I would like to make a small digression at this point. Psychoanalytic theory posits that many human beings have to resolve what is called an Oedipal conflict as part of normal development. This theory is based on observations derived from working with patients in treatment. Children develop sexual feelings for their caretakers. In the case of the boy, he desires his mother and wants to eliminate his father whom he sees as a rival. He eventually renounces these desires for mother by identifying with his father. Being like his father allows him to nourish the hope that one day he will marry a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad. Boys who are overly indulged or overly frustrated become stuck or fixated at this stage of development. One manifestation of this fixation are conscious feelings of inferiority that have their unconscious roots in the fact that mother chose father and rebuffed his advances. Another manifestation of this fixation is a continued unconscious attachment to mother and because of this a tendency to see ones loves in adulthood as stand ins for mother. Sexuality is consequently felt as wrong because it is equated with doing something incestuous. This is one barrier to falling in love and staying in love. This is one barrier to falling in love and staying in love. Many of us are able to overcome these attachments and with the advent of adolescence invest our love in our peers. However, to the degree that there is a residual attachment to our parents, there is a tendency to experience sexuality and love as doing something wrong. A parallel development exists for the girl. A deeper understanding of the common experience of transgression in erotic desire occurs when we appreciate the significance of the Oedipal conflict in development.
Aspects of erotic desire
I would like to say a few words about aspects of erotic desire.
First: There is a sense of transgression in the sexual act. One has to break through this inhibition about doing something wrong to consummate one’s passion. Nevertheless, consciously there is a feeling of transgression that colors the consummation of desire. It is a longing for closeness, fusion and intermingling that implies the necessity of forcefully crossing a barrier and becoming one with the beloved. Conscious or unconscious sexual fantasies refer to invasion, penetration, or appropriation. There is a search for pleasure that is always oriented to the beloved, the person to be penetrated or invaded by. The erotic gratification promised decreases when the sex does not serve the broader unconscious function of fusion with the beloved. Wagner illustrates this in the opera Siegfried. Siegfried is brave enough to penetrate the wall of fire surrounding Brunnhilde to consummate his love for her.
A Second characteristic of erotic desire is identification with the partner’s sexual excitement and orgasm in order to enjoy the complementary experiences of fusion. There is pleasure derived from the desire of the other and the love expressed in the other’s response to the lover’s sexual desire. This is associated with experiences of fusion and ecstasy. There is a sense of becoming both genders at the same time, temporarily overcoming the ordinarily unbreachable barrier separating the genders, and the sense of completion and enjoyment of the penetrating and encompassing, penetrated and enclosed aspect of sexual invasion. In this identification with the other, there is gratification of the wish for fusion.
Siegfried, in the Opera Siegfried, alludes to this experience of fusion with his beloved, when he is about to consummate his love for Brunnhilde.
“I love you: did you but love me too!
I am no more my own: were you but mine!
A glorious flood flows before me:
With all my senses I only see
That sweet surging sea.
If it breaks up my reflection, I myself
Burn to cool my glowing heart in the flood:
I will leap, as I am,
Into the stream:
Oh that its waters might blissfully swallow me.
And my longing to be lost in the flood!
A Third characteristic of erotic desire. There is a sense of transgression, of overcoming the prohibition implied in all sexual encounters, a prohibition derived from the oedipal coloring of sexual life. A sense of doing something wrong during the sexual act will be evoked to the degree to which we are still attached to our parents unconsciously as objects of desire. This sense takes many forms. The simplest transgression against the ordinary social constraints occurs in the very act of undressing. This repeals the social notions of shame and permits lovers to face each other without shame. Getting dressed marks a return to conventional shamefulness.
Fourthly, transgression involves violating the oedipal constraints and unconsciously triumphing over ones rival and possessing the beloved who is experienced as forbidden. Wagner expresses this in Siegfried defeating Wotan, Brunnhilde’s father. Wotan bars Siegfried’s way because he wants to keep Brunnhilde for himself. Siegfried shatters Wotan’s spear, the symbol of his authority, with his sword. Siegfried triumphs over his rival and can now pursue his beloved Brunnhilde.
Transgression also involves transgressing over the beloved who is experienced as seductive and withholding. Erotic desire includes a sense that the beloved is both offering and withholding themselves and the sexual penetration of the engulfing beloved is experienced as a violation of the other’s boundaries. Thus transgression involves aggression against the other. This aggression is exciting in its pleasurable gratification, and reverberating in its capacity to experience pleasure in pain. The aggression is also pleasurable because it is being contained in a loving relationship.