The Role of Sexual Fantasies in Sexual Addiction

I take the view that the mind comes equipped with many profound and ingenious resources which are partly the endowment of evolution, whilst also referencing metaphysical realities that pass beyond our current understanding. These latter may always elude our primate cognitive capacities, and therefore I do not believe that what we cannot now understand must eventually succumb to the overweening methods of science. Epistemological modesty therefore allows me to make provisional judgements about what is real, and for me this includes the products of the imagination understood symbolically, and a superordinate Self that offers us the opportunity to experience an intimation of wholeness via individuation. For me, a dialectical, intrapsychic relationship between consciousness and the unconscious promotes the journey of individuation, but this rests on successful experiences of relationship in our developmental years. It is also effortful. Without the cooperation of consciousness in the form of reflective functioning – an achievement for many of us, the unconscious mind may simply offer us analgesic strategies for our dysphoria, enabling us to tolerate our arrested developmental teleology, to ‘tread water’ while the universe waits.

Sexual fantasies and even sexual acting-out may begin as analgesic, but compulsive recourse, and a developmental imperative, ultimately make them empty and painful activities. Those who question the concept of an endogenous developmental imperative may ask folk who have spent their whole lives disappointing themselves and others why they have been disappointed. Discarding the trivial social constructionist answer that there must be a failure to socially conform and thus gain the approval of convention, we are left with something more profound and yet inspiring. There is a direction of travel; Jung called it individuation.

Part of the thesis in my chapter The Role of Sexual Fantasies in Sexual Addiction is an exploration of what, developmentally, blocks the meta-cognitive level of functioning. The research of Dutra et al (Lyons-Ruth) 2009 on pathways to dissociation showed that ‘small t’ relational trauma, for example a lack of positive maternal emotional involvement and poor communication, without the abuse associated with disorganised attachment, is also associated with dissociative symptoms. Of course, some sex addicts may have experienced abuse, but the Lyons-Ruth research appears to describe the aetiology of fearful-avoidant attachment, a developmental disturbance suffered by the majority of sex addicts (Zapf et al 2008). So Bancroft’s (2008) observation that sexual addiction often seems to involve dissociative states may be corroborated through this connection.

The distinguished Jungian author Jean Knox follows a similar trajectory in her 2005 article on sexual fantasies. She erects a framework of levels of self-agency, with the highest levels representing meta-cognitive and meaning-making processing. For her, the role of sexual fantasies is to rescue the vulnerable and relationally wounded – perhaps shamed, conscious self from painful awareness of dependency and relationship needs. She speaks of this process as eliminating reflective functioning and as a ‘defensive attempt to become mindless and so to eliminate a separate identity and sense of self, with the accompanying need for a loving relationship’. Another effect is to inhibit the dialectical relationship between conscious and unconscious, the meaning-making function Jung called the ‘transcendent function’. For me this is dissociative, but rooted in developmental relational deficits and disturbances.

I further explore in my chapter the Winnicottian idea of the ‘mind object’, a false-self constellation that is used to displace mother’s care, or lack thereof. Corrigan & Gordon (1995) assert that the mind object ‘is an omnipotently created object always available for mastery and control of internal objects so that dependence and the feelings it generates – anxiety, frustration, anger and envy – can be obliterated’. Again, a dissociative manoeuvre. Winnicott saw the false self as a defensive process emerging from relational and other forms of early trauma, but all is constructed from internalisations of primary object relations. For Jung, and the brilliant Donald Kalsched, whose books bring Jung into our contemporary world, there is a mytho-poetic inner world ‘just as primary, just as foundational, as the infant-mother relational world through which it is (usually) transformed’ (Kalsched 2013, p. 269). I have personal experience of the truth of this. This opens up the transformative possibilities of our unconscious minds, that transpersonal realm. But for effective communion with this pre-existing part of ourselves we need a paradigm of successful relationship gained through external connection and love. Therapy beckons where early attachment has been disturbed. Otherwise, the resourceful mind will help us to dissociate from what we fear may not be available.


About Richard Newbury

Richard has considerable experience as a supervisor for Relate and more recently he has worked as Clinical Lead for a branch of Mind. His interest in Jung stems from a long Jungian analysis and the success of Jung’s ideas in his own life and work. His focus on sexual addiction arises from working with Thaddeus Birchard to treat sufferers, as well as an admiration for Thaddeus’s books.