Sex, Jung, and Photographs:
The Nature of Yearning

Constance Avery-Clark, Ph.D.

Photograph by: Raymond Gehman,

Teresa Oster MSW, MS, CJSSF board member

CJSSF: Would you define “eminent creativity” in the context of your presentation in October?

Dr. Avery-Clark: Jung suggests that authentic creativity is the energy of psychic life. It is the yearning that arises from the collective unconscious, and is also the creation that represents the resolution to that yearning. It is through creativity that we can silence our longings. Rollo May asserted, “creativity is a yearning for immortality!” Dr. Ruth Richards of Harvard and Saybrook Universities suggests that there are two types of genuine acts of creation, the eminent or artistic, and the everyday, or what Jung endearingly refers to as the otherwise. Eminent creations are “endeavors which have received some form of social recognition…[They are] identified solely in terms of the widely accepted criteria…of originality and meaningfulness to others.” But recent research has prompted more creative thinking about creativity. Abraham Maslow reflected, “I learned to apply the word ‘creative’…to products…to activities, processes, and attitudes…which sprang much more directly from the personality, and which showed [themselves] widely in the ordinary affairs of daily life.” Dr. Richards explains, “Everyday creative accomplishment involves the full range of original outcomes from one’s day to day activities…and carries no requirement for social recognition.” The only originality that is meaningful with everyday creativity is that which resonates with oneself.


CJSSF: Why did you choose photography as way for resolving yearning for wholeness and not other type of artistic expression?

Dr. Avery-Clark: Since I was 10 years old, I have been fascinated by the power of the photographic image. It lingers somewhere in the liminal space between the objective world and the realm of imagination and art. When a photographic image brings together the unconscious world of colored, lighted, and shaped images with the consciously organized world of exposure, depth of field, saturation, and contrast, something “clicks” deeply in me in a moment of what Jung refers to as illumination. It’s one of those je ne sais crois, transcendent moments that are incredibly satisfying and meaningful. There are specific works of other forms of art that may grab my attention in the same manner, but there is virtually no photograph that I have ever looked at that doesn’t speak to me in some way.


CJSSF: What are the three manifestations of yearning for Jung?

Dr. Avery-Clark: We know that Jung is always big on threes! In this presentation I will suggest that Jung’s works could be summarized as among the richest examinations of the nature of yearning ever to have been created. He uses yearning interchangeably with longing, desire, appetite and libido in the sense of general life energy. This life energy is transformed, much like any creative proposition, through a three stage process of identification with connection and safety (which Jung refers to as longing for the Mother), then pursuit of differentiation and exploration (desire for the Father), and then integration, sacrifice, and transcendence of these in search of the wholeness of life (yearning for the Self). Jung regards yearning for the Mother and Father as necessary but ultimately limited and defensive propositions resulting in mindless unity. Longing for the wholeness of life that is the Self, on the other hand, is regarded as a felt reunion, oneness attained through differentiation rather than indifference. Any transformative photographic or sexual experience is going to partake of the yearning for both connection and exploration but ultimately in the service of the totality of the sensual and emotional experience.


CJSSF: In the summary about your upcoming presentation, you mention the healing symbol that arises as a substitute if the dynamic tension of yearning lasts long enough. This symbol contributes to soothe yearning. Would it be possible to compare the photograph to the human body during sex, both being both limited by “frames” and being both units with movements “inside” them, i.e., apparently fixed and flat, but with depth? Could a person be seen as a refuge for the other the same way a photograph would?

Dr. Avery-Clark: The answer to these questions is a resounding “Yes!” This is actually the point of the presentation. We yearn for the connection that we had in the unconscious state of infancy, but unless we cultivated soothing connection under the guidance of conscious differentiation, we will be nothing but an infant in a state of what Jung refers to as mindless unity. The trick is to get both the unconscious Mother and the conscious Father to come together so as to achieve a higher level of conscious integration that we experience a felt reunion, or “clicking,” just like what I described as happening to me when I see a photograph that really moves me. It is the balance between, and union of, the relatedness of the unconscious and the tension of consciousness that resolves our deepest longings. A photograph that resonates with us inevitably has both significant tension and also soothing comfort. If the photographer and/or the viewer suffers the image’s opposing energies long enough, the “clicking,” transformative moment is more likely to occur. This is the same with meaningful sexual experiences. It is the willingness to engage in a continuing dialogue between soothing absorption and edgy arousal, between involvement in one’s internal experience and focusing on one’s partner’s involvement, that brings about the most stirring sexual experiences. Think of it this way: being orgasmic requires periods of parasympathetic relaxation (“getting in the mood”) alternating with experiences of intense, sympathetic arousal. If you only have one or the other, or are unwilling to suffer the experience of both, being orgasmic in an authentically meaningful way is very difficult.


CJSSF: Is there a connection between yearning and the Shadow? Would sex allow lovers to touch the shadow in a non-threatening, playful way? Is the Shadow involved at all in the yearning aspect of the psyche?

Dr. Avery-Clark: Jung notes in Symbols of Transformation that we need all aspects of yearning to confront life. This includes the Shadow, those longings which our ego-consciousness has difficulty accepting. Yearning always involves the Shadow, whether it be the yearning for the safety of the Mother that is experienced by the tough corporate executive, the desire for the explorative excitement of the Father that compels the dependent young child, or the longing to be by oneself that motivates the successful professional who is surrounded by a loving family. Meaningful sexuality is one of the best examples of integrating the Shadow into daily by tapping into our unconscious, less acceptable desires while directing them consciously. Sexuality can be like Halloween in that the ghosts and goblins of our deepest yearnings are permitted to express themselves openly but also with conscious intentionality and in the spirit of exploration. There is nothing like playfully coaxing out the Shadowy, cuddly side of an extroverted and assertive man, or the mysteriously assertive side of an introverted and cuddly woman to turn an otherwise routine physical interchange into a more enlivened and transforming sexual experience.

Headshot of Constance Avery-Clark

Constance Avery-Clark, Ph.D., is a Jungian-oriented Licensed Psychologist practicing in Boca Raton for the past 29 years. She recently obtained a second Ph.D., this one in Psychology-Jungian Studies, with James Hollis, Ph.D., serving as her dissertation Chair. Dr. Avery-Clark is also Co-Director of the Institute for Sexual & Relationship Therapy & Training, an AASECT-Certified Diplomate of Sex Therapy and CE Provider, and a Certified Diplomate in Sexology through the American Board of Sexology. She was formerly Research and Clinical Associate at Masters & Johnson Institute. She specializes in treating sexual, relationship, and meaning-of-life concerns, and has published and lectured nationally, including an appearance on the Today Show. She and her long-term colleague, Linda Weiner, LCSW, have their book, Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated Manual, coming out on March 9.


As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.


Center for Jungian Studies
c/o Richard Chappell
P.O. Box 669
Hallandale FL 33008



The Center for Jungian Studies
c/o Richard Chappell
P.O. Box 669
Hallandale FL 33008

Join Our Newsletter


As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.