Aphrodite’s Daughters

Aphrodite’s Daughters: Women’s Sexual Stories and the Journey of the Soul
by Jalaja Bonheim

Sexuality as a sacred dance, as magic, as “our body’s way of opening to the life force.” With the testimony of the women she quotes, Bonheim encourages all women to regain our heritage of the spiritual energy of sex. Drawing on thorough research, Bonheim’s detailed descriptions of pre-patriarchal myth and practices glow with this joyful energy. In considering the dark side of sexuality, her compassion and insight offer the best descriptions I have read of how to grow from pain.

Several times Bonheim startled me with insights reframing my experience in useful ways. For example the difference between fantasy rape and real rape; why in our fantasies rape can be pleasureable: ”The imaginary aggressor is actually a part of the woman’s own psyche — the part that wants to break her resistance to receiving pleasure” (p. 343). In areas where I’ve felt lonely from bucking the culture, Bonheim gave me support — for example her discussion of relationship as path. On the other hand, she challenged my bah-humbug attitude towards romance, with stories of women in long-term romantic relationships. Most encouraging was to hear her testify, as therapist, to the effectiveness of deconditioning sexual distress patterns.

The only real problem: I’m just not comfortable with Bonheim’s talk about “essential qualities of the feminine spirit” and “what it means to be a woman.” Essentialism is a conceptual trap; Bonheim herself identifies the problem. Reflecting on Jungian psychology, she objects to its traditional classification of masculine and feminine qualities: “to reconnect with the sacred masculine, we must break ancient cultural habits of automatically identifying the feminine with matter, the earth, nurturance, and passivity, while linking the masculine with spirit, the sky, assertiveness, and activity. If … the masculine and the feminine are first and foremost fields of vibrating energy, this means that we can never define them verbally or conceptually, any more than words can convey the taste of a banana to someone who has never eaten one. To know the sacred masculine and feminine, we must directly experience their vibrational essence” (p. 120).

So how does one talk about this “vibrational essence” without concepts? I would prefer we refrain from talking about “masculine” and “feminine” at all, and focus instead on the human qualities available to every individual unique man and woman.