How sex can become gender and gender sex
Feminist therapy began with an understanding of the importance of gender and its distinction from sex and sexuality. Even this distinction is not as clear as we thought it to be when we began to study it more deeply and to add epigenetic knowledge. Nevertheless, it has allowed therapists to understand more clearly some of the differences in female and male sexuality in general. In my more than forty years of conducting psychotherapy and supervising generations of therapists, I have come to understand some of these issues very deeply. In this blog, I want to focus on some of those differences and how to deal with them if you are in a sexual relationship that includes any of these issues.
One of the first discoveries of feminist therapy involved the stunning number of women who had been molested as children. This was soon followed by the revelation of the significant number of men who were also sexually molested by religious leaders, sports figures and other male authorities whom they admired or feared. Fifty years later, this understanding has evolved into the now worldwide Me Too! Movement. However, there are still many victims who do not consciously remember these experiences or feel too much shame to reveal them.
Nevertheless, the body remembers and so does the unconscious, often resulting in compulsive sexuality, reluctance to be sexual, inability to participate in a healthy way in sexual relationships or many other symptoms.
Generally speaking, these people need a trained and experienced therapist to overcome these wounds. They suffer from what we currently name Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in all its manifestations. These are experiential issues. They are wounds and scars from wounds.
Biological differences include, in general, males experiencing a more genitally focused sexuality, more frequent arousal and the tendency to be able to bypass what was called “foreplay” by phallocentric sex researchers and therapists. Since male genitals are external, the patriarchal gaze emphasizes size. Feminist therapists, early on, criticized Freud for his focus on the male experience as normative. He also considered female sexuality to be defined by the vagina and not the clitoris, as it is the recipient of the penis. Post-Freudians, such as Foucaultand Lacanare closer to feminists in defining the phallus as a symbol of power in a patriarchal society. There are many French feminists who have been influenced by these theorists and, as well, there are many feminist critiques of their still male-centered ideas.
What does all this theory, biology and philosophy mean for your own experience? It may mean that love is not enough, by which I mean that sexual compatibility is a separate issue to be explored in the beginnings of a relationship. It requires a simple discussion. “What is your sexual history? What do you like and what do you dislike?” It simply means that sexuality is very complex with multiple biological and experiential influences. For many, it is equated with extreme vulnerability and, in those cases, should be handled with care and often with professional assistance.
Foucault versus Freud,On Sexuality and the Unconscious,” in E. Dorfman and J. De Vlemnick (ed.), Sexuality and Psychoanalysis: Philosophical Criticisms, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2010
Jaques Lacan, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2018.
Rubin, G. (Thinking Sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sex in C. Vance, Pleasure and Danger, New York: Routledge Press.