This new study, part of Professor Robert Stoller’s well-known, continuing work on sex and gender identity, is especially concerned with the psychological forces that contribute to sexual excitement in men and women. The author looks at sexual aberrations in order to learn what they can tell us about the dynamics of “normal” sexual development. He shows that perversions are different from other aberrations in that the dominant force in perversion is hostility directed in reality or in fantasy toward one’s sex objects. And he shows through fascinating examples and case material how childhood frustrations, traumas, and conflicts are gradually transformed into sexual excitement by means of fantasies. In a daydream, pornography, or a ritualized pattern of sex practice, a scenario is created in which are hidden remnants of the earlier painful experiences, now redone to make a triumph out of the trauma: the victim becomes the victor.
It has been noted that men practice a wider variety of perversions than women. Professor Stoller suggests that men’s greater propensity to perversion in our society is related to the mother-daughter infant symbiosis—an intimate merging in which the infant does not distinguish its own boundaries as separate from its mother’s. If that intimacy is too intense or too prolonged, the infant boy’s sense of oneness with femaleness and femininity persists into the later months when masculinity begins to develop. A flawed sense of maleness can then result, thereafter threatening the development and expression of a stable masculinity. In contrast, should a comparable intense symbiosis develop between a mother and her infant daughter, the sense of merging with mother will only augment the girl’s future femininity, although it may result in other kinds of complications.
Robert J. Stoller, M.D.
About Robert J. Stoller, M.D.
Robert J. Stoller, M.D., is a psychoanalyst and professor of psychiatry at UCLA. He is a member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, and has been studying the development of gender identity for many years. His previous books include Sex and Gender (Volumes I and II), Splitting: A Case of Female Masculinity, and Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred.
“An elegant and subtle disquisition upon the essential ‘meaning’ of the sexual perversions . . . its author is that rare bird, a distinguished scientific authority who seems to revel and pleasure in the uses of language.” —The New Republic “A superb book on an apparently bizarre subject . . . subtle yet crystal clear, written with intellectual honesty.” —Kirkus Reviews
“I like the way Robert Stoller presents the problem of perversion with his usual honesty and directness. Finding hostility to be a defining feature, he is able to rescue the concept of perversion from reactionary moralists who condemn it as a sin and from woolly-minded liberals who would dispense with it altogether. He makes it a subject for scientific investigation and human understanding.” —Juliet Mitchell