Data Type: Journal Article

Healing (disorderly) desire

McGann, P. J. (2007) Healing (disorderly) desire. In S. Seidman & N. Fischer & C. Meeks (Eds.), Introducing the new sexuality studies: Original essays and interviews (1st Ed., pp. 365-376). New York, NY: Routledge.

This chapter examines how the medical-therapeutic practice of fixing those with “abnormal” sexualities is actually a political phenomenon. McGann suggests that while therapists may not deliberately be trying to restrict their clients’ sexual freedom, by suggesting that certain socially “unacceptable” sexual practices (e.g. “sexual addiction” or “hypersexuality”) are abnormal, they are in fact regulating not only their clients’ lives, but sexuality at large. The article examines recent changes in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder), as well as examples of the treatment of contemporary sexual “problems” to support this analysis.

Rather than using empirical data or deliberate qualitative analysis, McGann uses a theoretical argument incorporating three contemporary sexual issues (erectile dysfunction, gender and identity disorder, and sexual addiction/compulsion) to show how medical discussions of sexual “problems” contribute to the definition and maintenance of “normal” or “healthy” sexuality (366). In each of these cases, McGann suggests that there is nothing inherently physiologically or psychologically wrong with the individuals diagnosed with these “problems”; rather, they simply perform their sexuality (or gender) in a non-normative fashion.
This article contributes to the literature on sexuality and psychotherapy because it suggests that the meaning-making of sexuality that comes out of therapeutic treatment is subtly political, such that while it may be difficult to “see,” medical-therapeutic practices create meanings about proper sexual conduct that extend beyond a treatment room – even when conducted with the best of intentions on behalf of the client/patient. In this sense, therapists regulate and normalize various behaviors that extend beyond clients, and influence society at large. This suggests the exigency of research directed at the intersection of sexuality and psychotherapy because of the far-reaching implications of the meeting point between those two sites of discourse.

Categories: Medical Sociology, Queer Theory/Sexuality Studies, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness
Publication Date: 2007