A Rational Theory of Sexuality

There is a kind of topical distress which has been so systematically imposed and enforced upon us in our cultures that it covers everything about us like a strip of sticky fly paper wound around our thinking, confusing and disturbing everything. This is the distress that's been imposed around the whole topic of sexuality.

In the early years in Seattle, a large proportion of our one-way clients, from whom we learned much of counseling because we stayed with them and worked with them over long periods of time, came to us concerned about distress attached to sexuality. We had an opportunity to see how these distresses operate, and to acquire skills in unwinding them.

In our Co-Counseling Communities, work on such distresses has appeared as a major preoccupation only intermittently. Two or three years ago some people made some attempts to challenge such distress in an organized way, which did not always work out so well. The most significant new development in theory and practice in this past year (because we started working on powerlessness over a year ago) is a basic theory about and a dependable way of challenging and removing the distress on sexuality. The practice turns out to be arduous but simple. It depends on the theory and policy. This theory is by no means complete. All of us will have done a great deal more discharging before we can say it's even approximately complete; but we have what are apparently dependable beginnings.


What we've learned about sexuality can begin with a fundamental theorem:

Almost everything that any one of us has assumed to be natural or inherent in the area of our sexuality is recorded distress patterns.

Almost everything that we have been told by our societies and our cultures to be natural and inherent in the area of sexuality is enforced and recorded distress patterns. Almost all the "enlightened discussions" and "new approaches" and "liberated theories," which are appearing in such numbers in the area of sexuality, turn out to be distress patterns.

Let me pick one example, The Hite Report. Some of you have read this, enjoyed it, found it useful. The accounts of the interviewed women about their sexuality feelings and practices are apparently very straightforward. It's a good job of writing. Several women have told me that to read it breaks through some of their shame and guilt and feelings of isolation. If you draw back and look at it, however, you'll notice that the entire discussion begins with the assumption of society's attitude on sexuality in the respect that one is assumed to be obsessed at all times with the attainment of sexual satisfaction, and compelled to devote a good deal of one's attention to it. We know enough already, enough people have worked enough on their sexuality successfully to know that this is false. We've made enough progress to know that this isn't the inherent nature of people at all.


Sexual reproduction appears early in evolution. All life continues to also use the primitive means of reproduction of one cell dividing into two. We, too, participate in this. All the cells of our body reproduce themselves by one cell dividing into two. This was the earlier and still major way of reproduction for many, many organisms. Almost all our advances in agriculture are based on the use of this. It's called "vegetative reproduction" in these conditions. Every Golden Delicious apple you eat was grafted off one branch that mutated on a Red Delicious tree and produced Golden Delicious apples. Buds and scions from that one branch have been grafted onto thousands and thousands of acres of apple trees by now. Every navel orange that you eat was grafted and reproduced by this cell to cell reproduction from one branch on one orange tree. Navel oranges, too, have covered thousands of acres.

There are presently living one-celled animals called paramecia who participate in what by analogy could be called sexual reproduction. Such one-celled animals generally divide by pinching in two, one cell becoming two, but every so often, a pair of paramecia slide past each other, pause, cuddle up, open their cell walls and exchange some nuclear material, close their walls and swim away. Now that's pretty sexy. (Laughter) It really is. Each departs with a richer heredity than each had before.

Very early, life, in its endless mutations, developed the capacity to not just reproduce a given heredity, subject only to random mutation from cosmic rays and other influences, but developed this very tricky ability to produce half-cells by one individual and half-cells by another individual, and put the two half-cells together (the two half-nuclei, actually) to produce one full nucleus and one cell, which can then proceed to reproduce in the usual way, by dividing into two. Each such pairing produces a new kind of individual.

Most forms of life existing at this time rely on sexual reproduction in an incredible variety of ways. Some of these sexual procedures are extremely elaborate.

Sexual reproduction confers a high survival potential on the species using it compared to that conferred by asexual reproduction. The continually increasing richness of its heredity means that the genetic bank of a species which uses sexual reproduction can offer survival under a much wider variety of conditions than does the genetic heritage of the species which has only a limited, fixed heredity. So, since it confers a much higher capacity of survival, those organisms which use sexual reproduction have survived better. A large portion of the presently existing species rely on sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction is "a good gimmick."


Very elaborate mechanisms have evolved in the more complex creatures in order to accomplish sexual reproduction. There is a great variety of them. Our pre-human ancestors, too, evolved very elaborate mechanisms for accomplishing sexual reproduction. We have inherited these. We can see something of how they once operated by observing how our close cousins, the great apes, accomplish reproduction. This must be similar to the procedures our pre-human ancestors used, and which we have inherited.

As we have most of the physical structure of our ancestors, so we have inherited these elaborate mechanisms for accomplishing sexual reproduction. These include special neural channels from our vision for transmitting visual cues that it's time to go through the once-instinctive rituals of sexual reproduction, visual clues that come to the eyes and are transmitted to certain centers in the brain. These include olfactory pick-ups tuned to pick up the odors emitted by certain scent glands on other humans, which originally triggered a response that helped get the whole instinctive apparatus into gear. These signals go to certain cells in the brain that are both nerve cells and glandular cells.

As a fairly new bit of knowledge, we know now that some cells that actually receive nerve impulses as nerve cells also secrete hormones, which travel a little ways and trigger certain big glands grouped around our pituitary, which send out other hormone signals that go all over the body and trigger other glands. We have complex physical sexual structures, and undoubtedly our ancestors used these before rational intelligence developed, very elaborate structures which can or could be triggered, and once had to be triggered, to go through a rigid ritual to accomplish sexual reproduction.


We have inherited these pre-human instincts. These aren't the only ones we've inherited. Humans inherit lots of instincts from their ancestry, but, typically, in human beings, these are very quickly subordinated to our rational direction. It isn't that they don't exist, but they are very quickly put under the direction of our intelligence. To step aside for a minute from the subject of sex for an example, newborn children, at about eight or nine days of age, begin walking, instinctive walking. Their legs go through walking motions. After a few days, that's suppressed. It disappears, and several months later the human child learns to really walk, this time under control of its intelligence.

We have many of these instincts. Some of them we pretty much leave as they are. The instinctive movement of our heart, for example, works so well that in general we leave it alone, leave it to function pretty much as we inherited it. Or, our breathing works well. But many people have demonstrated that these, too, can be brought under deliberate control. There are people who can do all kinds of tricks with their breathing, and there are people who can, and have, stopped their hearts and have been apparently completely dead for a predetermined period, and then roused themselves on signal and ordered their hearts to start beating again. If you haven't read the book, My Six Convicts, you should. It's the story of a psychologist's confrontation with a skilled mentalist in Leavenworth Prison.

Without distress, our sexual instincts (and we did inherit them) are very quickly subordinated to our rational ability. We have enough clues now, both from certain people who have grown up in a relatively free RC family atmosphere, and from the gains which some RCers have made in working on their sexuality, that we can get some glimpses of what rational sexual behavior would be.

Similar accounts repeated a number of times by young adults who have grown up in a pretty good RC atmosphere indicate that the young person, given any support in avoiding or resisting the usual early sexual distress conditioning, sloughs it off, and has no particular interest in sex until at adolescence or puberty, when the new body functions and mechanisms go into play. Then there is a time of curiosity, of exploring these new sensations, this new capacity. Then, usually, they are explored, curiosity is satisfied, and they again become no issue and of little interest, until much later when, by thoughtful and deliberate choice, the young people decide to participate in adult sexual activity (sometimes with difficulty, because of the difficulty of finding anyone rational to share participation).

There are enough clues now to give a clear indication that a young person growing up, shielded from most of this sexual distress, simply is not very interested in sex, beyond temporarily satisfying his or her curiosity at adolescence when the new glandular structure goes into operation, and that's a very brief thing.


How does that compare with your and my adolescence? Do you remember? We were almost completely preoccupied. Desperate. Concerned. Tension all over the place. Not everybody the same way. Some of us were inhibited and didn't even dare to think of it. I doubt if there's one of those here, but there are such people. For most of us it was very difficult to think of anything else, for long periods. Frustration and the longing and all the rest.


This doesn't seem to be at all natural, at all inherent. We have more clues from the still small but nevertheless significant sample of people in our Communities who have by now worked consistently to free themselves of distress in this area. Their common experience includes some moments of alarm before their standards have changed, wondering if they have "ruined" themselves by working through this distress, afraid that they have become "impotent" or incapable because most of their old interests in sex are gone. It turns out, of course, that things aren't that bad, that all they lost was their reactive interest in the subject. All that has been lost were patterny reactions to "push-buttons." If the situation is such that sexual behavior is rational, you are still competent in the field. What a relief realizing that has sometimes been.

I get in the habit of talking about the compulsions. I often forget to mention the inhibitions. Sometimes I get a letter, three days after I've left town, saying, "What about those of us who can't feel sexual at all and never could?" Patterns can have an inhibiting effect, too. The remedy is the same in both cases.


Some things were plain from our early work in Seattle that we've never shared widely in the Communities, possibly because there was so much else going on. A few months ago, over at Mercy Center (some of you were there), I said one day at a workshop, "Well, of course, any unbidden sexual feelings are purely restimulation," and went on to talk about something else, but somebody called out, "Hey! What did you say?" and notebooks came out.

I repeated it then and I'll repeat it now. Any unbidden sexual feelings are pure restimulation. Unless you calmly and deliberately decide to feel sexual because it is the optimum rational behavior in a particular situation, and you decide to do it before you feel sexual, any sexual feelings mean you are the victim of restimulation.


What works dependably in this area is not any of the single-shot things that were tried earlier, nor any set of exercises of "Let's all get together and be embarrassed about sex." There'll be plenty of embarrassment coming off along the line, but what's there to be discharged at first varies from person to person. It seems obvious once I say it, but it hasn't been obvious.

What works is to discharge thoroughly on the earliest memory connected with sex in any way at all, whether it seems tense or hurtful to you or not, and stick to discharge on that memory. I underline stick to discharge on that memory. One of our leaders abroad came to me and said, "You know, you used to say, 'Review every memory connected with sex,'" and I said yes. "Well, I've been doing that for about two weeks, and I just feel terrible." And I said, "You're getting discharge out of it?" She said, "Discharge?" (Laughter) If you just review the memory without discharge, the restimulation can be very disturbing.

It isn't an "automatic" process; there aren't any automatic processes. It takes counseling skill and support and everything else to make it work. And it isn't all laughter. You may have months of laughter first with a particular client, or you may not get to any laughter for a long while. To simply discharge thoroughly on the earliest memory connected with sex in any way at all seems to be the clear, simple way of getting this whole area unloaded.


It works best to begin such work in a sizeable group - a workshop, a class, a section, a caucus. The leader or teacher acts as counselor as each person in turn relates each one's earliest incident, and discharges. The revealed commonality of the early experiences for everybody of both sexes seems to be profoundly reassuring and encouraging to everyone. It brings an important revelation to nearly everyone on the fact that they have been basically victims in this area, not monsters.

Continuing work goes much better if it is done in trios, or larger groups, and with both sexes present, if possible. The avoidance of coupling restimulations and the reassurance of commonality seem to be the reasons for this, but, whatever the reason, three or more goes much better than two.


So just take the earliest memory. Stay with the earliest. Use your counselor's skills to keep discharge coming instead of going to later incidents. The client may be thinking of later material, but should be kept talking about the earliest. The earliest incident is a "safe spigot" for draining the later distress.

There are some other helpful hints, in addition. Don't forget that you are the counselor, if you are counseling somebody on this. Do not "go automatic" and just sit there enjoying discharging on your own memories that their memory reminds you of, even if this seems to be working well at first. There'll be some of that, you can't help it and you'll have to discharge. But remember that you're the counselor, because many incidents here will be very difficult for the client and he or she will need all your strength and skill as counselor.


We have the impression, with good reason at this point, that almost every woman in our society, almost every woman, has been abused sexually as a small child, and that a very large proportion of all men have been abused sexually as small children. As the Co-Counseling goes on, Co-Counselor after Co-Counselor brings it up. An impression drifts up. "Something happened. (pause) It couldn't be that . . . No, that's ridiculous." "What's ridiculous?" "No no, I won't tell you." Counselor tries to plead, wheedle, coax, support. "My father wasn't that kind of a person."

But the subject won't be dropped, and finally, with encouragement ("It's a fantasy. Don't worry about what the truth was. Just tell it as a fantasy."), up comes the abuse which laid in a load of terror that has influenced everything in the person's life. (Author's Note: Recent developments, since this article was first written, indicate that incest is also much more common than society has realized.)

Memories connected with sex are by no means always funny. To work the broad way, to drain every memory connected with sex in any way at all through the earliest one, is to do excellent counseling. Unload these memories. Unload them thoroughly.

The people who have done this are unanimous in saying that it's one of the most important things they ever did; that all areas of their life are improving because of this. Problems that didn't seem to have any connection with sexuality are suddenly discovered to be tied down by hidden wires to the distress in this area. Everything about the Co-Counselors' lives starts changing and opening up when they work this out. This has been an area that society has loaded up in every possible way: embarrassment, shame, guilt, terror, grief.


A few more hints about working on this material. Consider occlusions. There are many of these memories that we have hidden from ourselves because we would have been too distressed to cope unless we locked them away. Of course we lock part of ourselves, our attention, away with them. These are the bad incidents that we have no aware memory of.

The dependable technique for reaching occlusions is the fantasy. Make up a fantasy. Make it as wild as possible. Continually urge the client to make it wilder, less careful. Ask them to take no responsibility for it. Urge them to make it funny. Tell them to make it as absolutely different, if possible, from anything that they suspect might have happened, or they're afraid might have happened.

If the client is really tied down, make up the fantasy for them. Don't be lazy. The counselor's job is not to stand there as an observer - it is to be actively supporting/supportive. So, help them make up the fantasy. They'll correct your efforts. If you, as counselor, say, "Well, there was this little girl and she was walking down the street, and suddenly a great hairy hand reached out and dragged her back in the alley and stuffed her in a garbage can," the client will laugh and say, "Not in a garbage can. Ha ha ha ha ha." You're not going to mislead them. They can't be misled.


If you as client want a shortcut to the most crucial distress in this area, if you want to get to the heart of it quickly, just bring up your fantasies that you use during masturbation. They may seem innocent and delightful and anything else to begin with - just take them up and work on them and you'll see. They'll lead you right back down to the distress. And you don't need to keep debating, could this really have happened? Could this really have happened? Just tell the fantasy, over and over and over and over and have your counselor help you discharge. The revelation will take care of itself.

Debate and discussion has been nearly useless in this area. Getting to work is proving to be very, very valuable. Sexual distress doesn't fit into the hierarchy of distress, but it covers everything. It's been a special impediment to us because we haven't until now challenged it on a rational enough basis.


I need to go back to the theory. All this elaborate sexual mechanism which we inherited, which in the absence of distress would be brought under the rational control of our intelligence is, of course, subject to distress patterns afflicting it at any place. Distress patterns can pick up the visual clue channel; distress patterns can pick up the odor clue channel; distress patterns can pick up the glandular shift, the postures, the caresses, all these things. All these things can become glued to distress.

Our society sees to it that just about any part of our sexuality does become glued to distress. So we have this apparently huge variety of sexualities existing among humans entirely, or almost entirely, on the basis of what happened to be going on when distress and sexual topics occurred together. If sexual feelings or sexual enforcement or sexual activity is taking place during distress, what happens? It becomes part of a distress recording. Don't forget the simple, grisly nature of a distress recording. It includes everything that went on during the time of distress. And anything else that went on during that time can become the restimulator of sexual feelings, sexual behavior, sexual actions (or sexual inhibitions).


Let me reach way back into my memories of one-way clients who are in most cases dead and gone. A very dear person, who was my client for a long while, had a very tough life because of his physical heritage. He was born somewhat incomplete. He was a blue baby. He had a cleft palate, his spine didn't finish, and a few other things. However, he was a very gallant person. He'd been through innumerable operations. He was still terribly embarrassed and scared, but he'd faced death so many times that he was very calm about that. I admired him hugely. He was a real person.

After working through a lot of other things, he one day asked me, "What about a person who . . . is it real weird if a person only gets sexual feelings at, um . . . (and then it took five minutes to get it out) at the thought of torture, or blood, or of people being hurt?" I said, "Something happened to cause it," and was calm, and he shook and hit his head and laughed and felt terribly ashamed and told about it a little more, and then said, shaking, "I might as well tell you the rest of it. I have a friend, this doctor - whenever I see him, I get an erection." He hid his head with shame and shook and felt terrible feelings about it. When he had discharged a lot it took just a little remembering for him to tell me that one of the things that he was born with incomplete was his penis. It came out not quite a complete tube, and guess what had had to happen? A whole series of very bloody, painful operations to correct it with that particular doctor.

I had a client whose wife insisted he have counseling because he could only become aroused and perform sexually with a pair of long, white, lace gloves draped over the head of the bed. Conditioned by the culture, she felt that it was just too weird, though she might have felt a similar dependence on black lace panties was "normal." Once I had his confidence, it didn't take very long to get back to memories of the very, very tough time in his young life when his only friendly ally was the "cookie lady" next door who wore long, white, lace gloves for her afternoon tea. Of course there were many later incidents which glued sexual feelings on to the white glove memories by restimulation.

I had a client who could only become aroused if he got into a tub of warm water with his trousers on. Sounds strange, doesn't it? Once he dared to tell me about it, it didn't take very long to get back to his discovery of masturbation while swimming in his jeans in a warm lake. And it didn't take a long time - though there was a lot of discharge on the way - to get back to earlier experiences of tremendous condemnation - "You wet your pants!" The idiot "logic" of it is just obvious . . . it sits right there.

If you review and discharge thoroughly (by sticking to talking of the earliest one) all your memories connected with sex in any way at all, you will see exactly where all your "dear," "familiar," "rational" modes of sexuality arose. And they will all disappear, and, again, you may go through a period of wondering if you haven't "ruined" this, until now, dependably push-buttoned area of your life.

Anything that is taking place during a distress experience when sexual feelings are aroused or enforced becomes a restimulator of sexual feelings. Since many of these incidents are occluded, the fantasies which represent them become our dependable buttons for participating in sex, and we tend to cherish them and protect them and cling to them.


Our courts and our prisons are filled with people charged with what are called sexual offenses. No one of them has the same distress. Each one has unique experiences, but their patterns are usually lumped together by a punitive society because of superficial similarities.

Take the "flashers" - males who expose their genitals to women, sometimes to young girls only. These miserable people fill the courtrooms, over and over convicted and sentenced and paroled, convicted and sentenced and paroled. I read an account in a Chicago paper that some woman working for the court has finally gotten a group of them together to talk things out and support each other and walk each other home so they won't give in to this urge to unzip their pants at some woman or girl and then run in terror. They lead desperate, miserable lives.

Well, what's involved in this kind of pattern? It's not hard to guess. Probably many of us here have participated, when very young, in a "you show me yours and I'll show you mine" experience. I hope that none of you here had the terrible load of condemnation and violence and threats falling on you in those experiences that turned these poor people into compulsive "flashers." With enough distress poured on them the pull of the pattern is enormous. Of course it feels like "desire," of course it pulls like a lure; what patterned pull does not feel like this?

Another kind of sexual distress that fills the courts all the time is the voyeur, the peeping Tom. These are not all men, by the way, though they're all called peeping Toms. There are peeping Berthas, too. I've worked with a number of these as clients. The source is just exactly the terror put on a child trying to see what the body of the opposite sex looked like.

It's a literal thing. A person who has distress and sexual feelings in the presence of a vase acquires the vase as a sexual fetish, a restimulator. The person who has sexual feelings and distress in an incident involving animals becomes compulsively attached to sex with animals, in whatever strange way happened in the incident. It's just exactly a literal process. Whatever sticks to the fly paper sticks; whatever was present when the distress glued it together becomes "sexual."

If the other sex is present when a distress experience involves sexuality, then the other sex can become a restimulator of repulsion towards sexual feelings or attraction towards them, with that other sex. If the same sex is present, either kind of feelings can become frozen to the same sex. Every distressed person (every person, roughly speaking) has some patterns pulling toward (or against) rigid compulsive heterosexual behavior or rigid, compulsive homosexual behavior. How rigid and compulsive it gets depends on how much distress was present and how often it was restimulated. Whether it leads to compulsive homosexuality or compulsive heterosexuality depends only on which material gets restimulated, which way, how much. Of course, almost everyone is "latently" homosexual or "latently" compulsively heterosexual, or "latently" impotent or frigid, but this is all in the area of patterns.

Harvey Jackins
Seattle, Washington

Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07