Wilhelm Reich and His Approach to Sexuality

January 20, 2019
Wilhelm Reich was convinced that the classic psychoanalytic method wasn’t effective. Because of this, he decided to treat his patients in a different way: through stimuli located in their voluntary muscles, where he thought repression was condensed. This theory was the foundation of bioenergetics.

Wilhelm Reich was a really important figure in psychoanalysis. In addition, he’s considered the precursor of bioenergetics and the creator of a really effective therapy. Reich was a researcher and a writer and he loved debating ideas. He also was a Marxist who always established links between his sexual theories and the socialist revolution.

While some people believe that Wilhelm Reich’s theories are valid, for others he was just delirious.  This is because Reich went through different stages. He was very intelligent and productive in some and very erratic and impulsive in others.

Nevertheless, Wilhelm Reich was someone who shined with his own light. Both his approach to sexuality and what he believed about defense mechanisms have been partially studied by many psychologists and psychoanalysts.

“It is sexual energy which governs the structure of human feeling and thinking.”

-Wilhelm Reich-

Portrait of Wilhelm Reich.

The conflicting origins of Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich’s childhood and teenage years were traumatic. He was born in a small town of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in March of 1897. His family was from the countryside. They were Jewish but didn’t really practice the religion. As an adult, Reich wrote a book called Passion of Youth, where he talked about the first years of his life.

Wilhelm Reich had his first sexual encounters with the servants of his house. He always saw his mother and father fighting. His mother had an affair when he was young. When Wilhelm found out about his mother’s affair, he felt outraged and told his father everything. This lead to a huge family dispute.

When Wilhelm Reich was 14 years old, his mother committed suicide, presumably due to the conflict associated with her infidelity. When his father died a few years later, Wilhelm decided to become a soldier. In fact, he fought in World War I.

His economic situation was very precarious and he had to make many sacrifices in order to be able to go to school. However, he finally became a doctor, a neuropsychiatrist and, later on, a psychoanalyst.

Bodies tangled up inside of a watch.

Wilhelm Reich and Freud

Wilhelm Reich and Sigmund Freud met in 1922 when Reich was still a student. Freud believed he was a brilliant individual. Psychoanalysis really fascinated Reich. He became a part of Freud’s inner circle.

However, he started to disagree with Freud on several things. First of all, he disagreed with Freud’s theory that human beings had to repress their sexual desires. Wilhelm advocated free sexuality.

Reich postulated the existence of some kind of vital energy which he called ‘orgone’, a combination of the words orgasm and organism. In his opinion, people had problems because they didn’t let their energy flow freely. He rejected the classical psychoanalytic method of free association and, instead, he proposed a new therapy that sought to ‘unblock’ individuals through muscle stimuli. It stemmed from the idea that repression was stored in the muscles and it had to be unburied from there.

“Once we open up to the flow of energy within our body, we can also open up to the flow of energy in the universe.”

-Wilhelm Reich-

Wilhelm Reich holding two test tubes.

A disconcerting end

Wilhelm Reich became famous due to his character analysis and muscular therapy. At first, people genuinely believed his theories. He pointed out that the working classes were sexually repressed, which is why they were so submissive.

He ended up being expelled from psychoanalytic circles, as well as from Marxist environments. This was because he was too radical and rigid, which made his followers start rejecting his theories.

At the end of the 30s, he traveled to the United States partly to flee from the Nazi party since they had ordered to burn all his books. In the United States, he created a device that supposedly collected ‘orgone energy’ and helped it circulate freely. In fact, he presented this device to Einstein, who ruled out its usefulness. Years later, people accused him of fraud when he started selling his device. He died in prison in the year 1956, at the age of 59.

“I know that what you call ‘God’ really exists, but not in the form you think; God is primal cosmic energy, the love in your body, your integrity, and your perception of the nature in you and outside of you.”

-Wilhelm Reich-

  • Reich, W., & Moratiel, S. (1993). La revolución sexual: para una estructura de carácter autónoma del hombre. Planeta-De Agostini.