The Existential Importance of the Penis
A Guide to Understanding Male Sexuality
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The first of its kind, this book applies existential principles to sexual problems, providing clinicians with the tools to understand male sexuality more deeply.
Alighting from the existential psychotherapy tenets of Irvin D. Yalom, Watter introduces the notion that the penis is a conduit for male emotion, and hence regulates their ability to form and experience intimate relationships. Subsequent chapters explore an existential view of male sexual dysfunction, non-sexual trauma, hypersexuality, changing bodies through illness, age, and injury, and examines badly behaved men to understand the meaning of certain behaviors.
This book will be an invaluable resource for sex therapists, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and social workers in practice and in training, assisting them to develop the therapeutic skills that will improve their understanding of men’s psychological experience.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1. The Penis Speaks: An Existential View of Male Sexual Dysfunction 2. Existential Psychotherapy and the Work of Irvin D. Yalom, M.D. 3. Death: The Unavoidable Condition 4. Existential Sex Therapy 5. Hypersexuality, Sex Addiction, Out-of-Control Sexual Behavior: A Diagnositc Dilemma? 6. Why Men Behave Badly 7. Aging: The Penis Speaks, But Sometimes it Whispers Conclusions
Daniel N. Watter has been a practising clinical and forensic psychologist and certified sex therapist for over 35 years. He is the past president of The Society for Sex Therapy and Research.
The Existential Importance of the Penis is a ground-breaking book by the well-respected sex therapist Dan Watter. Traditionally, male sexuality has been simplified--either placed on a pedestal or demonized. Dr. Watter describes existential sex therapy as a way to understand male sex dysfunction. His detailed, complex case descriptions are of great value. This approach emphasizes the role of anxiety and trauma as well as the importance of careful emotional and sexual assessment. He explores the man’s inability to integrate sexuality into his life and relationship. Watter’s book is a crucial resource for clinicians.
Barry McCarthy, professor emeritus of psychology and author of Contemporary Male Sexuality
Ostensibly this is a book about men, their penises, and the stories, meanings and histories that underlie common sexual problems such as erectile unpredictability. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dan demonstrates beautifully that the penis is most alive in its moments of fallibility, for it is then that the traumas we exiled to our unconscious depths are demanding to be heard and reckoned with. In treating symptoms (sexual or otherwise) we are missing the existential big picture and Dan’s book is not just a tonic to the dessicated solutions-oriented ethos we have all internalized, it is a manifesto and rallying cry to live authentically, work deeply and create meaning. It goes without saying that Dan is a master-therapist. But as this book shows us he is also a gifted reader, writer, poet, philosopher and historian. When the penis speaks, we need to listen. And when Dan writes, we need to read.
Ian Kerner, sex therapist and NY Times best-selling author of She Comes First
Written in a lively, conversational, empathic, and often witty style, mercifully free from psychobabble, The Existential Importance of the Penis is intended mainly for clinicians and male patients, but it will also be of interest to many others, including aging men who experience a "quiet" penis. Female readers and non-patients will also profit from reading the book. Dr. Watter offers us an intriguing guide to "penis speak." One feels pleasure from reading the book, never Schadenfreude. If the penis could read, it would surely learn much from this wise and compassionate study.
Jeffrey Berman, distinguished teaching professor, Department of English, University of Albany, author of Writing the Talking Cure: Irvin D. Yalom and the Literature of Psychotherapy
Dan Watter has been a leader in the sex therapy field for years. In this long-awaited book, he deftly applies his expertise in existential psychotherapy to tackle sexual issues, especially those of men. Not only is Watter a world class therapist he is a master educator and storyteller, who uses these gifts to support his theory and interventions. He specifically shares with his readers the power of the penis in the mind of man as he struggles to be an authentic human. You will laugh and cry, but it is all worth the ride.
Stephen J. Betchen, co-author, Master Conflict Therapy: A New Model for Practicing Couples and Sex therapy
The Existential Importance of the Penis is a profound and deeply moving study of the existential turmoil underlying the confusing, hurtful, and self-defeating sexual behavior of men. Daniel Watter is an extraordinarily gifted psychotherapist who translates the language of the penis into remarkable insights that forever change the way his patients relate to their own sexuality. Weaving together patient stories with literature and philosophy, this compelling and compassionate book challenges us to look beyond moral judgments and little blue pills to find meaning and to restore joy in the sexual lives of our patients. May we never look back.
Kathryn Hall, editor, Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 6th edition, former president, Society for Sex Therapy and Research, book review editor, Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy
Daniel Watter’s The Existential Importance of the Penis is a penetrating examination of the relationship of men’s identity to their sexuality, to their bodily integrity and to their sense of themselves. The book captures the paradox of how a small part of the body, hidden from daily view, is nevertheless central -- how a man’s relationship to his phallus, which seems to be about that single body part, in fact acts as a hologram for his relationship to himself, to those he loves, and to the wider world. For an absolutely new perspective on links between body, mind and the journey of the self through intimate realms, read this book!
David E. Scharff, co-founder and former director, The International Psychotherapy Institute; 2021 Winner of the Sigourney Award for the promulgation of psychoanalysis; and author of The Sexual Relationship and Marriage and Family in Modern China
Thought-provoking and insightful, this volume is an important contribution to our understanding of male sexuality. Watter's illuminating perspective breaks the binary split between the sexual and the existential and dives into the tension and the connection between mind and body, life and death, early loss and sexual behaviors. Watter listens to the ways the internal world voices itself through the sexual body, bringing unconscious material into the surface and with it a new possibility for a fulfilling life.
Galit Atlas, faculty, NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, author of Emotional inheritance: A Therapist, Her Patients and the Legacy of Trauma
The Existential Importance Of The Penis by Dr. Daniel Watter is both prescient and trendsetting as it artfully incorporates key wisdom from Existential Psychology and the Human Potential Movement with the practice of modern Sex Therapy. The meaning of both the sexual disorder and its resolution are often, as, if not more important than accomplishing the initial requested behavioral change first sought by the patient. Watter effectively challenges the reader to engage that dialectic in a well-written and accessible manner, that simultaneously explore’s the human condition. It is a pleasure to be able to highly recommend this book for every sex therapist’s library.
Michael A. Perelman, co-director, Human Sexuality Program, clinical professor emeritus of Psychology in Psychiatry, former clinical professor of Reproductive Medicine & Urology, Weill Cornell Medicine | NewYork-Presbyterian
In this gem of a book, Dr Watter starts with the idea that a man’s penis is actually his primary conduit for emotion—then shows how conventional sex therapy for men can be transformed into something far deeper. Performance anxiety? Secondary at best. Instead, look for erections to fail following a "relationship-deepening event." Out-of-control sexual behavior? Look for early relational trauma, and don’t be shocked to find death anxiety in the mix. Many male sexual problems are ultimately about vulnerability, loss, and buried yearning—and Watter is a sure-footed guide to this still mostly untraveled territory.
Stephen Snyder, author of Love Worth Making
This book couldn’t be more welcome or timely. To judge from public discourse, we only ever hear about male sexuality when it results in harm. Here is a book that goes well beyond the bounds of the recent foci of research and practice and explores the experience of being a man far more holistically. Importantly, while only a handful of books have ever explored the effects of early sexual abuse on men, this may well be the first book to explore deeply how non-sexual trauma can shape male sexuality. While this book will cater primarily to those working directly with male sexuality, it should have a place in the library of anyone interested in what it means to be a man.
David S. Prescott, co-author of Trauma-Informed Care: Transforming Treatment for People Who Have Sexually Abused
One might well ask oneself, do we really need another book written about the penis? After all, if one does a Google search, literally millions of treatises pertaining to this organ are at one’s fingertips. However, I think that the reader will find Dan Watter’s approach to this topic a surprisingly fresh addition to this repository of literature. No doubt, some readers and scholars may disagree or find his approach somewhat surprising. Never one to shy away from expressing himself in his own way, using his extensive knowledge and clinical experience to shape the readers thinking, Dan has put together a remarkable opus. I found this work fascinating, forcing me to rethink the concept of phallocentricity. As a sexual medicine physician and researcher in this area, this book is a very welcome addition to my book collection, forcing even me to rethink contemporary paradigms in this field. I have little doubt that the reader will come away both entertained and challenged.
John P. Mulhall, professor of Urology, director of Sexual & Reproductive medicine, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; editor-in-chief, The Journal of Sexual Medicine
This is an outstanding book in which Dr. Watter imparts his wisdom on the psychotherapy of men’s sexual problems/relationships from an existential vantage point. This is not a lengthy philosophical tomb on death anxiety; it is a satisfying and nourishing journey replete with: snippets of conversation with renowned clinicians like Dr. Irv Yalom, in-depth clinical vignettes, and illustrations from literature, film, song, poetry and culture that highlights Dr. Watter’s clinical perspective. Reading Dr. Watter’s book will significantly transform your clinical perspective leading to more nuanced and sophisticated ways of helping men with their sexual struggles and relationships.
Stanley E. Althof, executive director, Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida, professor emeritus, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
What does it mean to be a man? In this brilliant book, sex therapist Dr. Daniel N. Watter allows penises to respond. Writing from an existential perspective, Watter demonstrates that when men refuse to listen to their own inner voices, the messages from their penises prove harder to ignore. You must read this deeply thought-provoking and illuminating book!
Peggy J. Kleinplatz, professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Canada
Dan Watter takes us on an intriguing odyssey with his ground-breaking book The Existential Importance of the Penis. He provides an engaging, fresh perspective with respect to male sexuality and the how and why things can often go awry. Not content with snorkeling, he requests we put on our scuba gear and debunk the one-size-fits-all performance anxiety theory often attributed to male sexual problems. Grounded in Yalom’s existential theories as well as fascinating case vignettes, he provides a cogent stance for the utility of existential sex therapy especially when traditional CBT methods fall short. He convincingly suggests we explore the existential inner conflicts and dilemmas that are often at play behind the scenes of the narratives clients present when they walk into our office. Read it slowly as I did, chew on all he unpacks, and allow it to change the way you think about and engage our work.
Michael Moran, founder and director of The Center for Relational Fulfillment, New York