Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued

Given that the above picture is based on an assumption, why not go over-board with it. Let’s do a little imaginary magic with it. If, by some magic, an amount ‘x’ (unknown) of another kind of drive is added to the sex drive along the base of the ‘inverted U’ graph, something strange ought to happen. The drive would be added to the female object preference and to the less preferred male object, pushing the position of each farther along the curve to the right. That is, the female object would start to move down the upper end of the curve, and the male object would start to move up the lower end of the curve. If ‘x’ is only a fairly small amount, both female and male would shift only a bit, perhaps bringing the female down and the male up until both come to be at about an equally high level of excitement or turn-on (height up the curve)

— and the person might say that he feels bisexual. If ‘x’ is a larger amount, the female would be pushed way over and down the upper end of the ‘inverted U’, and the male would be pushed up to the top of the curve — and the person might say that he feels only homosexual feelings or turn-on. Conversely (or, if you prefer, perversely), if you were to remove that added ‘x’ amount of drive, the male and female objects should slide back along the curve to their ‘original’ places, and the person should revert to heterosexuality. If this were so, and if that’s what could happen if ‘x’ were added and if it were removed, where might this ‘x’ possibly come from?

But before we turn to that issue, since these words may be hard to follow, you might like to look at this idea on your graph too. Put an inverted (upside down) ‘U’ shape on the graph. Then put a mark to represent the female at the top of the upside down U and another mark to represent the male down near the origin of the graph. Now, by moving the marks to the right as the ‘x’ drive increases, or to the left as the ‘x’ drive is reduced, but staying on the curve, you may be able to see how it works.

Remember, the addition of the amount ‘x’ to the sex drive, to achieve this miracle of change in preferences, was done on a ‘let’s see what happens’ basis. Obviously, there was some reason for trying to see what happens if ‘x’ is added or is taken away. Let’s turn to that now. Here’s where Freund and Barlow’s work comes in.

What both of these researchers did was to plot on another graph the relationship between sexual excitement on the vertical axis, and the various steps toward sexual experience along the horizontal axis. For most people, at the point of seeing an attractive person at a distance there might be a slight sexual excitement. At the point of meeting this other person there might be a bit more sexual excitement. During social contact, when they are getting acquainted, there might be a little more sexual excitement. During courting and the expression of loving feelings there might be still more sexual excitement. During necking and foreplay, sexual excitement would likely increase a whole lot more. During the sex act, sexual excitement would be expected to increase even more. Then, following climax, sexual excitement should decline back to a low level. This much seems obvious, and it is what happens as most people report it. That is, sexual excitement increases in progression through the steps leading up to the sexual act. Why don’t you plot this picture on another piece of paper to confirm the idea that this is what you would expect to happen.

In people who call themselves homosexuals, however, the picture of sexual excitement is a bit different. There is a rapid increase in sexual excitement on the approach of an attractive potential partner, and this reaches quite a high peak just the moment before meeting the other person. Then there is a steady decline in sexual excitement after meeting and during social interchange. This decline reaches a very low point during courting activity when expressions of affection might be expected to occur. It then rises quickly again during foreplay, on through the sexual act and, as expected, declines sharply after climax.

You might want to plot this picture on paper too in order to examine how the two groups differ. The differences between this last picture and the one from the previous paragraph are (1) the high peak at the point just before social contact, and (2) the low trough at the point of courting. Why the difference?

The trough at the point of courting is easier to understand. People who call themselves homosexuals tend to be quite anxious about expressing their feelings to another, and tend to avoid doing so if they can. That is why homosexual activity is very often ‘contract’ sexual activity — ‘let’s have it on together’, rather than ‘I love you’. Their anxiety about courting activity serves to get in the way of or to lower their sexual excitement, creating the trough at that point in the sequence of events. The other feature of the picture, the peak just before social contact, seems to be due to anxiety felt by people who call themselves homosexuals about whether or not they, themselves, are attractive and can excite the sexual interest of the other. This anxiety is experienced as tense excitement (more often than as anxiety or avoidance), and it reaches its peak at the point just before meeting the other person. The (anxious) excitement increases (instead of reducing) the sexual excitement at that point in the sequence of events.

But what has all this to do with ‘x’? We are now ready to guess at the possible nature of the drive ‘x’ we have added to the sex drive in the upside down U graph. ‘X’ may be the sum of the learned anxiety drive which gets attached to the sex drive and to sexual excitement in those people who call themselves homosexuals. Is it possible that x = Anxiety about (Courting + Attractiveness)? But that doesn’t make sense, right? Many people, especially women, get hung up about how attractive they are; and many people, especially men, get anxious about expressing their feelings and emotions. And that may be true, although this view of things may only express a set of faulty gender-related stereotypes. However, it may be that what keeps heterosexuality going and children being produced is the fact that most of those who get hung up about how attractive they are tend to be fairly comfortable about expressing their emotions; and most of those afraid to express their emotions tend to be less concerned about how attractive they are. It seems that to create homosexuals, both kinds of anxiety have to be present to load the sex drive (and not just other derived needs — see below) enough to change the relative positions of the male and female on the upside down U curve of sexual drive.

Besides, homosexuality is not the only possible consequence of high anxiety in either or both of these areas of living. People who are said to be ‘paranoid’ also exhibit these kinds of fears, and so do some people who used to be called ‘hysterics’. Quite apart from the fact that some shrinks claim that these conditions are often or always associated with ‘latent homosexuality’ (a point of view which only justifies the definition of psychiatry as the study of the id by the odd), there is a good reason why a different way of reacting is found in these people as compared to those who call themselves homosexuals. The difference lies in the fact that these kinds of anxieties do not become attached to the sexual drive in these other people. Instead, these fears get attached to their social needs. The one group (paranoid) attaches these fears to its emotional need to be loved, so that it too easily feels rejected and mistreated by others. The other group (hysteric) attaches these fears to its sense of personal identity, so that these people avoid ‘being themselves’, and can feel and act like anybody else (except themselves). So ‘paranoids’ go around feeling angry at the rejection they expect from others, and ‘hysterics’ play roles in life, often becoming actors or actresses.

But how would you test the hypothesis that homosexuality is a result of little more (it is a bit more) than an increase in sex drive — brought about by attaching to it high anxiety about the expression of loving or closeness feelings and about whether or not the person is attractive enough? One way to check this hypothesis out would be to desensitize these two kinds of anxieties in people who call themselves homosexuals. Does that work to change homosexuality ‘back’ to heterosexuality? With some additional work done on the ‘obsessional’ qualities which are also usually present in such people, the answer seems to be a cautious ‘yes’. At least it seems to be yes in most cases with which it has been tried.

Now, aren’t you glad you waded through all that? Be brave! There are only a couple more sections in which the reading gets to be nearly that heavy, and they’re shorter than this one. You had to expect to have something laid on you about how the ‘id’ works. Of course, you might have preferred that this part of the id remain as unconscious as the rest of it. If so, it ought to be pointed out that the unconscious, being by its nature unknowable (in becoming known, it becomes conscious), cannot properly be affirmed to exist. Moreover, if you harboured such a preference, you might overcome it by reminding yourself of the Taoist saying: ‘The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences’.