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Flynn, S. (2008). The Wisdom of a Bad Choice: The Vicissitudes of Sexual Desire. Fort Da, 14(2):36-54.

(2008). Fort Da, 14(2):36-54

The Wisdom of a Bad Choice: The Vicissitudes of Sexual Desire

Susan Flynn, Ph.D.

The word “vicissitudes” — a difficulty that is likely to occur, especially one that is inherent in the situation — seems especially apt for my focus on the sexual development of a young girl following a sexual trauma with her father. There are many problems a young girl is left with “inherent in the situation” of sexual trauma; sexual desire will be my focus.

My assumption is that following incest, a young girl will continue to evolve as a sexual person, with an altered line of sexual development. Certain questions follow this assumption: What can we understand about the alteration of her sexual desire? How do psychoanalytic interventions facilitate development of sexual desire? Since our sexual development begins in infancy and continues throughout life, does psychoanalytic treatment offer a unique opportunity to repair the sexual desire of the incest survivor? I will present my treatment of Alissa to consider these questions.

As my patient, Alissa, neared the end of her treatment, the question of the importance of forgiveness as a developmental accomplishment — and not an act of will — entered our work and was part of the resolution of the transference. In retrospect, it seemed only possible in the full acceptance of what happened to her, and how she had repeated the trauma in different ways, that forgiveness of herself and her father occurred. In the transference, what she had done to me, and I to her, was also forgiven. As Freud (1914/1959) said, “To understand all is to forgive all.”

I consider Alissa's a clinical tale of healing, both inside and outside the analysis. One dynamic I would like to note is the accuracy of her object choices to recall, sometimes to recreate, and to rework her trauma. We both came to have a deeper trust of the contribution from her unconscious mind to her choices, even as they initially seemed, at least to me, to be “bad choices.” I would consider Alissa's object choices as a particular trajectory of the healing of her sexual desire. Incest is an object-related trauma; Alissa had to wind her way back to a more integrated sexual desire along the path of relationships. There were certainly bumps along that road, both in and out of the treatment.


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