Episode 24: Dr. Michael Bader - The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies

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"While the desire for sexual pleasure is hard-wired into our bodies, we can only feel sexual arousal if it's psychologically safe to feel it."

Explore with us the appeal and misconceptions of sexual fantasies, male pleasure through internet porn and cybersex, and what blocks our psychological arousal.

According to Dr. Bader's research, sexual arousal is not automatic or purely physical just because erogenous zones are stimulated. By examining what turns you on, you can start to realize how important the psychological cues and messages are to physical arousal.& Peoples' beliefs can make it difficult to get aroused.& This comes from conditioning by society, family, friends, media, etc., about what's "okay" to turn us on. What helps us get past these difficult feelings? Our programmed beliefs can lead us to shame, guilt, worry, etc. These things are not compatible for maximum sexual arousal. Voila...the mind creates sexual fantasies to carry us past the thoughts blocking our potential sexual pleasure!

This episode may lead you to deeper exploration. What are the specific details around your own sexual fantasies? Have you shared the details with anyone? Do you fantasize about men or women more? Do you fantasize about real people or the imagined perfect lover? What message and elegant solution do you believe may be addressed by the specific fantasies that your mind has created?

"By exploring the meaning of the sexual fantasies you often get a great look into deeper things that are troubling you."

Transcript

Announcer: This program, brought to you by PersonalLifeMedia.com, is suitable for mature audiences only and may contain explicit sexual information.

This is part one of a two-part program.

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Beth Crittenden: Hello, everyone, and welcome to A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews. I'm your host, Beth Crittenden on Personal Life Media coming to you from One Taste Urban Retreat Center, San Francisco. Welcome to the show. Today we have Dr. Michael Bader, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst from San Francisco.

Hi, welcome, Dr. Bader.

Michael Bader: Hi! Good to be here.

Beth Crittenden: We have Dr. Bader as a guest tonight in our Hybrid Practice lecture series which we have every Tuesday night at One Taste. If you haven’t heard about One Taste before, there’s a whole world of ways to play. There’s yoga every hour on the hour. There’s an organice café. There is a broad education network around sensuality, connection, purpose, spirituality and all of those wonderful things that seekers are hoping to find and kind of digest. So, we’re glad that you're joining us.

Dr. Bader has actually, in addition to his practice, written quite a bit. He’s the author of the book “Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies” from 2002 and the upcoming “What is He Thinking? Pornography, the Internet and the Sexual Intelligence of Men”. That’s coming out early next year. He’s also published over 15 articles and Tikkun that talks about integrating psychoanalysis and social theory and one of my favorite titles from his articles is “Post Traumatic Love Syndrome”. (++).

What we're actually going to be talking about today is a combination of things. We're going to get in to sexual fantasy. What's the function of fantasy and how does that work? What can get in the way sometimes psychologically. Then, in the second part of the show, we’ll also be talking about Internet sex and pornography and what’s the appeal and what are some misconceptions that we currently have (++) around it?

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Join us today on A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews as Dr. Michael Bader talks about sexual fantasies as elegant solutions instead of objects of shame. Hear about his work in clinical practice with people and finding the root of their sexual fantasies. Hear what gets in the way of psychological arousal because we all want that gateway to be opened. Hear about the key to male pleasure in porn. What works about Internet sex and what’s the value of it?

Welcome, Dr. Bader to the show.

Michael Bader: It’s good to be here. Thank you.

Beth Crittenden: Yes. So, let’s talk about what is the function of sexual fantasy as you found it?

Michael Bader: Well, you know, there’s a kind of common sensical notion that people have that sexual arousal is something automatic and purely physical that when certain, what for I call, erogenous zones are stimulated that someone feels arousal and it’s fairly uncomplicated. But of course, we know in everyday life that that can't possibly be true. For instance, you can have the most intimate parts of your body touched in a physical exam and feel no pleasure at all, or you can have someone whisper in your ear and feel intense sexual pleasure and excitement.

So obviously, the sexual arousal and excitement is mediated through the mind and not a direct response to physical stimulation. Once you introduced the mind into the equation, and you have to ask the question, “Well, what’s the meaning of sexual arousal?” In other words, the difference between a physical exam and whispering in your ear is the meaning of the two situations. OK? That’s defined not just by the culture but by the person’s personal psychology.

So, what I found in my practice is that while the desire for sexual pleasure is universal and hard wired into our brains and into our bodies, that we can only feel sexual arousal if it’s psychologically safe to feel it. That’s not obviously true to many people. So, what I do in my book is I try to give accounts from my own clinical practice about what I mean by safety. What I found is that it’s a whole range of feelings and beliefs people have that make it difficult to get aroused. People feel guilty. They feel worried about others. They feel rejected or shamed or helpless, and we’ve all had some share of those feelings.

Beth Crittenden: Is that strictly from conditioning or do you think some of that can be hard wired?

Michael Bader: Well, I think sometimes an individual’s sensitivity to certain kinds of trauma, you might say, is hard wired. But generally, I think, it’s environmental. We grow up in families in which because we're so attached and dependent on our families that we become very sensitive to rejections and to feeling shamed and to feeling guilty and worried. But it’s actually my finding that guilt and worry in this difference states are incompatible with maximum sexual arousal. Yet, we don’t give up our wish for sexual arousal or our need for it. So, what the mind does in this amazingly creative, complicated way is it creates fantasies that enable us momentarily to overcome the feelings and the thoughts that are interfering with our libidos, with our arousal.

So, I'm going to give a really easy example of it. Let's say somebody tends to be very worried and guilty about hurting other people. They tend to feel very responsible for everybody. In fact, that kind of tendency makes it hard to get aroused. So, what we might find that person does to get aroused is they enjoy a fantasy of surrender, a fantasy of maybe even bondage in some way imagining a scenario with her dominated and therefore, don’t need to feel responsible. In fact, can't possibly be responsible.

Beth Crittenden: They can possibly hurt someone in that scenario.

Michael Bader: Exactly. So, you might say, “Well, how does it work?” The bondage itself is an arousing. What’s arousing is that the bondage enables the person to negate or counteract their tendency to feel guilty and worried.

Now, we all have versions of this. The key is to understand that when I talk about sexual fantasies, I'm not just talking about the sort of private theaters of our minds where we might say, let's say have a masturbation fantasy in which we're tied up and the Marquis De Sade is there in the castle or whatever. I'm talking about all of our sexual preferences. What kind of body types we like? What kind of people we're drawn to? What kind of situations we like to have sex in, storylines that interest us? All of those function in exactly the same way, which is that if you examine them closely, somewhere somehow, they are disproving or counteracting. They're the antidote to some kind of feeling, fear or belief that normally holds the person back and restrains them.

The fascinating thing about it is that if you understand how the fantasy works, you can also often learn an enormous amount about the person, because the things that get in the way of our sexuality or the things that get in the way of our lives in every area of our life. So, what I have found clinically is that helping someone understands how their erotic imagination works is often like a people or a window into the deepest areas of their mind.

Beth Crittenden: Fascinating. I know in your book you call it “elegant solutions”. I really like that way of putting it that it’s a way around what could keep us out of that flow of life, if you will. Actually, I'd like to read a quote if that’s all right with you.

Michael Bader: Sure.

Beth Crittenden: This is from Dr. Bader’s book “Arousal”. “Rather than being programmed by biology or society, our sexual fantasies and preferences are really psychological antidotes to unconscious dangers. Readers no longer have to feel ashamed about what arouses them or confused about what arouses others.”

I wanted to ask you about that, especially when you have clients come to you and feeling that heavy load of years and years of shame. How do you get them to kind of break out of that pattern and see, “Oh, this is a vehicle or this is information for you that you can use instead feeling they're wrong in a certain way.”

Michael Bader: What's so interesting about this approach is that it assumes that people do what looks to the outsider like irrational things for very rational reasons. So that part of what I do is I try to help the person normalize what they're feeling and what they're thinking by showing them that very ordinary feelings like worry, guilt, helplessness and inferiority – things that we all feel – that they have arrived at, in some ways, incredibly imaginative and creative solutions to the various ways that those feelings hold them back.

So, I’ll give you an example of a woman came in to see me who was an academic, a feminist. Very tough and known for being someone that in her department took no prisoners should very, very strong. She came in because she was very unhappy in her marriage to a guy that she said was very kind but didn’t turn her on. When they had sex, the only way she could get turned on is that she’d have a fantasy of imagining she was in her office and a janitor came in and basically has his way with her on the desk, sort of a rape fantasy. She was very ashamed of it because to her it meant that she really wanted to be dominated and she was such a strong woman.

What I was able to show her knowing more about her was that really, she was worried about being too strong. She was worried about hurting men with the strength of her passion, the strength of her energy that she came by that honestly in her family which had a particular story configuration which generated that belief. The thing that she got from having this fantasy was this guy was so big and so strong and so selfish that it allowed her to let go and experience her sexual desire fully and not have to worry about him. It enabled her to be selfish because he was so selfish. So there, it took something that she’d felt quite ashamed of. “Oh, I really want to be raped on that such a hot shot feminist.” And showed her that actually, the story was much more complicated and much less humiliating to her.

Beth Crittenden: Do you find that common theme, do you find that people, through their fantasies, ultimately want to surrender or feel a certain way or is it just different based on their experiences?

Michael Bader: Well, you know, I think there are some common themes. What I think is that there’s a couple of basic, you might say, families of feeling that sexual scenarios are intended to deal with. One is this whole business about guilt and worry. So, a bunch of people feel guilty about hurting others. They worry too much about everybody. They feel responsible for everybody. They grew up in families where they had to take care of their parents. They get so tuned in to the other person that they can't separate enough to be able to really let go. So, I think, there's a lot of folks that have some version of that.

There’s another set of issues that have more to do with people’s sensitivity to feeling rejected and shamed and inferior. You see this with men and women, slightly more with women than men. The solutions to those kinds of feelings are often things like, in the old days, they would call it exhibitionistic fantasies. But, fantasies or scenarios in which you're showing off your sexuality in which your sexuality is so compelling that it draws everybody’s attention. Or, your sexuality is so incredibly powerful that somebody who’s forbidden like the President or a cop or a therapist or a rockstar just singles you out and says, “I got to have you.” That’s a common fantasy, you know. It’s a groupie fantasy. It’s sometimes a fantasy that lies underneath being attracted to married men or married women. I think those fantasies are intended to deal with people’s insecurities about “How compelling am I?” A lot of people grow up feeling that there's something damaged, something inadequate, something disgusting or something blurring about who they are and what their bodies are like.

Beth Crittenden: We're going to take a short break to support our sponsors. This is on Personal Life Media - A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews. We're talking with Dr. Michael Bader, the author of “Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies” and the upcoming “What is He Thinking? Pornography, the Internet and the Sexual Intelligence of Men” which we’ll be talking more about after our break.

Dr. Bader, if people would like to work with you or find out more about your work, how can they contact you?

Michael Bader: Well, first, I'd suggest and invite them to go on Amazon or one of the bookstore online services and take a look at the book, the book on “Arousal”. Then, they can contact me by e-mailing me at [email protected].

Beth Crittenden: Great. Thank you. Join us when we return from the short break.

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Announcer: Listen to A Taste of Sex: Life in an Orgasm-based Community, a weekly online audio program where orgasmic innovators show the intricacies of their practice on PersonalLifeMedia.com.

Beth Crittenden: Welcome back to A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews on Personal Life Media. I'm your host, Beth Crittenden, coming to you from One Taste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco. We're speaking today with Dr. Michael Bader.

Is your work intended to get people to the point where they get insight from their fantasies so then they can kind of detach from that being a necessity or is the intention to go into it more and play with it more so that they can feel more in their bodies.

Michael Bader: That’s a really good question because it seems to me that in my experience in this is that you rarely get somebody to – first of all, my intention is to help them feel less ashamed about who they are and what they want. Secondly, it’s to help them understand that their sexual fantasies have meaning and have a lot to say about who they are as people. People rarely come in to therapy for help with their sexual fantasies. The reason is their sexual fantasies are pleasurable so that they have very little incentive to come in and to try to change them. But, what you can find is that by explaining the meaning of them, you often get a great look into deeper things that are actually troubling them.

Now, usually, people’s sexual fantasies don’t radically change in therapy. That is, that you can sometimes help someone expand their repertoire. You can help them accept themselves more. I'm sure there are exceptions to these, but by and large, you don’t get someone who primarily enjoys surrender, to primarily enjoy domination. You get people to be able to play with different scenarios. Like I say, to expand repertoire. But generally, you don’t get fundamental shifts and the main reason again is that people get a lot from these things. They have very little incentive to change, unless something about what they're doing is getting them into big trouble.

Beth Crittenden: Thank you. Well, talking about Internet sex and pornography. You know, Dr. Bader, when you said you'd like to talk about this, I thought of this example that here in the community, there is plenty of activity. People are definitely getting their sensual needs met. We have a practice of orgasmic meditation. Men gets stroked, women gets stroked. People are pretty happy. There’s one guy here who I walked by his bed on occasions and he is just totally transfixed in his computer. I’ll kind of sneaked up to him and we’ll have a laugh and he’ll say, “Yes, I'm looking at porn.” So, when he has all the live, in person action that he wants, what’s the appeal there to cybersex?

Michael Bader: You know, although I can't speak to this guy, I can speak in general to the way that cybersex and porn is just different than sex between two real life people. First of all, in Internet sex, you have to understand that there’s a range of possibilities. That is, you can look at pictures just like it’s a magazine but, obviously, nowadays, there are modalities that allow you to interact with somebody else in more or less real time. So, increasingly, people are going on the Internet not just to look at pictures but to interact with other people sexually either through chat rooms, bulletin boards, instant messaging, e-mail, increasingly video conferencing. There are technologies available that enable that connection to be more and more “real”. But of course, it’s not entirely because of the overwhelming fact that it’s anonymous and that you don’t actually have to see the other person and they don’t know who you are. So, you ask the question, “Well, whatever kind of pornography, there must be something about the relative anonymity of the interaction that’s psychologically important.”

So, here’s the kinds of things that I think come up for men in particular when it comes to this. First of all, to the extent that men feel burdened by feelings of responsibility and worry about -- let's say heterosexual men – pleasing women to the extent they have a notion in their heads, right or wrong, that women are hard to please, which many men do.

Beth Crittenden: The nerve!

Michael Bader: Exactly. The nerve of them.

Beth Crittenden: We make it so straightforward and easy to please us. I don’t get it.

Michael Bader: Exactly. So, you have millions of men running around who act like they're in charge of everything, in that they know what to do and they're masterful in what they do. But in fact, they secretly worry all the time about their ability to make women happy. So, now imagine for such a guy, the appeal – first of all, two-dimensional image of a woman who in his mind’s eye is there for no other reason but to make him happy and towards him, he is absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. That’s very exciting to a man whose libido is being squashed under the weight of this inordinate feeling of responsibility, guilt and worry.

Now, with the interactive forms of sex which are so common now, a similar thing is true. Even though there's a real person there, if you get worried or start to feel as if you're not making that person who’s allegedly (++) if you're not making her happy, you can always just delete her, log off, you know.

Announcer: This concludes part one. The interview will be continued in the next episode of this show.

Beth Crittenden: This has been A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews on Personal Life Media. I'm your host, Beth Crittenden from One Taste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco. If you'd like to learn more about One Taste, you can visit our website at www.OneTasteSF.com. If you would like a transcript of this show or to download other shows, you can visit www.PersonalLifeMedia.com. If you'd also like to ask any questions or e-mail us feedback, you can e-mail [email protected]. Just a reminder once again, Dr. Bader, your e-mail is?

Michael Bader: [email protected].

Beth Crittenden: Great. Thanks for joining us and stay tuned.

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