Category: Slideshow

Hysteria – In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play – Wilma

“Hysteria” this new movie is based on the play “In the Next Room or the Vibrator play,” which was presented at the Wilma Theatre this past March. I gave a talkback after one of the plays that offered esoteric information concerning the treatment of sexual pleasure during the Victorian Era. The following is a transcript of my talkback. I have re-posted since I believe the information is most relevant and the movie has just been released.

I shall apologize upfront, I’m going to answer this question (What is hysteria and why was it popularized during the Victorian Era?) by reading from my notes, I don’t want to leave anything out. Perhaps some of you can relate to this problem, and no, the vibrator doesn’t seem to have any positive effect on the lack of memory syndrome, at least not mine.

During this past week I have spent much time researching the symptoms of hysteria. I’ll mention just a few that I noted in my reading – faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, headaches, melancholy, emotional instability, aggression, depression, lower abdominal heaviness, loss of appetite for food or sex, tendency to cause trouble, and I could go on and on.

The history of the notion of hysteria goes back to ancient times; Hippocrates mentioned it in his writings, but it was Plato’s theory of the wandering uterus that is the source of the name.  His theory describes a pattern of symptoms associated with the sexual frustration of women who remain childless too long after puberty.  Freud and his colleagues considered it to be the first rudimentary theory of psychosexual frustration. Linguistically uterus and hysteria are related.

Galen, a prominent physician from the second century, wrote that hysteria was a disease caused by sexual deprivation in particularly passionate women: hysteria was noted quite often in virgins, nuns, widows and, occasionally, married women. The prescription in medieval and renaissance medicine was intercourse if married, marriage if single, or massage to “paroxysm” by a midwife. Galen proclaimed “Arising from the touch of the genital organs required by the treatment, there follows twitchings accompanied at the same time by pain and pleasure…from that time she is free of all the evil she felt.” And then we skip to the mid – 1800’s.
Why were so many women during the Victorian Era being diagnosed with this malady?

First there is the Victorian physician’s thoughts on women, keep in mind the majority of physicians were men. The textbook on physiology most in use among early Victorian medical students stated, “woman is greatly inferior to man in reasoning powers, extent of use, originality, and grandeur of computation, as well as in corporeal strength. Women possess a small range of intelligence and less permanence of complexion, less consistency, impetuosity courage, firmness of character except were affection subsist.  She is more disposed to believe all things compared to all persons, to adopt the opinions and habits of others, has no originality, but follows and imitates men.” These words are the foundation of how the medical community treated Victorian women’s health status, including sexuality.

These women were not allowed to freely engage themselves in sexual acts unless it was with the specific purpose of procreation. A woman’s worth before marriage rested in her chastity, and once married she was expected to engage only in conjugal acts when necessary.  Any sexual desires experienced by women were considered to be in contradiction with the proper definition of virtue. According to the text “The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America” sexual promiscuity was an “ominous indication of national decay, and not a sign of women’s liberation.”

Although this was the mainstream view during Victorian times, many early love manuals actually emphasized sexual intercourse for pleasure.However, women’s sexual satisfaction rested on the traditional model of sexual response, it assumes all women get as much pleasure from vaginal intercourse as men. Even though it has been shown that the majority of women do not achieve orgasm in this fashion, but through direct stimulation of the clitoris.

Women were also considered less highly sexed than men, therefore women who exhibited any form of excess sexual desire were believed by the medical community fated either to become prostitutes or enter insane asylums. According to the first full-length study on nymphomania, “eating rich food, consuming too much chocolate, dwelling on impure thoughts, reading novels, or performing “secret pollutions” a euphemism for masturbating, may overstimulate women’s delicate nerve fibers and could lead to nymphomania.

We now have replaced the term nymphomania with sexual addiction, an equally controversial term within the field of sexology.

And so you ask why women didn’t take matters, literally into their own hands, and masturbate? Typical thoughts on female masturbation during this era.

Dr. Blackwell the first female physician to graduate from an American medical school, was a feminist and felt it was wrong to think that women were any less sexual than their male counterparts. And yet she too disapproved of masturbation, calling it, “a vice from which all other forms of unnatural vice springs.” She blamed it for domestic violence, and for making both women and men lose their self-control.

Girls were even restricted from riding horses or bicycles, sewing, and squatting down to do laundry because the feelings associated with these activities could lead to masturbation.

This past year has seen much news on the controversial female genital cuttings, also known as ritual clitoridectomy being performed by certain tribes in Africa. This procedure was also recommended during the Victorian Era. From what I have read clitoridectomies were not performed often, but I certainly noted several professional papers and books written during the Victorian Era promoting this procedure as a cure for female masturbation.

A former president of the Louisiana State Board of Health, felt masturbation resulted in ‘hopeless insanity.’ This insanity could also be inherited from the offspring of a person that masturbated. As a result, females thought to be masturbating were subject to a clitoridectomy.

Dr. Kellog, created his own signature food designed to curb masturbatory urges and sexual desires. He believed that a child should be served cold, instead of hot cereals at breakfast, in order to avoid the itch to masturbate. Think about this the next time you eat Kellog’s corn flakes.

Dr. Kellog also claimed that a masturbating woman was likely to suffer from nervous exhaustion and emaciation, as well flat-chestedness, memory loss, fickleness, and an irritable disposition.

In his text “Plain facts for old and young” he described numerous ways to stop children from masturbating. Specifically for females, his remedy was to pour a bit of pure carbolic acid, a toxic liquid and disinfectant, also known as phenol, directly on the clitoris so that it burned so badly that no girl would ever want to touch there again.

Although the drastic measures were by no means the norm, it still shows the strict code of virtue imposed on sexuality in the Victorian age.

As I mentioned earlier the mid-wife was the first practitioner to perform manual stimulation, but then the physicians realized this was a huge source of income because the treatments are constant, and the patient never dies from the therapy. Unfortunately the treatment consumed an inordinate amount of time, since the doctors were not always skilled at performing the task at hand. Then Kranzberg’s Second Law of technology: “Invention is the mother of necessity” came to rescue the physician from his tedious task and the vibrator was born. Initially it was water-powered, then steam-powered and finally the vibrator became one of the earliest devices to be converted to electricity.

Early electric vibrators were strictly for professional use in the doctor’s office, but as technology improved and the size of the vibrator got smaller, the devices were sold by retailers such as Sears, Roebuck and Co. and advertised in women’s magazines, such as “Needlepoint” with photos of women using them to massage their scalp. It was the fifth appliance electrified, predating the vacuum cleaner and iron by a decade.

The play was true to the notion of doctors believing that the paroxysm they were creating had no relationship to orgasm. This belief also veiled the production of vibrators by over a dozen manufacturers, including Hamilton Beach and General Electric.

It is speculated that the sudden disappearance of vibrators from the market relates to them appearing in stag films. In Widow’s Delight, a porn film of the 1920s, a woman comes home with her date, chastely pushes him away, and then rushes into her bedroom, rips off her clothes, and pulls out her vibrator.
Physicians and manufacturers could no longer pretend what they were being used for. The vibrator only re-emerged due to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Hysteria was finally officially removed as a disease by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, however the source of female hysteria, sexual frustration still exists. Many in the medical profession continue to use the intercourse-followed-by-muscle spasm style orgasm as standard for female sexual satisfaction. There is an entire industry that has sprung up on this notion, it started with Viagra.

However, the sexuality of women is still a difficult subject for people to accept. An over the counter natural arousal gel for women can’t get TV air time because the very idea of female sexual desire makes people squirm. Yet Viagra and Trojan vibrators get prime time.

I will leave you with one final thought from Gina Ogden, sex researcher and author on topics relating to women, sex and spirituality, “Depending on how you define orgasm (and sexologists have so far been unable to agree on one, all-encompassing definition), there are also whole-body orgasms, thought orgasms, heart orgasms, love orgasms, and orgasms that reveal God, Goddess and the entire unifying principle of the universe…. women, they will tell you, that having an orgasm or two or ten is only one aspect of sexual satisfaction.  They will say that sexual satisfaction is a layered and multidimensional experience, often fully as emotional and spiritual as it is physical.”

I thank you.


Great Wall of Vagina – Jamie McCartney – Skin Deep – FREE

All my UK readers, please visit this gallery by June 2nd. Apologies for not posting sooner, but I just received notice regarding this show.

SKIN DEEP featuring The Great Wall Of Vagina – London Exhibition (Last week of show!!)

Jamie McCartney’s debut solo exhibition SKIN DEEP at the Hay Hill Gallery, Cork Street, features over 40 artworks celebrating both the human body and the human condition. Headlining the show is the long-awaited gallery premiere of The Great Wall of Vagina, a sculpture intended to change the lives of women. It is without a doubt succeeding.

This iconic sculpture is of great social importance and is a highly provocative response to the exponential rise in cosmetic labial surgeries. By confronting the viewer and revealing the diversity of female genital appearance, McCartney opposes any notion of a singularly “perfect” aesthetic, thereby forcing society to rethink its relationship with the vulva.


“It’s time our society grew up around these issues and I’m certain that art has a role to play.” Jamie McCartney


It’s not vulgar, it’s vulva. This isn’t just sensation, it is art with a social conscience. The sculpture has caught the public’s imagination, using the twin approaches of humour and spectacle. Having captured their attention it then educates about what normal women really look like ‘down there’. The Great Wall of Vagina, is recognised worldwide for its artistic impact and social importance. Created from 400 plaster casts taken from volunteers’ vulvas this “Vagina Monologues of sculpture” sculpture is succeeding in changing the lives of women around the world. How often can one say that and mean it? How often does a sculpture have it’s own website??




1. “Hi just wanted to say how stunning the exhibition is in Cork St. I sat across the street from it all week and finally got in to see it on Saturday. I am sure I am joining many women in saying thank you for putting my mind at rest. Nough said!” Charlotte, UK


2. “Thank you Jamie, your work does exactly what you set out to do. I feel better now!” Kimberley, USA


3. “I want to personally thank you, Jamie, for The Great Wall of Vagina. This work finally (finally!) presents women with what we look like, what is “normal”, what is OK, what our lovers see and love and are turned on by during intimate moments. As an adult woman (36) trying to see what other vuIvas look like ( as recently as a month ago), asking female friends if they too wonder what others look like, comparing and showing my vulva with close friends, I always came out with the frustration of how men see each other’s genitalia so easily in changing rooms and whatnot and how for women, porn seems to have this quasi labia-less pink orifice that does not resemble ours. The real-life comparison always stops at two, maybe three vulvas, if a hetero woman is lucky enough to have such friends who will giddily pull down their pants and open up. Of course Obgyns and midwives get their fair share of exposure but when I look up vagina or vulva on the Internet, I get few images and most are either of the porn variety or diseased. It pretty much sums up society’s perception of women’ s sexuality, I suppose.


So again, thank you. For the first time, I am able to see what I have been looking for and know it is from a trustworthy source. I’m sure I am the hundredth person to drone on and on about this but please understand how even in 2012, in our seemingly fore-thinking world, it was, until your work, impossible for a regular woman like me to see this.” Julie, Canada


4. “I read about your project in the newspaper today. What an important project! I hope it contributes to raise girls and womens’ confidence about their own body. I gave the link to your website to my teenage daughters so they can see how different women are. Well done! Morten, Norway


5. “This is the first piece of artwork I’ve seen my entire life that has actually had an impact on me. I’ve been waiting my whole life for that one moment you hear about where a piece of art actually moves you. I’d begun to think that was only for the truly artistic minded because that just never happened for me. This did. I love the concept, the execution, the humor. I love everything about it. It makes me so happy that you chose to do this and for the reasons you did. Thank you. ” Jayne, USA


Female genitalia have long been a source of fascination, recently of celebration but generally of confusion. McCartney has grasped the nettle to create this monumental sculpture all about this most intimate of parts. Five years in the making he persuaded women from all over the world to volunteer to be cast in an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the project. It has been continually in the press and on TV around the world during that time and since its completion in February last year. Channel 4’s “The Perfect Vagina” 2008 was perhaps the most significant in spreading awareness about this important artwork.


More videos here


One remarkable thing is that the sculpture was entirely self-funded by McCartney, contrary to erroneous reports of Arts Council involvement. Perhaps more remarkable is that the artwork is not for sale. This is art for art’s sake rather than personal gain. McCartney is only interested in the piece being exhibited publically. He is actively seeking an art museum that would like to take it on permanent loan. He is also investigating touring the sculpture to other world cities.


“The Great Wall of Vagina is no use to anyone in storage, as it has been for the last year. This needs to be seen and I’ll do anything I have to in order to accomplish that”. Jamie McCartney


The four hundred plaster casts of vulvas, all of them unique, are arranged into ten large panels. This exhibition marks the very first time the sculpture has been shown in an art gallery and in its full, nine metre span. McCartney set out to make this project as broad and inclusive as possible. The age range of the women is from 18 to 76. Included are mothers and daughters, identical twins, transgendered men and women as well as a woman pre and post natal and another one, rather provocatively, pre and post labiaplasty.


Vulvas and labia are as varied as faces and many people, particularly women, don’t seem to know that. McCartney hopes this sculpture will help to quell that anxiety and combat the exponential rise, seen in recent years, of cosmetic labial surgeries. This worrying trend to create ‘perfect’ vaginas sets a worrying precedent for future generations of women. The medical community is right behind him:


“The Great Wall of Vagina is a work of exceptional importance for women’s understanding of body image, and one which the UK’s Sexual Health specialists & Gynaecologists would like to see publicised as widely as possible to help stem the tide of young women requesting unnecessary labial reduction surgery. Quite apart from that motive, the exhibition also contains other beautiful works of photography & sculpture (see my photo attached) – It should therefore be socially & and ethically newsworthy enough to warrant attention & debate.”         Mr Peter Greenhouse MA MB BChir (Hons) Cantab FRCOG FFSRH Consultant in Sexual Health, Bristol Sexual Health Centre BS2 0JD UK


The sculpture makes for fascinating and revealing viewing which is a far cry from pornography. It is not erotic art. It is not about titillation. McCartney has pulled off an amazing trick, to deliberately make the sexual nonsexual. One is able to stare without shame but instead in wonder at this exposé of human variety. The educational aspects of the sculpture are highlighted on the new education page on the website.

The SKIN DEEP exhibition focuses on notions of beauty and society’s obsession with the physical self. Alongside The Great Wall of Vagina, McCartney premieres his new work, The Physical Photography series (themed, life-sized body photographs taken without a camera) as well as many of his other sculptures all sharing a contemporary, Surrealist twist. As a concession to all the requests to buy vagina panels McCartney also shows some specially created, limited edition vagina and penis sculptures, that are for sale to the public.


So a new star has appeared on the London art scene. Over 500 people attended the launch last week of his truly groundbreaking exhibition that has people talking around the world. Cork Street in London has rarely seen such scenes. It marks a return to form for this most hallowed of art districts, once again breaking the mould to deliver a new art phenomenon.


With 400 vaginas down one wall and a life-size photo of a naked Jesus opposite it is no wonder people are flocking to the gallery. McCartney has taken London’s art scene by storm. A quote from this month’s Art of England perhaps sums it all up, “Like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst… the world will be talking about Jamie McCartney for a long time to come”.


Notes to Editors:

Short press video preview clip here.


Show catalogue here


The exhibition runs until June 2nd 2012

Hay Hill Gallery, 5a Cork Street, London, W1S 3NY T: 020 7439 1001

Opening hours: Monday Saturday, 10.30am6pm         FREE ADMISSION

Jamie McCartney will be at the gallery to discuss his artworks and sign copies of Great Wall of Vagina book every Saturday from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm.


All artworks in the exhibition are for sale (except The Great Wall of Vagina). With prices ranging from £500 to £25K there are artworks to suit any budget.

Jamie McCartney is a British artist who lives and works in Brighton but trained at Hartford Art School (USA), graduating in 1991. Initially he ran his own forge, making steel sculptures. He then moved into SFX in the film industry, working on feature films such as Blackhawk Down and Casino Royale. His degree in Experimental Studio Art and SFX skills continue to inform his work. No subject is too controversial, nor any process or material off limits.!/Plastercaster!/Greatwallvagina


Are You A Sex Addict? Does Sex Addiction Exist?

Just when I thought the conversation was over on one of my professional listserves, the following response caught my eye. I think Dr. Perper makes an extremely convincing case for sex urges and loneliness, misnamed as sex addiction.

Although I still believe once a computer is turned on it feeds into a lot of peoples’ wiring systems. The question is do they spend time surfing the web for sex, or the next outfit to purchase?

Timothy Perper, PhD response to: A self-identified sex addict


Reposted by permission of author from the AASECT listserve (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists)


Names within text, other than author, have been changed.


…I got to thinking about this business of “uncontrollable

sex urge.” I’m NOT — repeat, not, not, not — going to try to define

that; in fact, my point is that a definition suddenly and unexpectedly

EVADES us. I don’t mean just me; I’ve been reading this postings

(nearly 500 of them since 2006, as I just said) — the definition has

been evading all of us. Seems to me that maybe that’s part of the



When I was a teenager, I too had “uncontrollable sex urges.” My penis,

with a life of its own (a standing joke among men), would get hard in

the middle of high school classes. It just did that — and I wanted to

jerk off. I wasn’t able to talk it down; it ignored me and my

explanations that THIS is not the right time. Or sometimes on subways.

Or at other times.


And later in college, and even later than that, the same thing would

occur again and again: “uncontrollable sex urges.”


Oho! Now we reach a crux in the whole search for a definition.


At some point in college — though not in high school (for reasons I

don’t understand) — I discovered that I could eliminate these

“uncontrollable sex urges” by going to the men’s room, sitting in a

stall with the door locked, and jerking myself off. Then, for some

hours, I had no “uncontrollable sex urges” at all.


In brief, if the definition we are looking for arises from

“uncontrollable PENILE sex urges,” then the solution is simple. Go

find someplace private and masturbate to orgasm. End of that. Yes, I

know that some men have moral and other qualms about masturbation, but

that’s not what we mean by “sex addiction” — that’s called “sex

guilt” or something like that.


If so — and that “if” is very very large! — then no problems exist

about sex addiction. Find someplace private and masturbate. This

solution may be less effective for some women, but I’m going to set

that difficulty aside for a while. IF — repeat, IF, IF, IF —

“uncontrollable sex urges” are of penile (or vaginal/clitoral) origin,

then they can be resolved in a few minutes. End of story and discussion.


Now comes the big but. BUT, someone says, that’s not what

“uncontrollable sex urges” are about! They’re about sitting and

watching HOURS of porn on the internet, talking for HOURS on some sex

phone line, spending HOURS imagining copulating with someone. They

center on the uncontrollable desire to get laid.


And if so, then we have a different definition, and it has nothing to

do with “sex addiction” at all. It is an “uncontrollable” desire and

yearning for a CERTAIN KIND OF SOCIAL CONTACT — with the surrogate

human beings of internet porn, the less surrogate but still fantasy-

laden telephone partner, or the imaginary but completely social

fantasy of masturbating with not only HER (or him, perhaps) but with a

whole bunch of “hers” and “hims.” Those sessions of imagination are

barely sexual at all: sexuality provides a mechanism for imagining a

fantasy of a different life, a different world, a different place, of

different people than the ones we know. The penis or vagina has become

a portal taking us elsewhere — somewhere where we are wanted, are

desired, are happy, are never rejected, are satisfied and are

satisfying. In brief, we invent a utopia for ourselves — because we

do not live in such a utopia in reality.


The underlying engines of such fantasies are not sex — they are

loneliness, despair, unhappy alienation, anomie. Sex is simply a

vehicle by which we imagine a place and time where such loneliness

DOES NOT EXIST. In that world, we are happy.


So if a man — I explicitly do not mean Craig, whom I do not know at

all — tells me that he’s a sex addict, then I privately think to

myself, “And you’re a liar.” If you really and genuinely were an

addict of your penis, you would not be telling ME about it in this

bar, or party, or therapy session. You’d be off jerking yourself off

in the bathroom.


The same holds for a woman, who might say “I was a real sex addict in

college! I just had to get laid all the time, and all I could think

about was how I could hook up with Joe or Jeremy or Chad — ”  And

again my response is the same. “No, you’re not a sex addict at all. If

you were you wouldn’t be telling ME about it in this bar or party.

You’d be off in bed with Joe or Jeremy or Chad or maybe all three of

them, fucking their brains out. You wouldn’t be TALKING about it.”


Underlying everything I have read and heard about sex addiction and

the “uncontrollable sex urges” said to define sex addiction (and that

includes the AASECT listserve) are the engines of loneliness,

isolation, alienation, and despair. It is therefore a social — NOT

SEXUAL — dysfunction, and centers on the inability of the person to

provide him- or herself with people who love and want them. It

involves a FANTASY that sexuality — meaning penile and/or vaginal

contact — will satisfy those social needs for love. But because mere

penile and/or vaginal contact does not fill those needs, the recipe is

repeated, in the hope that maybe it’ll work out the NEXT time. Which

it does not, and we enter a cycle of repetition driven by unidentified

— but profoundly human — desires for social contact, for someone to

talk to, someone who likes you, and who wants to listen.


Did that describe me in high school? Oh, come on. Of course it did. I

would have given anything to have spent the whole day talking to (and

kissing) two or three of the girls I knew… like Jane, who sat next

to me in one class (I loved that class!), and like Amy, who I would

walk home with… Sometimes my penis got stiff, not surprising at the

age of 17, but always I wanted to be with Jane and Amy, stiff penis

or not. That’s not sex addiction. It’s desire and loneliness.






Intelligent Lust – In Defense of Casual Sex

The new movie “Shame” has everyone talking about sex addiction once again, or should I say still. If you have been following my blog you know I don’t believe in sex addiction any more than I believe in food addiction. These are necessary elements of life we can control, although sometimes people are out of control and do not want to take responsibility for their actions.

The following is an excellent article I found in the publication Psychology Today.

In Defense of Casual Sex

By Stanley Siegel, LCSW
Created Dec 12 2011 – 6:17pm
“In the new film “Shame,” an examination of the extremes of human sexuality,  Brandon Sullivan, a successful, handsome New York executive afraid of intimacy, has frequent, random sex with prostitutes and strangers. At work, he sneaks off to masturbate in the men’s room or extends his lunch hour with  trysts. 

The movie  harshly depicts casual sex as an emotionally disconnected, meaningless defilement, as reflected in the the title.  Brandon Sullivan is never permitted sexual enjoyment.  Instead, his getting off is presented as alienating and self-destructive.  The only time he he attempts to have sex with someone he knows, a co-worker,  he can not perform.

In the end, punishment awaits Brandon, the presumable fate for all who have casual sex, as punctuated by the suicide attempt of Brandon’ sister, who is similarly portrayed as sexually depraved.

In a recent interview, director Steve McQueen said the film is based on his research on sexual addiction–a condition whereby the insatiability of sexual cravings is rooted in self-hatred and the avoiding intimacy.

But “Shame” draws an inaccurate comparison between casual sex–an experience typically outside the context of a romantic relationship–and reckless sex. Under the right circumstances, casual sex can be deeply meaningful and more intimate than the sex in a long-term relationship. Those of us who have casual sex know that its not devoid of emotion, nor does it lead to the unhappiness Brandon suffers.

Society dictates that only within marriage or another long-term relationship do sex and intimacy exist and popular culture upholds this as the ultimate formula for happiness.  Despite the high divorce rate, tax laws, for example,  continue to bestow benefits on married couples, while relegating single people to second-class status.

How many times have you heard: He’s afraid of intimacy?  In arguing against casual sex, marriage advocates regularly flaunt research purportedly showing that spouses are happier than single people.  But these studies contain a damaging methodology, which cannot be readily identified by their findings.  That is, they fail to consider the guilt and shame that some single people internalize as a result of how society stigmatizes them.

The truth is,  long-term relationships or marriage do not guarantee a satisfying emotional life or sexual intimacy. Everyone knows someone stuck in a barren marriage, whose members have lost their autonomy and in which sex has disappeared. Brandon’s assertion that people do not belong together forever is correct, but too many of us fear facing that truth or consider alternatives to that permanence.

There are times when casual sex actually deepens one’s self-knowledge. With intelligence and clarity of purpose, casual sex is more than instant gratification. By openly exploring our fantasies and true desires with different partners in a way that may not possible in a committed relationship, we can transcend our inhibitions.  With each new encounter we can discover buried parts of ourselves and in time experience the totality of who we are. We can even experience profound, revelatory moments that unravel our past and show us things we never knew about ourselves. We can satisfy unmet needs by embracing those aspects of our sexuality that are deeply meaningful and we can choose to let go of those that no longer have importance.

Upon turning sixty-five, I recognize that casual sex has often been as intimate for me as were the two long-term relationships I have had. Unencumbered by a complex commitment, the freedom found in casual sex allowed me to move beyond self-consciousness and achieve a level of honesty and authenticity for myself, and my partner, in a way previously unknown to me. With each new experience, the process of discovering and sharing specific sexual interests required verbal and non-verbal communication that was intensely focused and rapidly telegraphed.  And  self-disclosure and vulnerability were as necessary a part of these exchanges as they were in a committed relationship.

In fact, my experience ran contrary to the myth that intimacy needs to be sustained to be meaningful. Even so, I have learned that not all casual sex is meaningful, even though you may get a physical “spike” from its novelty, but it is no more empty than the rote sex that typically happens in marriages.

Some casual encounters presented the unexpected, both splendid and repellent. Some led to love affairs, others to friendships. Together, these experiences offered insights into the deepest levels of my psyche that have been as rich and transforming as any epiphany I had during my long-term relationships. Over time, I refined my own sense of morality based on respect, trust, honesty and generosity.  Finally, I stand in awe of the extraordinarily creative ways that we, as human beings, express who we are through sex.

There is nothing that I have asked of a patient that I haven’t asked of myself. Like many other patients, I took Jane on the journey of Intelligent Lust that I have written about in previous columns and in detail in my book, “Your Brain on Sex” where casual sex is of central importance.

Jane’s younger sister got muscular dystrophy at a very young age, for which Jane’s parents felt terrible guilt. They steadfastly tended to her sister, going beyond what was necessary to accommodate her handicap.

Not only did Jane feel guilty for being the healthy child, she also suffered silently from her parent’s inattentiveness towards her and wondered what it would be like to be the center of attention. Furthermore, in high school, Jane, taller than the boys and less physically developed than the girls, was cruelly nicknamed Olive Oil.

As she matured, Jane developed sexual fantasies in which she was a beautiful enchantress who could charm and seduce even the most handsome and unavailable man.
At thirty, Jane, feeling terribly isolated, came to therapy, after suffering what she called a string of “failed relationships” with men she described as “emotionally unavailable.”
“They put their work or families ahead of me,” Jane told me.

Jane soon recognized that by choosing men who gave her so little attention she reenacted her childhood predicament. And while she was highly sexual in her relationships, she also abandoned her true sexual desires in favor of pleasing her partners whose approval she desperately sought. Sex in these relationship quickly grew empty and inauthentic, misguided by a lack of self-understanding.

During therapy, Jane learned to identify her fantasies and true desires, where they came from and what function they served in her life. She gained insight into how she had eroticized her parents’ neglect as an attempt to turn painful feelings into pleasurable ones.

At first, Jane had a variety of casual sexual encounters, some of which did not require her to please the man. Not unexpectedly, she began to honor and express her sexuality more confidently. She also approached dating with a new perspective, one that didn’t anticipate rejection.  She began to look for men who were a better sexual match, using Intelligent Lust as her guide. And she learned to replace her plain and neutral self-image with a more flirtatious and seductive one, like the enchantress she imagined herself to be.

Within a year, Jane met Bill, a man who had also been a tall and awkward adolescent with sibling issues. As a boy, Bill had been compared to his handsome and brilliant older brother. Despite his physical awkwardness, Bill was a varsity basketball player. Still, even as his star rose, he felt uncomfortable around girls and developed a reputation as a geek. In his favorite masturbatory fantasy, however, Bill imagined a harem of woman chasing him.

With my coaching, Jane got Bill to talk about his fantasies, and soon they agreed to act them out, setting up regular dates in bars. Together, they developed a script for their encounters. Pretending they didn’t know each other, Jane would flirt with the anonymous tall guy, flatter and charm him, then invite him home. At first, Bill would resist, but inevitably he would surrender to the intense seduction. In bed, he would make love to her for hours while she teased and taunted him until they both climaxed, satisfying their sexual fantasies.

The experience continued regularly over several months and as they grew more trusting of each other, Jane and Bill’s emotional and sexual exploration deepened as well as its intensity and satisfaction.

Acting out her fantasies changed Jane. She felt empowered. Not only did she feel her deepest needs had been validated and affirmed by Bill, but for the first time she felt “real.”

Although Jane ended the relationship with Bill several months later when she relocated for a job, it was a profoundly helpful experience that served to correct a lifetime of neglect. Their high level of intimacy served as a standard for her future relationships. The healing that occurred during her few months of sex in a non-committed relationship allowed Jane to vanquish her childhood hurt and feel empowered.”