What sexuality does psychoanalysis talk about?
Sexuality, from a psychoanalytic point of view, refers to pleasure in the broad sense of the term: sources of pleasure and how human beings act to obtain it. Genital adult sexuality is only one expression of something much more complex.
One of Freud’s most important discoveries was the role sexuality plays during childhood, how it manifests itself in different parts of the body and how it acts on the relationships with primary caregivers.
At the beginning of life the baby’s body has zones that give it a specific pleasure-sensuality and it learns that certain actions result in obtaining certain pleasures. The mouth, the skin, the anus and the genitals ––what psychoanalysis calls erogenous zones–– give the baby concrete pleasures linked to eating, being touched, defecating, rubbing the genitals and being physically taken care of by the primary caregivers. The way these pleasures are sufficiently satisfied and frustrated (or not) will have consequences (favorable and unfavorable) in the development of pleasure seeking and displeasure avoiding in the future adult.
Relationship with the parents
At the beginning the main source of all these pleasures-sensualities is usually the mother or someone who plays a maternal role. However, later on children of both sexes will tend to orient more (will seek more satisfaction from) the opposite-sex parent and will tend to reject the same-sex parent in an attempt to be Mummy’s or Daddy’s exclusive satisfaction partner. Sooner or later the child will realize that this is not going to work out and that it’ll have to look for it’s own partner. Children of both sexes also do the opposite, they will seek the exclusive satisfaction relationship with the same-sex parent in order to identify with him/her through the tender-pleasurable relationship. These desires for exclusive love go hand in hand, naturally, with rivalry with both parents and with siblings. In the same way as with the first pleasure experiences, the way that the child navigates these developmental phases will affect how it relates to others in friendship, love and work later on in life.
These diffuse pleasures and the zones they are associated to, intertwined with the tenderness in the relationship with primary caregivers, are called sexual by psychoanalysis because later on in life, when puberty arrives, they acquire a clearer sexual meaning and then form part of ordinary adult sexual activity which is the source of the greatest pleasure of all.
The specifics of an adult’s sexual life is not what psychoanalysts in Madrid work on the most in the treatment of a patient unless it is the symptom for which the patient consults or if the specific mode of expression of the patient’s sexuality interferes with other areas of his/her life. That said, if it spontaneously appears in the associative flow of a patient it can be revealing as to how the patient functions on the inside.
In psychoanalytic treatment the ways in which the individual has experienced satisfaction and frustration of his infantile sexuality will appear in his ways of feeling, thinking and acting.
Each one of the erogenous zones is associated to certain ways of relating to oneself and to other people that have to do with the specific pleasure and displeasure associated to that zone. In healthy development, none of these zones will have been so pleasurable or so displeasurable that the individual will have remained stuck to that way of attaining pleasure because it was the strongest he ever felt or because he never had enough of it. However, if there have been developmental difficulties it is possible that the individual will not be able to move freely between the many ways there are to attain pleasure and will find himself stuck in an impoverished system.
The same happens in the love-hostility-identification relationship with the parents. If the individual has not been able to love, reject, give up, become-like the parents enough there will be strong desires trapped at that level of development that will weigh negatively on his work, friend and love relationships.
In psychoanalytic treatment, the analyst and the patient work together in order to free him from these limitations, through understanding them deeply, in order for him to be able to enjoy a wider, richer and more varied sexuality (in the psychoanalytic sense of the word and in the everyday sense).