What "monster porn" says about science and sexuality

The key to our sexual tastes, Scientific American columnist Jesse Bering, my favorite sexologist, proposes, may lurk not in our genomes but in our childhood experiences. That, of course, is a foundational assumption of psychoanalysis, the steampunk theory of human nature devised by Freud more than a century ago.

In spite of his flaws and confessed befuddlement in the face of female desire (he once called it a “dark continent”), Freud offered far more insight into the twisted contours of sexuality than evolutionary psychologists and other genophilic modern scientists. He recognized that our desires are all tangled up with our fears.

In essays such as “The Uncanny” and “Medusa’s Head,” Freud suggested that some men are repulsed as well as entranced by female genitalia, which remind them of castration and death. [*See Postscript on “The Uncanny.”] Wombs morph into tombs. I can’t find it, but no doubt somewhere in Freud’s oeuvre he discusses an analogous female ambivalence toward phalluses.