As my view of my own sexuality broadens, as I accept the nuances that many are too afraid to admit, two parallel processes occur in me: I gain more acceptance of myself and others while also feeling the pain of integrating the discoveries (the fact that a part of me wishes to fight against it and go along with social mores).
It is unfortunate that exploring “sexual identity” is so often reduced to the search for what gender(s) one prefers. I do not wish to minimize how vitally important this is for people and how crucial it is that we embrace people’s identities along this dimension. I only mean that so much of our sexuality identity is tied into areas that go beyond this and that we need to own if we are to know our depths.
When I was in my twenties many of my fantasies revolved around sexual interactions with older women. When I explored what this meant I could only come up with one explanation. And while the one explanation has an element of truth within it, “truth” without nuance is often more misleading or dangerous than falsehood. The overly simplistic conclusion I would come to is that I was broken by my mother’s abandonment and that I was sexualizing the pain. No, I withdraw that last sentence–I did not have these words for the experience back then. The words then would have been: stop being a weirdo–get over your mommy issues and start thinking about something more appropriate. This had the effect of making the fantasy even more taboo and, therefore, even more appealing. If I could guide my early 20’s self I would have said to him: yeah, maybe there is an element of seeking a mother in a lover. That makes perfect sense. Our inner lives are rich and complex and full of mazes and dark rooms and things that we don’t like to admit to ourselves. You never experienced the appropriately sensual experience of a mother’s gaze; you never received nourishment from a mother’s breast. It’s no wonder you long for that. It’s not weird, rather it seems right on point.
This is perhaps a tame example. I have fantasies that would be judged more harshly than this one. Fantasies that are private or that have only been explored within the context of a safe partnership. I will not allude to these fantasies out of discretion and will instead refer to fantasies or fetishes that are not my own but that I have discovered through conversation, my work with patients and “accidental” discovery.
I learned through a friend the other day that there were already pornographic videos related to the coronavirus. Once I got past my amazement at how quickly such a thing was capitalized upon I thought immediately about how much sense this made (incidentally another friend taught me that this was merely an offshoot of an already existing fetish related to illness and receiving care). For one, there are many people who may have either lacked attentive care in their childhood or, conversely, who only received attention when they were ill. If my reader is willing to accept the premise that all consensual touch and love and care contains life force and, therefore, has a sexual component within it (and if they don’t then none of what I am writing means much to them anyway), then suddenly this fetish is no longer “strange” or “weird”. It may be something that does nothing for you, but that does not make it strange.
Additionally, it makes sense that someone would deal with the fear of this pandemic through sexual fantasy. Many people deal with their traumas in such a way. For example, people who have been sexually traumatized often fantasize about the same type of trauma as a way of feeling more in control of it (it should be mentioned that not everyone who has such fantasies needs to have been sexually traumatized).
One might argue the following point: sexuality, broadly speaking, does not have to be connected to sexual acts and genitalia. To this person I say: I agree. That is why when I notice that I’m fantasizing to the detriment of my lived experience I often end up realizing that there is a more basic unmet need or a trauma beneath it. A need that is often too painful or vulnerable to admit to and to share. For example, it is often too painful to admit that I feel alone and want badly to be held. I often turn that into a sort of numbing sexual scenario in order to avoid that pain and emptiness. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. So many couples call each other “baby”. So many partners (especially in Latino cultures) call each other “mami” and “papi”. For me it only becomes a problem when I realize that I am avoiding something important too frequently. It is not for me to decide when it is a problem for someone else.
I believe that it is vital that we make space for and follow our fantasies; especially our taboo ones (a crucial point here is to say that “following” does not mean “enacting”). We do ourselves and others a disservice by not doing so. One of the more common examples of the pain we inflict by not doing so comes to me from books and from my clients. Often a girl who was the apple of her father’s eye will notice a father distancing themselves when they reach puberty. In most cases this is because they father notices that his “girl” is growing into a “woman” and he feels guilt for feeling attracted to her. So the father overcompensates: avoiding eye contact; giving less affection; etc. The vast majority of these fathers are not pedophiliacs and would never act on that attraction in a way that traumatizes anyone. Rather they have simply learned that because incest is a taboo, it should not only be avoided as an act but as a passing thought. By relying on avoidance they can leave their daughters confused and wondering what they may have done wrong.
Another example is one that directly relates to the field that I am in. Developing sexual feelings for a patient (whether they are passing feelings or deeply felt ones) is common. To deny these feelings will interrupt the business of healing and will cause indirect harm. And so it is vital to admit these feelings to oneself and to speak to a colleague or therapist about them. I have never once failed to work through such feelings and, almost inevitably, they point me to what is really going on. I have never once in my career had a dual relationship with a patient (neither dating nor friendship) despite leading an often lonely and solitary life. I do not say this arrogantly, I say it with the upmost humility. It is because I admit that I am capable of harming a client in such a way that I minimize the possibility of it ever happening. Unfortunately my graduate program talked about this as though it were nothing but a sidebar. It was relegated to a chapter or to a few minutes of a class when, in reality, there should be entire courses dedicated to this!
The more I age the more I realize that my sexuality is a really messy, beautiful, dark, joyful, scary and exciting thing. I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand it or entirely make peace with it. But it feels good to admit this. It feels good to have friends who do not judge or shame me. It feels liberating to acknowledge that my relationship to it as as sprawling a mess as this entry. A sprawling mess that feels less dangerous when I allow some light into it.