Religious and sexual passion

In Equus, religion and sex are closely linked, in accordance with the theories of Freud, the ‘father’ of modern psychiatry. Alan’s religious fervour for the horses awakens his sexual identity. This is apparent in the erotic overtones of the invented names, ‘Flankus .. Spankus .. Spunkus’ which Frank overhears his son use (Scene 14). In Scene 21 when Alan rides Nugget, his ecstatic cries as he masters the power of the horse could be those describing an erection:

His neck comes out of my body. It lifts in the dark. / I’m stiff .. 

and his desire to move from being ‘on’ the horse to being ‘in’ it is easy to interpret. In Scene 14 Frank Strang also says he sees a link between extreme religious fervour and sex. Later, as Alan recalls the scene in the cinema, he makes the connection that the male voyeurs were:

like they were in church. Like they were a sort of congregation. (Sc 29)

Destructive guilt

Alan cannot but be confused in both body and soul when he encounters his ‘normal’ desire for a woman after the mystical eroticism of riding. He is torn between what he feels is condemnation emanating from the horses and his attraction to the human eyes and form of Jill in the stables. 

In part, he has transferred his parents’ sexual repression to Equus. Alan realises that his mother cannot cope with nudity and is unlikely to be sexually at ease with her husband. Meanwhile, his father is unable to discuss with Alan the facts of reproduction and circumstances of desire. For Frank, sex is something furtive, related to the pornographic films available in the cinema. Alan thus has no role model of appropriate sexual relationships.

Prioritising needs

Alan’s lack of healthy sexual role-models complicates his relationship with Jill, who appears much more relaxed about sex and is already experienced. It is she who initiates seeing the pornographic film and later undresses to arouse Alan’s seventeen year old desire. But although he wants to respond ‘normally’, the association of sex with Equus is too strong:

Every time I kissed her – He was in the way. .. When I touched her, I felt Him. (Sc 33)

Unable to consummate his sexual longings with either human or horse, Alan takes the drastic action of trying to obliterate the gaze of Equus whilst also severing the connection with Jill. He clearly decides to prioritise his human sexual needs, desiring to be as powerful with a woman as he feels on a horse. However, he cannot escape the way in which his initial erotic encounter (with Trojan) has shaped him.

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