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updated 1/3/2008 12:40:49 PM ET 2008-01-03T17:40:49

Q. I am sexually attracted to men I can’t have. I’ve had this attraction since high school, where I remember being attracted to my coaches, principals and teachers. It is not an attraction where I want to be in a relationship with these men, but a purely sexual attraction. I have on some occasions acted on this attraction and had sex with a married man. When I acted on this instinct, I felt no sexual pleasure during the act. What is going on with me?

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A. This sounds like a classic Oedipal situation, in which you want to possess the “father” you cannot have. Look at the roles you have listed. These are older men, in paternal or authoritative positions.

It’s true that you don’t want to be in a real relationship with these kinds of men, who resemble father figures to you. The fact that you did not experience pleasure during the sexual act bespeaks your conflict in this area. It sounds as if you experience tremendous guilt over this.

The numbness you feel is a way of punishing yourself for acting on this impulse. This way, you get to participate without really participating.

The fact you actually slept with a man in this kind of role, who is married, is a real red flag. It indicates that you harbor a subconscious need to win him over from his wife, who is the “mother” figure in this scenario.

The problem is the competitive winning-out over other women. You feel the need to reverse roles and feel powerful, as opposed to feeling like a powerless kid. If you still feel like this powerless kid in your head, you will keep doing these things, which you know are not healthy for you and for the others affected.

You have revealed no details about your background, but it sounds that there is an unresolved issue in your past. This is the kind of thing that is very amenable to psychotherapy. You need psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy to understand the nature of this conflict, why it remains and how you can deal with it.

It is important that you overcome your impulses to go after this type of man. If you don’t, you will have trouble finding someone who is appropriate for you and whom you can remain faithful to.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: The impulse to chase after men who are father figures stems from an unresolved conflict, but can be overcome with psychotherapy.


Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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