SEX and its undeniable power to fascinate.

Dec 29, 2022

A black and white image of a heterosexual couple embracing.
Photo Credit: Alexander Krivitskiy via Unsplash

Sex fascinates us. Whether we turn toward it, flushed and excited or away from it, tense and disquieted. Archetypal images of sex adorn the thresholds of ancient temples and inform most mythological systems. Shiva and Shakti, in their union, create the universe – she providing all forms for his undifferentiated light. The gods beget gods as they mate, giving rise to infinite imagistic permutations of cosmic and personal qualities. These religious images of creation and pleasure inform our individual psyche granting sexuality a numinous intensity.

Human culture shapes our initial attitudes toward sex. When infused with monotheistic religious feeling, sex is held as a sacrament subject to the rites and rituals believed to protect the couple from its overwhelming power and god’s jealous monitoring of the behavior. Polytheistic religions generated a multiplicity of god-forms and related myths to reflect a wide variety of possible relationships to sex and its outcomes. Pan, the lusty fertility god of the rut, Aphrodite the mistress of beauty and refined passion, Anteros the god of love returned, and Pothos, the god of sexual yearning – the infinite diversities of sexual expression, were held by related images and protectively tended by their devotees.

With the age of enlightenment that inevitably led to the current juggernaut of science and empirical attitude, we disposed of the archetypal images of sex, driving them into our personal and collective shadow. Defenses like shame and resentment keep the gods of sex at bay. At war within our bodies, they cause genital tissue to ossify and choke off requisite blood flow.

Freud was foremost in the battle to understand and liberate trapped sexual forces. As a neurologist, odd cases of functional disorders came to his attention – a patient who mysteriously could not feel a limb or a loss of sight without organic cause. His rigorous exploration of symptoms and personal narrative led him to a theory of psychosexual development which clarified how sexual energy, when thwarted, could lead to a host of mental and physical suffering or neurosis. Jung expanded the theory, suggesting there were many kinds of psychic energy, in addition to sex, that produced symptoms when trapped by unnatural attitudes or traumatic interference. He accepted the creative reality of sexuality and was an early champion of sexual diversity and self-determination.

As moderns, we have tried to liberate sex by reducing it to a transaction, making it subordinary and thus non-threatening. Kinsey championed the natural fluidity of sexuality by surveying and analyzing personal erotic experiences and publishing them – he tried to restore consciousness to the diversity of sexual themes, hoping it would broaden modern attitudes and cultivate acceptance. The chorus of explainers now spans widely from biopsychosocial researchers to evolutionary psychologists, gender role theorists, to social constructionists. Add to that list theologists, talk show hosts, and podcasters, and we can all agree – we can’t seem to take our eyes off sex.

Here’s the Dream We Analyze:

“I was running a marathon in the desert. First, I saw pueblos, familiar from an old dream. Then I saw a sleeping dragon, then a stack of rainbow-colored rocks. Finally, I entered a taqueria, and the man behind the stand gave me a sugar-covered tortilla. Then a woman with a veil came in.”


From Freud to Jung: A Comparative Study of the Psychology of the Unconscious by Liliane Frey-Rohn. https://a.co/d/63atnIv

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex Paperback by John Gray. https://a.co/d/4ZWjSmW

The Kinsey Institute, https://kinseyinstitute.org/


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  1. Jacob Berkowitz

    Joseph and Lisa, many thanks for this episode and your conversation. I’d recently remarked to friends in a Dream School group that I thought it notable that there wasn’t (to my knowledge) a single TJL podcast about sex – and voila, it arrives 🙂
    I thought Lisa’s observation at the end of an hour of conversation that “we’ve really just begun” captures the core of this episode. To me, the discussion was foreplay, so to speak. In contrast to the erotic image on this website page, the first 15 mins of the podcast was devoted to a very un-sexy historical discussion of Freud and Jung’s difference’s on sex and psyche, which felt like an avoidance of the topic’s power.
    Some of the things I’d love to hear all three of you address in greater depth:
    – Joseph mentioned that many therapists are wary of discussing/raising sexual history with clients. Why is this? This is a profound observation – at the end of the discussion both Lisa and Joseph (as with Freud and Jung) placed sexuality as a/the central life force. What’s the message being sent to patients if sex is not directly welcomed in the therapist’s office?
    – I’d love to hear you all discuss the challenges, nuances and insights related to sexual imagery in dreams. I find this a challenge in my dream group (the hesitancy to share dreams with sexual imagery), married to the knowledge that the sexual imagery is often an archetypal reference to something deeply desired (and as Joseph nicely articulated) an energy that draws us out into the world.
    – You touched on the fact that one of the key things about sexuality is that it’s unbidden, it emerges in us. I’d be interested in hearing you explore more how our attitudes to sexuality/sex relate to our interactions with the unconscious – with all the depths of us that we don’t control.
    – Esther Perel observed that “When we decoupled sex from reproduction it became no longer just a feature of our biology, but a marker of our identity.” This makes me think about the role of sex and sexuality in individuation, and I’d love to hear your thoughts about that.
    I appreciate you beginning the conversation and welcoming a meta-Jungian discussion of sex into the TJL community.

    • Marina

      Yes, more!

      An interesting aspect of the exploration of Pan energy is its waning through age-related hormonal changes, and the conscious and unconscious implications.

      Sudden loss of the sex drive is a shock that shakes the foundations of one’s identity. For women, this typically occurs at a significantly younger age than for men, which can result in the relational disharmony you discussed.

      Additionally, for women the loss is not reversed by popping a pill.

      Best regards.

  2. Felicity

    Thank you for this episode! Who better to talk about this most fundamental but so in shadow parts of our lives/psyches with balance and nuance than Jungians? I agree with Jacob above on many of his points, and I would add, for further discussion, an episode on female sexual shame (which Lisa touched on for the briefest of moments here) along the lines of the Wounding of the Phallus episode would be most welcome.

  3. Simcha

    Maybe a new joke:

    If this podcast were called This Freudian Life, episode one to episode 245 would have been about sex (and this episode on some “off” topic, like learning from Freud’s approach to collecting and displaying antiquities).

    I prefer This Jungian Life, and I agree with Jacob and Felicity., especially on the trepidation about discussing sexual images in dreams. Plus: what about women with an uncontrollable urge (as Joseph described in men)?

    Regarding Lisa’s last Jung quote on the sexual question and love, I would link his focus on love here to his famous quote on love versus power:

    “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”

    In short: go for sex as love, not as a will to power (e.g. using sex as a transaction whose processes and outcomes can be known, controlling partner(s) in codependent relationships, instrumentalizing sex for some ego end and, alas, sexually abusing others, especially those who have no power).

    I assume love would focus on the needs, sovereignty, autotomy, interests, well-being, future and desires of the beloved, not the lover (basically everything except the lover).

    Perhaps power is more tempting than sex itself. As Joseph notes at the close, sexuality is so powerful an archetype that whatever is attached to that archetype is libidinized in an enormously potent way and requires our constant attention to it.

    Plus, sexual desire – as just one manifestation of desire – is most “authentic,” let’s say, when we are surprised by our desire, by the person(s) who attracted us.

    Surprised by such a sudden potency in our lives, who wouldn’t be tempted to exercise their will to power in order to control it? It’s not so much fun to be so vulnerable….

    Capitalist advertising certainly knows that and exploits sex to “charge” commodities with this potent archetype (while making consumers pay for the illusion that they can control sex by consuming such products).

    • Tiffany Bodden


  4. LAB

    Thank you for creating this episode! Agree with Jacob’s and Felicity’s comments above. And I am definitely interested in exploring sex and sexual imagery in dreams. It feels like this episode should be a jumping off point to more in-depth, sub-topic-focused episodes dealing with sex in a Jungian frame.

  5. Judy L Lucero

    There was a question about the sugar covered tortilla. In the Southwest, many Mexican food restaurants serve sopaipillas covered with powdered sugar. Whether the dreamer saw a regular flour tortilla with sugar – which is not at all typical – or a sopaipilla with sugar, I am wondering whether the sugar is speaking to a still immature aspect of the dreamer


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