Sexual relationship

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French: rapport sexuel

Jacques Lacan

There is No Relation Between the Sexes

Lacan first proposes his famous formula: il n'y a pas de rapport sexuel in 1970,[1] and takes it up again in his seminar of 1972-3.[2]

This formula is usually translated into English as "There is no such thing as a sexual relationship", which is misleading since Lacan is certainly not denying that people have sex!

The formula might be better rendered "There is no relation between the sexes", thus emphasizing that it is not primarily the act of sexual intercourse that Lacan is referring to but the question of the relation between the masculine sexual position and the feminine sexual position.

Sexual Difference

The formula thus condenses a number of points in Lacan's approach to the question of sexual difference:

Other of Langage

1. There is no direct, unmediated relation between the male and female sexual position, because the Other of language stands between them as a third party.[3]

"Between male and female human beings there is no such thing as an instinctive relationship' because all sexuality is marked by the signifier."[4]

One consequence of this is that it is not possible to define perversion by reference to a supposedly natural form of the sexual relationship (as Freud did).

Heterosexuality is thus not natural but normative.[5]


2. There is no reciprocity or symmetry between the male and female sexual positions because the symbolic order is fundamentally asymmetrical; there is no corresponding signifier which could signify Woman in the same way that the male sex is symbolized.

There is only one signifier, the phallus, which governs the relations between the sexes.[6]

There is thus no symbol for a symmetrical sexual relationship: "the sexual relationship cannot be written."[7]


3. Relations between men and women can never be harmonious; "The most naked rivalry between men and women is eternal."[8]

Love is no more than an illusion designed to make up for the absence of harmonious relations between the sexes (whether presented in mythical terms, as in Plato's Symposium, or in psychoanalytic terms, as in Balint's concept of genital love).


4. The sexual drives are directed not towards a "whole person" but towards part-objects.

There is therefore no such thing as a sexual relationship between two subjects, only between a subject and a (partial) object.

For the man, the object a occupies the place of the missing partner, which produces the matheme of fantasy (SOa); in other words, the Woman does not exist for the man as a real subject, but only as a fantasy object, the cause of his desire.[9]

Woman and Mother

5. Woman cannot function sexually qua Woman but only qua mother; "Woman begins to function in the sexual relationship only as mother."[10]

Sex and Meaning

6. As something rooted in the real, sex is opposed to meaning; and "sex, in opposing itself to sense, is also, by definition, opposed to relation, to communication."[11]

See Also