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Relationships • Sex

Our Unconscious Fear of Successful Sex

We might think that sex was something we would all straightforwardly want when in a happy couple – but the number of sexual difficulties that dog our relationships point us in more complicated directions.

Whatever we might consciously want, many of us carry – in the back of our minds – a range of inhibitions about being properly potent or about allowing another person to be deeply intimate with us. However well our bodies may function, our minds can be carrying subterranean injunctions that prevent us from having the sex it would otherwise make so much sense to have. We may be failing at sex because we are dutifully or fearfully obeying prohibitions and rules against our pleasure lodged somewhere in the penumbra of our minds. 

Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

It may sound hugely peculiar to speak of certain parents ‘castrating’ their children. The phenomenon isn’t to be understood literally, the reference is to all the many largely invisible but hugely powerful signals that a parent can give a child across their early years as to their sexuality and how it may not be welcome; that it would be ‘better’ for the offspring (maybe safer or less exposed, ‘kinder’ or more moral) not to accede to their full potency in adulthood. 

The motives can be multiple. It might be that a parent’s own potency is so fragile that they feel at risk of being usurped, humiliated and placed in shadow by their child – whose burgeoning potency must therefore be surreptitiously shamed or belittled. 

It might be that a parent is battling an incestuous wish and therefore needs their child not to grow up into too much of an object of temptation. 

It might be that a parent has had uncomfortable experiences with a member of the opposite sex and therefore tries to prevent a child from developing into the sort of person they are frightened of.

Or it might be that the parent has set such a perturbing example through their own potency (they might have broken up the family or devastated the other parent by an affair) that it creates in the child a sense that sex is far too dangerous to be explored.

Were we to find ourselves with problems, we might reflect on, and try to complete the following sentences:

If I were to be sexual, my mother…

If I were to be sexual, my father…

The problem with successful sex…

The upside of not having sex…

Very often, by a process of unconscious collusion, both members of a couple may be battling problems inside themselves and will have secretly picked the other knowing that the sex they fear will have less chances of happening with this companion. A man who is avoiding sex to escape the shadow of a hurtful adulterous father might – for example – carefully choose a woman who is avoiding sex because her mother did not accept a rival in the family. To compound their difficulties, what then often happens is that both people lay the blame for a lack of sex on the other rather than having the courage and modesty to recognise that they might share the issue.

It’s an enduringly odd thought that successful sex in adulthood might depend on having had a certain sort of childhood; the two elements feel utterly separate. As we retreat into the most private spaces with our partners, it is eerie to imagine that we may be relying – in order for things to go well, in order to feel relaxed, at peace, and capable – on what we can almost term permission from those who put us on the earth.

As ever, we should not increase our burden by protesting at or denying its existence. It may not be the easiest of messages to convey; that we aren’t comfortable or in a good place because we are suffering from a parental injunction against contented sex. But we might with time feel almost grateful for our sexual difficulties, because someone who can show that they understand this aspect of us isn’t merely someone we might one day – after lots of psychological excavation – end up having a good time in bed with. Far more significantly, it’s someone who has passed the steepest test of tolerance and compassion and might, on this basis alone, make an ideal partner for us.

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