An Intersubjective Systems Perspective on Compulsive Sexuality

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Capstone Project

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Peter Buirski

Second Advisor

Judith Fox

Third Advisor

Risa Muchnick


Compulsive sexuality, Emotional disturbance, Interpersonal relationships


From an intersubjective systems perspective, compulsive sexuality is a form of emotional disturbance born from contexts of developmental trauma where aloneness is the most pervasive and consistent experience of the relational environment; sexuality is in turn used as the antidote to the resulting unbearable affect. Current research regarding the neurobiological underpinnings of compulsive sexuality (needed as evidence for a sexual addiction framework) is inconclusive. This has created uncertainty and division about how psychotherapists think about and talk about this complex phenomenon. The language and conceptualizations that psychotherapists utilize when striving to understand patients who depend on fantasy and sexual enactments to express and maintain (pre-reflective) organizations of subjective experience can facilitate or impede therapeutic understanding. Intersubjective systems is congruent with the psychoanalytic shift in primacy from drives located deep within the interior of a person to affect located in the subjective experience of co-constituted relationships and represents excessive sexuality as a form of compulsion rather than addiction. Utilizing clinical material from the treatment of Steven, a man with a history of unstable interpersonal relationships who pathologically accommodated to his lascivious father, I illuminate the intersubjective contexts and underlying principles from which his sexualized pattern of conduct derives. Then I demonstrate how the empathicintrospective mode of treatment provided a new intersubjective context that allowed for the beginnings of transformation of his shameful affects and sexualized behavior.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


36 pages

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