After reading Stanley Siegal’s Book, Your Brain On Sex. I wanted to write about his “restorative relationship” experience and how we can learn to engage with each other in a place of great vulnerability based on intimacy, respect, trust and honesty. Siegal’s preference is to give attention to our self-awareness, exploration and authenticity over sexual performance or reaching an orgasm which I happen to really appreciate.
In a restorative experience a safe and consensual encounter is created in which we act out a fantasy with our partner we have imagined in our fantasy life and whose symbolic meaning we have come to understand based on an inquiry of questions from our past. This encounter or scene could be as conventional as a romantic seduction or as edgy as extreme BDSM play. Whether the scenario is as conventional as romantic seduction, or as unconventional as extreme bondage, we connect – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – with the deepest part of our psyches recovering what was suppressed or lost. It is here that we connect with the deepest part of our psyches, recovering what was suppressed or lost from our past. In this process we become restored back to our wholeness.
Siegal explains how during the heightened sexuality of adolescence, we eroticize unmet childhood needs and unresolved conflicts in a complicated attempt to heal ourselves. We turn early painful experiences into pleasurable ones in order to counteract their power over us. As we grow into adulthood, these same conflicts, which now have sexual themes, are encoded in our fantasies and desires, and in some cases, within our sexual behavior. Through our sexuality, we attempt to gain mastery over feelings of powerlessness, shame, guilt, fear and loneliness that might otherwise defeat us.
I do not condone relationships between any therapist and patient, although I do encourage acting out sexual desire within the context of growth and love which is what Siegal calls a “restorative” experience that can have powerful therapeutic potential. In a restorative experience, we create a safe and consensual encounter in which we act out with our partner a fantasy whose symbolic meaning we have already come to understand.
Of course, the deepest and most lasting healing comes when we have the opportunity to experience our true desires and work through the mastery of the conflicts behind them over time. Whether it’s with a lover or spouse, a restorative relationship assumes an emotional posture that is often diametrically opposite from the dysfunctional ones we experienced in our childhood. Characterized by openness, intimacy, and mutual respect, the new relationship allows us to derive a new settlement to old conflicts. Within this relationship, sex is not separated from the joys and struggles of daily life, nor diminished by its challenges. Instead it offers a rich and fertile ground for a meaningful and satisfying life.