This witty and highly articulate account is a remarkably thorough presentation of structural psychoanalysis, maybe the best introduction we have. Unfortunately the context is so startling (psychoanalysis? sex therapy? surrogate?) that the points may be lost on many readers. Also, you are not told what to think about what happens. You are just taken into the writer’s confidence; there are no theoretical or conceptual references. Before engaging in this work, the writer was associated with the group for several years, in several roles, among them as editor.
Without using these terms, she demonstrates consistent use of countertransference cues, transference interpretations, and a demonstration of how each partner creates the other in a relationship—as well as how hard this is for them to recognize, since it is not part of common knowledge as yet, and since we each feel responsible for our reactions (whether or not we deny or externalize that feeling). Of course, the model is here applied to sex, the most difficult application of all. Keep in mind that much of the therapy went on in review sessions with a co-therapist, following each body work session.
The surrogate, as used by Masters and Johnson, was a nightmare image of a woman to any feminist. She went through a structured program of behavioral exercises with her male patient no matter how she felt or what she thought. She would smile even if she hated him. She would stroke him even if she cringed at the feel of his skin. She would have intercourse with him when Masters and Johnson thought it appropriate, even if she had to close her eyes and pretend he was someone else in order to endure the experience. She would do anything to get her patient to function sexually.
A daytime version of the surrogate’s plight can afflict women who would never take on her job. A few years ago I was sometimes haunted, after what had seemed to be an enjoyable conversation, by a nagging feeling of emptiness. I began to notice that with certain men I had a talent for smiling, nodding, and carrying on conversations without letting on that I was capable of a thought that wasn’t agreeable, pleasant, and supportive. Whatever I was thinking became lost when I felt the uncontrollable rush of smiles and reassurance. In situations where that surrogate‑like ability was activated, the nagging empty feeling was the only clue left that I had a separate identity.
Once I noticed how I was getting left out, I found it wasn’t that easy for me to do anything else. On occasion I might manage to take over the conversation, but all that happened was an exchange of roles. He had to smile and agree. It did nothing for the emptiness haunting me. More often, at times when I felt pulled into smiling and agreeing like a small‑scale surrogate, it took all my energy to resist at all. I was often left silent in the midst of mysterious forces with nothing to do but watch what was happening to me.
When I first began working with the Berkeley Sex Therapy Group, about two years ago, they seemed to be trying to find an answer to the same problem I was stuck with. They had tried to do surrogate therapy [not quite accurate; we had begun as a consultant for a literal surrogate—Ed.] but had found it usually didn’t work. It seemed as if most sex patients, when confronted with a strange woman and a new relationship in which they felt they somehow had to function sexually, just felt too worried, too pressured, and too preoccupied to be seduced by the friendly atmosphere the surrogate worked so diligently to create.
Wanting to develop a form of body work sex therapy that would be useful with a larger number of patients, the group gave up the surrogate idea. The first thing they noticed was similar to what I had experienced, that it wasn’t easy not to be a surrogate. The surrogate had only been an accomplice in her clients’ compulsive attempts to ignore the discomfort in the relationship. To not fall into her role meant resisting pressure to go along with his persistent, undercover and unsuccessful efforts. It meant taking a less pessimistic view, at least experimentally, one in which it is not taken for granted that the only way the surrogate and the patient can endure their difficult plight is to ignore it by acting friendly. It meant asking whether or not it is possible for two people to include feelings normally described as turn‑offs in their relationship and still get turned on. [More accurately, it was to develop the ways this can be the most direct route to being turned on, especially since trying to avoid turn-offs is what turns people off—Ed.] The group had begun to try to find ways to resist the patient and to notice him without making him hate himself and without becoming his enemy.
Having been an unwilling observer of the stress and pressure that can exist in relationships, I thought I might have some perspective on what sex patients experience. With their desperate efforts they are reacting to the very stress I had noticed only when I had stopped reflexively playing a surrogate‑like role, but, unlike me, they are unable to observe anything. Hoping I could find some use for the experience I kept having, I decided to see several patients in body work sex therapy. The group and I were both involved in the same experiment. I was hoping that I could begin to find an alternative both to getting lost in the type of role which the surrogate caricatures and to the mute struggle against succumbing to it.
The idea of doing the therapy frightened me. I would be placing myself in the middle of pressures I had never been able to deal with effectively. My co‑therapist and I would be working together with the patient during a review session each day after my session alone with the patient. I had known my co‑therapist for several years and I had found he had a rare understanding of how difficult relationships can be, I thought he would take seriously the problems likely to come up, even if I became overwhelmed by them. I expected him to be an ally in the struggle not to get lost, but I would be on my own with the patient for two and a half hours each day. I had no reason to believe I could avoid my smiling act. I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t just get stuck in silence.
The most pressing fear I had was that I might end up doing the body work despite how I felt about it just because it was somehow part of the therapy or because the patient expected it. I knew in theory I wouldn’t do the body work if it didn’t make sense in the relationship, which meant it would have to make sense to me, but I couldn’t imagine it ever making sense in this kind of relationship. I would be terrified, and he would at least be desperate. I was afraid that at some point I would feel obliged to touch him. Although the group’s idea was that any such performance would not be helpful, it was difficult for me to believe that when a woman is getting paid to be part of resolving a man’s sexual problems, her personal interests and feelings will not be pushed aside in the interest of that goal.
The morning before my first session as a sex therapist I meditated, did exercises, and phoned my co‑therapist to ask a few last minute questions. Despite these maneuvers I was shaking with nervousness as I sat down to wait for my patient to arrive. In the minutes left before the session was scheduled to begin, I looked over my notes one last time. I tried to construct in my mind exactly what I would have to do in this new role. I wanted to memorize my lines because I was afraid that once the patient was there I would be too nervous to think, but my mind felt strangely blank about what I would be doing. I already felt stuck.
It was only then that it clearly occurred to me that I could have no plans because of my role. I would not be there to seduce him. I would not be there to create any particular kind of scene or to act in any predetermined way. I could frame questions I wanted to ask. I knew what could be done in the body work. I knew what had happened in other sex therapy sessions with other therapists and other patients. What I could not know until the patient arrived was what would happen between us, what effect we would have on each other, and what happened between us was what the therapy would be about.
Suddenly my mind became a question machine. What state would he be in? Would he be nervous too? What would he think of me? Would he be wary because he was my first case? What ideas would he have about the body work? How would I react to him? Considering how nervous I was, and, I thought, how nervous he must be, how could we ever become comfortable enough to do any body work? If we did somehow get into the body work, would I feel embarrassed getting undressed with a stranger? What would he be expecting from me? How would I be able to think clearly in a situation that was already making me this nervous?
Fortunately these questions sounded familiar to me. I remembered that these are the concerns a patients has, but is usually trying not to notice, when he enters this kind of therapy. Since I had no more idea what was about to happen than did my patient, it seemed reasonable that I would have similar worries.
I reminded myself that this whole experience was an experiment and that a large part of what I would be doing was observing how I felt. As I sat waiting for my doorbell to ring, watching my mind racing with questions, my hands shaking, and my thoughts devoid of plans, I almost wished I was a surrogate with a set of exercises to go through without thinking, a reliable smile to hide behind, and some hope of escaping how vulnerable I felt. Considering that I had no such comfort, I felt like cancelling the experiment. I already knew how I would feel. I felt terrible, but I also had the idea that this state of mind was not at all inappropriate. Consequently, when the bell rang, I decided to answer it.
I opened the door to see a tall, dark‑haired, rather attractive man about my age standing outside. As if to check his identity, I said his name, “David?”
He responded in kind, “Andrea?”
I was horrified at how calm, low, and controlled his voice sounded. It was the tone of someone who had just dropped by to have a cup of coffee with an old friend. For an instant, before I’d had time to remember why I didn’t feel like an old friend, my churning state of mind was in danger of seeming less appropriate than it had a moment earlier. I held the door open for him to enter, but he didn’t move. He looked anchored to the spot where he stood.
“Come in,” I said, more dutifully than out of conviction.
After a long pause he did come. “You look surprised?” I inquired, referring to his paralysis.
“I guess I am surprised. It’s just . . . you’re attractive.”
For a moment I thought this job might not be so bad after all.
“Had you been worrying about that?” I was hoping we had something in common.
His response came somewhat slowly, but the voice remained smooth and controlled, “No, actually I haven’t really thought about the therapy since I saw Dr. Apfelbaum, Wednesday, I think it was.”
“You can sit over there.” As I tried to absorb his statement I gestured at the spot I had carefully chosen for him several days ago. I sat down in my own preselected spot facing him. I could not help wondering if this difference between us was why I was the therapist and he the patient.
Before we had finished arranging ourselves, he began talking, “I don’t know how much Dr. Apfelbaum told you about me, but . . . ”
I interrupted him to answer, “I think he gave me a pretty complete description actually. He said that your problem is that you’ve never been turned on, but that you have sex often, and . . .”
“Pardon me,” he interrupted, “do you have any coffee?”
“Yes,” I said slowly, “I could get you a cup. Black, or . . .”
“Black, yes, black would be fine.”
He was sitting on the edge of his chair, looking very uncomfortable, smiling. Everything about him except his level voice suggested that he needed comforting rather than coffee, but I had no way to bring that into the conversation. I was relieved to at least be able to supply coffee.
“Thanks, I needed that,” he chuckled. He settled back, took a slow sip, and set his cup down on the arm of the chair.
“You were talking about how I never get turned on. That’s right. That is my problem. I have this whole problem with women, starting with my mother, I guess—it’s like I just can’t get anything out of sex or anything else, but especially women.
“Like with Pam,” he continued, “I don’t know if Dr. Apfelbaum told you about her, but . . .”
I interrupted to answer his unasked question, “She’s the girl you just broke up with, right?”
“Right. But as I was saying, whenever Pam and I would have sex, which was fairly often, not all that often, I mean we weren’t living together or anything, but I’d go over to her place several times a week—she lived by herself so there weren’t any roommates to worry about or anything—we’d listen to records or something and usually we’d end up in the bedroom.”
Although my hands hadn’t completely stopped shaking and my stomach was tied in a knot, I began to think that being a sex therapist wasn’t hard at all. Apparently I didn’t have to do anything but listen. The only trouble was that I wasn’t finding listening to him to be that easy. I realized that I had already heard most of what he was telling me from Dr. Apfelbaum. I thought I would mention that fact, but much to my surprise, I couldn’t.
“Like the thing about Pam,” he went on, “was that she would always get turned on—that’s sort of typical, I’m good at taking care of women, in some ways—I’d start out feeling excited, but then, well I’d always have an orgasm, sometimes kind of quickly, but not . . . ”
“Tell him,” I told myself, “it’s something he needs to know.”
” . . . enough to matter, I guess, at least she never mentioned it, but I never felt anything. I never do. It’s just kind of nothing, more like going to the bathroom or something,” he laughed as if somewhat embarrassed. “I mean I just wouldn’t be turned on. We’d sort of start out on the couch, and I’d . . . ”
“How often did you come too soon?” That was the best I could do. At least I reassured myself that my voice was still working.
“Always. Not that soon, though, not right away. I mean, I’d. . .”
“Always. And she never mentioned it?”
“No. Like we’d start out on the couch, and, well, I am really good at getting women turned on. I’d touch her all over, get her off, and everything—she’d usually come.”
“Did you ever say anything about it?”
“No. I mean that’s my whole thing with women. I usually can get the woman off. But it’s not just sex. It’s the whole way I relate to women.”
The only effect my asking questions seemed to have was to force him to repeat himself more often.
Having been unable to tell him how I was reacting to him, I started to wonder why he wasn’t curious about his effect on me. It was as if he already knew what it was. He seemed to have no doubt that I needed to hear what he was telling me, and I was somewhat envious of his ability to make such comforting assumptions about me. I had trouble imagining what state of mind he was in. He knew that I knew much of his background. How did he know exactly what I needed to know? Why didn’t he at least ask if I had any ideas about the therapy? These were questions I would have liked to have asked him.
He went on, “I just happened to think about something that happened this morning. I mean it’s kind of typical too. I went over to visit this girl who just moved into this house across the street. She’s really attractive, a graduate student, and, uh, just nice. She’s a nice person.”
I noticed that my mind had become totally blank. The leaves of the avocado tree were no longer distinct. I could no longer see the holes in them, the missing pieces, the half‑brown hanging ones. All I could see was a uniformly green blur.
“You know, I thought maybe I’d ask her out or something. But I went over and we talked. I mean we had a really nice conversation. We talked for a couple of hours. I’m sure she was enjoying herself, but I never could ask her out.”
I noticed that I had stopped trying to interrupt him. Instead I had begun to nod at appropriate moments and to smile when he did. I had fallen into the role I dreaded, and the familiar struggle against it began. My face looked fascinated while my mind was free to consider other things, like blurry avocado leaves and that I really should stop being so passive and say something.
“Like she has this enormous dog, and we talked about that, and art history. She’s studying the history of art, and I—well, I don’t know that much about it, but something, enough to talk intelligently, and it was interesting.”
As I looked at him through unfocused eyes, I thought about how often this scene had occurred in my life, how often while a man was talking I had sat confined to nodding and smiling and silently hated myself for being so passive. I thought that if I could learn to handle this situation my life would be much easier.
From his history it occurred to me that this scene was also very common in his life. In some way he had always made women completely passive around him. I imagined Pam paralyzed with him in bed, unable to do anything but lie there, numbly receiving his attention.
“But I’m sure the whole thing didn’t make much sense to her, since I never mentioned why I was there. She was really nice and everything, but I never did ask her out. I mean this strange guy comes over from across the street and just stays for hours. It must have seemed kind of odd to her.”
He went on. It would have been relaxing to have just let him go on talking, to smile and make attentive sounding comments until the session was over. He would have felt as if I were with him. This seemed to be what he was pulling for from me. Who was I to interfere, I asked myself, especially when I could find no way to interfere.
With no way to bring my internal dialogue into the conversation, I felt it turn into an internal argument. I was convinced that no other sex therapist or surrogate would have let him take over as he had. Maybe she would just bully him, force him to stop talking and to get into the body work. Had I been able to justify doing that at least I could have stopped torturing myself about not being more active. Maybe she would give him a lecture or make a brilliant interpretation, but in my mind there were no lectures and no interpretations.
I thought about the visit he had described with the girl across the street. It had sounded as if she had talked, but he had stressed how nice she had been. Her part in the conversation sounded like a deluxe version of my smiling and nodding. Perhaps she had felt as trapped as I felt, but had simply done a more diligent job of carrying out the only role he left her. He had said that he had just kept the conversation going despite wanting to ask her out and not being able to. Perhaps he wanted something here too. Perhaps he was as trapped by his story-telling as I was.
I reminded myself that I was working and that if I just let him continue he would neither succeed in getting turned on nor understand why he was not. It would be no different than arty of his other encounters with women. I reminded myself that as much as he seemed not to believe it, I was important in this situation. Remembering that I was getting paid gave me enough incentive to endure watching myself being turned into a backdrop and to resist to the extent I could. The best I could do was to sit stony‑faced, staring at him as blankly as I felt. The smiles he did manage to pull out of me became half‑hearted smirks.
After a while he had to notice that his audience was not with him. He asked, “Is this what I ought to be talking about?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly why you’re telling me all this. I was just noticing that my mind has more or less dissolved. It’s like I can’t remember why I’m here. I have to keep reminding myself, ‘Oh, yeah, this is sex therapy.’ Like I can’t remember that it’s possible that we might be in the bedroom undressed together in a few minutes, that there might be body work.”
“Oh, that’s something I meant to ask about, what happens in the body work?” He laughed. I had a definite feeling that he hadn’t heard me, but I chose to take advantage of this rare opportunity to have a role by answering his question.
Talking about the body work was a relief. I dreaded David’s starting to talk again. If he did, I did not know how much longer I could continue to resist. letting a smile replace me. The idea of doing the body work appealed to me, because, as I imagined it, I would have to have a role. He would have to follow my instructions, and he couldn’t stroke himself.
There was no question of being forced into the body work because of some feeling of obligation. I was much more in the position of wanting to do it and just needing a reason that would make me feel like I was doing therapy. I remembered my co‑therapist saying that if there was no way to get beneath the talking with David that might be an occasion to get into the body work, because it can make things more concrete. It seemed clear that David was hearing nothing I said and that I was having trouble listening to him, but how that was happening was too foggy in my mind to discuss then or in the review session.
I decided that if there was anything this relationship needed, it was to be made more concrete.
I suggested to David that we try the body work. I recited the instructions I’d memorized. I told him that we would go into the bedroom, take off our clothes, and he would lie face down on the bed.
I discovered how I felt getting undressed in that situation. I felt as if I were still dressed. David didn’t seem to notice that anything had changed. He barely looked at me. He just lay face down on the bed and resumed his monologue. The stroking kept reminding him of other things, a problem at work, incidents with Pam and with his mother, the apartment he was looking for.
As he talked, I massaged him, heavily at first. His muscles were tense. I would massage a muscle until it relaxed a little, but as soon as he started talking again, I felt the tension return. He didn’t seem to notice that a stranger was handling his body. He mentioned my stroking only when I asked him how it felt. I tried lighter stroking. I could barely keep my hands moving. They seemed superfluous. I felt strangely as if I were not touching him at all. When I told him this feeling, he agreed that he felt as if he were lying there in a coat of armor.
During the review session first David gave a report of what had happened during our session and then I did. As the three of us met, David dramatized how totally he could block me out by reacting to nothing I said until Dr. Apfelbaum repeated it. In the less unnerving setting of the review session, with two of us to keep David from running off into a monologue, we were able to pursue the question of what David had been experiencing during the session. We discovered that when I had opened the door David had felt stuck. He’d almost wanted to run away. He had been afraid that he would not be able to say anything and that if he were speechless nothing could happen, but he had overcome those feelings and started talking. Even as I had stroked him, he had been completely absorbed in coming up with something to say.
The session had been David’s own private battle against getting stuck. He commented that the picture of him the session provided was an extreme example of his typical way of dealing with sexual situations and perhaps with many other situations.
The session left me with a new perspective on my momentary seizures of playing mindless female. My dilemma seemed to be a product of David’s way of trying to block out my effect on him, his feeling stuck. He was desperately trying to keep me from reminding him that I was there and of how I made him feel. To have had any large part in our conversation, I would have had to completely block him out. Although I was always telling myself not to be passive at such times, I could not have resisted smiling, could not have maintained my position to that extent, had I not been paid. I forgave myself for the times when I hadn’t been able to do it. It was the hardest work I’d ever done. I was exhausted.
After David left Dr. Apfelbaum and I talked for a few minutes. We agreed the session had been productive. He was impressed by how the session had pinpointed David’s problem. He praised a number of things I’d said. I left the office trying to convince myself I’d done a good job, but I couldn’t feel it very deeply. I shrugged off my uneasiness. I never can quite feel like I’ve done enough, I thought.
After several sessions of the same exhausting struggle, I started to resent how much of the stress in the relationship with David I was having to absorb. David could forget about the therapy the days we didn’t meet. I couldn’t. I resented what an easy time my co‑therapist seemed to be having. He didn’t have to spend two and a half hours alone with David every day. Even in the review sessions, he didn’t have to keep trying to tell David his own feelings about him without ever being heard. I finally managed to resent it all enough that I could convey some of my frustration to Dr. Apfelbaum during a conference. I’d been trying to do this all along. Although I had felt like all I had been doing was complaining, he hadn’t realized the degree to which I did feel frustrated. I was surprised that the strain I was suffering from wasn’t just part of the job, a job which at that point I never wanted anything more to do with.
Dr. Apfelbaum came up with the idea that, with David, it might be necessary for me to have my own script. We had already made a script for David. Scripts are often used by patients. Simple sentences of the feelings they simply can’t remember to say, especially during the body work, are written down on a piece of paper. They can then read phrases like, “I feel turned off,” or “I don’t like that,” at times they need to say them. We talked about several items I might include.
David came into the next session talking, rather abstractly, about how he could never include women in his problems or turn to them for anything. I brought up the idea of a script for me and read him what I had written: “I feel frustrated. I wanted to get back to what you said or get into it, but I don’t know how. I’m feeling excluded. I can’t say anything because it either sounds like I’m criticizing you or else it will turn out that I’ve given you a project. I feel helpless.” When I finished, he went back to his original topic, apparently oblivious to the effort I was making to be included. I mentioned how he had ignored me, and he accused me of being defensive. Ordinarily at that point I might have given up, but staring at the phrase, “I’m feeling excluded,” made it impossible for me to forget my own feeling. I insisted that his ignoring me meant something. He looked at his own script and read, “I feel passive.”
My being able to persist led to our being able to work together for a few moments, adding items to both our scripts. When we began the body work that day, the feeling of rapport this created led to David’s feeling slightly turned on. He enjoyed the body work more than he ever had. That day it seemed convincing that discussing my dilemma with David was not only in my own interest.
I kept the script next to me on the couch and in the bedroom and whenever the leaves of the avocado tree would start to get blurry or my mind would go blank, I could look at it and usually find a phrase that described my situation. Those few phrases were more than I had yet been able to say to David, but he had never heard any of the feelings I was trying to express before. At one point I told David that telling him how I felt with him was very difficult and that if this were a normal social situation I wouldn’t bother. I would just smile and look interested until I could getaway from him and I would never come back. That, he said, was exactly what happened to him with women. He had dated a lot of women, although none for very long, and he had never found out what had gone wrong in any of these relationships.
Although the script helped a little, I became depressed. Because of problems with David’s schedule, I wasn’t seeing him every day, five days a week, the usual arrangement for this kind of therapy. I was seeing him only two or three times a week, and the depression crept up on me mysteriously during a long space between sessions. I didn’t relate it to the therapy at all. I just happened to mention it to Dr. Apfelbaum during our conference. I said, “I feel so down, I don’t know how I can stand this session today.”
Not being afflicted with my own peculiar vision of that moment, he did connect it with David, and as soon as he did, I did. During our last session together, I had stroked David quite a bit. As I talked to Dr. Apfelbaum I realized that I had felt pressured to stroke David because I was feeling so depriving, so stone faced, so cold and bitchy, that I couldn’t stand myself any longer. Session after session, I had been denying him the tokens of reassurance, the smiles and nods and contentless supportive comments that he worked with a kind of feverish desperation to get. I suddenly remembered that as I had been touching David, I had had to imagine I was touching someone else. That fantasy had been all that had made it possible to stroke David at all. The session had not only failed to relieve my feelings of being depriving, but had left me feeling like a phony, or a surrogate, as well.
After the conference I was able to talk about the incident in the review session and to say that I was depressed because I felt so cold and depriving with David. I could barely say it, but it did provide me with relief. My depression lifted instantly.
Once I talked about how cold I was feeling, David was able to say that he was seeing me as feeling unalterably cold toward him. This turned out to be a feeling he’d been having since our first session, but he hadn’t been able to say anything about it, because he was completely pessimistic that I could ever feel otherwise. He had thought that I just didn’t like him and that there was no point in talking about it. This was his motive for blocking out a lot of what I tried to say, and, of course, the more he tried to block me out, the colder I felt.
David and I had been locked in a battle. He had been compulsively trying to keep me out of the conversation, and I had been determined not to let him succeed. I had thought that my trouble was that I just wasn’t fighting hard enough, that I was too passive. Under the pressures of our sessions together, I had come to consider the difficulty I was having to be my own personal problem, not part of the therapy, not part of the relationship. As soon as I gave into the trouble and talked about how hard resisting David was and how cold and depriving it made me feel, we had the beginning of a way to talk about what was happening between us. It also gave him the beginning of a way to understand what was happening in his other relationships with women, something he had never had before.
I had made a discovery, but I had only a hint of what it was. Part of this job seemed to be taking my own experience in relationships with men more seriously than I ever had. It seemed to mean not dismissing problems as personal quirks or inadequacies. Had I thought seeing more patients would only mean more exhausting struggles not to be silenced, I wouldn’t have gone on, but I had had a glimpse of some kind of alternative.
By the time I saw my fourth patient, Rick, I began approaching the sessions not thinking about what I had to do, but, instead, asking myself the question,”Who will I be turned into today?” My attention had shifted from trying not to get paralyzed or turned into a smiling robot and began to focus on those experiences with more interest. What was happening to me became less a problem to be solved and more a source of information.
This development culminated during one session with Rick. Rick was another story teller. That afternoon he had been telling me about how bored he was with his life. His job was boring. The teachers he worked with were boring.
I said, “Maybe your boredom has something to do with this session. I noticed I’m bored too. You’ve been talking for quite a while, and I can hardly remember why you’re here, or that there might be body work.”
He suddenly transformed himself. He sat up and, looking animated, told me that he had been having fantasies, which he had only noticed while I was talking, of my going down on him. In one fantasy, he would get undressed, and when he revealed his cock, I would stare at it awestruck. In the midst of what became a haphazard rush of words, he referred to this side of himself as his “animalistic side,” and he had a point. He almost looked as if he were growling.
I said that the impulses he was having were important to report, especially during the body work. On previous days, he had had no urges, and few thoughts about sex. I was curious about the change that had come over him. I suggested that we try getting into the body work, focusing on keeping track of these impulses and fantasies and whether or not he continued to have them.
I stopped off in the bathroom on the way to the bedroom, and while alone realized that I really didn’t want to do the body work, that I felt under a great deal of pressure, but I still thought it would be important to try the body work, to see what we could find out about this new mood.
When I joined Rick in the bedroom he reported that while he had been alone he had found himself looking over my books, but had caught himself. He had told himself, “What am I doing looking at books at a time like this.” He had then worked up a fantasy about undressing. I tried to tell him how I’d been feeling while alone, but he dismissed it as quickly as he had dismissed his own ambivalence. He started telling me about how he wanted to get undressed.
The day before when we had gotten undressed, we had, following my directions, simply taken our clothes off. He referred to this as “locker-room style,” and gave me along fast‑paced talk about how undressing is a sensuous experience for him. He begged me to just sit there and let him undress his way.
I tried to mention again how pressured and desperate everything was feeling, but he just kept begging.
“You just want me to watch?”
“Okay, but I don’t know how I’ll feel about it.”
As I sat on the edge of the bed he began to take off his pants saying, “I don’t know, I like to get right to the essentials.” He described how when he gets undressed at night, alone, he likes to imagine that he’s getting undressed for a woman. As he envisioned this scene, she would be suddenly overwhelmed with desire as his buttocks were exposed. In illustration he grabbed his buttocks, hard, with his hands.
I was not feeling any of the things he described his imaginary female companion feeling, but I was feeling like I should at least appreciate how much he was putting himself out. If I hadn’t still been thinking, it might have been hard to remember, with all the growling, that his problem was impotence. He was certainly more worked up than I was. I felt not a flicker of anything sexual. I was even still thinking, and I felt that when he found out later that I had been conscious during his display he would be embarrassed. It didn’t seem fair to keep my state of mind secret.
I said, “I’m bored. I just can’t sit here any longer,” and I got up. I was about to attempt to clarify why I was unable to go along with him when he protested.
“I don’t care how you feel. There’s this whole problem of my not involving you, but I think you’re just not letting yourself get involved.” He had raised his voice quite a bit.
“I’m just not being a good sport?”
“Right.” He began to talk about how turned‑on he was and how he just wanted me to go along with it, to see how far he could go. His face kept contorting itself into animal‑like expressions. He was talking rapidly. He was making clawing gestures with his hands. He kept grabbing his buttocks. He seemed somewhat out of his mind to me, and I felt vaguely like running into the street screaming.
I managed a calm understatement, “There seems to be a lot of pressure now. I think it’s important to report these impulses rather than acting them out. We can try to get into the stroking while keeping track of them. You lie down and I’ll get undressed.” I was ordering him to lie down, since he was not hearing any of my explanations. If he didn’t follow my directions, I had decided I would stop the session, but he lay down immediately.
He lay face down, and I began to stroke him lightly all over, repeating that it’s important to report anything he feels: impulses, turned on, turned off, or nothing at all. I said that the goal was to get an idea of what he experiences, whether he gets turned on or not.
He said that the stroking felt good on his buttocks and asked me to do it harder. I did it harder to see what would happen. He said that the pressure of my hands on his buttocks reminded him of when he masturbates, because he always masturbates lying face down on the bed, rubbing. He talked about how quickly he masturbates, in thirty seconds, only for the release. I said that that reminded me of his whole approach to life as he had described it, that it’s only the end product that counts for him. He had said that he must always be the best at everything he does, and that that’s the only point of doing anything.
As we talked, I continued to stroke him lightly. He told me that he was turned off again and that he had wanted me to stroke his cock as soon as he had lain down.
“That’s important to report,” I said, ignoring his tone of voice which sounded more like he was trying to indirectly push me into action than it sounded like reporting. In a few minutes I told him to roll over and began to stroke his front in the same light way.
When I brushed over his genitals he became quiet and a few seconds later started to get a slight erection.
“Oh, I was having this fantasy. You were going down on me. You were all turned on, grabbed my cock, and stuck it in your mouth . . .” As he described his fantasy, his face once again took on its growling expression. Although I felt pressured to do more, I kept stroking him lightly.
He suddenly erupted, complaining that he wasn’t getting any reinforcement from me. “Here I was having this fantasy and I was hoping you’d be having a fantasy too and we could both go off together in our fantasies and maybe I’d have an orgasm.” As he talked, he grabbed his cock and started to rub it, rather roughly, with one hand. I tried to talk about that. He just said that he was really turned on.
I noticed that I’d stopped stroking him. His voice had been growing louder and his words more rapid. The more animated he became the more bored I seemed to feel. I found myself looking at the clock. I asked rather flatly, “You wanted me to stroke your cock just then?”
“I mean I’m really turned on and I get into this fantasy and I get really excited about it, and then I look at you, and you’re just kind of going, ‘Uh‑huh. Uh‑huh.'”
He continues, “And that’s another thing—you don’t have a sense of humor. In fact that’s one of the things I wrote down from listening to the tape of yesterday’s review session.”
“You didn’t mention that when we were talking about the tape,” I said, struck because what he was saying sounded more important than anything he had said about the tape.
“Yeah, that was the first thing I wrote down, ‘No sense of humor.'”
“But you didn’t mention it.”
“I know. I wrote it down, but I guess it didn’t seem important earlier, but I mean I just tell my jokes and nothing. I mean a sense of humor is really important to me.”
His words were rushing out. His voice had grown louder. I felt myself step back from the scene until I felt as if I were watching both of us from a hundred yards away. Part of me felt like crying. Part of me began making up a list of references of all the people who had ever admired my sense of humor. I had a sense of being so totally alone that it was not even possible to communicate how far apart we were.
The session was almost over. I resigned myself to collecting events and impressions and feelings.
After he left I wrote up my notes, incident by incident, but the feelings I was having were hard to formulate then. As I was walking to the review session I had a fantasy of being fired, and I realized that I felt depressed about the session. I felt like a depriving bitch, hopelessly asexual.
Not going along with Rick had had a high cost. It was the same feeling that had crept up on me with David, but this time it didn’t seem at all mysterious or private. It just seemed to be part of the therapy. It was like trying to rescue a drowning man, except that it was not as obvious that I had to resist his efforts to drag me under with him.
Despite having had this problem for years, Rick seemed in danger of thinking I was the only reason he wasn’t having orgies every day, and I felt somewhat in danger of believing that.
When Rick gave his report in the review session, I kept interrupting him. I was operating on a feeling that what hadn’t gotten across during the session was who I was, and I wanted to get the details clear of what had happened and why I had behaved as I had. During the sex therapy session there had simply been too much pressure to get anything across to Rick. We now had an observer, and even if Rick didn’t hear me, my co‑therapist would.
When Rick described getting turned on to his fantasy he said he had felt like I had been a prick‑tease.
I interrupted him to say that that was exactly how I had felt. I had felt like a mean bitch and depressed about that. “If he’s so turned on, why aren’t I? I must just be somebody who hates sex. Like I’m obviously in the wrong field. I should be a librarian.”
On saying those words, I felt released from the spell Rick had cast on me. I stopped feeling anti‑sexual. I stopped feeling like a bitch. I stopped having to convince myself that Rick had made me feel as I had been feeling. I stopped having to struggle at all. As if by magic, my identity returned.
My co‑therapist pointed out that this is a classical situation that occurs in many marriages. The woman might come in saying, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. He gets all excited, and I feel nothing.” He said that this is what typically happens with the kind of desperation turn‑on that Rick had been pursuing. Rick had been afraid of losing his impulse and had put me in the position he had been afraid he would be in, of being completely turned‑off. He said that next time, if Rick were more on top of this feeling, he might come in saying, “I’m really afraid I’ll never get turned on.”
The picture was clear and Rick seemed to understand what had happened. He asked me, “Why couldn’t you have said you felt like that during the session?” He seemed to be registering a complaint rather than expecting an answer, but when he said that I started thinking. I thought about the difference between how he was acting during the review session and how he had been acting during the sex therapy session. As he sat in the chair in our office, he looked basically calm and rational. He was no longer growling. He wasn’t grabbing his cock whenever I stopped touching him. He wasn’t talking fast. I wasn’t having to remind myself that I do too have a sense of humor. I thought of how he’d said, “I don’t care how you feel.” There’d been an hour in which, the emergency over, I’d been able to think. The presence of a third person made quite a difference.
I thought that a couple of months ago I would probably have asked myself the same question and felt impatient with myself and even a little depressed because I hadn’t thought of this way of saying how I had been feeling during the session. At that moment, however, all I felt was a sense of having done the impossible in coming up with a way to state my experience at all.
It had taken all the sessions with David and others and all the previous days with Rick to learn how to say those few words. I thought that the answer to Rick’s question summarized what I had learned from doing this therapy. There had been a lot of reasons I hadn’t been able to talk clearly earlier about my position. It had been hard enough not to comply with the pressure Rick had been putting me under, let alone to say anything about it. There were a lot of reasons for not talking. There were a lot of reasons for being passive.