Freud suggested that children are polymorphously perverse; that is, at birth we have a general erotic potential that can be attached to almost anything. We learn from an early age what sexual objects society deems appropriate for us to desire, but society’s messages can get off track. For example, advertising tries to “sexualize” its products—we have all seen shoe commercials, for example, that emphasize the long, sexy legs of the model while focusing on the shoes she wears. Some boys may end up focusing on those shoes as objects of sexual fantasy, which can develop into a fetish.
A theory that builds on similar ideas is John Money’s (1984, 1986, 1990) lovemaps. Money suggests that the auditory, tactile, and (especially) the visual stimuli we experienced during childhood sex play form a template in our brain that defines our ideal lover and ideal sexual situation. If our childhood sex play remains undisturbed, development goes on toward heterosexual desires. If, however, the child is punished for normal sexual curiosity or if there are traumas during this stage, such as sexual abuse, the development of the lovemap can be disrupted in one of three ways.
In hypophilia (high-po-FILL-ee-uh), negative stimuli prevent the development of certain aspects of sexuality, and the genitals may be impaired from full functioning. Overall, females are more likely to experience hypophilia than men, resulting in an inability to orgasm, vaginal pain, or lubrication problems later in life. A lovemap can also be disrupted to cause a condition called hyperphilia (high-per-FILL-ee-uh), in which a person defies the negative sexual stimulus and becomes overly sexually active, even becoming compulsively sexual (we discuss hypersexuality later in this chapter). Finally, a lovemap can be disrupted when there is a paraphilia and a substitution of new elements into the lovemap. Because normal sexual curiosity has been discouraged or made painful, the child redirects erotic energy toward other objects that are not forbidden, such as shoes, rubber, or just looking; in other cases, the child turns his or her erotic energy inward and becomes excited by pain or humiliation.
Once this lovemap is set, it becomes very stable, which explains why changing it is so difficult. For example, Money (1984) suggests that sexual arousal to objects may arise when a parent makes a child feel shame about interest in an object. For example, a boy may be caught with his mother’s panties in the normal course of curiosity about the woman’s body, but when he is severely chastised, the panties become forbidden, dirty, promising of sexual secrets, and he may begin to seek them out. The development of a lovemap is similar to a big bowl of Jell-O. When you first make Jell-O, it’s fluid and moves around in the dish. If you put fruit in the Jell-O, it moves around as well. However, once the Jell-O is set, it becomes very difficult to take a piece of the fruit out without leaving a big gaping hole. Like the Jell-O that is firmly set after time, a lovemap is difficult to change.
Another theory about how these fixations occur is the idea of courtship disorders (K. Freund & Blanchard, 1986; K. Freund et al., 1983, 1984). Organizing paraphilias into “courtship” stages suggests that the paraphiliac’s behavior becomes fixed at a preliminary stage of mating that would normally lead to sexual intercourse. Thus, a person becomes fixated on a particular person, object, or activity and does not progress to typical mating behaviors.