Sex in the Forbidden Zone

Recently, the Integral Options blog turned my attention to a paper planned for the Integral Theory Conference by Marc Gafni called Spiritually Incorrect; Sex, Ethics and Injury. As some people know, Integral Friend Gafni has been accused of sexual misconduct with his students in the past. Gafni denies these allegations and uses the paper in question to discuss and defend his position on the subject.

This isn’t a post about Gafni’s paper, although I hope someone with the right inclination will do a thorough job of critiquing it, as both the content and the style are shockingly bad and does no favors to the integral community leaders who continue to rally around him while expecting to be taken seriously. This is a post about an excellent book that Gafni attempts to critique in his paper which I had not come across before called Sex in the Forbidden Zone: When Men in Power—Therapists, Doctors, Clergy, Teachers, and Others—Betray Women’s Trust by Peter Rutter.

As the title suggests, Rutter’s book is all about why men in power should not overstep sexual boundaries with women over whom they hold power. It stems from the author’s experience where he was close to overstepping the boundary himself (Rutter is a therapist), which he describes below:

I was overcome by an intoxicating mixture of the timeless freedom, and the timeless danger, that men feel when a forbidden woman’s sexuality becomes available to them. The freedom stems from the illusion of such moments in which a man can convince himself that nothing but sexual merger with the female body and spirit seems real. He shuts himself off from past and future, contemplating neither the motivation nor the consequences of his acts. The feeling of danger balances the one of freedom, for within this danger is the intuition that the act he is so strongly fantasizing may be wrong, that it may bring catastrophe on both himself and the woman. In the moment of deciding whether to cross the line, I felt all at once extremely powerful—and very, very vulnerable.

What I like about this book is that Rutter does a good job of showing how overstepping sexual boundaries is profoundly wrong, but nevertheless a temptation experienced by (and frequently acted upon) even very decent and ethically-centered men. He also does a good job of explaining how the massive cover-up of such wide-spread activities by other very decent and ethically-centered men is due to the secret envy of those men who have transgressed such boundaries, and that by allowing such transgressions to go unchecked the potential for future fantasy transgressions remains open to all. In doing so, Rutter navigates a very difficult middle way between critiquing his subject of enquiry without demonizing it.

While there may be some issues about broadly referring to “men” or “masculinity” in such a singular way, Rutter nevertheless provides one of the better accounts I’ve read about how “men” think. I don’t say this often, but I recommend this book.

11 thoughts on “Sex in the Forbidden Zone

  1. go rutter ! (ironic name) but this is a sense of deep integrity that he seems to be “navigating”…nice one…

  2. Thanks Joseph, I will look more into this. In psychological this would be to refered to as an inappropriate counter-transference in response to an idealizing transference. The two people who first talked about this phenomenon both violated it in their private lives: Freud and then Jung. It does seem to be more than just violation, insest taboo, seduction etc. It seems like a regression or an addiction. Remember David Deida proclaims “masculine” men “love beer” and then puts women and the feminine akin to addictive substance. To de-genderize I would say sex can be an addiction for both men and women especially if they are traumatized. In my perspective Deida’s integral masculine romanticizes a regressive addiction to sex rather than a conscious awareness of it. But perhaps many have cut of their sexuality To degree that once they discover it they don’t know how to handle it.

  3. great seem really on to it ! and good at articulating the unconscious behaviours and opinions of groups. i don’t know a lot about the integral “cult” except that it is one of many “out of conscious awareness” organisations professing expertise on gender issues. i have had a taste of adeida’s workshop…something about masculine and feminine sacred relationships…bullshit…just demonising and sexualising the feminine..and “normalising” the predatory masculine…aaaaaaarrrrrgh. as you can tell i am still reactionary to it all….but heartened by these blogs and discussions as i have mentioned to joseph before. thank you.

    1. I think this a very important but also complex subject. But I will say that a female friend who suffered from sexual abuse as a child had found herself easily seduced by a man who did integral trainings and later regretted it, saying,”I really did not want to but felt I was supposed to.” The issue is in this instance was the man was in the role of healer, 15 years older than her, and he did not stop to think of his role to the women clients. I would just say in retrospect i can see it as an unconcious exploitation of someone’s vulnerability. Perhaps too sympathetic to him? But not really as saying this strips such a man from the position of “enlightened”, the role he pronounced and used to exploit others. My friend and I and her husband have found much more effective healing than propping up other healers narcissism.

      1. I think to describe oneself as “enlightened” ironically demonstrates that one is *not* enlightened: at the very least, I think it is best attributed to a person by his or her peers, and should even then be regarded with suspicion.

  4. I too have female friend (early forties) who suffered from sexual abuse as a child. She is a nurse, and while married to her former boss (long story), it is just her thing, I guess, to serially seduce men with whom she perceives as having power (usually doctors).

    I was just having a conversation recently with an individual who worked for her and walked in on her and a gentleman in their break room. Since that conversation, I have been thinking a great deal about the nature of power and how many women it seems feel that it is something to be seduced away from a man. Strike that, I have witnessed this woman attempt to seduce women too. She dresses provocatively, has had several cosmetic surgeries, and demonstrates many Borderline Personality characteristics. The woman with whom I had that conversation said, “Well what man could reject a woman like that and all her aggressive advances”?

    I think there needs to be a broader discussion about power, the shadow aspects of femininity, and what more can be done to heal these deep psychic drives to “vamp” (for the lack of a better word) perceived power from others. I think sexuality is just one means.

    BTW-I just discovered your site and I find your articles breathtaking to say the least! I look forward to further reading…

    1. Yes, desire for power is the common problem across these issues, whether men or women: it just plays out in different ways.

      This is why the “feminine power” discourse that surrounds a lot of personal development is misplaced: we don’t need feminine power (or masculine power): we need people who can assert their needs and rights with more nuance.

      BTW-happy reading 🙂

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