To break is to heal – to heal is to come

Upon trying to find a topic for my thesis, I also had a look at the teachings of Wilhelm Reich. His general idea is that neurosis is the result of pent-up sexual energy, and that you recognize a healthy person by her ability to have a full, complete orgasm through intercourse. Not through any other sexual practice, leave alone homosexuality and other “perversions”.

Reich´s Theories

Reich further distinguishes three kinds of people: The healthy ones, the neurotics, and those who are infested by the Emotional Plague. Healthy people are also good, honest and straightforward people. They are efficient in the workplace, they are loving and supportive in relationships, they have a satisfying sex life without being promiscuous or sleazy, and they do not tolerate violence, abuse, dictatorships and all those other awful things.

Neurotics have about the following personality structure: They have a fake persona which they wear in public, and below that is an ugly mire of aggression, sadism, greed, voluptuousness, perversion. If this “mess” can be sorted out, however, which happens by breaking the patient´s bodily and psychic defense mechanisms (it should be noted that according to Reich, the neurotic´s entire character is a defense mechanism!), there will be a third layer: A good, healthy person. Who will finally be able to orgasm properly, hurray!

Well, those who are infested with the Emotional Plague are incurable. All we can do is prevent them from doing harm. Unfortunately they are hell-bent on damaging, slandering and slaughtering everyone healthy. They can come as criminals, sadists, bigots, racists and just about everything undesirable.

The thing is: Reich believes that human beings are good by nature. It´s just emotionally pestilent societies, families and people that make them sick and twisted (translate: neurotic and pestilent). Therefore, healthy people are also good people, while neurotics are not-so-good-people, and those who suffer from Emotional Plague are very bad people.

So my first question here is: Does being sexually dysfunctional make me a bad person, then? Seriously – if I don´t have happy, fulfilling, satisfying orgasms (let´s be generous and forget about the ignorant misogynist “solely during intercourse” for a moment), then I´m morally reprehensible?

Reichian Sex

Sucks to be me, then. I think I´ve detailed my screwed-up relation towards my body in extenso here.  I mean – you don´t expect that I have Reichian orgasms?

I hate how health and sexual fulfillment is constantly connected in one way or the other. “An orgasm a day keeps the doctor away”, “People with a happy sex life have a lowered risk of *insert terminal illness other than AIDS*”, “People with a happy sex life are less likely to develop this or that mental condition” and on it goes. Oh, and sex also makes you prettier, more charismatic, interesting and mature. And if you´re semi-frigid it makes you feel like shit. I´m so glad at least I´m “perverted”, that way I don´t have to feel like a complete dope. *sarcasm off*

But of course my aversion against the glorification of sex (glorification in the sense that sex is connected to everything otherwise appealing: health, beauty, character, maturity) is sheer envy. That´s Psychology101! (Okay, I admit it, my sarcasm switch is still in “on”-mode.)

I´ll try to be serious now, though. I believe that what is happening is that the not-sexually-fulfilled are being subjected to a more or less conscious, more or less subtle, but definitely constant devaluation and humiliation. Their problem, which technically just concerns a fairly small part of their life and body, is turned into something total: It negatively affects their health, character, looks, work performance and what not. They are not as alive as sexually fulfilled people. They are in many ways lesser beings. Impotence and frigidity are not so much conditions that cause a person suffering – no, they are character defects that devalue the person as a whole.  It hurts.

I find the whole idea of becoming sane and healthy as soon as one finds sexual fulfillment highly degrading. It is such a technical view. Using orgasms in order to keep oneself in line mentally feels to me like sexual self-abuse. There is something dirty and obscene about it. I remember finding out about a conversation between my mother and Irene. They were talking about my depression, and Irene said that if only I´d finally sleep with my boyfriend (I was 15 at the time) I might get better. Not that they ever took my depression seriously. But the way she phrased this (“lack of sexual fulfillment can be a major factor in depressive moods”) just plain disgusted me. I felt so embarrassed at the thought of the two of them envisioning me rolling around groaning and twitching and panting and all that icky stuff. These are things I really don´t wanna see myself doing. And especially not through the eyes of my family.

Reichian Sadism?

Quite another thing I´d like to look at is the question of how good, healthy and humane the Reichian theories and methods themselves are. I find it quite remarkable that a person who is so hell-bent on promoting goodness and peacefulness (unless when faced with the Emotional Plague) should use such brutal expressions as “character armor”; and even more so if that person dedicates an entire book to how this armor can be cracked. The Reichian method focuses on confrontation rather than on empathy. Reich readily acknowledges that his method might cause a patient´s personality to fall apart, with the psychoanalyst being the only thing left to hold on to. Reich readily acknowledges that the patient is going to suffer. And let us not forget just how radical an endeavor Reich´s therapy really is: He views the neurotic´s entire character as “character armor”. Therefore, when he is breaking the armor – he is breaking the character. Uh…welcome to the Ministry of Love?

Character analysis is not the only part of Reichian therapy, though. The other part is more physically oriented. Analogous to “character armor”, there is something called “muscle armor”, that is, chronic muscular tensions which block sexual energy from flowing freely. In order to resolve these tensions along with the repressed feelings that supposedly accompany them, the Reichian therapist pokes, prods and, basically, hurts the patient. This goes along with several other techniques, like making the patient gag repeatedly. I found several accounts by people who experienced this kind of therapy. Two of these people were subjected to this as children, which just plain horrifies me. You can find their accounts here and here.  The third one of them, Orson Bean, actually chose to subject himself to the experience, and from what I´ve heard he is not an opponent of the technique. Still, he uses some very drastic words to describe it. He wrote an entire book about his experiences, but I only have this small excerpt.

So Bean writes:

The doctor was feeling the muscles around my jaw and neck. He found a tight cord in my neck, pressed it hard, and kept on pressing it. It hurt like hell, but Little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. “Did that hurt?” asked Dr. Baker. 

“Well, a little,” I said, not wanting to be any trouble.

“Only a little?” he said.

“Well, it hurt a lot,” I said. “It hurt like hell.”

“Why didn’t you cry?”

“I’m a grown-up.”

He began pinching the muscles in the soft part of my shoulders. I wanted to smash him in his sadistic face, put on my clothes, and get the hell out of there. Instead I said “Ow.” Then I said, “That hurts.”

“It doesn’t sound as if it hurts,” he said.

“Well, it does” I said and managed an “Ooo, Ooo.”

(…)
 I thought of Franchot Tone in the torture scene form “Lives of Bengal Lancer.” I managed to let out a few pitiful cries which I hoped would break Baker’s heart. He began to jab at my stomach, prodding here and there to find a tight little knotted muscle.

Now isn´t it ironic that a man who raved so fervently against any form of perversion should spawn a method that is perceived as sadistic torture by those who are subjected to it?

But it gets even more ironic: Bean describes how he feels good, high and energetic after the session, even though he has black and blue marks all over. What exactly does this remind me of? Uh, yeah. Accounts by people who are heavily into BDSM.

What tops this off is that Freud once said that neurosis and perversion exclude each other. Both neurotics and perverts were ill in his opinion, but in different ways. Well…in that case the sure-fire cure for neuroses is obviously perversion. So is that how Reichian therapy really works?^^

In that case I´d strongly recommend BDSM. At least you can use a safeword if you want out of the situation. Doesn´t seem to be the case with Orgone Therapy.

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