Treating the Male Hysteric

It’s time to accept that Naked Therapy may be the best way to prevent uncontrollable acts of arousal frenzy like those committed by former US Congressman Anthony Weiner.

First published August 25, 2011

Just over two months ago US Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) resigned for sending sexually suggestive images and messages to women via his Twitter account. During Weinergate, one question was constantly asked by the media – How could he? Youngest member ever of the NY City Council. Chuck Schumer protege. Married to an aide of Hillary Clinton. The epitome of a rising political star. How could he commit such life- and career-destroying acts that anyone in his right mind could have foreseen as ridiculously risky?

Yet, like many questions designed to gain ratings instead of answers, it was ill-posed. Anthony Weiner was not in his right mind when he committed those acts. He was in his arousal mind. For Anthony Weiner, along with millions of other men today, is a male hysteric. Unfortunately, the “treatment” typically given to male hysterics is completely ineffective due to the resistance among psychologists to develop a 21st century diagnosis and response to this disorder.

As we’re about to see Maggie Gyllenhal and Hugh Dancy Star show us in the movie Hysteria, in the 19th century, female hysterics (and psychologists looking to treat them) were everywhere. These women displayed a wide array of symptoms, including faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and more. Some estimates claimed that almost 1 in 4 women was hysteric, and because it was simply seen as a response to the stressors of modern life, one American physician proudly noted that hysteria in the new world was on the rise, proving that the USA was catching up to Europe.

Starting in the late 19th century, treatment of the female hysteric took two parallel routes. At a physiological level, dildos, vibrators, and pelvic massage techniques (and machines!) were invented to generate “hysterical paroxysms” (aka orgasms) that were thought to ease symptoms through purgation. At a psychological level, Sigmund Freud analyzed female hysterics (whom he later recategorized as having anxiety neuroses) and began positing many of his classic concepts, including unconscious wishes overwhelming the repressive ego.

And while at that time it was rarely considered that there might be a form of male hysteria unique to men (for a fascinating look at how homophobia played into this lapse, see “Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness” by Mark S. Micale), the time has come to correct this oversight and declare the painfully obvious – male hysteria exists.

Male hysteria is a state of being in which millions of men find themselves, and it is increasingly prevalent due to the anonymity, abstraction and accessibility of e-sex. Male hysterics (like female hysterics) display a wide (but different) array of (often contradictory) symptoms, including depression, isolation, chronic masturbation, excessive porn viewing, inability to keep commitments, rage, manic episodes, delusions of undetectability, erectile disfunction, and more. Further, male hysterics are prone to committing uncontrollable acts of arousal frenzy (like Anthony Weiner), just like female hysterics were prone to fainting. But the dynamic mental cause is basically the same in both genders – a stressful split in the mind between what one wants and what one is allowed to have.

And it is my assertion that just as it was therapeutically inept and unethical to treat female hysterics with bed rest, seclusion, bland food, and sensory deprivation, it is equally wrong to treat male hysterics with traditional therapy, sex addiction meetings, religious counseling or public acts of contrition. What male hysterics need – just like female hysterics needed a combination of psychoanalysis and sex toys (for no matter what you think about the effectiveness of either, both were a step forward for women) – is Naked Therapy.

When a man meets with a Naked Therapist, the two conduct therapy together that involves many of the same techniques as traditional therapy (talking, questioning, suggestion, free association, goal setting, etc.), but the sessions also facilitate the client discussing himself and his experiences while in a state of arousal so that he can begin to gain insight into the thoughts, feelings and choices he has under the influence of his arousal mind. This arousal mind is activated in different ways for different clients. For some it’s the removing of the Naked Therapist’s clothes, for others it’s talking sexually or about sexual issues with the Naked Therapist, and for others it’s simply having the Naked Therapist listen to and be supportive of their desires and concerns.

But whatever it is that arouses the client, the central issue is that by being aroused in a therapeutic context he begins to be able to understand himself in a state of arousal, gain control over his arousal mind and thus prevent future acts of life- and career-destroying arousal frenzy. He starts bridging the stressful split between what he wants and what he is allowed to have. He learns how to act responsibly when aroused. And, yes, he often experiences “hysterical paroxysms” that alleviate symptoms through purgation. But all of this is, in the end, good therapeutic practice for the male hysteric, for as Jacques Lacan says of the female hysteric is equally true for him: “In order to cure the hysteric of all her symptoms, the best way is to satisfy her hysteric’s desire.”

Undoubtedly, just as they did when doctors started treating female hysterics with strange new methods, conservative elements in society (and the psychotherapeutic institutes) will cringe and scream in protest. They will say that the female hysteric needed vibrators because she was suffering from a lack of sex, whereas male hysterics are suffering from a surfeit of sex. That Naked Therapy is just more porn. That encouraging the client to engage in sexual arousal with the therapist is potentially damaging to the psyche.

But as the founder of Naked Therapy and a practicing Naked Therapist, I know different. I know that my clients suffer from a surfeit of fake sex and that I can help them transition into real intimacy. I know that Naked Therapy is a valuable blend of talk and arousal (think Freud with a vibrator). And I know that what is damaging to male hysterics is the madonna/whore complex, which Naked Therapy dissolves by showing them that a woman can be both sexually desirable and intellectually powerful.

I know that my clients are engaged in Naked Therapy because they are male hysterics looking to free themselves of their symptoms so they can live freer, happier, more reality-seduced lives. It’s time we offer such men something more than outdated treatment methods. It’s time to accept that if you want to teach a man to swim in a world of infinite arousal, you can’t just talk to him about it. You have to put him in the water.

Background reading can be found in “Preventing Arousal Frenzy” and “My Response to Weinergate.”

by Sarah White, The Naked Therapist