Whole Life Magazine

February/March 2013

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IntelligentluST Psychotherapist Stanley Siegel's healing perspective on fantasy and casual sex By diana rico I s any area of our lives more taboo, mysterious and misunderstood than sexual fantasy? American culture is downright schizophrenic about this primal urge, seesawing between Puritanism and pornography. One longs to hear grounded insight from a reasoned voice—a voice that helps us to understand the tremendous power of sexual fantasy and maybe even put it to positive use. Enter Stanley Siegel, a New York Citybased psychotherapist and author, most recently of Your Brain on Sex: How Smarter Sex Can Change Your Life (Sourcebooks Casablanca). The clean-cut, bespectacled Siegel believes that sexual fantasy is much more than an escape or an avenue to pleasure. When it's examined and used in a purposeful way, sexual fantasizing and enactment can actually be a potent tool for healing unresolved issues in our lives, both within and outside of relationship. In his writings, lectures and teaching, Siegel refuses to pathologize most (if not all) expressions of sexuality and instead argues for compassion, acceptance and deep self-knowledge. This position makes him somewhat unorthodox in the profession he's embraced for 40 years. Last year Psychology Today abruptly axed his wildly popular online column, "Intelligent Lust," after he wrote a frank piece about how men (including himself) really feel about their penises, and another one extolling the healing and therapeutic function of sex workers. (He republished them on his website: www.stanley-siegel.com.) I spoke with the 65-year-old therapist via phone just after New Year's day. His warm, open manner suggests one of those gentle, oldschool professors who surprise you when their permissive ideas blow your brain right open. Wlt: the term intelligent lust seems like an oxymoron. How can something so primal and instinctual be rational, too? sexual fantasizing and enactment can actually be a potent tool for healing unresolved issues in our lives ss: Sexual desire is based not only on lust but [also] on our human need to heal what we are in conlict with or to satisfy unmet needs. And I think that just the way our immune system works to heal physical wounds, our sexual desires are a way in which we heal past emotional wounds. We can't really escape childhood without some conlicts or unmet needs, and often what happens is that during adolescence we tend to eroticize the feelings we have surrounding these conlicts or unmet needs. So intelligent lust is a process of using sex in a way which not only thrills us physically but also helps us heal these unmet needs or past conlicts. In Your Brain on Sex you describe, in detail, the six steps that comprise this process. Could you give us a condensed version? 26 The irst step is to understand what those desires and fantasies are and what the feelings are behind them, and then to learn how to use them to guide us to make choices in sexual relationships that will help us mend those conlicts. Let's say we were raised in a family in which we had extremely critical parents, and we grew up feeling the humiliation of that criticism. By the time we reach adolescence, as a way of dealing with this feeling we might eroticize it, so that in our sexual fantasies and thoughts, what turns us on is our humiliation. In the process of eroticizing that, we almost master it; we turn pain into something pleasurable. As adults, rather than repressing the desire to feel humiliated, we can further understand it by choosing partners who will act it out with us in warm and loving ways. We can have the experience of the full depth of that humiliation, but this time it's in our control because we create the situation, and we create it with an agreeable, corrective partner. you recently wrote a controversial essay called "In Favor of Casual sex," to which your daughter Alyssa, a therapist in her own right, responded with a piece titled "my Father the ethical slut." Both articles took a more serious—I would even say a more mindful—approach to casual sex than our culture generally does. wholelifetimesmagazine.com IntelligentLust.indd 26 1/25/13 6:05 PM

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