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Surrendering myself: A commentary comparing the orgasm to personal therapy
An existential essay by Dr. Julie Scheiner

This essay sought to examine the essential qualities of comparing the act of the orgasm compared to personal therapy. It sought to examine the vulnerability the author has felt in personal therapy compared to the perceived vulnerability of the human within a sexual context.

I can think of no other aspect of human “beingness” that is more fraught with difficulty than sexuality. Everywhere we are besieged by images pertaining to sexual desire – according to popular culture, sex sells. We are positively battered with images of the promise of sex and sexuality wherever we look and it can grab our attention wherever we happen to be.

Conflicting images make the issue of love and sexuality a thorny minefield to enter, particularly with reference to sexuality and intimate relationships. The prospect of sexuality has spurned an advance in our culture with reference to religions, New Age books and therapists and a myriad of other influences. What is it about sexuality that makes it so difficult for humans?

The first point of reference is to understand what sex is, where it came from and how it is developing. The early writings of philosophical enquiry into this problem can be traced back to Erasmus Darwin in the 18th Century who anthropomorphised that male and female sex organs of plants are akin to the bride and groom.
However, despite the growing attention focused on sex in recent years, no-one can really aspire to understanding what sex is really like since it is more than just a coming together of human bodies. Our minds resemble vast uninhabited spaces about which we are still learning so much. Simply put, our minds are extraordinary and therefore sexual events become more than just entwined bodies; sex takes on dimensions in the realms of psychology, emotional, conceptual, spiritual and evolutionary. Mitchell (2002) states that “the very physical intensity of human sexual physiology requires a juxtaposition of persons, their excitements, their pleasures, their fantasies, their fears, their longings, their hopes – the entire range of mental life can come into play”. Sex by its very nature brings into play an individual’s dreads, desires, conflicts and the negotiations of self between others, leading to a potential conundrum of feelings. Hence the sexual experience is not just about the pleasure between two or more people but throws up a multitude of experiences. Sexual experiences give a person such powerful material for emotional experience that sexual desire may have become “our most intimate arena for personal and interpersonal experience” (Mitchell, 2002).

It is my intention to write about sexuality in relation to surrender and control. As I perceive the subject from both a male and female perspective, sexuality, in particular, the orgasm plays an important role for all parties involved. Certainly, the orgasm itself can be perceived as a private event, as the French refer to it as “la petite morte”, the little death. However, for me, an orgasm is typified by its essence of “aliveness”, rather than death. But it certainly feels as if it is a private event which can be glorified due to its heightened awareness of the moment. The orgasm can also be viewed as the surrendering of one’s own being to another thus making it an entirely personal affair.

What is interesting for me is the degree to which one is able to “surrender” to another by experiencing an orgasm. Since I feel that experiencing an orgasm and being with another in full view of that experience can be both an intimate, intense and frightening time, especially for those who feel quite privately about such events, it is a sharing of an intimate moment between two people but how those people view each other can bring into play a myriad of other emotions. The same can be said for romantic love. In thinking about romantic love, one also surrenders oneself to another but in a different manner. In Plato’s symposium, (a symposium was a wine drinking party with seven participants in the form of speeches) he deals with love at one level but on another level deals with knowledge, the question how we know what we know. However the topic of love is taken up at the symposium and Aristophanes offers an explanation to the group that his explanation of “love may be more absurd than funny”. His speech is an explanation for why people who have fallen in love say they feel “whole”. He states that during primal times, people were globular spheres, who resembled clowns doing cartwheels. There were three sexes, all male, all female and the “androgynous” who were half man, half woman. Since the creatures took it upon themselves to scale the heights of heaven and planned to set upon the gods, Zeus became angry with them. He thought about blasting them to death with thunderbolts but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings. Instead he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half. Having chopped up the people, to make them singly male and female, it is now said that people search for their other half because they are really trying to recover their primal nature. Thus once they have found this “other half”, they feel whole again.

However, there is clearly a line between those who seek romantic love and those who desire more casual relationships. Eroticism can be explained in much simpler terms; especially one night stands for example. The romantic love interest is not necessarily present and therefore without the notion of romantic love, sex can be perceived to be less complex. Romantic love entails a desire, a longing for a partner who can fulfil one and since this person has become important, a reliance on that person feeling the same way. Romantic love is not something one is able to control since it rests on the other to reciprocate those feelings. It also allows one to become vulnerable in their desire, thus taking a risk.

The difference between love and sex may lead to different experiences but both necessitate the need to surrender to another, in different ways. Because they are both thoroughly human ways of relating to another, both require risk by surrendering and being vulnerable. As Donne puts it “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. . .any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. . .”

The issue of control, surrender, desire, vulnerability, for me are also present in the therapeutic relationship. As I perceive my own therapy, the difficulty in wanting to control the relationship remains an arduous task. The surrender and desire to be understood and accepted, posited me at different polarities, I was scared but also had an innate need to want to be “involved” in the therapeutic relationship and being vulnerable made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Personal therapy for me was similar to romantic love and erotic desire at the same time. The idea of “orgasm” or “le petite mort” felt quintessential to the way I was feeling. At the same time, entertaining the notion of such a private and vulnerable act such as orgasm was akin to how I felt in therapy. It required an induction of surrender and being vulnerable, something that I was not good at. Notwithstanding this position, I found myself in a constant state of fascination about how my clients have been so open and willing to share their stories with me, with so much ease and little tension. I often have wondered how they do it whilst I often found being in a therapeutic relationship at times a personal struggle and would much rather be inhabiting Donne’s island!

I remember my first two years of therapy and recall it resembling the tide, coming in and going out, depending on how safe I was feeling. There was nothing wrong in my therapist’s approach to me at all but at times I often wondered how I could ever feel safe enough in the relationship to bare my soul. This to me resembles the orgasm. I recall a good friend saying to me many years ago that she often felt that having sex was easier than being emotionally intimate with a significant other. I knew through my readings of therapist’s stories, when asked the question of why they became therapists, answered that they knew they had to be in therapy and therefore became therapists. These interviews invariably took place towards the end of their lives and I find it interesting that I have managed to fall into the same thinking pattern although am aware that I am younger and feel this way. I knew from a young age that I had to be in therapy but also knew that I would find the process a very painful and arduous one. Personal reasons had brought me close to several therapists but I never felt comfortable enough to stay with any one therapist. I have never felt comfortable with being vulnerable and often feel that this is due to my deep mistrust of people, that people will always let me down. My therapist, whom I have just terminated with, never did let me down but in my mind there was always a risk that she would. Although Rogers talks about his core conditions, are they ever enough for an individual such as myself to feel comfortable enough to settle into a therapeutic relationship and to surrender myself and make myself vulnerable enough to share my inner world with a significant other? Sex like therapy, like intimacy are all risky strategies that one must learn to manage in life and that is the paradox of intimacy. One seeks intimacy yet at the same time, can be an intimate and frightening prospect to crave and desire.

Existential psychotherapy’s principle of relatedness is a cornerstone to the rationale of its existence as a therapy. Spinelli (2007), in his book “Practising Existential Psychotherapy” explores the concept of the philosophical foundations of existential therapy. One of his first quotes in the first chapter by Henning Mankell states that “clarity arises in the spaces in between” which resonates with the psychotherapeutic view of the process of the therapeutic relationship offered by writers such as those of Irving Yalom (1989). According to Spinelli (2007), the “existential attitude, seeks to bring back to contemporary notions of psychotherapy, a stance that re-emphasises a crucial aspect that is contained within the original meaning of therapia - namely, the enterprise of “attending to” another via the attempts to be beside, or with that other as he or she is being and acts in or upon the world” (Evans, 1981, cited in Spinelli 2007).
Spinelli (2007) states that existential practitioners emphasise individual's uniqueness in relation to being and constructing meaning from the world. He uses the analogy of a snowflake and says that each snowflake would appear to be entirely unique. No one snowflake’s shape or appearance is exactly the same as any other. Yet at the same time, all snowflakes come into being due to a very specific set of programmed structural invariants. Therefore “each unique snowflake is also a universal snowflake in that it contains and exhibits all the necessary invariants required in order to be a snowflake “. Surely the same theory can be applied to human beings?

Spinelli is explicit in his discussion of the therapeutic relationship and existential psychotherapy. He believes that existential psychotherapy “bestows an undisputed centrality upon the relationship between therapist and client”. He states that, broadly speaking, the therapeutic encounter can be viewed as a “microcosm” through which the “macrocosm” of the client’s inner world can both be explored and expressed (Cohn. 1997, Spinelli 2001, Strasser and Strasser, 1997). Spinelli further states that the existential therapist’s stance is to illuminate the client’s inner lived world as well as to clarify and challenge the client’s stance in the world, with others and how they may experience him and what it is like to be with the client. Therefore the existential therapist’s stance is acceptance, which is defined as the openness to what or who is there in the encounter and how it is to be in the relationship as it is being lived within the encounter. Through a description of the clients lived experience the existential therapist gains a full understanding of the client’s inner world and the ability to relate. Yalom states that “a good therapist must create a new therapy with every person they see”. I find this a very rational explanation of how good and important a therapist’s skills need to be in order to create therapeutic change. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the therapeutic relationship is the most important factor in creating a safe space for clients to encourage therapeutic change (Mearns and Cooper, 2005, Van Deurzen, 2006 Spinilli, 2007,) which is an important aspect of therapy in and of itself, but I can find very little written from a client’s perspective on the therapy itself. Van Deurzen, in her book “Everyday Mysteries” writes an informative chapter “Ground Rules of Existential Work” but it is a response to two authors Langs (1992) and Smith (1991) who have written about what clients want and need from their therapists. They include the physical, the social, personal and spiritual dimensions of the relationship which are all important.

Yet there is still a dearth of evidence to understand the uniqueness of the therapeutic experience from the client’s viewpoint especially with an understanding of the vulnerability of the clients and the implications that therapy may throw up. Since most clients come into therapy due to an identified need to be in therapy, it is worthy of note from the point of view of a trainee who may be in therapy when the desire does not exist. However the client who identifies the need to be in therapy must also make himself vulnerable within the therapeutic relationship in order for work to progress. I doubt this is an easy undertaking for anyone especially those who have identified the need to be in therapy let alone those who have to be in therapy. However I persevered with my therapy and although have not enjoyed the experience of being in a therapeutic relationship, have had to learn how to become vulnerable in front of a significant other and have learnt how to surrender myself to that feeling, similar to that of the orgasm. Sex, like therapy lives on and I suspect will continue to evolve.
As I conclude this paper, I now realise with hindsight the difficulties of relatedness and my own dissonance in being vulnerable. I doubt whether any writings can offer me any comfort but the one thing I have learnt is that time is needed to evolve, to feel comfortable enough to share my vulnerabilities and to surrender myself to the therapeutic “orgasm” of letting go and allowing another to be privy to my inner world. This is true whether it be in the therapy room or a more intimate relationship whatever its nature.



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