Sex and Belonging: On the Psychology of Sexual Relationships

Tony Schneider




A sexual relationship, whether fleetingly casual or profoundly permanent, involves at its core the establishment of attachment and an integrative drive to belong. It can include a range of incentives, coloured by physiological drives, cultural contexts, and personal histories. It also involves the physiological processes of brain and body as they relate to the realm of the mind and subjective experience. This complexity poses a challenge for clinicians when developing an integrated psychological model during therapy.

In this stunning new work, Tony Schneider, a practising clinical psychologist for over 30 years, outlines a new model of psychological drives around sexual behaviour. This model unifies the notions of attachment, belonging, desire, attraction and early sexual experience, to create a firm theoretical basis for psychological intervention in human sexual relationships.

He describes a dual biological and subjective, multiple-drive profile, that energises and directs individual sexual behaviour. He explains the various personal motives and drives that are typically involved, how they relate to one another, and the reasons for their inclusion in the model. Integrating theory, psychological research, clinical insights, and client case studies, this unique text also outlines various sociocultural sexual scripts, which, along with early sexual experiences, contribute to creating the context and expectations of adult sexual behaviour. 

Taking a middle path between the determinist thinking that frequently underpins scientific psychological research, and the psychodynamic theory often used by clinicians, this book is relevant to all those studying or working in the area of human sexual relationships, including psychologists, psychiatrists, relationship counsellors, social workers and sex therapists.

About the Author

Tony Schneider is a clinical psychologist who studied at the University of Western Australia and Murdoch University. After five years as a full-time academic in psychology at Murdoch University, Tony worked as an educational and developmental psychologist in childcare centres and in the private schools sector. He entered private practice in 1989 and has remained in full-time private practice since. Tony has maintained a consultancy for schools, but also branched out into trauma debriefing and consulting at a pain management clinic. For many years he also provided supervision in Murdoch University's Master's programs, both in clinical and educational psychology. Tony's work as a clinician in private practice exposed him to a range of common clinical and relational issues, including trauma, grief and depression, anxiety, addictions, chronic pain, and problems in sexual relating. He has published several academic articles and book chapters. In 2013 his first book The Brain, the Clinician, and I: Neuroscience findings and the subjective self in clinical practice was published by Routledge.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • About the Author
  • Introduction

  • Chapter 1: The Challenge of Explaining Sexual Behaviour
On 'maleness' and 'femaleness'
On what is and isn't 'sexual'
The relational goals of connection and belonging
On belonging: further considerations
  • Chapter 2: Drives and Sexual Behaviour
Drive theory: what prompts me to do something?
A dual drive-source, multiple-drive model
Features of the biological and subjective drive profiles
  • Chapter 3: Biological Drive Profile (BDP) Factors
Genetics and sexual predispositions
Neurochemicals and the sexual response
The hormonal profile: priming for sexual desire
Sexual conditioning: the impulse that repeats the past
  • Chapter 4: Subjective Drive Profile (SDP) Themes of Pleasure and Desire
The compulsion of eroticism
The desire for recreation
The drive to curiosity and discovery
The attraction to beauty
The attraction to gender traits
  • Chapter 5: SDP Themes Relating to Broader Social Needs
The need prove oneself
The need for social acceptance
The consumer drive
The desire to rebel
The power motive
The drive to procreation
  • Chapter 6: Relationship-need Themes of the SDP
The need for intimacy and to belong
The need for love
Attraction to the familiar
Parent-related motives
The demand of practical concerns
  • Chapter7: SDP Inhibition Themes
Social inadequacy
Fear of entrapment
The instinct to withdrawal
The need for self-protection
Disgust towards the person
Disgust about sex
  • Chapter 8: Sociocultural Sexual Scripts: Origins
Shared expectations, meanings and rules
Traditional scripts
Traditional Judeo-Christian script
  • Chapter 9: Sociocultural Sexual Scripts: Changing Perspectives
Secular Western script
Sexual experimentation subscript
Individual freedoms subscript
Virtual sex subscript
Competing scripts and moral notions
  • Chapter 10: Sexual Narratives: Early Years
Childhood belonging and attachment
Childhood boundaries
Childhood sexual awareness
Early gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Chapter 11: Sexual Narratives: Transitions
The integration of the sexual and relational self
Attachment and the sexual self
First experiences
Tim and Lucy's story
On falling in love
  • Chapter 12: Psychological Practice and Sexual Relationships
Sexual behaviour and mental health
Some intervention principles
On therapeutic goals
On the maintenance and dissolution of a sexual relationship
  • Chapter 13: Some Stories to Finish With
The contamination of association
A story about gender dysphoria
A story about porn
Stories about ghosts of the past
A final story about sex and not belonging
  • Chapter Endnotes
  • References