a man going to work wearing a dress, nylons, and high heels. Or a woman sitting behind her desk at work wearing a suit, tie, and wingtips while puffing a big cigar. Something’s wrong: anima/animus is askew. It is also askew when people are sexually attracted to others of their own gender. Their personal battle of the sexes has been lost.

Today, you couldn’t count the number of books, articles and “How To” videos that soberly and intellectually address every conceivable aspect of sex. Advertisements for Viagra and Levitra, drugs which treat erectile dysfunction, are everywhere with pitchmen as varied as the Honorable ex-Senator Robert Dole, and that icon of blue collar America, Mike Ditka, the football Hall-of-Famer. One of the golf tournaments on the PGA Tour is the Levitra Western Open. Obviously there are millions of men who can’t get an erection.

Before taking drugs, they should see a shrink to determine if the cause is psychological. It many cases it will be their fear of “their little girl within” who they unconsciously transform into the woman they’re in bed with. Paradoxically, if they’d let the little girl blossom she’ll help them mature. They’ll not become effeminate, which is the unconscious fear; they’ll become more human.

Ours is a macho, “Ford Tough Truck,” society that plays into the fears of many men who believe that tenderness, intimacy and creativity are for girls, or sissies, only. What those men do not understand is that they are being cheated out of expressing parts of themselves that are, indeed, there. Rocking babies, baring the soul, tending the flower garden and creating something out of paint, stone or with pen are not for women only. They are human assets to be nurtured, not neglected or repressed.

Waynesville resident Jim Joyce’s memoir, Use Eagles if Necessary, is being published in weekly installments in The Smoky Mountain News. Each week we begin a chapter in our print edition and then put the entire chapter on our Web site. All previous chapters are available online. The book can be purchased at rockpublishing.com/eagles.htm, and may be ordered through bookstores after May 31.

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