Anna Janicki, MD

Changing the world, one site at a time…
Abstract, Human Conditions Series, Eros, May 2010

There’s no Such Thing as Perversion: Autoerotism, Obsession and Traumatizing Shame

Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur 
Many fear their reputation, few their conscience. (Pliny)

The shame surrounding autoerotism produces and reproduces trauma directly.   Experiences of fear, loathing and pain are routinely connected in psychic life to feelings of pleasure to manage terror and shame; individual and collective judgment often stigmatizes this adaptation.  As a result, autoerotism and autoerotic fantasies are denigrated and marginalized.  I argue that, to the contrary, autoerotic life is a potential, but hidden, source of vitality in relationships, both intra- and inter-psychic. In the act of self soothing, all elements come together in expressing the uniqueness of a particular individual and include rituals related to personal taste, bodily comforts, masturbation and masturbatory fantasies. This paper posits that the psychoanalysis of autoerotic life promotes a deeper understanding of the person’s character structure, self and object matrix, and response to trauma.
The analysis of autoerotism that I model here separates comfort-seeking experiences from repetitions of traumatic experiences in autoerotic life, a repetition compulsion resulting from the cultural and individual dynamics of shame.  I describe a phenomenon divergent from the one presented by Freud in A Child is Being Beaten, a work in which he described how sexual urges are regulated by pain and called perverse erotic pleasures derived from any activity other than heterosexual vaginal union.  I focus on how pain and suffering are attenuated by sexual arousal. I include here social pain due to shame.  Here is a brief description of my hypothesis. Intended as soothing, autoerotic activities, like masturbation, transform non-erotic hurting memories into erotic reminiscences; however instead of bringing regulation of fear or humiliation, they may sometimes become an addiction. Compulsion leads to unconscious reenactment of trauma, and often re-traumatizes the individual. A minor exhibitionist may one day become a serial murderer—as did Jeffrey Dahmer. 
Dysfunctional autoeroticism and autoerotic fantasies are more than simply “bad.”  They often also express unrecognized yearnings for an inspiration and acceptance from another person.  If clinicians neglect this vital facet of human experience, they enable the impulse of subject’s who suffer in this regard to avoid confronting feelings of abjection. It may result in a vortex of repetition and escalation.  I will demonstrate a method and successful outcome of addressing autoeroticism in psychoanalysis, relying on two stories