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Handelsman, I. (1965). The Effects of Early Object Relationships on Sexual Development—Autistic and Symbiotic Modes of Adaptation. Psychoanal. St. Child, 20:367-383.

(1965). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 20:367-383

The Effects of Early Object Relationships on Sexual Development—Autistic and Symbiotic Modes of Adaptation

Irving Handelsman

Helene Deutsch and other participants of the Panel on Frigidity (1961) have raised the question of why it is that the very disturbed person is sometimes capable of achieving orgasm even though his or her psychosexual development is on a pregenital level, whereas less disturbed persons, whose ego and sexual development are more advanced, are unable to achieve a climax. As indicated in that panel, as well as in most of the psychoanalytic literature, there is considerable disagreement and confusion regarding the definition of orgasm. Therefore, for the sake of brevity I shall omit the biological, physiological, and some of the psychoanalytic definitions and descriptions of orgasm and refer to Keiser's (1952) description. He attributes a certain type of preorgastic anxiety to "apprehension of the physiological, momentary unconsciousness that accompanies a healthy orgasm, which is comparable to death or to falling asleep—all accompanied by withdrawal of cathexis from the body ego" (p. 154). He regards the momentary loss of consciousness as a sine qua non of normal orgasm.

This definition includes the word "healthy"; we can therefore infer that there is an unhealthy orgasm. It is my belief that in the healthy orgasm there is a regression in the service of the ego (Kris, 1934), that is, an adaptive type of regression. The orgasm is characterized by a temporary dissolution of the boundaries of the self and the object, there is a feeling of fulfillment and pleasure in the drive discharge and in the sense of merging with the partner, after which the individual is able to recover the self representation, reestablish the self boundaries, and recathect the love object.

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