@Dominic Hamilton-Leathart Counselling 2020


Promoting a Healthy Sexual Identity

Freud's elucidation of the phenomenon of infantile sexuality explosively contravened conventional wisdom at the beginning of the 20th century. At the time of Freud's unprecedented research into psychosexual development, children were considered to be entirely asexual and thus any semblance of sexual expression on the part of a child was deemed to be the consequence of florid psychopathology. Considering the prevailing consensus of children's asexuality, Freud's findings generated a tremendous amount of moral backlash and censor from all quarters. It took a considerable number of years for his findings on child sexuality to be accepted in the mainstream. While Freud's conceptualisation of the libido theory and the Oedipal complex has been discounted by contemporary sexological research as erroneous, it was his revolutionary contributions in this area that nevertheless brought the normalcy of childhood sexual development to light.

Freud's research has revolutionised our understanding of sexual identity in a truly big way. Data derived from caregivers and practitioners working with analysands in adulthood produced a new appreciation of the role of sexuality in both the periods of infancy and childhood. It's now indisputable that autoerotic exploration of the genitals takes place within just the first few months of extrauterine life and other erogenous zones soon follow under their purview. As children get older, their interests become interpersonal and many a girl and boy have been found playing doctor with genital play now becoming a mutual endeavour. In contradistinction to adult sexuality where a goal is usually in mind, namely orgasm, sexuality in childhood is far more orientated towards discovery and exploration. Naturally, children are curious about their bodies and organs that are particularly sensitive to touch garner a great deal of attention. Manipulation of the genitals, with the pleasure it unfailingly accrues, is ordinarily approached with positive psychological valance.

Though most of us are now cognisant of the normality of sexuality in a child's development, it's still the case that a sizeable percentage of men and women have been raised in a sex-negative environment that subverts the acquisition of a healthy sexual identity. These people are deprived of the opportunity to gradually integrate their inchoate sexual innervation as caregivers fail to provide a nurturing, empathic and unconditionally accepting psychological climate that maximally facilitates the child's psychosexual development. Instead, sexual feeling and expression arouse parental condemnation and the organismic experiences themselves are derided as morally opprobrious. In some families, even something as innocuous as a question pertaining to sex can elicit scathing disapprobation that directly endangers a child's feeling of being someone deserving of love and protection.

As the child attempts to adapt to an unwholesome atmosphere of this kind by priming their modal sensoriums to pick up on what facets of experience elicit approbation and disapprobation, sex-negative messages are internalised which invariably corrupt the child's embryonic structure of self. The parents attitudes of deploring sexuality are symbolised as if they were the child's own in spite of the organic absence of abience. Being reprimanded for harmless sexual exploration and assuming the parents attitudes contraindicates the inclusion of pertinent sensations into the emerging construct of self. As a result, they are disbarred from conscious admittance thenceforth. In person-centred terms, a child introjects, or takes in, conditions of worth that they can later bring with them into the periods of adolescence and adulthood. Their self-regard, otherwise known as self-esteem or self-worth, can thus become tenuously contingent on how they properly perceive and express their sexual feelings within a certain preset configuration of parameters.

A woman who has incorporated her caregivers puritanical aversion to sexual expression may bring this extrinsically based repulsion for sexuality into her own romantic relationships. This may express itself in recoiling from the sexual advances of her partner or in the inability to achieve an orgasm in spite of repeated stimulation. Men may experience erectile dysfunction as a consequent of imbibing a constellation sex-negative messages from their family home or cultural milieu growing up. Postcoital tristesse, a phenomenon statistically more commonly reported in men that describes a pervasive feeling of dysphoria following the conclusion of sexual intercourse, can pathogenically stem from unresolved guilt or shame about the gratification of their dystonic sexual urges. Indeed, the physiological or visceral sensations of their sexuality become contradictory to their armoured self-concept and its attendant negative appraisals of anything even peripherally sexual. A person's psychological equilibrium is perilous due to its constant need to defend itself against the conscious symbolisation of experience unintegrable with this gestalt or schema.

A general sense of dissatisfaction with a person's sex life is sometimes simply rooted in having introjected conventionalised and schematised values of sexuality during the process of acculturation - most typically by confining sexual expression to penis-in-vagina intercourse (PIV). This alienates us from our own valuing system as we assume what we've been taught and we've introjected is normal for us. Generally speaking, information appertaining sexuality is predicated on heteronormative constructs so that other approaches to sexual expression are thereby marginalised as abnormal or paraphilic. As men and women are still being reared in environments that educationally promote a very narrow understanding of the phantasmagorical diversity of human sexuality, practices as ubiquitous and irreproachable as masturbation are still subject to antiquated moralising and demonisation.

Counselling gives clients besieged by psychosexual conflicts the therapeutic space needed to retrieve and integrate sexual innervation that has been banished by defence mechanisms. In the examples provided, we can see that the organism is experiencing sexual feelings at the physiological level, but they are militantly opposed by a conscious self that registers sensuality as a cardinal violation of internalised prohibitions against sexual expression. Conditions denouncing the accurate articulation and communication of a person's sexuality are countermanded in a therapeutic relationship characterised by certain relational qualities that are evinced by the counselling practitioner. These relational qualities counteract edicts pertaining to conditional acceptability by prizing and unstintingly valuing a person in their totality and thus whatever experience they happen to bring into the room. The therapists relationship to the client is marked by the absence of judgement and predicated on the operational attitudes of empathic understanding and unswerving acceptance.

Contrariwise to the generation of anxiety, self-depreciation or shame that would've heretofore accompanied the unfettered admittance of certain sexual feelings, as inconsonant as they are to the self-picture, these organismic experiences are held and valued unconditionally by the person-centred therapist. Psychological contact between the therapist and their client facilitates the clients internalisation of attitudes that gradually erode the negative estimations of sexuality that they've absorbed environmentally. The energetic current of sexual excitation, regardless of its form or content, is now permitted to enter conscious awareness unobstructed by the former watchman who once guarded the self against repudiated visceral and sensory experience. The self is relaxing its entrenched defences and contradictory datum can now be safely processed without distortion or denial.

A therapeutic process is set in motion that facilitates the reorganisation of the self so that these feelings experienced physiologically are assimilated into a revised self-organisation. Sexual feelings at the level of the organism are harmonised with the organisation of self. Sexual arousal and desire are subsequently embraced as authentic expressions of their real self rather than a perpetual source of emotional pain and confusion. This refashioned self-organisation no longer has to mobilise against a threatened recrudescence of sensual streaming as the person is tentatively able to unashamedly and unreservedly own their sexual feelings and genuinely express and accept them unburdened by conditionality. In other words, a clients sexual development is set back on a trajectory to effloresce organically as it once could've done had the client been the recipient of the provision of relational preconditions of nurturance, attunement and unqualified respect in their formative years.

The psychological changes engendered by the counselling process produce concrete outcomes. Whereas a women's internalised anathematisation of sexuality may have contraindicated allowing herself to fully experience the sensual pleasure derived from engaging in sexual intercourse, she now finds herself able to comfortably relinquish her reservations and fully engross herself in the sexual act both with her partner and equally alone in the act of masturbation. Likewise, a man once troubled by erectile dysfunction, or premature ejaculation, is enabled to regain erective potency and sexual competency after the neutralisation of his conditions of worth. In therapy, clients can extricate their own disassociated sexual preferences and emancipate them from the sex-negative ordinances that have heretofore served to keep them quiet and concealed.

The counselling relationship can thereby help to undo the rejection of certain aspects of our sexuality and vitiate the maladaptive rift between our authentic experience and our sense of self. We can discover what sex means to us as opposed to faithfully and uncritically following a sexual script we've been continually inculcated with during our socialisation. It can be conceptualised as a process of liberation as we're granted the therapeutic space to find out who we truly are by tuning into our bodies and its internal pulsations. The more we become attuned and sensitive to our biological rhythms, and the more the extraneous material is distinguished from the endosomatic that genuinely resides within ourselves, the greater our sexual identity and relationships will be both interpersonally and intrapersonally.

Much like the infant, we're reconnecting with our estranged organismic valuing system that indefatigably operates on the basis of constructively moving the organism forward. Prototypically, need satisfaction is guided by this self-regulating motivational mechanism that keeps the organism on a directional path towards both the maintenance and enhancement of the person. When we disown parts of our experience, including our sexuality and preferences, this inherent system is undermined and we often find ourselves in a recurring state of psychological tension. Ultimately, human sexuality is immensely replete with differences across the board. Our bodies show huge variation and this therefore invariably means that what we find pleasurable will vary from one person to the next. The notion that there is only one way to express or experience our sexuality has become not only obsolete but detrimental to the development of a healthy sexual identity. While the maxim that prevention is better than cure is certainly true in that improving education to encompass a more informed range of sensualities, an instrumental measure in preventing psychosexual conflict and psychological maladjustment in toto, counselling can be an invaluable opportunity to safely explore your experience and reconnect with your own authentic values.

By interiorising the propitious attitudes of the person-centred counselling practitioner, comprised of empathy and unconditional positive regard, we can learn to be kinder to ourselves and better able to listen to what our own own bodies are telling us. Following person-centred counselling, clients can become more open to their sexual experience and move away from the cultural and familial proscriptions that once circumscribed their sexual being. We once again become the experts of our own life as we embrace the freedom that comes from living autonomously. Whilst this process of psychological movement takes time, and growth is not infrequently marked by periods of progression and retrogression, counselling can nevertheless be the first step to reclaiming our authentic sexual identity.