It is true that psychoanalysis takes up questions of ‘sexuality’, and that, (scandalously!) in its Freudo-Lacanian iteration, it affirms the existence of infantile sexuality, and of sexual influence in aetiology.
This ‘sexuality’, however, is itself broken into a number
of different terms, all of which must be carefully demarcated. These include desire, jouissance, sexuation, erogeneity, drive, object and fantasy. These are organised by imaginary, symbolic and real elements, some of which are outside of logos altogether. In this sense, an encounter with sexuality can be traumatic (i.e. beyond representation) even if it is not necessarily abusive.
As a consequence of symbolic and real elements, there is nothing the least bit ‘natural’ about human sexuality. To the extent that some Edenic, ‘natural’ state can be presupposed, it is one, as Freud put it, in which the infantile subject is ‘polymorphously perverse’. Like a number of ‘natural’ bodily functions – sleeping, eating, excretory functions – sexuality develops under the sway of a complex process of socialisation, ritualisation and prohibition. Whilst some analysts in the past – and many other clinicians today – attempt to calibrate a subject’s sexuality to accepted norms, this is not a properly psychoanalytic position. (It should be obvious that it is also a serious ethical error). The teachings of agony aunts and evolutionary psychologists are of little assistance here, and do not overlap with the work of analysts.
All human sexuality is ‘perverse’ in a broad sense, but only a limited portion corresponds to a structural diagnosis of perversion. This latter sense of ‘perversion’ – the perverted subject being a crusader on a mission to provoke jouissance or anxiety in the Other – must be carefully distinguished from contemporary ideology regarding sexual norms. These are the by-product of a neoliberal ideology which reduces all human relations to contractual relations, mediated by the legal fiction of ‘consent’. Contemporary ‘perversion’, in these terms, is therefore a catalogue of instances in which consent is absent or found wanting in some way. To be sure, some of those who are perverts in structural, psychoanalytic terms may very well disregard matters of consent, but this is not a sine qua non condition for the diagnosis.
‘Arousal’ is to be distinguished from desire. It corresponds, rather, to jouissance. Desire is independent of arousal, and hence, a quadriplegic man (for instance) may be perfectly capable of a sexual desire, even if he is incapable of sexual arousal. Desire in neurosis has an intimate complicity with prohibition, and in sexuality, as elsewhere, the sacred and the taboo go hand-in-hand.
The drives and their objects are partial and non-unifiable, and include the oral, anal, the scopic and the invocatory.
There is no sexual relation, and no natural sexuality. Opponents of same-sex marriage say that the man-woman relation is rather like the nut-bolt relation. This is unwittingly apt, since hardware is likewise not ‘natural’, and often fails to work. A consequence of all this is that one requires sexual fantasy as a kind of entry-point into sexual relations. For analytic purposes, fantasies are often much more significant than actual sexual experiences, since, in the latter, anything can happen once the variable of another subject is introduced, whilst in the former, there is a guarantee of subjective implication. It is preciesly at these points or moments of subjective implication that subjects who are otherwise happy to discourse on sexual matters may encounter some embarrassment. The fantasy is often more shameful, more ‘ego-dystonic’, than the orgy.
As Levi-Strauss says of myth, so may we say of sexuality, namely, that every conceivable arrangement can be found. (Online, this is known as Rule 34). Sexuality can be characterised, amongst other things, by a subject’s choice of object, but such characterisations – heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, etc – should be understood as identifications, and not as reified positions. A subject’s sexual behaviour might be very far removed from what is implied in such identifications. Sexuality is not only implicated in aetiology but has its own aetiology, so to speak. It makes no more sense to regard sexual preferences as ‘genetic’ than to consider them a ‘choice’, in the naïve sense in which economists (for example) understand this term.
Sexual development occurs roughly in three waves: infantile sexuality, adolescence, and ‘mature’ adulthood. Of course, psychoanalysts are not Piagetians, and nobody is obliged to follow a theorist’s framework for their sexuality.
Sexuality is separable, in principle and in practice, from love; and indeed, this is where a lot of the problems of neurosis begin. It is because of these beginnings – in repression – that one might be obliged to discuss the subterranean side of life in finding a way through one’s suffering.
Sexuality per se is seldom repressed in toto, even under the most prohibitive circumstances. This is one of the ironies of ‘sex positive’ politics, or attempts to destigmatise the sex industry, since such an industry (or adultery, for that matter) is founded on one type of sexual repression or another.
It is insofar as sexuality is involved in the above list of terms that it matters in psychoanalysis. In contrast to sexology, psychoanalysis is not concerned with reckoning up sexual statistics, classifying sexual nosologies, or prescribing sexual calisthenics.