Sexuality, Pathology and Soul – An Exploration

Anna Davis

True love incorporates soul – so the philosophers say. Poets, mystics, madmen,
 writers, psychologists amongst others have for centuries explored the delicate
 terrain of this most potent of human experiences – “All we know is that where Eros 
stirs, Psyche is sure to be found; where Psyche performs her tasks, Eros draws near;
 when love nourishes soul, the soul is deepened through love. And that no-one 
touches the depths of the soul without love, the awakening God” (Cousineau: 1995:
66). Cousineau further suggests that soul realises itself not only in meditative 
solitude, or heart-rending isolation, but also in erotic embraces and deep pleasure
and joy. The drawing power of love upon the soul is beautifully expressed in Milan
 Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being when Tomas first meets Tereza-

“Now we can better understand the meaning of Tereza’s secret-vice, her long
 looks and frequent glances in the mirror. It was a battle with her mother. It 
was a longing to be a body unlike other bodies, to find that the surface of her 
face reflected the crew of her soul charging up from below. It was not an 
easy task: her soul – her sad timid, self-effacing soul – lay concealed in the
 depths of her bowels and was ashamed to show itself… and so the man who
 called to her was simultaneously a stranger and a mentor of a secret
 brotherhood. He called to her in a kind of voice and Tereza felt her soul
 rushing up to the surface through the blood vessels and pores to show itself 
to him” (Kundera: 1984; 48).

The genesis of Tereza’s shame may be rooted in her mother’s own guilt and shame.

Kundera says:

“Tereza’s mother demanded justice. She wanted to see the culprit penalised.
 That is why she insisted her daughter remain with her in the world of
 immodesty (working away daily serving beer to drunks), where youth and 
beauty mean nothing, where the world is a vast concentration camp of 
bodies, one like the rest with the souls invisible” (Kundera: 1984; 47).

The need to “be a body unlike other bodies“, to feel the soul rush, the moment 
when desire enters heart and soul, and the journeying into the landscape of
 sexuality and relationship deepens and enriches our lives. In my own journey I
 have often encountered my own soul – sad, ashamed, languishing in the recesses of
 my body, afraid to show itself. Most of my deeply intimate sexual relationships are
 with persons of the same sex. Accepting and understanding my sexual orientation
 involves embracing this most spiritual and personal dimension of who I am. It also
 means encountering a world that uses explanatory frameworks, which locates 
sexuality almost exclusively in the physical, genital, reproductive realm. The drive
 to homogenise is strong, and the language of normality, abnormality, pathology and perversion aids this process greatly. Take for example Arthur Janov’s observations
 on a client’s latent homosexuality –

“A pervert is someone who has been perverted, not sexually but in every 
way, particularly in his search for love. As a young child he was warped by 
his environment and became sexually perverted only when he became 
sexually mature. It is not possible that someone is just a little weird in sex
 but perfectly normal in every other respect. He may seem normal but like 
all other neurotics he has a secret inner life that is not so apparent”

(Janov: 1991; 296).

I wonder would Janov interpret Tereza’s secret vice as a form of neurosis? As a
 client, and as one interested in the field of humanistic psychotherapy, I find his 
language and conclusions deeply disturbing and personally offensive. Moreover 
his words illuminate quite clearly a social, cultural and linguistic tendency to locate
 sexuality within parameters of normality and pathology. Viewed his way sexuality 
becomes, in his external world of discourse, a category, for example pervert,
 homosexual, heterosexual, and subject often to moralising social scrutiny and 
judgement. Research indicates that our sexual definitions, conventions, beliefs, 
identities and behaviours have evolved particularly in the last two hundred years
 within specific power relationships. The most obvious is the male-female in which
 female sexuality has historically been defined in relationship to the male. Major
 institutions such as the church, state, medicine, education, psychology, the social 
sciences have, and continue to have, a continuous interest in how we think and
 behave, and in spelling out appropriate ways for us to regulate our bodily activities.
 Michel Fouccault suggests that the drive to control and regulate is a covert form of
 political violence which uses classifications of “normal” and “pathological” so as 
to produce the average an ideal socially acceptable expression of human sexuality.
 The process in short homogenizes; it produces, to use Tereza’s mother’s words, that 

”where that world is nothing but a vast concentration camp of bodies, one 
like the rest with the souls invisible”.

Loss of soul, the shaming of Eros and Psyche, and the rejection of love and 
pleasure are distinctions that transcend the boundaries of sexual classifications. As 
David Shimway states, for Fouccault;

”The figure of the adult pervert results from the psychiatrization of the 
deviant pleasures that [are] catalogued and evaluated on a scale of normality
 and pathology, and subjected to corrective technologies. Even the lawful sex
 of the conjugal couple [is] the subject of socialisation, fertility [becomes] a
 domain of incitements and restrictions and couples [are] made to feel
 responsible to their society.” (Shimway: 1992; 150).

In psychotherapy we explore the interactive relationship between inner and outer
 worlds through the medium of language. Roscat Hibson says that words have a life and a history of their own which may or may not be clearly defined but whose 
meanings lie in how they are used between people and by them. He says most 
words have outside meanings but there is an innermost life of a language which is
 often at variance with its external behaviour (Hibson: 1994; 61). A critical part of 
my own work as a client involves an exploration of the language constructs I use
 when describing my sexuality. Often these words are interspersed with meanings 
that are at variance with who I truly am, and how I truly need to be. In the 
beginning, being a body unlike other bodies, and having a sexual orientation that
 is different to others meant pervert, deviant, abnormal, shame. Now having 
explored it in safe respectful relationships, and having loved others, it means life, 
soul, and beauty. I am continuously ridding myself of my own homophobia, whilst 
encountering it daily in the most ordinary circumstances of life. Choosing sexual
 freedom in a social and cultural landscape that tends to reify and depersonalise
 sexuality in general is an on-going struggle. Significantly in researching this 
article, I explored psychodynamic, behaviourist, primal and humanistic theory. I
 found to my surprise many instances where discussions about sexuality slipped
 easily and uncritically into the language of deviancy, pathology and abnormality.
 As a client I find this tendency disturbing and wonder about the assumptions
 therapists make when meeting clients whose sexual orientation is different to their 
own. Tomas spoke to Tereza in a kind voice and she “felt her soul rushing up to the
 surface through the blood vessels and pores to show itself to him” (Kundera: 1984;
48). Her sadness and shame were transformed as the surface of her face reflected 
the crew of her soul charging up from below. Significantly she opened to his
 kindness. Exploring the innermost life of a language in therapy and discovering its 
meaning requires a personal relationship that allows that opening. Hibson says,
”the essential features of psychotherapy are those of any friendship.
 Psychopathological formulations, reconstructions or sophisticated interpretations 
may be helpful but they are peripheral. Without tenderness the noise of our talk
 does harm” (Hibson: 1994; 280). I suggest in conclusion that psychopathological 
formulations particularly in relation to sexual experience that is different destroys 
tenderness and entombs the soul further in the body of shame.


Cousineau, P., 1994, Soul – An Archaeology, London: Harper-Collins.

Hibson, R.F., 1994, Forms of Feeling – The Heart of Psychotherapy, New York: Routledge,

Janov A., 1991, The New Primal Scream, London: Abacus.

Kundera M., 1984, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, translated by Michael
 Henry Heim. New York: Harper-Row.

Shimway, D.R., 1992, Sexuality and the Will to Knowledge, in Michel Fouccult,
 University Press of Virginia.