Let’s talk about sex. The sexual instinct that is… Lately, the media has been giving it a bad rap. Every day there is another report of a woman being assaulted by a Hollywood mongrel, fellow actor, news anchorman, US president, or fashion photographer. This is not new news. Nearly every woman has encountered this type of aggressive behavior (in various degrees) during her lifetime. I still do, even at the age of 62!
Come on guys, grow up! Sublimate and transmute already!
Let’s talk about sexual energy from a psychosynthesis point of view. Assagioli did more than 100 years ago in his article “The Transformation and Sublimation of Sexual Energy.” First, I want to say that this is mainly a male problem. For some mysterious reason, men have more difficulty holding sexual tension. This is a general fact. There are, of course, exceptions…
That said, we begin with how our sexual instinct is not innately negative or positive. It’s simply a biological function. But it usually takes the fall when we refuse to take responsibility for our sexual misconduct. Excuses like “It’s just locker talk” and “Boys will be boys” are examples of how easily we project our responsibility onto this maligned instinct. Assagioli said that:
“The sexual instinct a wonderful animal instinct – often inconvenient, overbearing –very much complicating the sexual life of the “civilized” human being in various ways, namely with it being overly complicated, inflated, etc.”
He continues by saying that we have to distinguish between our physical sexual impulses, our need for self-affirmation and the difference between self-affirmation and aggression. While often connected, self-affirmation and aggression are two distinct things. For example, you can seek self-affirmation without being aggressive by keeping a prized collection or playing billiards well. However, people who are aggressive and identified with its negative energetic charge, usually become combative and need to fight for the sake of fighting.
We see extreme aggression displayed in Weinstein’s assaults and mild aggression in Bush Sr.’s groping and sick jokes. Both men are probably seeking self-affirmation – but they are confirming their own value through the objectification of another. Regarding this combination of sexual aggression, self-affirmation, and physical need, Assagioli said:
“It’s important to differentiate all its parts, see how they are linked together and determine which one prevails, which is the primary one, which is the secondary, otherwise one doesn’t arrive anywhere. In fact, often there is a connivance, a connection, ‘a criminal conspiracy’ between the various complexes and, to confront them, one always needs to adopt a synthetic attitude.”
What causes excessive sexual energies?
Before we explore what we can constructively do with excess sexual energy, let’s take a moment to explore some of its causes.
In a previous blog, I wrote about nature’s abundance. To ensure the perpetuation of the human species, we also play a part in nature’s over-production of fruit and “seeds”. Part of the reason we might experience excess sexual energy is simply nature’s way of ensuring we survive.
The lack of moral principles in our post-modern world
Subjectivity has become the most prevalent way of thinking in post-modern Western society. Instead of the strict rules and prohibitions that at one time were unquestionably accepted, we now have unlimited “freedoms.” This basically means that everything is okay, so long as I don’t hurt anyone else. With regard to our sexuality, this attitude has evolved into the expectation for some of us that we “have the right” to satisfy all our drives and impulses, let loose every passion, and satiate uncontrolled gratification.
However, this sense of freedom is actually false. Despite experiencing “free love,” we are often left unsatisfied and unhappy. With regard to sexual freedom, Assagioli wrote:
“The lack of any stable guiding principle, of any clear scale of values, makes the individual insecure, robs him of self-reliance, and subjects him to the influence of other people and external circumstances.”
So where’s there freedom in that? The point is that inner freedom is only achievable within certain boundaries. This paradoxical idea is beautifully expressed in the Assagioli’s book title Freedom in Jail. In this book, Assagioli writes about how he himself fully experienced inner freedom while being confined inside a prison cell!
Lack of physical exercise
With civilization comes a sedentary way of life. When we don’t burn our vital energies through physical activity, our instinctual energies can become excessive.
Hollywood Images of Love
The fact that much of the current sexual abuse is occurring within the glamorous worlds of cinema, television and fashion is no coincidence. We are surrounded by stimulating external images that only help to feed both our combative and sexual instincts. What Assagioli wrote 50 years ago is surreally relevant today:
“With regard to sexuality, one must also consider the suggestive inflation coming out of the cinema and the publication of pornography that is done in the name of freedom and of art. These things add something artificial, a constant stimulation and harassment to the poor animal instinct, which would willingly be less.”
“It is the grave responsibility of all those who work in the movies and television, those who describe or project images that stir up the sexual or aggressive instincts. You can (charitably!) admit that a certain number of writers and actors or actress don’t realize the ‘psychic poisons’ that they propose as well as the consequences. But there are many (and especially the ‘producers’) that cynically ‘manufacture’ these ‘suggestive’ products for profit. But whoever proposes to ban them is accused of ‘moralism’ and of attacking artistic freedom, when they are simply talking about psychic hygiene and cleanliness!”
Other psychological drives
Sexual aggression can also be derived from a number of other desires, including the desire for adventure or fulfilling one’s curiosity. There is a thrill in taking a risk, experiencing something new and unexpected, and facing danger. We might experience pleasure when conquering, overcoming obstacles, or demonstrating power or mastery. None of these drives are negative in themselves. Assagioli pointed out that they are all typically found in the mountain climber. However, these drives can become negative when expressed unconsciously through our sexuality.
Need for human contact
We also often have emotional needs that we might seek to satisfy through our sexuality – like feelings of loneliness and the fear of being alone. Assagioli noted that once a woman feels understood she tends to sexually surrender and that often it is better to call a “Don Juan” a “sentimental Don Juan” as he is more likely trying to satisfy his desire for affection as opposed to any sexual need.
What to do with excess sexual energies?
None of these causes are insurmountable. Here are some solutions offered by Assagioli:
- Adopt an objective attitude towards sex – free yourself from traditional prudishness as well as the lure and glamour of sexual contact.
- Bring awareness to any unconscious drives and emotional needs, and then find more creative and direct ways to fulfil them.
- Exercise more.
- Carefully select the images that you watch.
- Use skillful will to control your imagination and apply it in more positive directions and areas.
- Seek companionship with others (emotionally, intellectually and spiritually communion). Cooperate with others in various humanitarian activities.
Sublimate and Transmute
But perhaps Assagioli’s major contribution to this field is his idea that we can actually sublimate and transmute both our sexual and combative energies. Even Freud, as quoted by Assagioli, admitted as much:
But how does this work? Transmutation and sublimation can be either spontaneous or deliberately brought about. Briefly, Assagioli suggests the following:
“The elements of the sexual instinct are characterized by a capacity for sublimation, for changing their sexual aim into another of a different kind and socially more worthy. To the sum of the energies thus gained for our psychological productions we probably owe the highest result of our culture”
- A firm conscious control of the drive, without condemnation or fear. Control can be helped by brisk muscular activity and rhythmic breathing. But the highest way to control the sexual instinct is to accept and recognize that every human being is a “Thou” to be respected and not an “object” for one’s gratification.
- Actively develop and express the various forms of personal and spiritual Love through altruistic and humanitarian activities.
- Pour one’s energies into creative work — drawing, writing, movement.
- Establish close psychological communion with individuals or groups who are striving to realize the same aims as you are.
- Use symbols of the Ideal human-divine being.
Assagioli quotes the Indian saying:
“Ganga (the sacred river) purifies when seen and touched, but the Holy Ones purify when merely remembered.”
Sublimation and transformation of our sexual and combative energies gives us the creative energy to channel our Love into a wellspring of personal and spiritual activities. So why not start now?
Assagioli, R. (n.d.) Archivio Assagioli – Firenze, ID Docs: 1302, 2003, 4647, 4650, 6062, 6065, 8553. Downloaded from archivioassagioli.org.
Assagioli, R. (2000). Psychosynthesis. A Collection of Basic Writings, Amherst, Massachusetts: The Synthesis Center, Inc., pp. 235-244
Assagioli, R. (2016). Freedom in Jail, ed. by C. A. Lombard. Florence: Istituto di Psicosintesi
Caldroni, B. (2004). L’uomo a tre dimensioni, colloqui con Roberto Assagioli (1967-1971) [The three dimensional man, Dialogs with Roberto Assagioli (1967-1971).] Edited by Laura Oretti. Ravenna, Italy: Girasole, pp 13-19.
Freud, S. (1910). Ueber psychoanalyse, Leipzip und Wien, Deutike, pp. 61-62. [As cited by Assagioli, 2000, p. 238].