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Lecture 10

PHL 606 Lecture 10: PHL Module 10 – Sexual Perversion and Freud and Perversion

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PHL 606
Christopher Thomson

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PHL Module 10 Sexual Perversion and Freud and Perversion Sexual Perversion if there are any sexual perversions, they will have to be sexual desires or practices that can be plausibly described as in some sense unnatural, though the explanation of this natural/unnatural distinction is of course the main problem. Second, certain practices will be perver- sions if anything is, such as shoe fetishism, bestiality, and sadism; other practices, such as unadorned sexual intercourse, will not be; about still others there is controversy. Third, if there are perversions, they will be unnatural sexual inclinations rather than merely un- natural practices adopted not from inclination but for other reasons. "Sexual desire is simply one of the appetities, like hunger and thirst. As such it may have various objects, some more common than others perhaps, but none in any sense 'natural'. An appetite is identi- fied as sexual by means of the organs and erogenous zones in which its satisfaction can be to some extent localized, and the special sensory pleasures which form the core of that satisfaction. This enables us to recognize widely divergent goals, activities, and desires as sexual, since it is conceivable in principle that anything should produce sexual pleasure and that a nondeliberate, sexually charged desire for it should arise (as a result of conditoning, if nothing else). Hunger and eating are importantly like sex in that they serve a biological function and also play a significant role in our inner lives. It is noteworthy that there is little temptation to describe as perverted an appetite for sub- stances that are not nourishing. We should probably not consider someone's appetites as perverted if he liked to eat paper, sand, wood, or cotton. Those are merely rather odd and very unhealthy tastes: they lack the psychological complexity that we expect of perversions. What helps in such cases is the peculiarity of the desire itself, rather than the inappropriateness of its object to the biological function that the desire serves. We approach the sexual attitude toward the person through the features that we find attractive, but these features are not the objects of that attitude. Sartre's treatment of sexual desire and of love, hate, sadism, masochism, and further atti- tudes toward others, depends on a general theory of consciousness and the body which we can neither expound nor assume here. He says that the type of possession that is the object of sexual desire is carried out by "a double reciprocal incarnation" and that this is accomplished, typically in the form of a caress, in the following way: "I make myself flesh in order to impel the Other to realize for- herself and for me her own flesh, and my caresses cause my flesh to be born for me in so far as it is for the Other flesh causing her to be born as flesh Sexual desire involves a kind of perception, but not merely a single perception of its object, for in the paradigm case of mutual desire there is a complex system of superimposed mutual perceptions- not only perceptions of the sexual object, but perceptions of oneself. Moreover,sexual awareness of another involves considerable self- awareness to begin with-more than is involved in ordinary sensory perception. The experience is felt as an assault on oneself by the view (or touch, or whatever) of the sexual object. Let us say that X senses Y whenever X re- gards Y with sexual desire. (Y need not be a person, and X's appre- hension of Y can be visual, tactile, olfactory, etc., or purely imaginary; in the present example we shall concentrate on vision.) Every real sexual act will be psychologically far more specific and detailed, in ways that depend not only on the physical techniques employed and on anatomical details, but also on countless features of the participants' conceptions of themselves and of each other, which become embodied in the act. Sex has a related structure: it involves a desire that one's partner be aroused by the recognition of one's desire that he or she be aroused. All stages of sexual perception are varieties of identification of a person with his body. What is perceived is one's own or another's subjection to or immersion in his body, a phenomenon which has been recognized with loathing by St. Paul and St. Augustine, both of whom regarded "the law of sin which is in my members" as a grave threat to the dominion of the holy will.3 In sexual desire and its ex- pression the blending of involuntary response with deliberate control is extremely important sexual desire leads to spontaneous interactions with other persons, whose bodies are asserting their sovereignty
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