“This is the body that engages in sex, a body with so much soul that any attempt to deny its layers of meaning will come back to haunt us.” -Thomas Moore
Maybe the smartest book I have ever read about how sexual attraction happens and why it is such a powerfully transformative healing response came from Stanley Siegel’s book Your Brain on Sex. In fact, I would call reading that book and the subsequent radio interviews I had with Dr. Siegel watershed moments in my own sexual understanding and the beginning of a whole new level of pleasure. The basic premise of his work is that our brain is continually working subconsciously to heal us, which explains what happens in our dream time as well as our fantasy time. Our dreaming brain uses our unresolved emotional issues and internal conflicts and reconfigures them as we sleep to bring us peace… Or, in the case of our erotic fantasies, to make pleasure out of pain.
This fantasy-making process happens for us without our conscious knowledge or participation in early adolescence as our erotic self emerges. Whether our emotional issues relate to abandonment, overbearing parents or acute levels of unworthiness, our brain uses those painful childhood experiences and creates a sexual fantasy life that liberates the pain into sexual pleasure. The route is circuitous and rarely follows some predictable form, which is why, in many ways, our sexual fantasy life is unique like our fingerprints and yet universal in that we all have them.
It took me over a decade of marriage to give myself permission to look at my sexual fantasies as they played out on the screen of my mind while making love and then years more for me to feel empowered enough to share some of them out loud. I remember vividly the initial shock of some of the most persistent fantasies that spun through different historic times, ages and roles- both dominant and subordinate. I couldn’t imagine how these ideas got into me and some of them frightened me with their intensity and content. And yet their power was unmistakable. All the energy that I had put into blocking the view of my sexual fantasy reels transmuted into sky-rocketing sexual passion in my marriage. Erotic fantasy for me feels like wading through lifetimes of sex with my husband.
The most common sexual fantasies that are shared by many of us are on view in the wide range of pornographic and erotica stories available in popular media. We all share in the universal themes of power and control, submission and dominance and they take on a myriad of forms within the subconscious realms of making pleasure out of pain. The healing work happens, not just by allowing yourself to experience the pleasure of your fantasies, but also and, maybe even more importantly, by recognizing and acknowledging the painful spaces to which they attach.
It doesn’t take any more than our attention for those connections to be made, and the beautiful thing is that is all that is necessary for the healing to occur. Over time, it gets not only easy, but automatic to make sexual choices that allow us to explore our fantasies fully and without shame, all the while healing the broken parts in which they originated. Coming to understand our drive for sexual pleasure as the healing mechanism that it is, frees your erotic self to explore and bring your fantasy life to the light of day.