Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hold Me Tight

In reading Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, I find much of it to be self fulfilling projection and bad science. Inevitably all psychology is bad science. Most psychologists are defensive of such claims, as they try to isolate human variables in dehumanizing ways. It seems that perhaps understanding the reasons that psychology is inherently unscientific might be liberating to its practitioners.

As an example on page 24 she states, “Science from all fields is telling us very clearly that we are not only social animals but animals that need a special kind of close connection with others, and we deny this at our peril.”

Science from all fields? What fields are we distinguishing science from in this regard? Literature? Engineering? Trash collection? What is happening is not so much that science is telling us very clearly as it is that she is using science on which to project her creation of EFCT. What is it telling us? That we are not just social animals but animals that need a very special kind of close connection with others. That is a distinction without a difference.

I don’t mean to be overly critical of Dr. Johnson, really the criticism is much broader than just her. This is the sort of free range projection that seems unavoidable when a holistic subject is approached from a reductionist perspective. And this is not to say that there is not merit mixed with the manure. It seems that the idea of the primacy of secure human bonds is important. But this discussion of those bonds seems vague, what is the nature of these bonds. To this point it seems to be a unifying human need undistinguishable between us and little impacted by personality or environment. If you got it, all is good, and if you don’t, your doomed.

Despite this cynicism I see some personal relevance in this notion. This connection that she speaks of seems to be an over simplified concept of transcendence. While I see the bonds of transcendence as manifold and varied, I do see this as key to meaning and fulfillment.

My life has been significantly impacted by being the product of two indifferent and disengaged parents. Life decisions have been formulated around a fear of rejection even more so than a need for connection. But that is not quite so simple, nor does the need for connection stand alone as single variable. As discussed in the previous post libido is a significant variable. Sexuality is a crucial conduit to connection, especially in primary relationships. J.P. Sartre said that true transcendence is only possible at the point of mutual orgasm when two people are completely open to each other and completely vulnerable. I am not sure that I know what “true” transcendence is but I do think that vulnerability and openness are important ingredients for adult transcendence. In this regard things such as libido are crucial components in bond forming. I do not think, as Johnson seems to be suggesting, that the connections between parents and children are the same as bonds between lovers in a relationship.

I guess that my issue here is that this approach seems over simplified. For one thing she seems to assume that each partner has the same need for connection. This differential seems to be a signifcant variable.

Malleable Libidos

It seems that libido is significantly misunderstood and mainly not understood. Though not well read in the area, it seems that the field of psychology does not deal well with this issue. While there are a few general audience books on the issue of libido differentials in couples, I’m not sure how much real research there is on the full complex of what the libido is. But I suspect that this is an area especially evasive to a reductionist approach.

How does one measure libido? Frequency of orgasm may be one way of attempting this, but that is an indirect correlation at best. It is likely that one person will be driven to seek release when less aroused and another may hold of. Some seem to take an ascetic approach and wait until the pressure is extreme. This, after all, is the Christian approach. You are only supposed to spill your seed for reasons of procreation. I will avoid the obvious diatribe against the infuriating Catholic crimes of abuse and refusal to be responsible.

But really I suspect that there is more to the void in the field of psychology around the issue of libido than just an issue of quantification, though I am not prepared to articulate these ill-formed thoughts. Basically it is this: the reductionist approach of science is objective which is external. Libido is a conduit to what is most internal or subjective. The faith of science refuses, or is incapable of, dealing with the inherently subjective. Though this is way too linear, there is a trinity of dots to be connected from objective to subjective and then transcendent (some may prefer the term spiritual, though I reject that tired old lexicon.)

It appears to me that Libido is significantly a factor in the development of aspects of personality and especially in the dynamics of relationships, even ones that are not sexual. Nonetheless, in the various matrices of personality libido does not appear. Do they even create matrix for relationship? What I have noticed is that they look at the profiles of the individuals but not of the relationship itself, as if the relationship were not greater than the sum of the parts. This, of course, is the limitation of a reductionist approach and why the field of psychology is so flawed. Scientific materialism is all about the parts and little capable of dealing with the relationships between them. Even relationships between objects are a problem (thank you Dr. Heisenberg.)

One thing that I have noticed is that Libido is not static. I am not only speaking of the ebb and flow of desire but also of the ways that desire is impacted. A few things from my own experience. Growing up I was not one of the large percentage of boys who had bisexual desires or experiences. I never thought of, dreamed of, or desired other boys. In high school it was thoughts of the locker room that helped quell inappropriate arousal when in the company of a young woman. Then at the age of 18 in a conversation that was philosophical in nature a friend in a large group of young men suggested that at least statistically one of us and maybe more were gay or at least bisexual and that we would be unlikely to have discovered this because of social scripting.

For the first time I began thinking about this question. It did not take long to ascertain that I was neither of these things. But in thinking about it, I decided that it would be best to be bisexual and I wondered about the flexibility of desire. I had fairly well convinced myself that my desire was not flexible enough to allow men in when I had an experience, which I think that I have written about in this blog, in which I was able to suck another man’s dick. Granted, this was a five second experience that had a lot less to do with my desire to suck a cock than it did with a sense of accomplishment at having overcome a hurtle. In terms of the issue at hand, this was made possible because of elevated arousal provided by extreme circumstance created by the man’s wife.

My point is that libido becomes much more malleable when highly aroused.

The woman of this same couple also provided insight for me in this area. I have known these folks for as long as I have known my wife. From the first meeting I really liked this woman. As our friendship developed she soon became one of my favorite people. Nonetheless, I never felt the slightest tinge of sexual desire for her. She just was not my type. For a short while in college I shared a room with her and my wife. In the morning when she would get up before us and walk around in her underwear or less, I would roll over so that I did not see her. I’m sure that she thought I was being a gentleman but I just did not want to see her.

Over time those feelings began to change. One ingredient was my overall appreciation for who she was. Another was her open sense of sexuality. She was high libido and felt comfortable, at least with close friends, talking about desire and sexuality. In the early years she was able to make me very aroused without creating a desire for her, such as the time that I momentarily sucked her husband’s dick. There were other times when she acted openly sexual and created nice sexual energy. This probably worked because her sexuality was never directed at a desire for me. It was more an act of exhibitionism for herself.

Then some years later after they had moved to another state we went to visit them. My wife had, in a bargain before we went, agreed to have sex with the husband. Something she would not have agreed to if it was not something that she desired (but that is a different posting.) Anyway it became unavoidable that I would also have sex with the wife who I had no sexual attraction for. While in a sense this was taking one for the team, I do not view it that way. While I never looked back on this experience with her when I fantasize, it was a very sweet and tender experience. That was only the case because I had such deep fondness for her and was able, in making love to her, to draw on those feelings and to express a genuine sense of love, even if it did not include lust.

Perhaps this is not so much an experience in which libido was malleable, as it was an experience of expanding my sense of the sophistication of the regions that we usually travel to through libido.

Over the last several years the makeup of my libido has changed a good deal. Perhaps this is an inevitable aspect of aging, but I think that it is also a product of the ways in which I was allowed to expand my libido earlier in life.
In my early forties I had a relationship with another couple. In this relationship the man and I would spend hours pleasing his wife. At first there was no contact between the men, in time there was incidental contact and then he would at times fondle me, usually in the process of pushing me against his wife. And in time I did the same for him. This was nothing like the ah ha experience of my earlier dick sucking episode. I really didn’t give this much thought. While I didn’t mind and maybe even enjoyed this touching, it was not something that felt sexually compelling. Then, one night, the wife asked me to go down on her while she was being fucked by her husband. This was not something that I wanted to do. While I wanted to please her I was very reluctant. Again I think that I have written earlier about this in more detail. In the end I was not only able to do this, I found it tremendously arousing. This is not a discovery I could have made if not extremely aroused.

As my desire to see my wife with other men has developed out of my psychological needs, I, at first, began to enjoy images of strong hard cocks penetrating women as it provoked thoughts of what I would like to see my wife engage in. I was able to interpret this as a sort of bi sexual image because in it the cock took form and was integral. The image or thought was not just of the woman but of the woman and man both. I focused on this aspect and in doing so was able to better develop the image of the cock. Now I am able to be at least somewhat aroused by the image of some erect cocks.

After the experience of going down on my gf who was being fucked by her husband, I have been able to develop the fantasy of sucking a cock. At first this was the image of sucking a cock that had been in my wife by now I can imagine just sucking a cock.

I have always been dubious of the idea that there are some fantasies that are just for the imagination and that one would not want to actualize them. This seems like conceding to sex negative social scripting. The only reason not to indulge your fantasies is because they are nasty or wrong. The exception to this is indulging fantasies that involve unwilling partners. But even that can be worked around. The most common example is women’s rape fantasies. While it is true that women should not put them in uncontrolled situations of rape, this does not mean that they cannot role play the scenario even with strangers if enough protection is provided. But the most common commentary is that these are just fantasies that women do not really want to experience. Sorry but that is bull shit. Nonetheless, I recognize that it is very likely that I would be disappointed and possibly disgusted if I tried to live out these fantasies. These are fantasies that I have in a sense manufactured. Hopefully sometime I will have a chance to find out.

These bisexual fantasies grow out of desires for women not men. There continue to be real limitations to erotic feelings that I can have for men. In fact I do not have erotic feelings for men so much as I do for parts of their body mainly as it relates to women. Kissing a man is not something that I would enjoy. I could not enjoy giving a man a sensual massage nor would I want to receive one from a man. A man’s butt is completely unappealing to me.

So what does this mean in terms of the original thesis that I started with? I am not completely sure but in my life libido seems to have been not just flexible but also somewhat responsive to my own freewill. Arousal has been a key component in allowing me to stretch into new experiences and desires. Like most other people, I have been unable to explore the boundaries of where these tools might take me.

What does this mean in terms of trying to help open the doors of my wife’s sexuality? The big thing is the degree to which heightened arousal can facilitate new experiences and discoveries. She seems unable to acknowledge her own sexual desire even when it seems obvious to an observer. An example is her agreement to have sex with the husband when we traveled to see our old friends. Knowing my wife I can say she would not have agreed to this if the desire had not been there. Nonetheless, she is unable to describe this as anything other than something she did solely for me. When she is in a situation of heightened arousal with another man she is able to do things that she would not otherwise do, even though she later refutes that.

Examples of these experiences include dick sucking, willingly kissing with upturned and accepting face, riding a man while sitting up with proud posture for him to gaze on her; initiation of efforts such as removing clothing and touching in ways that are not usual for her such as hungrily grabbing a dick.

It occurs to me that being in these heightened states of arousal are the hope that we have for opening the door to her sexuality. This though ignores the underlying issues of why she is resistant to almost all intimacy. There is an anxiety response that is not necessarily addressed by creating situations that allow for heightened arousal. One can imagine that this may even exacerbate the anxiety. My observation is that it does not exacerbate the anxiety and it seems to even lessen it somewhat, due to conditioning. But it does not address the issue. Nonetheless, short of another approach, my hope would be that over time, these experiences of heightened arousal might lead her to discoveries that will allow her to better discover the cause of the anxiety on her own. I would like to see us continue rather than curtail situations that arouse her libido and to back those experiences up with counseling aimed at discovery. In the past when we have had these experiences and I have tried to get her to talk about it, she would deny the feelings that were quite obvious. It was obvious that she had feelings that were different than when she is less aroused. There is in these experiences a point at which a switch is thrown and she becomes a willing and desiring participant. My sense is that Libido has valance levels and that is but the first switch. What is not obvious is exactly what she is feeling beyond what I can see in the way she is reacting. When I try to speak to her about these events she denies having had feelings and resents that I assume to know anything about her feelings much less something that she does not know. This is where counseling may help. Someone else that she does not have a relationship with may be better able to help her into exploring her feelings.

The problem is that the counselor seems to want to focus on the bond between just the two of us. Not that this is not a focus that I am also interested on. But it is tied to the myth of monogamy and ignores the power of libido.

I do believe that there is baby in the bathwater of monogamy. The myth is not so much wrong as it is resistant to growth through revision. After thirty years of marriage, you can be certain that I believe in the value of primary relationships. What I do not buy into is that the primary relationship makes people whole.though it should make us more complete. There are relationship needs and desires beyond the primary relationship - sexual and otherwise. To be sure there must be a foundation of trust and caring if a couple is to go safely outside the primary relationship. But it is just silly to assume that a woman who has been married to the same man for thirty years in a relationship that has had sexual issues is not going to experience heightened arousal with a different man. Part of this has to do with habituated sexual responses within the relationship and part of it has to do with the neurochemistry of hormones and enzymes that are released with a new partner. Clearly heightened arousal has significant power to provide insight and growth.