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J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 1998;46(2):413-42.

The absence of the paternal penis.

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Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California, USA.


Girls' experiences of object loss, in conjunction with female anatomical structure, may lend themselves to a particular genital anxiety regarding openness and emptiness. The relational void in giving up the mother as love object may lead to an internal self-representation of a "hole" to be filled, much as the mouth sucks the pacifier in the absence of the nipple. This image may then be extended to the genital representation. In turning to the father, a girl may find that she lacks a relationship with him in the relational space opened up by the loss of the mother; the penis is symbolically withheld from her in the father's relational distance. This lack of sexual and relational gratification, it is proposed, may be schematized by a female as her body being empty of something. The father's absence--the absence of the paternal penis--may lead to an absence of the mental representation of the vagina and to an inhibition of the role the vagina then plays for a woman in sexual desire. Vaginal repression may serve to disguise object hunger that might otherwise be experienced as vaginal longing. An abbreviated clinical vignette, revolving around a masturbatory fantasy, is offered in partial illustration of the thesis.

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