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Parkin, A. (1964). On Sexual Enthrallment. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 12:336-356.

(1964). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 12:336-356

On Sexual Enthrallment

Alan Parkin, M.D.


In sexual enthrallment, a woman is held in a state of spellbound subservience by the phallic qualities of the man to whom she is attached. All her own individuality and initiative may be turned over to the man through whom she lives her life vicariously. However,

this state is characterized by an ambivalence which is expressed in a struggle, more or less overtly lived out, against the thralldom, and which in fact may overshadow the subservience to the man.

The fascination with and awe for the idealized object, and the longing for union with it, derive from the inevitable but intolerable differentiation of the infant-breast amalgam and the resulting loss of the infantile state of narcissistic omnipotence. The longing for union, or rather reunion, aims at re-establishing this state, and is accomplished by the incorporation of the now separately perceived and highly idealized breast and the subsequent merging of the embryonic ego with this ideal introject.

When the narcissistic self-esteem of the little girl is threatened again by her discovery of her lack of penis, it is sustained once more in a similar manner. The idealized penis is incorporated and assimilated to the ego ideal, and the ego fuses with it. In the resulting (primary) identification with the penis, infantile megalomania is regained in the fantasy of being the manifestation of the paternal omnipotence. She is thus driven between the Scylla of renouncing her autonomy as the captivated appendage to a larger whole and the Charybdis of being eaten in turn as the repository of phallic power and omnipotence she has become.

The state of sexual enthrallment may exist as a "pure" clinical picture and as a definite character type, or it may form the character background out of which may emerge diverse symptoms. Some phobics, for example, characterized by the fear of being alone, may be able to perform certain functions only if they are in the company of some person to whom they are in a relationship of sexual enthrallment. Fantasies of being a penis, the penis of the one to whom they are (emotionally) attached, may lead to fears of being separated as regressive forms of castration anxiety.

Although the state of sexual enthrallment is found typically in women, in whom in a milder form it may constitute an altogether unremarkable and ordinary relationship, it may also be found in men in whom a strong feminine identification is present (30), notably in passive male homosexuality (10) and in fetishism (35).

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