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Goldsmith, L. (2012). A Discussion of Mary Target's “Is Our Sexuality Our Own?”. Fort Da, 18(1):44-57.

(2012). Fort Da, 18(1):44-57

A Discussion of Mary Target's “Is Our Sexuality Our Own?”

Laurie Goldsmith, Ph.D.


In her paper, “Is Our Sexuality Our Own?” (2007), Dr. Target has explained that in the process of developing a capacity for mentalization, the mother mirrors her baby's affective experiences, and this is how her child comes to understand them as its own, experience itself as a coherent self, and then mentalize its own experience, where it can reflect on its own mental states and those of others. If the mother doesn't mirror back the child's experiences, these experiences feel incoherent, incongruous, and even alien to the child. The child may not achieve a capacity for mentalization and instead has to project this alien self (onto others). Target posits that sexual excitement is not mirrored by the mother, and supports this claim with a survey that asked for mothers to report when they reflected back various states to their children. While 90 percent of mothers reported smiling back to a child when a child smiled, for example, almost all mothers reported ignoring or turning away from a child who expressed some form of sexual excitement. Because sexual excitement is not mirrored, Target says, even a child who can mentalize other emotional experience will experience an alien sexual self, along the lines of Jean Laplanche's alterity within the self.

Dr. Target claims that in general, people experience their sexuality as alien, foreign, forbidden, other. She argues that the impetus for sexual experience is to project this alien self into the sexual partner. Through the sexual experience, the partner will mirror the person's sexual excitement, allowing the person to reinternalize their sexuality in an integrated way. With a long-term partner, over time the person comes to feel integrated and understood. Target thinks that the conscious experience of coming to understand one's partner and trust and feel stable with them is actually an experience of having one's own alienated sexual self reflected back in a way that integrates it into one's personality. According to Target, once there is this integration of the sexual self, there is less motivation for actual sexual experience with the partner. At the same time, there may be aspects of the sexual self that the partner can't mirror.

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