Sigmund Freud, in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality explored the concept of sexual development from psychological point of view arguing that sexual development intricately links the behaviour, beliefs and psychology of an individual. Freud changed the perception of sex when he proposed that sexuality forms an integral part of childhood development as sex mediates between the body and the mind (Perron 5). He noted that sexual instincts are major driving forces in personality development.
Sigmund Freud has redefined the ordinary physical perspective of sexual development by incorporating psychological aspect of psyche. In his psychoanalysis theory, Freud proposed that the psyche has three components, namely, the ego, the super-ego and the id. Super-ego is the conscious component of the psyche that imposes and regulates cultural sexual constraints while the id is the unconscious component that determines the sexual instincts of pleasure and is important in socialization.
The ego is the component of the psyche that interfaces and coordinates the super-ego and the id in the harmonization of the conflicting sexual instincts and cultural sexual constraints in the process of psychosexual development (Dhanyasree Para. 1). To study sexual development, Freud divided the development process into five phases, namely the oral phase, anal phase, phallic phase, latency phase and genital phase basing on the source of the sexual drive.
Oral phase is the first phase of psychosexual development that begins from birth and continues up to about two years. In this phase, the primary source of sexual instinct or the erogenous zone is the mouth because the baby finds the pleasure in sucking her mother’s breast, sucking the fingers, or even putting any objects into the mouth (Stevenson Para. 3).
Critically, at this stage the baby is actively putting things into the mouth in order to satisfy the stimulating sexual instinct in the mouth. The psychological explanation is that, since the baby is still very young, super-ego and ego components of the psyche are immature thus the baby is under unconscious control of the id and cannot coordinate components of the psyche.
Therefore, the dominant component of the psyche is the id, which makes the baby be under the unconscious control of the id hence the baby focuses on the sexual instincts to derive pleasure (Perron 8). As the ego develops, the baby differentiates the environment and the body by the senses and can start demanding her mother’s breast or anything to suck.
Poor nursing or early weaning deprives the baby the pleasure of parental care and this forms part of the early challenges the baby experiences. During these challenges, fixation can occur, the baby will have problems in future such as aggression, dependency, nails biting, smoking, drinking or eating (Cherry Para 2).
Persistence of fixation characteristics into the live of an adult is an indication of the effects of the early sexual instincts in the development and modification of personal character. This implies that one can modify human behavior as early as the beginning of sexual instincts and proper childcare can help prevent fixation, which is the residual consequences of due to the unsatisfied motherly pleasure on the kid at an early stages of sexual development.
This is the second phase of psychosexual development and it involves a shift of sexual instinct from the mouth into the anus. This phase occurs between the ages of about 2 years and 3 years when a child trains on how to use a toilet. The source of sexual drive is the anus and the child finds pleasure in the “repulsion or retention of feces” (Stevenson Para. 4).Since the ego and super-ego have developed, they child psyche now have conflicting components of the psyche.
While the dominant id component unconsciously seeks pleasure in expulsion of feces, the super-ego component is the pressure seeking to instill proper toilet training to the child by the parent. The ego then tries to harmonize the conflicting demands from the parent, which is the super-ego and child’s desires, the id.
In the anal phase, the child has two options to choose: the child can either follow the desires of the id or comply with the demands of the super-ego. If the child opts for the desires of the id, it means the child is going to have pleasure in expulsion of feces at any time and place as they please and if the parents do not correct this habit, the child will continue with it into the future affecting the character.
The future character of the child will be an “anal expulsive character” that is careless, messy, reckless, disorganized, and defiant personality (Stevenson Para. 4).
On contrary, if the child opts for the demands of the super-ego, it means that the child either followed the demands of the parent in toilet training or has the pleasure of retaining the feces. If the child finds pleasure in the retention of the feces and continue enjoying without the notice of the parent, the child will overindulge this habit and develop an “anal retentive character” that is obstinate, clean, precise, orderly, meticulous, careful, stingy and passively-aggressive personality (Stevenson Para. 4).
The two characters, the anal repulsive and the anal-retentive characters result from the autonomy of the ego and not compulsion from the super-ego or the id. The ego choice of character and proper toilet training in the anal phase will significantly affect individual inclinations and attitudes towards authorities on how one can comply or disobey.
If the parent imposes toilet training to the child, physically the child will seem to comply but the ego of the child did not harmoniously sort out the conflict between the super-ego and the id resulting into perpetual conflict that affect the personality of the child. The resulting effect of dictating the ego of the child will lower the self-esteem and decision-making ability since the autonomy of the ego is interfered.
This stage occurs between the ages of 3-6 years and it is the most critical stage in sexual development. Here there is shift in the erogenous zone from anus into genitals as the child explore own genitals and genitals of the friends as an adventure to understand sexuality. Although the source of the sexual instinct originates from the genitals, the genitals are not mature as adults but boys experiences occasional erection in their sleep and they find pleasure (Cherry Para. 2).
The major conflicts at this stage are the Oedipus and Electra complexes for boys and girls respectively, which are the “unconscious desire to possess the opposite-sexed parent and to eliminate the same-sexed one” (Stevenson Para. 5).
Oedipus complex is the unconscious selfish interests the boy experiences as he competes with the father for the love and attention of the mother. The unconscious desire and natural love for his mother is due to the sexual instincts experienced at the oral and anal stages and it is transforming into real sexual desire (Dhanyasree Para. 5). As a boy mature, he begins to identify his sexual identity and associate with his the mother more than the father.
The boy feels that his father threatens his love towards the mother and he begins to envious as he tries to compete with his father for the attention and affection of the mother The boy develop fears when he realizes that her mother do not have penis like him because the father has castrated her. Freud describes this fear as “castration anxiety” (Cherry Para 5). This fear is due to the super-ego that tends to dominate the id as the boy mature and become more conscious about the choices he makes.
The term Electra complex describes the unconscious envy that the girl child experiences at the phallic stage. When the girl identify her sexuality and realizes the difference between mother and father or boy and girl sexuality, Electra complex ensues. After realization that she do not have penis and perceiving that her mother castrated her, she become envious for the penis of her father.
Freud describes this envy for the penis as “penis envy” (Stevenson Para. 5). The envious demands for the penis by the id outweighs super-ego cultural demands leaving the girl fixated, still envying men into the marriage. Since the girl has no option, she begins to identify with her mother and start to learn her sexual role.
The phallic phase is the most crucial stage where children learn their sexual roles after they experience the battle in their psyche. At this stage, there is a shift in the psyche as the id that is dominant in the childhood gradually dominates the super-ego. The ego then harmonizes the conflicting forces in the psyche making the child to accept reality and love both parents without fear of castration or envy of the penis.
If the conflicting super-ego and the id demands remain unsolved, fixation will occur. In women, it results into extreme characters such as hunger for superiority over men, seductive or low self-esteem, and while in boys, fixation may result into immorality, narcissistic, over ambition or careless behavior.
Freud further proposes that fixation can be the root of cause of homosexuality and other sexual anomalies (Stevenson Para. 6). The aberrant sexual behaviors that occur in an adult life originate from the phallic stage of psychological and sexual development, thus, phallic stage is very critical in the development of sexual characters as well as personality.
Latent phase occurs at the age when the child start schooling up to the age when adolescence begins. This stage is latent because the sexual instinct or libido drives are dormant and the erogenous energy of the genitals is directed into other areas of thinking process such as intellectual pursuits, games, and social interactions (Cherry Para. 6). Although sexual drives are dormant in this stage, the habits formed at earlier stages of psychosexual development are processed into concrete behaviors.
Essentially, what really happens at this stage is that the ego is taking control of the id because at the phallic stage, the Oedipal and Electra complexes causes repression of the id, hence the child is do not longer operates under the unconscious demands of the id but is under the conscious control of the super-ego and ego coordination.
In the conscious state the child begin exploring and discovering the environment as a way of exercising the ego in making decision and choices. This stage determines the personality in terms of communication, socialization, and self-esteem.
Latent phase critical depend on the resolution of the Oedipus and Electra conflicts that occur at the phallic phase because the conflict between super-ago and ego can be resolved or it may remain unsolved.
The importance of conflict resolution in the preceding stages of psychosexual development is that it forms basis for the development of subsequent psychosexual development stages. Thus, any anomaly in conflict resolution in the psyche will result into the aberrant behaviors such as poor communication skills, anti-social character, and low self-esteem.
This is the last stage of the psychosexual development and it occurs at the age of about 12 years when puberty begins until the end of puberty where major secondary sexual characteristics occur (Perron 12). At this stage, the dormant erogenous energy drive at latent stage is activated resulting into strong sexual urge to the opposite sex. Here there is the shift of interest from selfish needs to the consideration of the needs of others (Cherry Para. 7).
The shift in the needs is due to the maturity of the ego that allows proper coordination of the conflicts in the psyche making the child to transition well from the childhood into the adulthood. The child at this stage experience sexual maturity and get interested in doing responsibilities of the adults like doing work, love relationships or can even marry.
If there are conflicts that are unresolved from the preceding stages, now the child starts to feel their impacts at this stage. It is at this stage where there is a manifestation of the psychosexual development experiences, since secondary sexual characteristics are more pronounced. Proper development of ego and genitals at this stage results into a balanced individual with a normal personality.
Sigmund Freud has greatly changed the perception of sex by incorporating the psychological aspect into the sexuality. The earlier perception that sexual development is just a physical and only occurs during puberty is quite unsatisfactory in explaining the causes of aberrant sexual behaviors and diverse personalities. Psychosexual development theory elucidates what really constitutes sexually right from when the child is born up to the puberty point of maturity.
The psychological components of psyche, the super-ego, the ego, and the id clearly demonstrate psychological perspective of sexuality and character development of an individual. From Freud perspective, sexuality and character development are more of psychological rather than physical appearances that only depend on the biological dictation.
Psychosexual development theory gives five sequential phases that a human being undergoes in the course of sexual development. These phases are closely linked and dependent on one another in the cumulative building up of the sexual and psychological development and eventually the overall character of an individual. Psychosexual theory has significantly changed the perception and the definition of sexuality in the modern world.
Dhanyasree, Munnar. “Psychosexual Analysis” Oneindia Living. 2008. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. http://living.oneindia.in/kamasutra/psychosexual-analysis-parti.html
Cherry, Kendra. “Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development.” Psychology. 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2010.
Perron, Roger. “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. 2010. Web. 7 Oct 2010.
Stevenson, David. “Freud’s Psychosexual Stages of Development.” The Victorian Web 2001. Web. 7 Oct. 2010.