The Concept of the Sexocorporel

1. Basics

Sexocorporel is an encompassing view of human sexuality that considers all of the physiological, emotional, cognitive and relational components involved in a sexual experience. Developed by Prof. Jean-Yves Desjardins at the Sexological Department of the University of Montreal, Quebec, in the 80s, it has since been applied, taught and refined by sexologists in Canada and various European countries.

The Sexocorporel is based on the inseparable unity of body and mind. This model permits the sexological evaluation of all components that interact in human sexuality. Based on this evaluation, clients can be provided with the abilities needed to improve their sexuality in the areas that cause them concern.

2. “Brain – Body”, “Body – Brain”: An Inseparable Functional Unity

Body and mind are often considered to be two separate entities. This is an artificial separation, as the mind – which includes our thoughts, emotions, perceptions and fantasies – is located in the brain and is therefore part of our body, as well. This separation allows for the detailed examination of each entity as part of one inseparable whole. Historically, however, an antagonism has evolved from this dualistic perception in which the impulse driven impure body is seen as inferior and in opposition to the pure mind and soul.

This vertical perception – psyche “on top”/superior and sexuality “below”/inferior – permeates our society as well as our psychotherapeutic models with judgmentalism. “Sexological evaluations” in many sex therapy schools are still conducted without including the person’s physical sexual reality. Consequently, sexual problems are primarily understood to be symptoms of psychological conflicts or relationship disorders.

The Sexocorporel refers to these intrapsychic or relationship conflicts as indirect causes of sexual problems and focuses on the direct causes, taking into account that brain and body are a functional unity in which not only mental processes influence the body but, equally as important, bodily states and processes influence the brain, and hence our emotions, fantasies, thoughts and perceptions. For example, the arousal mode (the way people physically arouse themselves) directly influences their sexual experiences, as well as their sexual concepts and fantasies.

While the Sexocorporel views the person as one physically and mentally inseparable unit, it, nonetheless, distinguishes the explicit body (the visible, movable body, physiological sensations, etc.) from the implicit mental processes (perceptions, emotions, thoughts, fantasies, etc.) to facilitate clearer understanding and for scientific purposes.

3. A Model of Sexual Development

Human sexual development, i.e. the sexualization process, begins in earliest childhood and lasts into old-age. It proceeds similarly to the development of motor action, affectivity, intelligence or language via a multitude of personal learning steps. In this process, both brain maturation and interaction with the environment play significant roles.

The sexualization process begins with the arousal reflex which is already present before birth. Throughout development this reflex combines with a growing number of motor, sensory, symbolic, cognitive and communicative skills that allow for variable sensations and perceptions and enable us to inhabit our genitals and to refine our sexual activities. These acquisitions are consolidated through repetition and are prerequisite for the experience of sexual pleasure.

Through the exploration of their own genitals and by playing genital games with the same and the opposite sex, children develop a perception of gender difference and gender identity. Concurrent socialization provides cultural concepts of “public” and “private”, that is – of sexuality as intimacy with oneself and others. In role-playing games, games with rules, and initiation games, children connect sexual arousal with the socialization process, with communicative abilities and with emotional intensities.

Like every form of development, sexual development proceeds like a wave throughout our lifetime via new discoveries and the consolidation of acquired abilities through repetition or regression to earlier developmental stages. Physical changes in different life phases – for example, the “hormonal storm” that ushers in puberty –, illness, and disabilities require new sexual learning processes alone and with others.

No other human ability is so little supported, accompanied, and understood in its development by parents and society as that of sexuality. While our first walking attempts are intensely promoted and accompanied with great emotionality and acclaim, our first investigations on the genital level – to this day – cause ambivalent feelings, uncertainty or disapproval. Parents quickly become disturbed about delays in motor or language development because they are well-informed about these processes. However, most feel rather relieved if the child does not deal very much with his or her genitality.

4. Differentiation and Integration of the Components of Sexual Function

The Sexocorporel distinguishes and examines the different components that play together in the practice and experience of sexuality. A person’s sexual identity is determined at conception as are the body and its physiology. All other components involved in sexuality are parts of human sexual development. They develop as a result of personal and social learning processes.

Dividing the inseparable – the human person – into components allows for differentiated working hypotheses. The Sexocorporel groups the components of human sexuality into four categories:

4.1. Physiological Components

  • Arousal function
  • Arousal modes
  • Sensual perceptions
  • Biological base: Genes, hormones, blood vessels, nervous system etc.

4.2. Sexodynamic Components

  • Sexual pleasure
  • The feeling of belonging to one’s biological sex
  • Sexual self-confidence
  • Sexual desire
  • Sexual and emotional attraction codes
  • Sexual imaginations, fantasies and dreams
  • Emotional intensity

4.3. Cognitive Components

  • Knowledge, values, norms, ideologies, ways of thinking, idealizations, mystifications etc.

4.4. Relationship Components

  • Feelings of love, ability to attach
  • Seduction skills
  • Erotic communication
  • Erotic competencies

In the Sexocorporel, a model of sexual health and functioning is defined for each component. This forms the framework of the evaluation. Initially, a person’s acquired abilities are evaluated, i.e. the person’s strengths. Every person has limitations in their sexual development; the Sexocorporel does not pathologize limitations or aim to produce new achievement norms. Limitations are not seen as deficits, but as challenges that stimulate new experiences.

5. Clinical Significance of Differentiating Between a Model of Mental Health and a Model of Sexual Health

Although the arousal function is the foundation of our sexuality, and stands in direct causal connection with more than 50 percent of the sexual problems of our clients, it is our least understood and evaluated function. Clinical experiences show quite clearly that disorders of the arousal function (rapid ejaculation, anorgasmy, erectile dysfunction, etc.), of sexual desire and, in part, of our experience of gender identity are connected to learning steps at the level of the arousal function.

One basic problem inherent in many so-called sex therapies is the failure to evaluate the direct causalities i.e. the sexual learning steps. Lack of awareness of their direct causal effects leads to the search for indirect causes – like relationship problems, emotional conflicts, a “difficult childhood”, or sexual abuse – which are then connected to the sexual disorder via some hypothetical construct. In this “naturalistic” concept of sexuality, after removing the “obstacles”, sexuality is supposed to develop spontaneously. Our clinical experience shows, however, that when the arousal function is not taken into consideration, this is often not the case. Of course, indirect causes are evaluated in the Sexocorporel, as well, because they can certainly hinder sexual learning steps or may call for specialized treatment.

Lack of sexological knowledge has led to the unnecessary “psychopathologizing” (analogous to “medicalization”) of many clients with sexual problems. However, the majority of clients that seek therapeutic help for sexual problems are psychologically healthy. Long-standing clinical experiences by other authors, such as Helen Kaplan, also confirm these findings.

That in mind, sexual dysfunction occurs frequently in people with mental illnesses, and on the other hand, sexual dysfunction can significantly impair a person’s mental health or a couple’s relationship.

A standalone model of sexual health is required for accurate and independent evaluations of mental and sexual health. This distinction helps facilitate precise diagnostics prerequisite for the therapeutic project and helps prevent unnecessary confusion posed by unclear causal interrelations.

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