7 Things Sigmund Freud “Nailed” About Love & Sex
If there is one thing that almost all of my patients speak about in psychoanalytic psychotherapy in one shape or form, it’s LOVE. Am I really lovable? How do I make my relationship work? Why can’t I find a stable partner? Is there something I am doing wrong? Sound familiar? Maybe you are one of the few people out there who doesn’t ask themselves similar questions.
Either way, we all NEED to feel loved, especially around Valentine’s Day. Love, sex, fantasies, and relationships are on our minds today consciously AND unconsciously. If we’re being honest, when it comes to sex and love, Sigmund Freud got some things wrong (i.e. there is no such thing as a clitoral orgasm), BUT he did get some things right. The American Psychoanalytic Association shares with us what they are:
7 Things Sigmund Freud “Nailed” About Sex & Love
1) Sexuality is Everyone’s Weakness – and Strength: Sex is a prime motivator and common denominator for all of us. Even the most prudent, puritanical-appearing individuals may struggle greatly against their sexual appetites and expression. For evidence one need only look to the many scandals that have rocked the Vatican and fundamentalist churches alike. Freud observed this prurient struggle in men and women early on in Victorian Vienna. But our sexuality defines us in healthy and altogether essential ways, too. If you don’t believe your Freudian therapist, just ask Samantha Jones, from HBO’s Sex and the City.
2) Every Part of the Body is Erotic: Freud knew that human beings were sexual beings right from the start. He took his inspiration from the baby nursing at the mother’s breast to illustrate the example of a more mature sexuality, saying, “No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction later in life.” He knew, too, that sexual excitation is not restricted to genitalia, as pleasure is achieved through erotic attachment to potentially any idiosyncratically defined area of the body. Even today many people have great difficulty accepting this idea.
3) Homosexuality is Not A Mental Illness: He noted that gay people are often distinguished by especially high intellectual development and ethical culture. In 1930, he signed a public statement to repeal a law that criminalized homosexuality. And in his famous letter to a mother wishing to cure her son of homosexuality, Freud wrote, “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness.” This was in 1935.
4) All Love Relationships Contain Ambivalent Feelings: Among Freud’s various discoveries was the ambivalence involved in all close and intimate relationships. While we may consciously feel genuine and realistic loving towards a spouse, partner, parent or child, things are never exactly what they seem. In the world of the unconscious, beneath even the most loving and caring involvement are feelings, fantasies, and ideas that are negative, hateful, and destructive. Freud recognized that this mixture of love and hate in close relationships is part of human nature and not necessarily pathologic.
5) We Learn to Love from our Early Relationships with Parents and Caregivers: Our early relationships with parents and caregivers help us to form a “love map” that persists throughout our lives. This is sometimes referred to as “transference.” Freud pointed out that when we find a love object we are actually “re-finding” it. Hence the often recognized phenomenon of individuals who select partners that remind them of their mother/father. We’ve all seen it.
6) Our Loved One Becomes a Part of Ourselves: Freud noted that the characteristics, beliefs, feelings and attitudes of those we love become incorporated into ourselves–part of the psyche. He termed this process “internalization.” His concept concerning the depth of connection between people is contained in such expressions as referring to our loved one as “my better half.”
7) Fantasy is an Important Factor in Sexual Excitement: Freud observed that sexual excitement comes from three directions: the external world (relationships, sexual history), the organic interior (sex hormones) and mental life (sexual fantasies). In our sexual fantasies we often conjure up all kinds of strange and “perverse” scenarios which add to sexual excitement and hopefully lead to climatic pleasure. This is quite normal and it doesn’t mean that we actually want to engage in such scenarios (or maybe we do). Think about it, Valentine’s Day is a sexual and romantic fantasy. Many of us love the day, others loathe it, some are ambivalent and scared. All perfectly normal. So choose to engage or don’t.
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