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Psychosexual Development

Sigmund Freud is undoubtedly one of the most significant and controversial contributors to the study of psychosexual personality development. Freud believed that personality development involves passing through several psychosexual stages of development - stages that involve seeking pleasure from specific parts of the body called erogenous zones.

Each stage of personality development involves deriving physical pleasure from a different erogenous zone. It should be noted that Freud used the term ‘sexual’ to refer to physical pleasures and the many ways an individual might seek to gratify an urge for such pleasure. When referring to children, he did not use the term to refer to adult sexual feelings or orgasmic pleasure.

The following are Freud's 5 Psychosexual Stages:

1. Oral Stage (Birth - 1 year) - The mouth is the major erogenous zone due to a reduction of the hunger drive. We can think of infants at this stage as being dominated by the id*. Over or under gratification of the hunger drive during this stage can result in fixation. Consequences of fixation include: 

  • Orally aggressive
  • Orally passive
  • Passive, immature, gullible personality

2. Anal Stage (1-3 years) - The primary erogenous zone is the anus due to pleasure derived from vacating a full bowel. This stage is set for early development of the ego functions. Consequences of fixation include:

  • Anal retentive
  • Anal repulsive

3. Phallic Stage (3-6 years) - The primary erogenous zone is the genital area, and pleasure derives from both direct genital stimulation and general physical contact. Consequences of fixation include:

  • Oedipus complex
  • Electra complex

4. Latency Period (6-puberty) - The period between the phallic stage and the genital stage during which sexual urges are submerged. Consequences of fixation include:

  • Sexual unfulfillment if fixation occurs in this stage

5. Genital Stage (Puberty-death) - The adolescent develops adults sexual desires. Consequences of fixation include:

  • Frigidity, impotence, unsatisfactory relationships

The result of psychosexual development amounts to the building blocks of personality and general psychological functioning. Children develop basic ego** and superego*** functions and gender role identities. Freud’s theory, although controversial, has been very influential in its ability to explain personality disorders in terms of whole or partial fixation: arrested development due to the failure to pass completely through an earlier stage of development.

Freud theorized that people deal with their fixations through defense mechanisms. These are mental systems that become active whenever unconscious instinctual drives of the id come into conflict with the internalized prohibitions of the superego.¹ Until the conflict or fixation is resolved, individuals will remain stuck in whatever stage they are currently in. 

* Id - The unconscious reservoir of libido, the psychic energy that fuels instinct and psychic processes.¹
** Ego - The general manager of personality, making decisions regarding the pleasures that will be prusuid at the id's demand, the person's safety requirements, and the moral dictates of the superego that will be followed.¹
*** Superego - The repository of an individuals's moral values, divided into the conscience (the internalization of a society's rules and regulations) and the ego-ideal (the internalization of one's goals). 


1. Carlson, Neil R., Buskist, W., Heth, C.D, Schmaltz, R. Psychology - The Science of Behaviour.

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