Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Pied Piper of Casual Sex

Pretend that you are not a human being. Think of yourself as a bundle of sexual instincts yearning to express itself.

Pretend that sex is therapeutic. Try telling yourself that indulging in casual sex will give you insight into your issues.

Pretend that sex is neutral. If you are a man you can tell women that casual sex for a man and a woman are exactly the same thing.

Pretend that sex has nothing to do with procreation. Tell yourself that all sexual acts are created equal and that procreation is not the meaning of sex. Therapy is.

Pretend that sexually transmitted diseases are easily avoided. While you are doing that, be sure to ignore the epidemic of STDs in America. Somehow herpes and HPV missed the class where they showed you how to put a condom on a cucumber.

Pretend that casual sex does not comport danger, especially to women. By definition, casual sex means sex with someone you do not know very well. A stranger has no real commitment to you. Should a woman bet her life and her sanity on a stranger’s good intentions and tender mercies?

This game of “let’s pretend” describes the alternate universe created by one Stanley Siegel, the Pied Piper of Casual Sex. Links here and here.

Siegel is not a crank. He is a credentialed professional therapist. Recently, he wrote two articles for the non-peer-reviewed magazine called Psychology Today.

Therein he explains why he has become an advocate for casual sex. He does not explain himself very well.  He writes rather poorly. Nevertheless the magazine’s editors think that his opinion deserves serious consideration.

In the end, Siegel’s fictional account of human behavior is pure solipsism. If life is a therapeutic journey toward personal insight then you need not much bother with your duties and responsibilities toward other people. If you are a pleasure-seeking organism your membership in a community cannot count for a great deal.

Therapist Siegel wants to free his patients from the shame and guilt they feel after hooking up.

In his alternate universe they are wrong to feel shame or guilt. They have done nothing wrong. The world is wrong to judge them. If they cease living in the real world they will feel much better.

This means that Siegel does not respect his patients’ feelings. He does not believe that these negative emotions are telling people that they should not have done what they did. He believes that they can best overcome their shame and guilt about having had casual sex by having more and better casual sex.

At one time or another everyone makes a mistake. Our emotions tend to alert us to it when they turn dark. They are telling us that we have compromised our good character and should set to work repairing it.

The anguish is telling us that we should put the trauma behind us and start acting responsibly and respectably in the future.

Siegel has another idea. He wants you to see casual sex as a meaningful expression of an unresolved childhood issue. He wants you to have more of it so you can continue to explore your past.

He does not want you to put your mistakes behind you. He wants you to get in bed with them, to become intimate with them, to embrace them. He does not understand that if you do it you will be the one getting screwed.

He wants you to stop trying to improve your character. Clearly, your good character will not survive Siegel’s exercise.

Let’s listen to the Pied Piper himself.

In Siegel’s words: “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.”

If casual sex is really just a voyage of therapeutic self-discovery then it follows logically that the people who have best overcome childhood issues and who have gained the highest level of self-awareness must be… sex workers.

Most sex workers have suffered childhood sexual traumas. Perhaps they are trying to overcome the effects of molestation and abuse by empowering themselves as sex workers.  Or else, they might like sex and want to make a living exploring their sexuality.

If they were traumatized in childhood, does any sentient person believe that reliving a trauma, over and over again, even in slightly altered form, is really going to free them from its effects?

After all, sexual abuse makes people feel worthless. It makes them feel unworthy of love and unworthy of commitments. Many sex workers act as though they have been stripped of their dignity.

Does Siegel think that this is therapeutically beneficial?

Strangely enough, Siegel’s views sound rather familiar.

Read his theoretical credo: “It's my basic assumption that sexual desire and the themes we eroticize as adults--romantic sex, bondage, domination, role playing--originate in unresolved childhood conflicts and unmet needs. Our minds take these painful feelings and convert them into something pleasurable in an attempt to master them. Sex acts serve as a transformer. Rather than becoming defeated by feelings of isolation, helpless, loneliness or rejection, we become aroused by them.”

He continues: “Every sex experience represents a moment of extreme intensity in which our entire inner life--our history and imagination--is expressed in action. It's an altered state of consciousness in which the past and present, body, mind and spirit all merge to form a new reality unlike any other experience in our lives. It is impossible for any sexual experience to be absent of emotion or even to lack meaning. Even those of us who feel emotionally detached during sex aren't really devoid of emotion. Looked at more deeply, such apparent detachment is in fact a reflection of emptiness once suffered.”

Of course, this is reconstituted Freud. It tells us that if Jack and Jill are lusting after each other they are both re-enacting unresolved infantile sexual conflicts.

If you believe that Jack and Jill might love each other, might find each other attractive, might find each other to be entirely suitable mates, you will have to accept that your naïve opinion contradicts the dogmas of Freudian theory and thus cannot possibly be true.

When Siegel assumes that our sexual predilections derive from unresolved infantile conflicts, he is saying that they all become meaningful as a function of the past. He refuses to grant the experience any present meaning.

Siegel also ignores the possibility that people can engage in too much casual sex because it has become a bad habit.

In truth, he seems to want his patients to make it a bad habit.

Unfortunately, habits are not meaningful expressions of anything at all. They do not express anything about your childhood traumas or your inner mental life. No one has ever overcome a bad habit by making it a meaningful experience. By now serious therapists don’t even try to cure bad habits with insight.

A young prisoner can be forced into any number of deviant sexual practices that have nothing to do with his childhood issues. And sometimes young people adopt the bad habit of engaging in casual sex because they want to conform to the norms of their peer group.

In those cases, sexual experience does not necessarily express anything about a person’s childhood. Pretending that it does is aberrant.

More peculiar still is Siegel’s assertion that we can become aroused by feelings of isolation, helplessness, loneliness, or rejection.

These feelings constitute depression. If depression is characterized by an absence of desire and appetite, it makes no sense to say that anyone is going to become aroused by being depressed.

Unfortunately, Siegel also tells us what he has learned from his own casual sexual experiences. Since he writes very poorly I will assume that when he uses the phrase “casual encounters” in his opening sentence he has no awareness of what it means on Craigslist.

In his words: “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.”

Whatever does it mean to say that anyone expresses who he is by the way and manner he has sex.

Put the idea to the test.

Do you think, for example, that you do not know who a person is unless you know how he has sex?

Is Siegel pointing the way for an intrusive surveillance culture?

Do you believe that you cannot know whether you can trust another person unless you have either had sex with him or have watched his latest sex video?

Siegel seems to believe that the way we have sex, with whom and when and how, expresses who we are most fully and completely. This means that if we do not know how people have sex we do not know who they are.

Given the absence of thought that animates Siegel’s articles, one feels obliged to note that anyone who follows his advice would have little difficulty advertising his sexual experiences in public.

Of course, if he does so we will, in effect, know who he is. We will know that he does not have any shame or self-respect. We will know that he cannot be trusted.

As for the solipsism inherent in Siegel’s approach, read his prescription for casual sex: “Giving preference to self-awareness, exploration, and authenticity over sexual performance or reaching an orgasm, creates an emotional posture from which we can connect to the deepest, most vulnerable parts of ourselves. When we do not get caught up in how highly our partner regards us because we want a relationship to continue, we are less likely to censor ourselves and can experience a level of intimacy, perhaps not attainable in a relationship complicated by long-term concerns.”

Sex becomes therapeutic, Siegel is saying, when we ignore our partner and become completely absorbed in our own personal voyage of self-discovery.

It may seem a bit churlish, but anyone who systematically ignores his partner during sex is likely to be stuck with casual sex.


Dennis said...

A Very Mental Christmas!

1. Schizophrenia --- Do You Hear What I Hear?
2. Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Kings Disoriented Are
3. Dementia --- I Think I'll be Home for Christmas
4. Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me ...
5. Manic --- Deck the Halls and Walls and House... and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and... Trees and.....
6. Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me
7. Borderline Personality Disorder --- Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire
8. Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why
9. Attention Deficit Disorder --- Silent night, Holy Oooh look at the Froggy - can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?
10. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder --- Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells........

Robert Pearson said...

This reminds me amusingly of the "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask" guy Dr. Reuben.

I was just a curious lad when I devoured his mega bestselling book, and shortly after he had an follow-up article in some magazine where he answered questions. One woman had written him about this role-playing, bondage etc. stuff that Siegel thinks is so great and how she and her boyfriend acted out, and asked what he thought.

I've never forgotten the substance of his reply which was essentially, "What you're doing is childish. Time to grow up and have some adult sex."

Heh, well it's good to see how much progress had been made over at Psych Today in the last 35 years!

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Dennis. If I may, a very Mental Christmas to you and yours.

And thanks also, Robert. I didn't mention it in my post but Siegel does offer some case material in one of his columns.

In it he touts the virtues of casual sex by showing how much good it did for a woman patient of his.

After engaging in a casual sexual relationship this woman was supposedly primed to involve herself in something more meaningful, and, as you say, more adult.

It is a nice spin to put on the fact that she was-- unsurprisingly--dumped by her casual sex partner.

Bizzy Brain said...

Siegel's mind works like a psychotic's.

Phil L. said...

Siegel's quotes caused my BS meter to go berserk.

Dennis said...

If I was a little more skeptical I might think that this is what men who don't want to commit tell women when they just want them as sexual toys? It is somewhat telling that there are women who actually fall for this BS.
Just who is that becomes the real winner in this situation and just who is the one who gets devalued to the point of being little more than a human blowup doll?
Call me a romantic, but I love the connection, bond, between a man and a woman that makes sex more than just sex.

Sick Sigma Sez said...

"Do you believe that the present manic-depressive element in modern literature is due to the retreat of a suppressed libido into the realm of an ultra-conscious mysticism which has resulted in the atavistic reversion of heroes motivated by so-called base impulses? Or do you believe it is an unconscious reversal in protest against Victorian Romanticism?"
Does the above quote make sense to you? It makes more sense to me than anything Siegel has written. BTW, the above quote came from MAD Magazine circa the 1960's. I committed it to memory way back when. Thought it might come in handy sometime to get in an English major's panties, or now that I think of it maye NOT. LOL!

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I too grew up with Mad Magazine, even before the 60s. It's one of those things that kept people sane in the good old days.

Thanks for reminding me of an old friend. The quote says it all.