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The Sensuous Psychiatrists

". . . Most seductive therapists are father figures. Patients may be in search of happiness, but what is the doctor in search of? . . ."


From the June 19, 1972 issue of New York Magazine.

Are you sure you want to sleep with your psychotherapist? One New York woman, who thought she was sure, came away even more distressed after she had joined her doctor on the couch than she had been before. It simply did not work, not even as sex. For her it was the ultimate sexual failure. If she couldn't have an orgasm with her psychoanalyst, whom could she have an orgasm with? But it may not have been her fault. At the risk of superficiality, it should be pointed out that many therapists are lousy lovers. They may not be very good doctors either.

The woman's therapist had told her that she was blocked; that there were things she had to work out about her father; that perhaps they could solve them on a nonverbal level if she would trust him. She said that she trusted him.

The doctor stood up and dropped his trousers. He did not even take off the rest of his clothes.

The doctor told her, "Take your pants down."

He got on top of her. He had an orgasm. She didn't.

She said, "I'd like to get on top of you."

The doctor told her that that was her problem: she wanted to be in control.

Affairs between male therapists and their female patients seem to be increasing, especially in New York and to a certain extent in California. William Masters and Virginia Johnson talked to many women who said that they had had sexual contact with their psychotherapists, and concluded, "If only 25 per cent of these specific reports are correct, there is still an overwhelming issue confronting professionals in this field."

Now, for the first time, some doctors are willing to defy the taboo against even discussing the subject. A Greenwich Village psychologist says that doctors should sleep with patients, but "very rarely. If they do, they should send them to another doctor. You lose your objectivity. I know I do." This psychologist wears an antelope-skin coat, likes to tell World War II stories, and gestures with the longest finger of his right hand. He says that he often treats other psychotherapists who sleep with their patients and who come to him for help in resolving the "guilt" and "conflict" precipitated by these relationships.

Another New York doctor said, "There may be occasions where sleeping with a patient might be catastrophic. I have known it to occur where nonetheless the therapy has proceeded pretty well."

Dr. Martin Shepard recently published a book called The Love Treatment: Sexual Intimacy Between Patients and Psychotherapists in which he writes, "A sexual involvement can indeed be a useful part of the psychotherapeutic process."

But it is usually harmful. A 31-year-old secretary last year filed suit in Supreme Court against New York psychiatrist Dr. Renatus Hartogs, accusing him of forcing her to have sexual relations with him "under the guise" of psychiatric treatment. Asking $1,250,000 in damages, she claimed Hartogs had caused her "irreparable emotional discomfort and harm and aggravated her psychiatric condition." (When reached for comment, Dr. Hartogs said that the suit was dropped six months ago.)

The use of the couch for a direct attack on frigidity and other problems of female discontent might, in theory, sound like a brave new experiment. In practice, however, it often turns out to be nothing but a new variation on a very old routine: exploitative sex. The doctor who joins his patient on the couch often helps her about as much as the master who joins his maid in the linen closet. In fact, some doctors actually treat their patients as if they were maids or other such female helpers, using them as secretaries, typists, babysitters, errand runners, plant-dusters and therapy assistants. Not only do these therapists generally favor cliché social roles (with the man on top) but they also seem to prefer cliché sexual roles (with the man on top).

I interviewed eleven women—nine from New York and two from California—who had had sexual relations and/or affairs with their therapists. (Two had had affairs with the same doctor.) I located these women through talking to colleagues in the profession and simply by asking groups of women if anyone in the room had slept with her therapist. Four of the women were married, four separated or divorced, and three single. The husbands of the four married women were in treatment with the same therapists at the time of the sexual contact, which suggests the familiar use of women in the service of male competition. The doctor-patient affairs lasted from one night to eighteen months.

Nine of the ten therapists assumed a "missionary" position during sexual intercourse for the first time and in general throughout the sexual treatment. Seven of the women did not experience orgasm the first time; four women never did throughout the treatment; seven of the women eventually experienced orgasm after from one to nine months. Four of the therapists had difficulty maintaining an erection.


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  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Jun 19, 1972 issue of New York
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