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1985 - Volume 6, Numbers 1 and 2, Winter and Spring (Special Issue)

The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

Introduction: The Perspective of the Sexual Body
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol 6, No. 1, Pages 1-16, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] The term “the sexual body” is a deliberately chosen one. There may come a day when such a term is in fact a redundancy, when it will be no more than a synonym for “the human body.” At present, however, the term is needed. It has been chosen as the title of this study in order to postulate that consideration of human realities must include the body, and that inherently, the body is sexual, in all the range of meanings that the word has. The term is chosen to prevent the elision, pervasive in most disciplines (indeed within most forms of thought) in contemporary culture, of the whole topic of the sexual (Efron, 1975). In the philosophy of science, this bias shows itself in the title of a volume written by Sir Karl R. Popper and Sir John C. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain (Popper and Eccles, 1977). The interdisciplinary argument of these two distinguished thinkers indeed supposes that the human self possesses or owns a brain, which in turn is connected to the central nervous system. The possibilities for raising mind over body with such an approach are easy, and sexuality need never be discussed. A reader will discover, in fact, that sexuality is absent throughout the book’s 560 pages, even though the authors’ object is to discuss “the relation between our bodies and our minds…” (p. vii). Popper, in his section of the book, acknowledges that the body is good for some things, but certainly not for understanding human identity. With little difficulty Popper commits himself to a view of human nature which once more values mind over body: “Temporally, the body is there before the mind. The mind is a later achievement; and it is more valuable” (p. 115).
Chapter One of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

Psychoanalysis as the Key Discipline
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol 6, No. 1, Pages 17-40, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] In its “classical” period (ca. 1896-1920), and prior to revisions made by Freud and others, psychoanalysis emphasized the sexual etiology of the neuroses, the reality of libido, the omnipresence of sexual thinking in fantasy, dreams and even in cognitive thought, and the failure of civilized morality to understand what sex was about. The theory of Oedipal dynamics entails a potentially strong criticism of the role of the father in culture, inasmuch as it posits an initial gratifying state of contact between the mother and the infant, rudely disrupted by the father with his patriarchal authority at about the time that the infant reaches the age of 3. The father was thus perceived as introducing the first of a long series of adjustments which look suspiciously like denials of the infant’s sexual wishes. These adjustments had to be made by the child, in his or her own mind and body, but without effective conscious awareness of what was being denied. Repression was a sexual matter. The whole theory of repression raised a question that continues to prove threatening to normal assumptions about human life in its sociocultural contexts: was sexual denial warranted? Denial for what? 
Chapter Two of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

Analogues of Original Sin: The Postulate of Innate Destructive Aggression
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol 6, No. 1, Pages 41-56, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] In an earlier article, I have given my account of how it came about that Freud, through his deep loyalties to cultural authority, took steps to water down, and finally to reverse, his early emphasis on the sexual body (Efron, 1977). As a theory, psychoanalysis did not come firmly under the influence of this reversal until the 1920’s, and at first only uncertainly, through Freud’s postulation of a death instinct (Freud, 1920a). The theory of a death instinct is speculative, and it remains in unclear status within psychoanalytic thought today. It is not necessary to discuss it as such, but the issue it raises is important because the postulation of an innately destructive “instinct” of some general description is necessary if the implications pointing toward sexual freedom in Freud’s work of the classical period are to be negated. Today, probaly the bulk of writers who accept psychoanalytic assumptions believe that there is an “aggressive” instinct, and that Freud assumed so too. However, the derivation within Freud’s theorizing of this aggressive instinct is dubious. As the highly perceptive volume on psychoanalytic terms by Laplanche and Pontalis (1973) notes, Freud had explicitly rejected the idea of an aggressive instinct during his classic phase; as these authors also point out, even the death instinct theory of 1920 does not rest on data that bear a relation to “aggressive behavior” (pp. 17,19). Freud of course had an awareness of the reality of aggression in all of his work, but Laplanche and Pontalis are not persuasive in their tacit suggestion that this early practice was but an unexplicit formulation of the later theory of aggression, which Freud had had in mind all the while he actually was stressing the libido, a form of life instinct. Stepansky (1977) has offered an elaborate justification of another kind: Freud had plenty of evidence at hand for the aggressive instinct prior to 1920, but he kept refusing to allow it any theoretical resonance, for reasons determined by Freud’s own psychological needs. For a long time, according to Stepansky, Freud needed to “celebrate the triumph of the libido theory” (Stepansky, 1977, p. 111), and when Freud did begin to comment on the possibility of aggression as an instinct, he did so in the context of repelling Alfred Adler’s attempt to re-center psychoanalysis on a theory of aggression which denied the primacy of sexuality (Stepansky, 1977, pp. 112-142). On the other hand, it could be that Freud knew what he was doing; it may be true, as the distinguished psycohanalyst Gregory Rochlin (past President, Boston Psychoanalytic Society) has claimed, that Freud concentrated on infantile sexual conflicts and “chose to withhold psychoanalytic consideration” of aggression and anything else that might blur his focus upon “conflicts which were plainly and immediately sexual” (Rochlin, 1973, p. 74). If so, it is a sign that he knew what he wanted to emphasize.
Chapter Three of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

The Reichian Tradition: A View of the Sexual Body
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol 6, No. 1, Pages 57-72, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] The only branch of psychoanalytic theory that has developed a coherent sense of the sexual body is that descended from Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Even though Reich was expelled from the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1934, and despite the decline of his reputation in later years, his work continues to hold interest for thinkers in various disciplines and in several countries. I have already highlighted (in “Psychoanalysis as the Key Discipline”) Prescott’s cross-cultural analysis of the connection between physical affection and non-violent adult behavior (Prescott, 1979); this connection may be regarded as a major confirmation of Reich’s theories. A recent issue of the respected French journal, l’Arc (Dadoun, 1983), devoted to Reich is one instance of the live interest in his thought, and one that is by no means confined to his generally acclaimed psychoanalytic work of the period 1919-1934. Without exaggerating the force of the Reichian movement today, it still can be said that his work is attracting far more interest than any of the other dissidents who split off from Freud, such as Adler, Rank, Stekel, Ferenzi, Horney, or Fromm. Jung’s work also is being carried on vigorously, but it has the unique advantage of having its roots in an independent early analytic theory shaped by Jung even prior to his association, 1906-1912, with Freud; it also has an easier time in gaining acceptance in many quarters due to its affinities with traditional religious symbolism and, as I have argued in Chapter Two, because of Jung’s disposition to avoid detailed considerations of sexual problems.
Chapter Four of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

Challenges to Psychoanalytic Theory: Recent Developments
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol 6, No. 1, Pages 73-88, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] Psychoanalysis has always been challenged, or even held in a state of siege, by its commentators and co-workers in other psychological disciplines. Up to now, however, most of the challenges have missed the point. The charges that the theory was a kind of pan-sexualism bothered Freud, but not as much as it has later theorists; Freud sometimes courted this charge, as I have suggested earlier, while his descendants have successfully negated it. By the time of Freud’s visit to the U.S. in 1909, he had emerged from a period of intense theoretical and clinical work during which he had still not credited the reality of sexual instinct in the infant and child (Sulloway, 1979, pp. 111-112, 210-213); the fact that he had felt forced to change his mind on this, and to expand his definition of the sexual body to include the whole of infantile and adult life must have made Freud leary of any temptation to play down the role of the sexual. But of course he did not mean to endorse the later Reichian attitude in which healthy sexuality and health itself were closely correlated. As Sulloway has shown, Freud in fact was gathering heavy opposition in professional circles in Europe at about the time of his visit to the U.S. in 1909, more in fact than in the earlier years when he published his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Freud, 1905b) or his Interpretation of Dreams (1900). An awarness was growing that Freud was not merely endorsing the importance of the sexual body. He was showing its connections with too many other areas. There were others in Europe who courageously emphasized the need for attention to sex, but none who both dared to write about it in plain language (instead of Latin euphemisms, such as Kraft-Ebbing used), and who at the same time connected sexuality with neurotic symptom formation (Sulloway, 1979, pp. 205, 457).
Chapter Five of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

Reinventing the Asexual Infant: On the Recent “Explosion” in Infant Research
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol 6, No. 2, Pages 89-126, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] The recent revolution in the study of the infant involves a massive theoretical shift from considering the infant as “a passive organism who was the object of forces which determine development,” a view taken in very different ways by Freud, Watson, and Gesell, to the mapping out of the competencies that infants have and of the limits to those capabilities. In the years after 1960, “there has been an explosion of infant research of all kinds, and our knowledge continues to expand at a rapid rate” (Appleton, Clifton, and Goldberg, 1975, pp. 102-103). The term “explosion” has occured repeatedly in the research literature (Klein, 1981b, p. 7; Stern, 1977, p. 144; Stone, Smith and Murphy, 1973, p. vii; Stratton, 1982a, p. 1), and by now things have simmered down. Some have urged that the revolution is over and it is time to get on with other, more important things. But it would be hard to deny that there has been a great access of new and surprising findings in the study of the infant, with results that are confusing.
Chapter Six of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

The Adult Sexual Body: A Missing Theory
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol 6, No. 2, Pages 127-178, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] In adult sexuality, there has been no research explosion underway, at least not since the heyday of Masters and Johnson. It might be more correct to refer to an “explosion hangover,” a period of relative complacency during which it was assumed that the major facts about adult sex had become “known.” Masters and Johnson initially were to little concerned with emotions, with relationships, and with adult psychology in general, to prevent their extraordinary empirical findings from being taken as a script for the oversimplification of sexuality. There was one earlier, more limited, but potentially explosive breakthrough, however, which promised to give a new and profound sense of the mind-body, sexuality and dream relationships. That breakthrough in sleep research was reported (among other places) in a book widely distributed within the psychoanalytical community. I refer to Charles Fisher’s “Dreaming and Sexuality” (1966), first presented as the A.A. Brill Memorial Lecture for the New York Psychoanalytic Society in November, 1965, and then printed in a memorial volume dedicated to Heinz Hartmann. Fisher offered to his psychoanalytic audience and readers some excellent empirical evidence showing a strong correlation between the occurrence of adult male erections in sleep, and the occurrence of REM dreaming. The correlation was shown to continue into advanced age, even into the years during which the male dreamers no longer engaged in sexual intercourse. Fisher expressed the modest enough hope that his work might be “a contribution to the psychobiological investigation of the id, “and that it would help to fulfill Freud’s goal “for a future meeting of psychoanalysis and physiology…” (p. 567). The hypotheses Fisher drew from his research were that some daytime perceptions and feelings are processed within the dream work, and that the genital area of the body is indispensible in the neurophysiological event. Sexuality thus acquires an additional and little understood dimension. The erections of REM dreamers were not related to recent sexual gratification. Attempts to correlate dream affect with degree of erection were not successful while correlations with dream content were found. Fisher found that when the content was erotic, rapid erection accompanied the REM dream, but if the content was anxiety-provoking (castration anxiety, in the psychoanalytic terminology), detumescence set in promptly. Similar findings were reported independently by Karacen, Goodenough, Shapiro, and Witkin (1965). Such a set of findings would appear to be definite support for Freud’s classical psychoanalytic position which postulates sexual body connections for an enormous range of mental functions. His masterwork, The Interpertation of Dreams (Freud, 1900), connects dreaming with sexuality in innumerable ways. Speaking even more generally, Freud wrote in 1905: “…I can only repeat over and over again-for I never find it otherwise-that sexuality is the key to the problem of the psychoneuroses and that of the neuroses in general. No one who disdains the key will ever be able to unlock the door.” (1905a, p. 115) Freud realized that “the chemical changes” in the human organism which must provide an “organic basis” for the neuroses were not available to the scientific world of 1905; But he held that “we should expect to find” such changes, given a more powerful method of inquiry (Freud, 1905a, p. 113). The correlations of REM dreaming and penile erection might well be taken as an indication of an essential link between sexuality and the human mind. The meanings of the correlation are still unclear; they could be regarded as an “index of limbic activity” in the brain during REM dreaming, as Kline (1981, p. 319) points out. This still would be a facet of the sexual body, and one more such aspect that would cause us to expand and revise our overall theory of sexuality.
Chapter Seven of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

The Sexual Body, Pschoanalysis and Science: Bowlby, Peterfreund, and Kohut
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol. 6, No. 2, Pages 179-218, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] The last two chapters have shown that the sexual body is a perspective demanding a complexity of critical understanding. The complications probably exceed whatever concepts of sexuality existed at the time of Freud’s classical period. The perspective demands consideration of research on sexuality in a way that never loses contact with the problematic flesh and blood realities of the body, yet it does not encourage the temptation to think that we can some day uncover the preexisting “reality” or “essence” of sexuality that we have just not happened to find previously. As Dewey would have warned, there is no certainty to be sought for in the perspective of the sexual body, although there is every reason to attempt to increase human security by taking hold of the research results we do have and using them intelligently, as Dewey also held (Dewey, 1929b). Psychoanalysis as the key discipline for this perspective has not absorbed or integrated the material presented in the last two chapters, but it remains the only discipline which is ultimately committed to do so. Although the theories of Melanie Klein, D.W. Winnicott, Anna Freud, Margaret Mahler, Erik Erikson, George S. Klein, and others in the psychoanalytic tradition have been shown to be seriously deficient in their understanding of the sexual body, there is also a set of recent theorists who provide genuine revision of certain key aspects of psychoanalytic thought. In these newer theories, the sexual body is not pushed out of sight, or at least the denials are of a different and probably less severe character. In fact, well before the recent simultaneous emergence of a series of critical issues for psychoanalytic theory, that is, before the infant research explosion, before the “trouble” in the Freud archives over Freud’s virtual giving up of the “seduction” theory, and before the renewed interest in Freud as a “biologist of the mind” and not a thinker who could get along without the body, there have been highly challenging reconstructive projects under way in psychoanalytic theory. What seems to be different about the work of John Bowlby, Emanuel Peterfreund, and Heinz Kohut, in contrast to many other reformist efforts such as those of Schafer (1976, 1980), is a possibility for accommodation with the sexual body rather than an effort to dispense with it. Two of these theorists, Peterfreund and Kohut, avoid basing their work on the model of the infant sexual body; they have a real sense of adult sexual life which appears frequently in their writings, even though its position within their theoretical structures is ambiguous or even dubious. Bowlby has continued to develop theory on the basis of infant and early childhood considerations, but he has moved a long way from the object-relations school of psychoanalysis, in which he originally began developing his theory (Bowlby, 1984, p. 37). Although Bowlby and Peterfreund developed their theories without knowledge of each other’s activity, they have each come to recognize an affinity between their two approaches (Bowlby, 1981; Peterfreund, 1980).
Chapter Eight of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

Lichtenstein, Holland, and Lacan: Ambivalence Toward the Sexual Body, Cooptation, and Defiance
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol. 6, No. 2, Pages 219-242, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] In this chapter I wish to examine the recent psychoanalytic revisionist theories of two more thinkers, Heinz Lichtenstein and Jacques Lacan. Lichtenstein’s theory contains provisions which appear to be most favorable to the sexual body, perhaps the most explicit which have been made in the past twenty years within a large comprehensive theory. This explicit emphasis on sexuality is probably exactly what guaranteed that Lichtenstein would be either ignored among other psychoanalytic thinkers or that he would have his theory taken over, co-opted, by others who would de-sexualize it. The desexualization in fact took place in the one field where Lichtenstein has made an impact, that is, in the literary criticism of Norman N. Holland. Lacan’s theory, on the other hand, appears to be flourishing even though — unlike Lichtenstein’s — it is expressed in terminology that is thoroughly innovative and in language that is extremely hard to comprehend (as almost all his readers agree). Perhaps Lacan made certain that his theory would not be taken over or co-opted by those who might wish to bowdlerize it; he seems the perfect examplar, in fact, of C.S. Pierce’s insight into the “moral aspect” of scientific terminology. Pierce maintained that if you do not want your theory taken over by “loose thinkers,” then it should have a “technical vocabulary” which is “composed of words so unattractive” that only serious investigators will dare to adopt it (Pierce, quoted by Hyman, 1955, pp. 369-370). As Alderman points out, there is a strong tradition of semi-deliberate obscurity in European thought, especially in thought that aspires to impart radical insights (Alderman, 1977). Lacan is certainly part of that tradition. But the flourishing of Lacanian theory is also due, I suspect, to its definitive and sophisticated effort to separate psychoanalytic thinking from the sexual body once and for all.
Chapter Nine of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

World Hypotheses and Interdisciplinary Sciences in Intimate Relation
Arthur Efron, State University of New York at Buffalo
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Winter 1985, Vol. 6, No. 2, Pages 243-286, ISSN 0271-0137
[Note: First paragraph, no abstract avilable.] The perspective of the sexual body seems to have been turning up in each of the disciplines I have discussed. Such ubiquity, however, may be a mixed blessing insofar as the perspective is intended to clearly exhibit interdisciplinary relationships amd at the same time make for a more valuable, coherent study of sexuality in all its dimensions. To what extent is the perspective a potentially scientific point of view? As Pepper understood the problem of scientific hypotheses, none of the hypotheses of science can be considered to have unrestricted scope (Pepper. 1982). Yet the perspective of the sexual body threatens to balloon interminably. I have attempted to show that psychoanalysis is the key discipline for such a perspective, but the key may not act as a useful control precisely because it is grounded in an incompletely specified theory of sexuality. Indeed, Freud’s grasp of the necessarily open definition of sexuality, given his new insights into pyschosocial pervasiveness, was probably a saving element in his own integrity as a scientific thinker, for as Willbern has argued, Freud tended his most intimate fantasy life (as shown in his dreams) to move toward a sense of closure and certainty (Willbern, 1979). The fact that in his theory of sexuality Freud resisted this tendency, this deep need of his own personality. gave psychoanalysis its resilience as a potentially scientific discipline; within the psychoanalytic tradition, sexuality became an unending series of “objects of knowledge” (Dewey, 1929a), rather than a hopelessly dogmatic claim to have “discovered” what sexuality “is.” Sexuality might also be illuminated by disciplines outside of psychoanalysis. Freud’s hope that biology would eventually contribute an understanding of the psychology of bisexuality is one instance (see Chapter Seven). It is one instance out of many in which the results of research in one discipline regarding sexuality will affect not merely one or more theories in other specializations, but will cause larger ripples in the shared social and scientific assumptions about the general nature of sexuality. What seems to occur in such cross-fertilization of the disciplines, wherever sexuality is the focus, is the development of a large, unlimited hypothesis which Pepper would not call a scientific hypothesis at all (even though it must have empirical foundations in order to be cognitively valuable). Instead, the scientific understanding of sexuality, when it includes the psychological dimensions of sex, tends to move toward becoming a world hypothesis (Pepper, 1942). The perspective of the sexual body, in other words, may turn out to be a way of focusing upon the sexual elements in any hypothesis of what the world is probably like, but it may also prove to be a generating force in theory for the construction of a relatively new and relatively adequate world hypothesis.
Chapter Ten of the book The Sexual Body: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

 


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