Saturday, March 7, 2009

Birth and Sex: How They Are Related

The idea that what determines our sexual behavior occurs during our silent struggle to be born, which may last but a few minutes, may seem outlandish. Perhaps saying that most common "sex problems" are an outgrowth of the birth trauma understates the complexity of the issue. Yet birth trauma is often a significant factor in many difficulties in sex, and later childhood trauma may then complicate things further.

Why is the birth process itself so critical in determining our sexual health? Because it is a life-and-death struggle that happens when we are at our most vulnerable and possess only primitive brain structures, the very same brain structures that are involved in our sexual development. This is a primal event, and sets the stage for how we will react later on to any perceived threat. It is called one-trial learning, and lasts a lifetime. It establishes an imprint that gives shape to adult sexual behavior.

The body speaks a language that is not expressed in words. We all speak that language, but few of us understand it. We can capture that language through machines that measure blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, for example, as well as register the bio-chemicals that process our feelings. This language of the body speaks eloquently, and it is far more credible than anything we might ever say. Machines don’t lie: they measure physiologically our earliest imprinted memories, memories that are a product of early traumas we experienced while in the womb, or at birth. These primal memories get buried deep into our subconscious mind, and are characterized by an absence of words and images. The most advanced part of our brain, the cerebral cortex, will bury the memory of anything that is too painful to bear. The body needs something to avoid the feeling of pain, and the brain’s neocortex is well suited to that job.

The body also speaks in its own astute fashion through behavioral patterns, such as premature ejaculation or low libido. It tells of our history and our buried feelings. No matter how much we may deny our history, the body expresses the truth. Our biology is never arbitrary. It doesn’t create a symptom out of the blue. There are always reasons behind our problems; we need only to know how to find them. Migraines inform us, perhaps, of a lack of oxygen at birth. Colitis may tell us of memories imprinted before birth, pointing to events that happened while in the womb. Depression and the inability to be aroused sexually might indicate an overload of anesthetics at birth.

We must learn this language and communicate with the body in ways it understands. It is possible to do this. But if we remain on the level of words, explanations, instructions and insights, we shall never comprehend sex problems or how to solve them.


  1. Dr. Janov,

    Hi, it's me again. Here you have yet another really nicely worded and persuasive work on where the clinical psychology profession needs to go in order to be effective. I'm amazed at the way you are able to put this so clearly for lay people.

    The part on non-obvious (non-verbal) languages is a brilliant example of what I mean above. And as I read this blog, I realized that yet another language was coming through to me via your writing, which is the language of all your blogs to date and their overall meaning: The Message Is Not Reaching The People It Needs To...

    Flashback. Last summer I was going through an awful experience in my marriage. There was one day when my feelings broke loose. I spent most of the morning crying. Then later, sitting on the front steps and my wife came out and sat beside me, I started thinking of you, and crying again. I told her that some of your critics characterize your work as being redundant and repetitive, but that they were not listening on the same channel that I was. Your books and other written materials have beamed out to me like a song, like a lullabye sung to a child (me), to bring me back from worry and fear and coldness and give me my tears and my humanity...

    Well, I guess I'll finish my original thought some other day. Thanks again, and I hope to see you one day at the Primal Center.

    Yours truly,


  2. Walden, your letter is the reason I write. Dr. Janov

  3. Frederik Leboyer wrote beautifully about the fact that when making love you go back to your own birth sensations and feelings in a way.



Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.