Thursday, November 3, 2011

psychoanalytic basics- the sex drive and natural heterosexuality

Freud starts from the naturalistic ground that sexuality in all other animals with the exception of higher mammals and humans, who can take non-genital objects, have their sexuality instinctively pointed towards genital intercourse. This means that the question of sexual orientation is not just one of being gay vs. straight but rather of having heterosexual intercourse vs. kissing, oral sex, petting, etc. which are ‘perversions’ no less than homosexuality. Freud writes:

The normal sexual aim is regarded as being the union of the genitals in the act known as copulation, which leads to a release of the sexual tension and a temporary extinction of the sexual instinct—a satisfaction analogous to the sating of hunger. But even in the most normal sexual process we may detect rudiments which, if they had developed, would have led to the deviations described as ‘perversions’. For there are certain intermediate relations to the sexual object, such as touching and looking at it, which lie on the road towards copulation and are recognized as being preliminary sexual aims. On the one hand these activities are themselves accompanied by pleasure, and on the other hand they intensify the excitation, which should persist until the final sexual aim is attained. Moreover, the kiss, one particular contact of this kind, between the mucous membrane of the lips of the two people concerned, is held in high sexual esteem among many nations (including the most highly civilized ones), in spite of the fact that the parts of the body involved do not form part of the sexual apparatus but constitute the entrance to the digestive tract. (Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexulaity, p.149-50).

Freud uses psychosexual fixations to account for how the ‘pleasure’ that normally belongs only to the desire of the male for female genitalia and vice versa to arise. As the sex drive leans on the self-preservative instinct the child will inevitably encounter frustration when deprived of its object and when the psychic tension reaches a quantitative level that threatens the entire apparatus there is a primal repression [1]. It later becomes possible that the sexuality which would normally express itself in the genitals cathects one or more of these fixations. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who kisses gets ‘pleasure’ from it, no more than saying that everyone who sings the national anthem must have feelings of patriotism for their country. Some people kiss and some people sing because they want to be seen as ‘normal’, believe that this is what the other person wants of them, do so out of imitation of role models, etc. Analogously, we can discern the real, full belly laugh from laughter which is polite, nervous, self-conscious, or compulsive in some other way. Different cultures will have different erogenous zones that they promote and others that they see to be taboo and individuals within a culture will differ in what gives them pleasure if they experience any at all (some will be anhedonic). In the end Freud sees perversions (i.e. foreplay) as normal so long as it subsumed under genital sex [2].

[1]. Primal repression is “fixation[:]… one instinct or instinctual component fails to accompany the rest along the anticipated normal development path… then behaves in relation to the system of the unconscious, like one that is repressed” (Freud, Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia, p. 67).

[2]. In Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness Freud writes that perversion “degrades the relationship of love between two human beings from a serious matter to a convenient game, attended by no risk and no spiritual participation” (Freud, Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness, p. 200). However, there is a difference between perversionS and perversion in which conscious fantasies of having sex with another, of hurting the woman with one’s penis, of being raped, of having intercourse to be ‘naughty’, mean that a person uses another or ‘fucks’ them. Fantasied genitality, as with homosexuals who still have a ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ and therefore a feminine and masculine relation, would constitute what is important in love and not the actual heterosexual intercourse.

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