Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development


Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, is a pioneering figure in the discipline of psychology. He contributed extensively to the advancement of the knowledge base of the discipline and revolutionized the comprehension of the human mind in unthinkable ways. His theories elucidate the interplay of unconscious, preconscious and conscious processes, id, ego and superego in driving the behaviour and the complete personality of the individual.

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One of the most controversial theories ever propagated by Freud was the one that detailed an individual’s psychosexual development through infancy and childhood up until adolescence. Through this article, let us try and unravel the psychosexual stages of development suggested by Sigmund Freud and a few of its contemporary criticisms. The theory suggests that human development occurs through 5 psychosexual stages which include- oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital stages.

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He detailed that the stages differ from each other in the way individuals exhibit their sexual energy or libido and thus attain pleasure. The term “sexual” used by Freud in all his theories involves not just the erotic aspects but it included all pleasurable thoughts and activities. The psychosexual theory of development details that gratification is centred in different parts of one’s body in different stages of development. The individual possesses all chances to encounter fixation in any of these stages, which causes the individual not to be able to move on to the next stage healthily.

Stages of Psychosexual Development

1. Oral stage:

The Oral Stage is the first stage in Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual development theory, lasting from birth to about 18 months. A baby’s libido, or intrinsic pleasure-seeking energy, is focused on the mouth during the oral stage. The baby obtains enormous satisfaction from oral actions such as sucking, biting, breastfeeding, and chewing various items, which meet their natural cravings.

Freud proposed that events during the oral stage have a substantial impact on personality development. For example, he proposed that a child who is underfed or dissatisfied during feedings may grow into a pessimistic, envious, and distrustful adult. A youngster who was overfed or highly satisfied during his or her oral stage, on the other hand, may grow enthusiastic, naive, and full of admiration.

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2. Anal stage:

The Anal stage is the second stage in Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development. It lasts from 1 to 3 years of age. A child’s libido or pleasure is centred in his or her anal area at this stage. The pleasure of excretions or their restriction can provide ID gratification to the child. The child now is found struggling with bodily function mastery and coping with the onset of cultural and parental demands such as toilet training. When a kid’s irritation and fight with his or her mastery and pleasure (such as wanting to mess, sentiments of defiance, and acts of stubbornness that accompany this period) collide with parental demands for cleanliness and orderliness, the child experiences emotional conflict.

When the demands are strong and the child’s frustration is visible, it might result in the establishment of a defence reaction in the youngster, with resulting character traits such as orderliness, parsimony etc. The child now starts believing in the gift of faeces and equates it to a reward to be given to his or her parents and finds themselves in control over it.

3. Phallic stage:

The next stage of psychosexual development explained by Freud is termed as the phallic stage (3 to 6 years). The pleasure gratification is centred around the child’s genitals at this stage of development through behaviours such as masturbation and active mental fantasies. The child becomes interested in birth and why boys have penises while girls do not. The child may express a desire to marry the parent of the opposite sex.

Freud considers the phallic stage to be the final stage of pre-genital or infantile development, and phallic problems are the most difficult to resolve. They are also difficult for many people to accept since they incorporate the concept of incest, which is frowned upon in many cultures. Two of the major concepts that Freud explains as the conflicts experienced by children during their phallic stage are the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls.

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Oedipus complex:

The fundamental struggle of the phallic stage is the child’s subliminal longing for the parent of the opposite sex. This is accompanied by an unconscious urge to replace or destroy the parent of the same sex. The word Oedipus complex derives from the Greek myth recorded in Sophocles; fifth-century B.C. plays Oedipus Rex. In this myth, Oedipus, a young man, murders his father and marries his mother without understanding who they are. The mother becomes a love object for the young boy in the Oedipus complex.

He expresses his sexuality through fantasizing and overt behaviour. The son, moreover, sees his father as an impediment and eventually views him as a rival. However, the son develops a fear of his father as he believes the latter is strong enough to harm him. This fear of harm or castration anxiety drives him to suppress the sexual longings for his mother and identify with his father.

Electra complex:

According to Freud, the mother is a girl’s and a boy’s first object of love since she is the primary provider of nourishment, affection, and security in infancy. The child’s love then shifts to her father. This shift, he believes occurred due to the lack of penis in girls. The girl child then starts hating her mother for this “inferior” condition and develops sexual longings for her father. However, unlike the Oedipal complex, Freud counted the Electra complex as something that cannot be resolved, drawing huge criticisms.

However, unlike the oedipal complex, Freud counted this complex as something that cannot be resolved and that which leads to underdeveloped superegos in women. While Freud was the first person who explain the complex in detail, the term “Electra Complex” was first coined by Carl Jung in 1913. However, Freud did not agree with the terminology given to the complex and preferred to continue it to be called the “feminine oedipal complex.”

4. Latency stage:

The next 5 to 6 years will be quiet. The latency period is not a stage of psychosexual development. The sex instinct, according to Freud, is inactive during this time and is temporarily sublimated in school activities, hobbies, and sports, as well as making connections with members of the same sex.

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5. Genital stage:

Puberty marks the start of the genital stage, the final psychosexual stage of development. The body is maturing physiologically, and assuming no severe fixations occurred earlier in development, the individual may be able to live a normal life. Freud considered that the struggle was less strong during this stage than in the others. The teenager must adhere to society’s sanctions and taboos about sexual expression, but he believes that conflict can be reduced through sublimation.


To summarize, previous to Freud, Western culture held a long-held belief in the purity and innocence of childhood. Until puberty, there was no sexuality. This viewpoint was deconstructed by Freud. He proposed that different areas of our bodies are receptive to different types of stimulation and the pleasure that is elicited. Our understanding of baby development has advanced greatly, and much of what was previously understood, particularly in Freud’s early growth theorizing, has proven inadequate and was subjected to huge criticisms for viewing children as sexual beings and for being a complete product of patriarchal thoughts and ideas, thus viewing women as inferior to men due to their sex organs.

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