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Balsam, R.H. (2009). Sensuality and Sexuality across the Divide of Shame. By Joseph Lichtenberg. Psychoanalytic Inquiry Book Series, Volume 25. New York: The Analytic Press, 2008, 160 pp., $34.95. Shame and Sexuality: Psychoanalysis and Visual Culture. Edited by Claire Pajaczkowska and Ivan Ward. London: Routledge, 2008, 242 pp., £19.99.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(3):723-739.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(3):723-739

Book Essay: Sexuality and Shame

Sensuality and Sexuality across the Divide of Shame. By Joseph Lichtenberg. Psychoanalytic Inquiry Book Series, Volume 25. New York: The Analytic Press, 2008, 160 pp., $34.95. Shame and Sexuality: Psychoanalysis and Visual Culture. Edited by Claire Pajaczkowska and Ivan Ward. London: Routledge, 2008, 242 pp., £19.99.

Review by:
Rosemary H. Balsam

The close association between sex and shame is one of the oldest topics in psychoanalysis. Attention to this special coupling stems from our field's first understanding of mental functioning being set within a culture of concern with the mores and niceties of fin de siìcle twentieth-century Europe; from the Judaic and Christian culture of its founders and followers and their traditional views of women that supported the coupling of sex and shame; and from the surround of Western cultures that from the eighteenth century progressively understood individuation and selfhood as valuable psychological acquisitions. Self-consciousness is necessary before shame or its more sophisticated cousin, guilt, can be expressed verbally. The affect of shame, as Darwin noted in his 1872 study of the emotions, is universally signaled physiologically and nonverbally with blushing, downcast eyes, gaze avoidance, and is apparent in all cultures. Anthropologists have pointed to its frequent role in marking a violation of social expectations, not necessarily sexual, of the group to which the individual belongs.

Freud's understanding of sex and shame broadened over his life's work, from the early specific linkage to childhood and body development to the later person's public and private realms of ideals and guilt; to the impact of states of trauma accompanied by ego experiences of being overwhelmed; and to the necessary role of shame and, more important, guilt in lifting civilization from its primitive human proclivity.

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