JUNG ON SEXUALITY AND GENDER

Some Tentative Thoughts

 

Gordon Blythe

For a man who, by all accounts, led an active sex-life, Jung appears to have had relatively little to say about sexuality; little, that is, compared with his sometime mentor and collaborator Freud, for example, whose whole thesis for most of his life revolved around sex. After the break in 1913, Jung distanced himself quite explicitly from Freud's teaching and, in the process, put sex into proper perspective.


While acknowledging 'the enormous psychological importance of the sex instinct' [1].  Jung saw it as only one of the five main groups of instincts, in which he included also hunger, activity, reflection and creativity, although sexuality was the most important of the instincts, and a function 'on which the whole future of humanity depends' [2]. He regarded sexuality as a part of libido, or psychic energy, which he considered equivalent to physical energy, such as is expressed in Einstein's formula. He doubted, however, whether our present state of consciousness would allow us to fully comprehend the phenomenon of sexuality. [3]


In Jung's somewhat uncoordinated and occasionally obscure references to sexuality and gender, some post Jungians have seen the germ of a wider view which might transform current attitudes to male and female; considering, in particular the possibility that concepts such as anima and animus might lose their specifically sexual connotations and be seen rather as aspects of the individual, irrespective of gender. My purpose in this paper is to investigate the plausibility of this notion, a task for which my only qualification is a long-standing regard for Jung and his writings.


It has been suggested that in his terminology Jung confused sexuality with sex and with gender. I have not found this a problem. In my understanding, the terms male and female denote primarily anatomical differences dictated by the exigencies of sexual reproduction, itself a creation of evolution, inefficient in quantitative terms but multiplying the mutations by which evolution proceeds. In genetic terms, male and female seem almost identical - only the single Y chromosome out of 23 pairs is different.


In addition to the basic mechanisms of fertilisation, there are anatomical differences between men and women which assist survival of the offspring, the female nurturing, the male providing and protecting. Such functions encourage individual identification as male or female and have corresponding psychic features. Thus, men are rational, with a tendency to abstraction and activity, the qualities of the Logos. Women are emotional, empirical, passive, and so on, all traits of Eros. These attitudes may, however, exist in an individual irrespective of anatomical sex and cannot therefore be taken as reliable indicators of gender.


Epigenetics and memetics, significantly developed since Jung's time, are using neuroscience to show how, pace Lamarck, acquired characteristics can be inherited through many generations. We might therefore assume that the basic anatomical differences between male and female will have been emphasised and established over many centuries, including the effects of patriarchal rule through most of recorded history. By the same token, many of such differences will be reversible, particularly if favourable to evolution. In the current state of the world, some change is clearly needed in the ways of patriarchy if civilisation is to survive.


It is also, perhaps, significant that qualities traditionally associated with being either male or female often correspond to functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, as Iain McGilchrist has demonstrated so comprehensively in 'The Master and his Emissary'. Indeed, McGilchrist compares his 'ideal types' or 'aspirations' with Jung's archetypes. Thus neuroscience appears to support Jung's insights.


Jung recognised as early as 1920 that, in psychic terms, 'a man is not....wholly masculine'[4] but has feminine characteristics, which may be found in his unconscious. Similarly, in a woman there are masculine traits which become 'qualities of her soul'[5]. This doctrine was more fully developed in his essays on Archetypes[6], published from 1933 0nwards. Here, his writings on anima and animus, the contrasexual components of the male and female unconscious, are quite comprehensive.


At times, Jung relates sexuality to love. He allows that 'love' may mean 'the sexual act on all levels'[7] but puts conjugal love 'in the realm between spirit and instinct'[8]. At the same time, his doctrine of anima/animus projection means that much of what passes for love is illusion. In his study of 'Marriage as a Psychological Relationship'[9] he allows that most marriages do not progress in psychological terms very far beyond fulfilling their biological purpose, propagation of the species.


Much of what Jung has to say of sexuality is expressed in the somewhat recondite terms of Christian Gnosticism, particularly in Aion, (CW9/2) where anima and animus are introduced as a syzygy, paired opposites. Gnostics tended to see creation in terms of syzygies, and in the chapter on 'Gnostic Symbols of the Self'[10] we learn that the splitting of Adam, the hermaphroditic Original Man, into the husband and wife syzygy heralds the birth of consciousness. Elsewhere we read that the hermaphrodite means.a union of the strongest and most striking opposites, and also that the hermaphrodite is a symbol of the unity of personality, of the self. Ultimately the syzygy is integrated into 'a higher union, a conjunctio oppositorum,'[11] symbolised by the mandala, or as the divine child.


In the Gospel of Thomas, to which Jung often refers, we read that when asked by His disciples whether they, being as children, should come into His Kingdom, Jesus replied 'Make the two into One.....the male and female into a single One.'[12]

Of homosexuality, 'characterised by identity with the anima',[13] Jung tells us that it is 'a matter of incomplete detachment from the hermaphroditic archetype, coupled with a distinct resistance to identify with the role of a one-sided sexual being'.[13] Such a disposition 'preserves the archetype of the Original Man, which a one-sided sexual being has....lost.'[14] (written in 1954)


These fragments seem to support the idea that one consequence of individuation is the practical integration of both male and female elements in the self. Quoting alchemical doctrine, Jung confirms that 'the self is androgynous' and 'consists of a masculine and a feminine principle'.[15] (written in 1950)


On the basis of my trawl through the Collected Works, of which this is a necessarily brief and slightly arbitrary summary, I am tempted to think Jung may have had intimations later in life that in psychological terms, sexuality and gender are ultimately of little consequence to the individual. However, it seems to be a subject which could benefit from more expert research and consideration.  

References (1) CW5/219, (2) CW10/5, (3)see e.g. CW17/157, (4) (5) CW6/804, (6) CW9, (7)(8) CW10/202, (9) CW17 VIII, (10)CW9:2 XIII, (11) CW9:2 58, (12) The Gnostic Gospels; Alan Jacobs; p29, (13) (14) CW9:1/146, (15) CW 9:1/653

 

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