“ Who am I? I am Sugar. I am what you would call a fallen woman. But I assure you I did not fall. I was pushed.” ― Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White
The story of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, seduction, sex, beauty and desire, begins with a violent birth with absent parents and a castrated father. Like Sugar, the child prostitute in Faber’s novel The Crimson Petal and the White, she was expelled from the paradisical harmony of the womb/ocean and into a world where she is left to face the difficult and frightening realization of her aloneness. Having been‘orphaned’ she was deprived of an early primary bond. Such an absence is the great hidden crippler of the soul. We can surmise that Aphrodite’s violent birth and profound aloneness contributed to her cruelty and vindictiveness in which she used her beauty as a channel for her aggression. In Aphrodite’s compulsive search to transcend her pain, she pursues pleasure and beauty through a morally bereft sensory driven reality.
Through birth, each individual is expelled from the sublime tranquility of the womb into a world in which she has no apparent place. Thus, the central feature of the human condition is that once born each individual is fundamentally alone. The slowly dawning realization of this separateness is the salient dimension of the development of human consciousness. This realization is difficult and terrifying.
When our early attachments to our primary caregivers are empty, intrusive, dangerous, chaotic, exploitive, we resort to infantile fantasies for solace and imagined safety. This helps us deflect from the unbearable void of being totally alone and helpless. The child blames herself for her parents inability to love, and when the stiletto of blame and shame hits the soul, the child loses her connection with the source of life, and experiences a terrifying isolation and a fear of being swallowed up by emptiness; a fear of dying.
Aphrodite, in her unconscious desire to create or mend the primary bond and assuage the threat of being annihilated by her emptiness, turns to sex. Those who in cynical despair about ever having emotional intimacy with anyone, resign themselves to fleeting pleasure or even pain with anyone, as there is some contact, some recognition. Here Aphrodite’s wound festers, and just as she cannot return to the ocean, we cannot return to the comfort of the womb. Like her, we are challenged to heal the shame, the self-loathing, the punishment of the body, which dulls the instincts and sensuality and sexuality, through love. As Plato said, it is only love, which unites the split in the self.
Early on in Aphrodite’s evolution, her misguided search for love manifests as sexual compulsivity and abuse of power. The female sex addict too, misuses her sexuality to find love. This leads to shame and self-loathing, in which the body/self gets punished via eating disorders, and sundry addictive disorders. Her body becomes her enemy. Hence, she fears her body, her instincts, physical needs and desires. The instincts are dulled along with sexuality and sensuality. She feels sinful. Sex becomes a vehicle in the desperate attempt to reach another person. More basic interpersonal needs become sexualized. In cynical despair about ever having emotional intimacy with anyone, fleeting pleasure or even pain with anyone will do, as there is some contact, some recognition.
As the addictive cycle progresses shame and guilt engulf the spirit, leading to unrelenting self-loathing and blame. When we blame ourselves for something we regret we stay locked into it. We remain fixated and stuck in a state of helplessness and shame. To forgive the self is the ultimate step in healing. It means to see ourselves with compassion, to understand why we did what we did and separate our basic essence from the mistake that was made. Forgiveness is the redemptive action of the heart. Forgiveness is an organic process and cannot be forced against its own time, but with this intention perhaps it can be encouraged.
For women in recovery from sex addiction specialized process addiction treatment inclusive of trauma therapy, is essential for achieving wholeness and sexual integrity. Dismantling the impulse to use sex for power, control, and attention necessitates confronting the core injuries contributing to the maladaptive attachment dynamics responsible for this destructive intimacy disorder. For many women this may mean addressing the tragic impact of childhood sexual abuse. Cultural influences and stigmatization are also relevant sources of concern for the female sex addict, as is cultivating a spiritual path that speaks to female empowerment and worth.
As we track Aphrodite’s saga we find that ultimately she is challenged to actualize wholeness through her search for love and sexual expression. In her process of healing she integrates archetypal polarities. Aphrodite evolves from her sensory driven reality for pleasure and beauty, which makes her oblivious to the pain she causes, to examining her feelings and instincts, thus allowing for wisdom and maturation. She takes us from human love to spiritual love and back again, and in so doing she discovers a conscious expansion of self, bound to her own instincts and in which the mind/body split is healed.