Transcript of 5th Session between Charles Balis, M.D. and Ms. Sharon Lough, Friday, December 12, 1997 at 10:00 am.

Ms. Lough: Hi, Doctor Balis.
Dr. Balis: Hello, Sharon. How are you feeling?
Ms. Lough: I don't know, kind of tense and anxious.
Dr. Balis: Are you still dreading your weekly sessions?
Ms. Lough: Well, actually, I was going to ask you something. It's been bothering me for awhile, but I wasn't sure how to bring it up. I've been thinking about this a lot. Remember last week I told you about how Charlotte and I met?
Dr. Balis: Yes, I believe you said it was through some sort of alternative community in San Francisco.
Ms. Lough: Yeah. That isn't going to go in my file, is it? I don't want anyone to know about this.
Dr. Balis: As I've said before, everything you say here is confidential.
Ms. Lough: Okay. I feel a little funny talking about this. It's like I unearthed this old relic from my past life. I always think of my life before the hospitalization as "my past life," as opposed to my life right now.
Dr. Balis: I see.
Ms. Lough: I guess I should get to the point. I really hate the thought of discussing this. I'm afraid you'll think less of me. You'll think I'm immoral or a scum-bag or something. You probably already do.
Dr. Balis: My purpose here is not to render judgment. I'd like you to be able to express yourself freely here.
Ms. Lough: Okay. About five years ago, I got involved with this San Francisco group called The Society of Janus. Have you heard of it?
Dr. Balis: They're involved with sadomaschochism, aren't they?
Ms. Lough: It's an S&M club--kind of a "how-to" S&M organization. This guy I was dating was involved in it, and I had always been curious about that sort of thing. So I went to some of their functions and parties, and I met this woman who introduced me to Charlotte.
Dr. Balis: I see.
Ms. Lough: It seems like such a long time ago. I try to block the memories out.
Dr. Balis: Are the memories painful?
Ms. Lough: Yeah, you could say that. I went in with an open mind, really curious and excited about finding out what it was all about. And at first, it was a lot of fun. It was really exhilarating. I never thought I would do such things, you know, especially not in front of an audience. But I think I got in over my head. And now I'm afraid the same thing will happen to Charlotte.
Dr. Balis: Are you afraid that Charlotte will have a bad experience?
Ms. Lough: Well, I felt like it was...kind of like it was damaging for me. I met this whole group of people who had abandoned conventional morality. A lot of them practiced what they called "polyamory"--this is a new-age term for non-monogamy. It seemed like this utopian community, where people with unconventional sexual practices could be free and open about their lifestyle. People commonly referred to themselves as "perverts," like it was something to be proud of. At first, I felt like I had found a place where I belonged, you know? Like when Odo the shape-shifter went out into the Gamma Quadrant and found his own people.
Dr. Balis: Pardon?
Ms. Lough: Sorry, that was a Star Trek reference. Do you watch "Deep Space Nine?"
Dr. Balis: Occasionally. Did you become disillusioned with this community?
Ms. Lough: Well, yes. It seems like this sort of thing attracts a lot of unconventional types. I heard people say that the S&M community was full of fat losers. Maybe that's not a fair assessment. I met a lot of...I don't know how to say it. I guess they were really obsessive, needy, desperate people. And you know it's funny--people who practice S&M always go on and on about being responsible. They always say that what they do is "safe, sane, and consensual." But what I found through personal experience is that most of them don't practice what they preach and--for all their posturing about being this evolved, enlightened, sexually-liberated group--they really are very intolerant and narrow-minded.
Dr. Balis: That's an interesting paradox. I've heard similar criticisms about the gay community.
Ms. Lough: Don't get me started! The women in the lesbian S&M community are such total anal-retentive Nazis. They treated me like an outcast. I got all kinds of flak for being too femme. Maybe they would have accepted me if I had a crew cut and a nose ring.
Dr. Balis: Has Charlotte voiced concerns similar to yours?
Ms. Lough: Well, she does acknowledge that they can be a bunch of jerks. But she's really caught up in it, just like I was a few years ago. Charlotte finds it glamorous and exciting, and she loves going to parties and all the gossip and cliques. She seems particularly infatuated with people who are celebrities in the community--professional dominants who have a following. I don't think her perception of it is realistic. It looks like she's going to throw away her marriage so she can chase this fantasy. It seems so unfair to Robin.
Dr. Balis: What is his attitude towards all this?
Ms. Lough: He's resigned. He doesn't say much. In fact, he's about as quiet and shy as I am. But the few comments he's made and his general demeanor and tone of voice lead me to believe he feels betrayed.
Dr. Balis: So Robin doesn't share Charlotte's interests?
Ms. Lough: No, I don't think he does. And it's weird, I really identify with Charlotte's infatuation with all this. She's like a kid with a new toy, it's all she ever talks about. She seems proud of it almost, she's constantly name-dropping and talking about these exclusive parties she gets invited to. It's almost like she's in high school. The community is very cliquey, and she really wants to hang out with the "in-crowd." I feel as if I'm watching home movies of myself. It kind of makes me cringe.
Dr. Balis: Why is that?
Ms. Lough: I don't know. Partly, I'm concerned that she's in for a big disappointment. And maybe I'm a little envious that she seems to enjoy it so much, because I always had problems. And I feel for Robin, too. He's getting shafted. He's been made to feel like an outsider, and he hasn't done anything wrong. I've found that when people talk about polyamory...god I hate that word. It's one of those mushy new-age expressions. When people say they want to be polyamorous or non-monogamous, what they really mean is they want someone else to put up with them sleeping around. And that's what Charlotte wants Robin to do. And in a way, I can understand it. What she's doing can be risky. Not just physically, but emotionally. I'm sure she feels a lot safer with someone to come home to. Robin has always been there for her.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: I guess I'm a little jealous. I usually don't have anyone--no steady relationship. It seems like I'm always the other woman or the transitional person. I'm good enough to fuck when no one else is available, but no one wants me for the long haul. That's another reason why non-monogamy sucks. Someone is always second best, namely me. But I can understand why, though, as screwed up as I am.
Dr. Balis: That's a rather harsh assessment of yourself.
Ms. Lough: Well, it's the truth.
Dr. Balis: Earlier, you mentioned having problems with the people you met in this group. What kind of problems?
Ms. Lough: It all seems so silly and trivial now. It was mostly gossip. I'm pretty awkward socially, so I was the butt of a lot of people's jokes. I dated some people--both men and women--who were really obsessive and wouldn't leave me alone. I wasn't used to being talked about. It seems in the heterosexual S&M community, there is a big gender imbalance. I'd go to a social event, and there would be all these guys leering at me. And since it's a sexually liberated type of environment, they weren't exactly delicate or tactful about saying what they wanted.
Dr. Balis: Did you find this demeaning?
Ms. Lough: Well, yeah. It seems like if you want to be a sexually liberated woman, you're condemned no matter where you go. People kept saying such nasty things about me--that I was a slut, that I stole boyfriends and husbands. Maybe I did, but they told me they were in open relationships. What was I supposed to do, interrogate everyone they slept with and ask if it was okay?
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: It was like I couldn't do anything right. I don't know why this has come up now. I mean, I don't know why it bothers me so much. I'm sure Charlotte will be just fine. She's older, more mature, and more confident. She'll be able to take care of herself.
Dr. Balis: What about Robin?
Ms. Lough: It's hard to tell with him. He's such a cipher. I can sense he's unhappy, and Charlotte complains bitterly about their sex life...or lack thereof. She made a curious comment over the weekend. She said she was glad that I had moved in, because I would "keep him company" and she wouldn't have to spend as much time there. I'm not sure what that means.
Dr. Balis: Does Charlotte consider you as a some sort of replacement for her husband?
Ms. Lough: Maybe. I don't know. Am I supposed to be a surrogate wife? I hope she doesn't expect me to sleep with him. The idea of having sex with anyone is so repugnant. Ugh!
Dr. Balis: You say that with great conviction.
Ms. Lough: It really grosses me out. Bodily secretions, and nudity, and being's all just too disgusting. I sound so puritanical. I used to enjoy sex. Now, just thinking about it makes me want to hurl. I don't even like when people touch me. I'd much rather pet a cat.
Dr. Balis: Or a ferret. How's Harriet, by the way?
Ms. Lough: She seems traumatized by the move. Robin has two cats, so Harriet stays in my room. I'm not sure if ferrets are cat-compatible.
Dr. Balis: I recently acquired a cat myself. A kitten, actually.
Ms. Lough: Really? One of Robin's cats is very young. She acts like a kitten. Kittens are a trip, aren't they? They don't behave anything like grown cats. They're not aloof or dignified at all. They're the silliest, most uninhibited creatures.
Dr. Balis: They are quite a handful. By the way, have you given any thought to pursuing legal action against your landlord?
Ms. Lough: A part of me wants to. I'd like to really stick it to him--file a lawsuit and take all his money. Except he doesn't have any. While I lived there, he and his wife fought about money all the time. They were in debt, the place was mortgaged to the hilt. If I sued, there's a good chance I wouldn't get anything, and then I'd be stuck with the legal bills. Besides, their bullshit child-molestation charge would come back to haunt me. If that came up during a trial and my sexual history became an issue...I just couldn't stand it. If they found out what a slut I was and all the things I've done, a judge might think I actually did it. It's all too complicated.
Dr. Balis: I see.
Ms. Lough: I wonder if Charlotte will have the same regrets someday. While I was experimenting, I never thought about the consequences. I was too caught up in the moment. It's like living in a fantasy world, where you feel like no one can touch you. You get so caught up in the social world and chasing your sexual fantasies, that you lose touch with the real world. Maybe that's not such a bad thing, though. Reality sucks.
Dr. Balis: It sounds as though you had a number of memorable negative experiences. Did you have any positive experiences?
Ms. Lough: Well, yeah. There were a few times when I actually enjoyed what I did and liked who I did it with. But I tend to dwell on the negative.
Dr. Balis: Would you say your negative experiences outweighed the positive ones?
Ms. Lough: It seems like every positive experience had a price tag attached. I'd say the emotional cost was too high. I'd play with someone, and they'd act like they owned me and would take for granted that I was there to do anything they wanted. Someone I dated said that being a submissive woman is like carrying a big sign that says "treat me like shit."
Dr. Balis: Isn't S&M supposed to be consensual? I've often heard that people who engage in that sort of activity discuss everything beforehand and use safe words.
Ms. Lough: Well, people say that, but not everyone means it. Once you're tied up, bound, and gagged, you're at someone else's mercy. And members of the community are very good at parroting the party line--they know all the right things to say. I don't know. It's probably my fault. I didn't communicate enough or work hard enough to protect myself, and now I'm crying "victim." And now, I'm probably projecting all my own fears onto Charlotte.
Dr. Balis: Don't be so quick to discount your feelings. It sounds as though there is a basis for them.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, well...I did hear of other young women in the community who are having the same problems. New members to a group like Janus--especially females--find themselves surrounded by predators. One of the Janus group leaders commented that he would take bets to see how long they'd last.
Dr. Balis: Hmm. You were hesitant about discussing this with me at first. How do you feel now?
Ms. Lough: All right, I guess. I'm a little relieved. You didn't yell at me or told me what a stupid slut I was.
Dr. Balis: I'd like you to feel safe about discussing uncomfortable subjects here.
Ms. Lough: I'm just not very open about this sort of thing.
Dr. Balis: I'm glad that you're trying, Sharon. And I feel we're making real progress.
Ms. Lough: I feel like I'm being graded--like those scores the judges at the Olympics give. Did I get a perfect ten?
Dr. Balis: I'm not in the habit of giving numeric scores, but I'd say you're doing well. Same time next week?
Ms. Lough: Yeah, that'll work. Thanks, Doctor Balis.
Dr. Balis: Goodbye, Sharon.
Arrow, Straight, Left, Earlier Arrow, Straight, Right, Later

Button to Dr. Balis' Notes Doctor Balis' Notes on this Session

Button to Sharon Lough's Transcripts Transcripts of Sharon Lough's Communications
Button to Sharon Lough's Patient File Sharon Lough's Patient File

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