The Power of Sexual Dreams: Day
A friend recently told me about her experiences at a workshop where the participants were encouraged to discuss a sexual fantasy that felt important to them, something along the lines of what Jack Morin called a “Core Erotic Theme” in his fascinating book, The Erotic Mind. We can identify our own personal CET fairly simply as the sexual fantasy that’s guaranteed to turn us on and pull us into an erotic reverie, even if we’re not really in the mood at first.
The stories my friend shared reminded me of something I realized a while back—that all the characters in my sexual fantasies are part of me. The more dominant characters–generally, but not always male–express my own active sexual desire. The Others in my fantasies know exactly what I want because we are one in the same. The socially subordinate characters, always someone more or less like me, overwhelm their “superiors” with their profound erotic pleasure. However powerful and heartless the dominants are out there in the “real world,” they devote themselves to my pleasure in our sheltered realm of desire. In the end, all of us have a good time, unlike in the real world, where that doesn’t happen often enough.
For me, and possibly the readers of Fifty Shades of Grey, sexual fantasy addresses the power inequities I’ve experienced in our society and temporarily heals them. I came to this understanding in the early 1990s when I read Dorothy Allison’s novel, Bastard Out of Carolina. The novel was one of the first to explore incest and child abuse with courage and insight. I remember hearing a discussion on Fresh Air about the way the main character, Bone, processed her step-father’s abuse. The real-world abuse happened in secret, an erasure of Bone’s free will and her welfare, but in her fantasies, a huge crowd observed and applauded her. Thus the world witnessed the genuine pleasure that she controlled.
Some of us suffer more extreme abuse that others, but I’d argue that nearly everyone experiences some level of sexual shame and rejection. Kudos to those who’ve escaped society’s messages that repress and demean our natural erotic urges—and do share your secrets of resilience and resistance! I’m certainly stronger now, but most definitely was shamed for my imperfect body and my unfeminine sexual interest in the past.
As I was pondering the topic of this column, I came upon an interesting quote in Robert G. Lee’s Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture:
“Sexuality does the political work of defining and regulating desire as well as the body, determining whose bodies and what body parts are eroticized; what activities are sexual and with whom; under what conditions those activities are acceptable; what privileges, rewards, and punishments accompany sexual behavior; and how the erotic may be distinguished from the non-erotic. Articulated by systems of race and class, with the logics [sic] of national identity, and with the organization of gender, sexuality is organized to produce and reproduce the social relations of production.” (p. 85-86)
Lee discusses the portrayal of the sexuality of Asian Americans in a nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century world that was hostile to their very humanity. Inter-racial sex was particularly compelling to Americans a century ago because it did threaten rigid racial, gendered and class boundaries. In any case, I would argue that sexual fantasy deconstructs the regulations and categories that any culture attempts to impose to control the chaos of desire. Pretty much all of my sexual turn-on’s involve mildly transgressive sexual behavior of some sort, be it the location or the partner or just the fact that sexual pleasure itself is taboo. “The forbidden is exciting” is common wisdom, but why is that so?
I don’t intend that to be a rhetorical question. Our Core Erotic Themes are a source of endless fascination to which we return again and again. What are they trying to tell us? What needs are they trying to fill? For me, a basic issue is the revelation of my sexual self and permission to enjoy it. Nineteenth-century social mores held that men had sexual desire and women had none—much has changed but this legacy is still strong enough in many of us. Yet in my fantasies I can claim both at once as my “male” side encourages the “female” to let loose. Perhaps, in their own fantasies, some men can claim the part of themselves that wants to be desired and courted and coaxed to satisfaction without all the burdens masculinity imposes.
The variations are endless, but what I’d like to leave you with is this idea: erotic stories and fantasies are not just about lowly carnal pleasure and thus easily discarded when they’ve fulfilled their immediate purpose. These stories and daydreams have much to tell us about our society, our desires, our resentments, and our deepest selves—if we listen.
Next month, we’ll talk about dreams at night and what they have to tell us!