Psychical Impotence

Many males have an inability to enjoy sex with one they love or difficulty loving another they have sex with. This Freud called ‘Psychical Impotence’. Usually, a person who the man can perform with sexually is debased, thought of a whore. Hence the syndrome gets its other name: The Madonna-Whore Complex. Freud felt that this occurs when a man has unresolved Oedipus conflicts. That is, tender feelings of love reminds him of his original love, the mother. Having sex with one’s mother, a Madonna figure, is of course, incest. Such a grave sin is imagined to be certainly followed by great punishment. Psychoanalysts call this fear “castration anxiety”. Such intense fear makes it impossible to get an erection, hence the label Psychical Impotence. It’s not impotence proper because the person can perform sex as long as it is not with a loved one.

Much pornography is geared to men with the Madonna-Whore Complex. Woman are debased to make them attractive to the psychically impotent male who fears love. The severity of the complex runs from mild to severe. Patients with a less severe form of the disorder report becoming turned off, even disgusted by sex without love. This is improves their prognosis. The alternative, love without sex may turn into a more complete relationship in which one can have satisfactory sex with a loved one. That is, they can become Psychically and Physically Potent.

I Hate the Internet

It is a cliche to start a conversation or an essay with the phrase, “I don’t know about you but…”. However, I am going to say it anyway. I don’t know about you but I really hate how life has been overtaken by the internet. I am too old to have grown up with this annoying thing. Early in my career, I was entirely up to date. ‘Time Sharing’ was big in 1975. At The University of Texas we would sit at a portal in the Psychology Department logged into the mainframe computer that resided about 300 yards away. It was the time when IBM cards were being phased out. One could write FORTRAN code right on your screen. This replaced the cards. There was no internet. One was securely communicating with the big mainframe.

When Personal Computers arrived, I bought one of the first IBM PCs. It cost $6000 and had a tiny memory the size of, well, I don’t even know the difference between megabytes, gigabytes, and those little bytesized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But with a Hayes Modem I could still hook up with the big mainframe at the Columbia computer center. I was really current. But when Windows came on the scene I was totally flummoxed. Things that were supposed to be ‘intuitive’ in Windows never made sense to the FORTRAN crowd.

But things really went sour with the internet. As an aging academic, I can not keep track of the 700 passwords I have for every website that performs every function that used to be written on paper. This includes accounts for banking, credit cards, phone, taxes, utilities, music, you know what I mean. I don’t know about you, but even if I could remember or store the passwords somehow, I can’t seem to enter them correctly using the tiny “keyboard” on the tiny “phone”. It is ridiculous. It actually used to be fun to pay paper bills at the end of the month with paper checks, stuck in paper envelopes with a paper stamp.


Causing oneself pain by imagining or actually doing things likely to cause it is what psychiatrists label a ‘counterphobic response to anxiety’. Instead of fleeing the source of fear in the manner of a phobia, the counterphobic person actively seeks out the very situation that is feared. This involves striving to master excess anxiety through repeatedly coping with danger.

Dare-devil activities (e.g. race car driving) are often undertaken in a counterphobic spirit, as a denial of the fears attached to them, which may be only partially successful. Sex is a key area for counterphobic activity, sometimes powering hypersexuality in people who are actually afraid of the objects they believe they love. Traffic accidents have been linked to a counterphobic, manic attitude in the driver. The attraction of horror movies has been seen to lie in a counterphobic impulse.

A Counterphobic person inoculates him or herself from fear by imagining feared pain before it occurred— bracing one’s self.  “Praemonitus, Praemunitus” or “Forewarned is Forearmed”.  This can be a very effective way to combat fear .  A downside is one may feel invulnerable, able to control anything.  This can be very dangerous, increasing the odds of real pain and injury. For example, a child might stick an elbow into a hot toaster to see if it actually hurts.   This is, in part, a response to being told that doing something is dangerous or ‘not allowed’.

If one fears fear more than real danger, the danger can be underestimated or not considered fully. Actual dangers seem less real than are the needs of the defensive operation. Freud said that most people value thoughts more than external reality.  One controls what is controllable. If real risk can’t be controlled, the reaction to the reality of it all might be controllable. This is achieved, in counterphobia, by attempts to master fear by moving towards it.