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Sexual Identity Is Not Sexual Orientation

Uploaded 10/16/2022, approx. 16 minute read

Good morning from beautiful, sunny Budapest. I'm here until the 22nd, including the 22nd of the month. And those of you who want to have a private counseling session, please write to me on my email address, samvaknin, that's one word, samvaknin, at gmail.com, today, as usual, I'm going to disambiguate. I'm going to help you make sense of the nonsense spewed out by self-styled experts on YouTube and elsewhere. And who am I?

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, in many other books.

I'm also a professor of psychology. So let's get right to it, shall we?

Sexual identity.

Sexual identity is not the same as sexual orientation. So if you're straight, that's not your sexual identity. If you're gay, that's not your sexual identity. And even if you are a transgender or sex fluid, that's not your sexual identity. Those are your sexual orientations.

What's the difference between sexual identity and sexual orientation, Vaknin?

Don't keep us suspended. Let us have the real goods.

Sexual identity comprises self-perception. It's how you perceive yourself sexually. Usually, it sits well with gender roles. So you would perceive yourself as a male or a female or one of the other seven sexual identities that have been identified.

If you perceive yourself as a male, you could still have a sexual orientation that is, for example, homosexual. You could be a man who sleeps with men or a woman who sleeps with women. That is distinguished from a sexual identity.

Sexual identity is as a man or as a woman. Who you sleep with is your sexual orientation. So sexual identity comprises self-sexual self-perception, while sexual orientation is about others.

Sexual identity is about yourself. Sexual orientation is about others. It involves object relations. Sexual orientation leads you to specific sexual behaviors and sexual scripts.

So this is the chain.

You have a sexual identity. Later in life, you develop sexual orientation, which, together with sexual scripts, gives rise to sexual behavior. Sexual identity forms in five stages.

Stage number one, introjection, internalization and introjection, also known formally as identification. You interject as a child primary objects, usually mother and father, but you also interject role models, including siblings and peers.

At the end of the day, you have a library of interjects, representations of other people in your mind, and they all speak to you. They all advise you. They all accompany you in life.

These voices can be healthy. These voices can be unhealthy, partially critical, and cause dysfunction.

Interjection is a very important stage. The child interjects his parents when he starts to separate from them and individuate. It's the child's way of maintaining a merger or a fusion with the parental figures and with other meaningful others, even as the child realizes his or her separateness from these people.

Separating from people on the psychological level even is traumatizing. It's very frightening.

Interjection is a defense against this. You separate from mother. You take on the world. You become an individual. You develop a modicum of grandiosity known as primary narcissism, but you want to keep mother with you for life. So you interject her. You create an internal object that represents mother in your mind. This is interjection.

Interjection is critical to the formation of sexual identity because the interjects in your mind later in life acquire sexual and gender dimensions. They become identifiable sexually and gender-wise.


The second stage is emulation.

Emulation of a parent. It could be a same-sex parent or an other-sex parent.

Emulation is affected by the parent's behaviors.

Abuse, for example, or sex aversion would have a detrimental or deleterious effect on sexual development. Sex positivity as opposed to sex negativity would have a positive effect.

If your parents keep telling you that sex is disgusting, that it is sinful, that it is dirty, you're likely to develop impaired sexuality and definitely a problematic sexual identity.

If, on the other hand, the message is, sex is beautiful, sex is life, that would make the road much easier.

Empathy is the imitation of a parent. It is a layer, a layer added to the interject. The interject becomes fully fledged, fully fleshed, three-dimensional.

Now the interject resembles a person very much. Indeed, it is at this stage that the child begins to realize the separateness of other people. The child begins to develop object relations, relations with other people.

This stage gives rise to interactions with other people, some of which have a sexual dimension or a sexual nature. Everything is infused with sex and erotism.

At the initial stage, the child is auto-erotic. He has auto-erotism. He is sexually interested in himself. He is his own sex object.

Gradually, as he separates from mother and father, he redirects his sex drive, a det. He becomes infatuated with, or he develops, liberates with mother and father. This is the urdupal complex.

Every child, male or female, becomes emotionally attracted to both parents of the same sex and the opposite sex.

At this early stage of life, prior to age three, the child is pansexual. He is not a boy. She is not a girl. The child is just a child. He has this diffuse sex drive, a little like a cloud. He also has an identity which is not yet fully formed. There's no core.

The child redirects this energy, which is not focus-like. It's not laser-like. It's more like a light bulb.

He redirects this energy at anyone within range, father and mother included.

The stage of emulation is the initial choice to focus on one of the parents as a model.

This process is known as modeling. If the parent is a good enough parent, if the parent is not a dead parent, for example, a dead mother, if the parent is not narcissistic, not psychopathic, not absent, not rejecting, not harshly critical, if the parent is there for the child, catering to all the child's psychological needs, the child is likely to emulate this specific parent.

Empathy leads the child to develop an introject of the parent, which is also sexual in nature and which allows the child to progress into the next phase.

And the next phase is exploration.

Now, the first two phases, introjection and emulation, are critical to the formation of sexual identity.

The next three stages are about other people.

Introjection and emulation are internal processes entirely within the mind of the child.

So they lead to a sexual self-image or a sexual self-perception, which is also known as sexual identity.

All the other stages in sexual development are other oriented. They go hand in hand, as I said, with object relations.

And so the remaining three stages have to do with sexual orientation.

And it starts with exploration.

Exploration is when the child is not certain of his or her identity. Remember that the child has a series of introjects in his mind. He settled on one of the parents because that parent provided him with maximal attention and cater to his psychological needs.

But the child is pansexual. The child's sexual energy is more like a cloud. The child would let anyone in sexually or erotically, and that includes himself.

There is an interim phase between narcissistic libido and object libido. In other words, there's an interim phase between directing the sex drive or the energy of sex towards oneself and then redirecting it towards others.

It is in this limbo that the child finds himself or herself, and the child needs to explore. Exactly as the child explores the world in the separation and individuation phase, the world in the separation and individuation phase, the child explores potential sexual partners, potential sex partners. And this phase of exploration is indiscriminate, and it is also pansexual.

There is still no sexual differentiation. There are definitely no gender roles. Gender roles are performative. They come much later in a phase known as socialization.

So the child is without gender, and the child is without a clear sexual difference, a clear sexual identification.

Therefore, children at this age, which is anywhere between four and let's say nine or even later, twelve, children at this stage, explore all forms of sexuality.

It is very common for children to have homosexual experiences, even if they turn out later to be rabid heterosexuals and homophones. It's very common for children to experience a variety of sexual acts with a variety of sexual sexual partners of all sexes.

Exploration of potential sex partners of all sexes is coupled with what is known as identity diffusion. Identity diffusion is a phase in adolescence identified by or first described by Marcia, for the expression.

Marcia augmented the work of Erich Erickson, and so identity diffusion is when the person had not settled yet on a clear set of beliefs, values, cognitions, emotions, behaviors, and reactive behaviors.

The person meanders all over the place. The person attempts to try on these guys and dead guys. The person becomes other people by imitating them, especially role models.

So within the phase of identity diffusion, exploration, sexual exploration is very common and very, very healthy.

Now we have a sexual identity determined via introjection and emulation coupled with the outcomes of exploration.

These two processes, these three processes which follow each other chronologically, begin to point at sexual orientation.

But there's still one more stage to endure before one settles on a lifelong orientation. And that stage is sublimation.

Sublimation is the conversion of instincts, including the sex drive, into socially acceptable and socially condoned behavior. Sublimation is a defense offered by the ego.

The ego in Freud's work is supposed to provide an interface with reality and warn the child or warn the person about the consequences of his actions.

Structures similar to the ego can be found in other scholars in psychology, such as Bandura, Erich, Marcia, and others.

There is a psychological construct which provides reality testing. And this construct, whatever its name may be, also tells you this is the way you should behave and this is the way you should not behave. This is right. This is wrong. This would lead to bad outcomes. This would lead to good outcomes. This is certifications. This is not.

The process of sublimation includes socialization. Socialization has two components, scripting and enculturation or acculturation.

So socialization is teaching the child how to become a social being, a social creature, teaching the child how to behave socially and how to not misbehave socially.

Socialization includes scripts. Scripts are behavioral recipes, how to date a girl, how to socialize with peers, what to do and what not to do in a variety of settings, circumstances, and environments. These are the scripts.

In addition to the scripts, there is acculturation or enculturation when the child is introduced to various tenets and principles of the child's dominant culture and dominant society. All these together are mediated, are brought to the child by mostly the father.

It is the father whose role is to socialize the child, acculturate the child and finally help the child sublimate drives such as the sex drive.

One of the main messages in sublimation is that certain sex partners are forbidden or inappropriate. For example, mommy or father, daddy.

Another element of socialization is the acquisition of sexual skills and a very important element is the inculcation and incorporation of sexual scripts.

An example of a sexual script is dating. Hookups, how do you do a hookup? What's right and what's wrong in a hookup? How do you do dating? Et cetera, etc.

So this whole process is sublimation.

And finally, all the above lead to orientation. Sexual orientation is settling on a pattern of mate selection and attendant sexual behaviors.

So there is a process of mate selection from a pool of eligible sexual partners. These eligible sexual partners will have been determined by the previous four processes.

Their gender, their sex and other attributes will be subject to the emulated introjects and to the socialization of the child turned adult.

And then there are the attendant sexual behaviors which go with mate selection. Each and every one of these stages can and very often is, alas, interrupted, disrupted. When these stages are disrupted, it leads to psychological problems and dysfunctions.

When introjection is disrupted, when the child is unable to form functioning fully, full-fledged introjects with clear voices, unequivocal, non-capricious voices, just voices, secure base voices. When the child is unable to create such introjects, this would yield, this would bring on a confusion between internal and internal objects.

A disruption in introjection would yield to two solutions, essentially.

One of them is the false self, grandiosity, narcissism, and the other solution in the case of disrupted introjection would be borderline.

The narcissistic solution is to confuse external objects with internal objects, to believe that external objects are internal.

The borderline solution is exactly the opposite, an inability to maintain long-term stable introjects, internal objects, and to focus, therefore, exclusively on internal objects for external regulation.

A disruption in the face of emulation would create a lot of sexual confusion. The child would be unable to settle on a single parent in order to model himself or herself on that parent.

And because the parents are opposite sexes in the majority of families, this would create an adherence to both sexes rather than the same sex or another sex.

And this, of course, results in bisexuality. So homosexuality, which is now widely considered to be a genetic hormonal state, something which happens in the womb, homosexuality is more responsive to the later stages.

Bisexuality is determined during emulation, during failed emulation. When the child is unable to say, I'm going to be like father, so I'm going to be a male, or I'm going to be like mother, I'm going to be a female, the child ends up being both male and female.

A failure in the stage of exploration is exceedingly rare, and it usually leads to a total suspension of the sex life. These people start to masturbate very late and have sex in their 40s or 50s.

Stored exploration, thwarted exploration, means that the child's sexuality remains unexplored. And as the child becomes an adult, he remains an eternal explorer, unable to move on to sublimation or to implementation of sublimation and to develop a full-scale sexual orientation.

A failure in sublimation is where homosexuality would tend to manifest.

Again, I emphasize that the current orthodoxy is that homosexuality is a hormonal residue or result of hormonal imbalance in uterus, in the womb, and has a genetic component.

This has not been the view, and still is not the view as far as I know, among most psychologists.

Starting with Freud, who suggested that homosexuality is the outcome of a domineering, overwhelming, and over-involved mother, a result of castration anxiety, and continuing with Bieber and other scholars, they suggested that an absent or rejecting father has a role to play in this, and so on and so forth.

So psychological antecedents and etiologies for homosexuality are an integral part of psychological, or have been an integral part of psychological thinking, for well over a century.

I think discarding this cargo, discarding this legacy, is stupid, honestly. I do think that homosexuality has pronounced psychological dimensions. I'm not saying that it's entirely psychogenic, but it involves psychological processes.

Freud's suggestion that all homosexuals are narcissists because they make love to a mirror image of themselves. In other words, Freud's suggestion that all homosexuals have narcissistic libido, rather than typical or healthy libido, this suggestion has been largely discarded.

But it's an example of an attempt to explain homosexuality in light of very early childhood processes.

When sublimation fails, the child is unable to form a fully operational sexual orientation, because sexual orientation is relational, it's about other people, and other people are organized in what we call society. If socialization fails, the person is unable to function in society properly. So the person develops a sexual orientation, which is either defiant, negative identity formation, I'm not going to be like my father, I'm going to be homosexual, or the child develops sexual orientation, which is in essence frozen, for example, asexuality.

Sexual orientation, as the last phase, requires the successful completion of all four previous phases.


One last comment about narcissists and borderlines.

This has nothing to do with sexual identity. Narcissists and borderlines are a perfect match.

And this is very surprising. The narcissist tends to devalue and discard his partner, while the borderline has abandonment anxiety.

Ostensibly, the borderline would never select a narcissist as a partner because abandonment is guaranteed. Rejection is a four-gun conclusion. Why would a borderline risk that?

Because she also has engulfment anxiety. The borderline needs a partner who would at some point push her away, give her personal space, let her go.

The borderline, when she experiences intimacy, she feels bad, she feels suffocated and smothered, she wants to run away, approach avoidance, repetition, compulsion. So she needs a partner who would at first idealize her and thereby ameliorate her abandonment anxiety.

But then when she feels engulfed and enmeshed and digested and assimilated, when she wants to run away to avoid, would be able to discard her by devaluing her.

She needs both functions. And the only intimate partner who provides both functions reliably is the narcissist.

In the initial phases of the shared fantasy, when the narcissist love-bombs the borderline, idealizes the borderline, it reduces her abandonment anxiety.

And in the later stages, when she needs it, the narcissist is available to push her away, to get rid of her, to devalue her and discard her.

And then the cycle starts all over again because narcissists need to hoover and re-idealize their discarded partners.

I dwelt upon it in previous videos. That's just a side comment to one of the questions I've been asked.

So here in Budapest, sunny, ethereal and beautiful, I wish you all an excellent day with fully formed sexual identity, sexual orientation and God willing sexual behaviors galore.

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