Penis envy is a theory in Freudian psychoanalytic theory that proposes that very young girls feel deprived and envious that they do not have a penis. These feelings later lead to a desire for access to a penis and normal heterosexual development.
Penis Envy and Freudian Psychosexual Development
Sigmund Freud developed penis envy as part of his theory of psychosexual development. Within this theory, a child progresses through several stages of development, each of which contains a sexual conflict that the child must resolve to become a healthy adult.
According to Freud, Penis envy is a stage of development experienced only by female children and occurs when a girl first notices the differences in male and female anatomy and longs to have a penis of her own. He suggested that this moment is critical for sexual awareness and gender role differentiation in women. After a girl realizes she lacks a penis, she may be envious of boys. She may then begin to sexually desire her father and blame her mother for her apparent castration, longing for the death or disappearance of her mother. To cope with this conflict, a girl begins to mimic her mother, but later realizes she cannot have her father. To cope with this fact, her sexual desire is displaced onto men generally, marking the beginning of heterosexuality.
Criticisms of the Theory
There is little empirical evidence that penis envy actually occurs, and the theory has been heavily criticized, particularly by feminist scholars. They argue that to assume a girl envies and desires a penis is to assume that women are substandard, a misogynistic stance. Some feminist followers of Freud have reframed the theory that penis envy is not about actual envy of a penis, but about envy and resentment for the social power accorded to the male gender role.
- American Psychological Association. (2009). APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Last Updated: 08-17-2015
Please fill out all required fields to submit your message.
Invalid Email Address.
Please confirm that you are human.
Chris TMarch 17th, 2017 at 8:54 AM
One of my problems is having both small hands, as well as a small penis. Fortunately there’s lack of contrast while holding it.
Rene TJuly 29th, 2018 at 4:58 PM
Freud’s concept of “Penis Envy” can be seen as an analogue to George Carlin’s famous routine about the seven “bad” words you can’t say on television. Freud was stinging (pricking?) Victorian prudishness with the concept. This issue is power, males in a Patriarchy have nearly all of it, females don’t. The fact that men happen to have penises is irrelevant. In Matriarchal societies, do men have “Vagina Envy?” The argument falls apart with a simple explanation. When women attain equal power with men, “Penis Envy” will naturally disappear. Right? So much for a deep psychological neurotic obsession.
AnnMay 29th, 2020 at 7:35 PM
Wait a minute. Men are roughly half of the human race, right? And each of them has one, right? So, what’s the big deal?
JoJuly 28th, 2021 at 3:23 PM
I actually believe this is true in some ways. I’m a girl and I have what could be called penis envy.
When I was young (like, 3-8) I believed I had some kind of “stunted, poorly developed, possibly mutilated (by the doctors at my birth) penis” and stuck to that notion embarrassingly long, for no rational reason. I even secretly stuck socks and whatnot down my underwear to help with the discomfort I got from this (not very often though) I never questioned myself then but looking back that seems pretty weird. When I grew older and realised that in fact my genitals were normal (for a girl) I felt kind of shocked and disappointed instead of relieved (what I should have been). I grew up always envying boys for their bodies (and penises), especially when I started puberty and differences became more obvious. I didn’t want to be a girl. I’ve never (consciously) sexually desired my father but all my sexual fantasies involve me having a male anatomy and thinking about physical reality in a sexual situation is an instant turn off and may even make me cry (also in other situations I think about it). I generally liked my own body until it started becoming more obviously female, since then I have gone through phases of trying to accept it alternating with being absolutely disgusted and depressed about it.
I don’t think this is about power or gender roles since it has started before I knew much about gender roles and has ever since carried on mostly focused on the physical aspects. Also, although the family I grew up in had mostly traditional gender roles, I never really conformed to any gender roles throughout my childhood, as far as I can recall. I never felt like I really fit in with the girls (I wasn’t like them) nor with the boys (I wasn’t a boy). Maybe I leaned a tad more masculine in my interests but most of my interests and behaviours were influenced by my friends and family. Because I was usually daydreaming, I didn’t care much.
I don’t necessarily need to be in the societal position of a man, I just want the body of a man. I would even be fine with being a woman (or taking a woman’s role in society) as long as my body was male.
I’m just writing my story as “empirical evidence” for this penis envy thing. It does seem to exist and something has gone wrong in my mental development so that for me, it’s very conscious and very distressing. Does any other girl feel that way? Does anyone know how to convert this into normal heterosexuality.
For context, I am mostly heterosexual but occasionally attracted to women, too (I don’t know if this is important). Only, saying “I’m straight” as in, a woman attracted to men, doesn’t quite describe my feelings because I’m not attracted to anyone when I think of myself as a woman (it makes me deeply uncomfortable and I don’t think about attraction, then. So, I guess I’m heterosexual but in a gay way if that makes sense. Everything would be so much easier if I could just be a man instead :(
Also for context, I’m 16, and this year I’ve started researching on how to get rid of my ‘Problem’ because so far I’ve only been waiting for it to go away on its own and sort of repressing any thoughts but it’s getting harder to ignore and starting to properly ruin my life by now so I need a solution. If anyone knows how to deal with this, I’d be grateful because I haven’t read about cases like mine in resources I could find about Freud so far, but I don’t think anyone will reply to this anyway. But help would be appreciated!
Anyway, there’s your empirical evidence. It’s different from the classic subconscious presentation but I think it shows some proof for penis envy.
(Sorry if I worded something incoherently, I typed this at night)
BillieAugust 2nd, 2021 at 7:59 PM
I am wondering the same. You are not alone.
ChristineAugust 10th, 2021 at 5:25 PM
I can’t believe I’ve stumbled on this site from YouTube where I wrote that I have a double First Class Honours degree in Biology and Psychology and that Imonce had a tutorial on Freud and is ridiculous ideas about ‘ penis envy ‘.!!!
Get a life !!
I can’t believe I have stumbled onto this rubbish from comments I’d made on YouTube about my having a Double First Class Honours degree in Biology and Psychology.
StellaSeptember 9th, 2021 at 8:41 PM
Jo, you could look into seeing if you may have gender dysphoria because that is what it sounds like to me.
Anonymous commenter, K.September 14th, 2021 at 1:23 PM
Jo, while I was reading your comment I genuinely thought I was the one who wrote it. I was in the exact same boat when I was younger. It actually went away for me when I was around 15/16 years old and I realized that the sex/gender I was born in, is just a fact. It’s just a state of being. I also slowly started getting rid of my internalized misogyny and eventually I just gradually shifted into a state of mind that I was fine with being a woman. I would advise you to stop thinking about wanting a penis and your sex/gender in general. Stop wanting a penis, because at the end of the day, you’re just you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, you’re you. And please… do not think about transitioning. I fell into that rabbit hole and it was a big mistake. Try to find some female role models who you can look up to. You might have some internalized mysogny that you don’t even realize. I remember my mother talking to me about how it would be so annoying to have a penis between your legs. At the time I completely disagreed with her, but now I understand why she said that and that it’s completely fine to just be female and that having a penis won’t solve all your problems and isn’t that special. As for your gay comment, I am the same way, maybe it’s connected? haha. Anyways, I hope I helped you a bit. TLDR: Try to stop thinking about it and just accept yourself as YOU, outside of sex/gender. There’s so much more to life than what’s between your legs. You’re still very young and I’m sure things will make sense to you one day. Just focus on your future and studies :)
The auspicious oneOctober 4th, 2021 at 4:31 PM
It’s a chemical imbalance testosterone and estrogen are the main chemicals that are responsible for your interests and that’s the real truth you need to check your chemical balance if you’re a female and you act like a male you have higher testosterone than estrogen if you’re a male who desires another man then you definitely have way too much estrogen versus testosterone in the levels of your brain chemistry this is the fact this is what it is look into it don’t believe what other people lie to you about don’t worry about some stupid psychological psychoanalytic phobia crap they gave you that’s all psychobabble psychobabble don’t fall for that s*** it’s a chemical imbalance it’s all biological
TonyDecember 6th, 2021 at 6:34 PM
I am a male but I too feel for you all and our penis envy ways. Every day I wake up and look down and feel a slight anger and prejudice towards my gentalia. The feeling is truly disgusting as I do not wish to envy my own body part but its dangling fashion and short erected length truly and does create envy to other and fellow penises. I do not in any way wish for a change in scenery to a vagina but in my case I can only envision myself gaining a new penis which could potentially change not only my mental state of envy but my physical well being.
GadflyontheWallJanuary 14th, 2022 at 7:59 PM
Poor Freud has been vilified over misunderstanding of his use of ‘theory’ even than Darwin! People use ‘theory’ and ‘hypothesis’ interchangeably and they’re hot the same thing, not by a long-shot!!!
GadflyontheWallJanuary 14th, 2022 at 8:02 PM
And the little boy on the right has Karen Envy?
ChristineFebruary 14th, 2022 at 4:37 AM
I’ve already commented on my views of Freud’s ridiculous ‘ penis envy’,theory, but I once chose to have a tutorial on ‘ Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams ‘ thinking it might be rather’ fruity ‘ and honestly it was a load of long winded rubbish and as boring as hell !!!
MarkFebruary 23rd, 2022 at 9:22 AM
All my life feminist have sneered at Freud for this. Except that now a record number of girls are choosing to “transition.”
Something encouraged by the bulk of Feminists.
So who is laughing now (Frued is).
If only he had also included a boob envy or wiles envy, or whatever…
they’d have to agree that this is something “critical for sexual awareness and gender role”
TApril 5th, 2022 at 9:19 PM
Ever thought you might be trans?
JoApril 8th, 2022 at 9:24 AM
I’d rather die than be trans, that’s disgusting. If there was a way to really change your sex and not just some aspects, I’d do it without thinking for a second. But i’m not delusional, I know I can never be a man, in this life. I guess I just have to live with this somehow, maybe I’ll grow out of it.
LiamApril 27th, 2022 at 11:26 PM
So according to this theory are wimen only with men as a way to have a penis of their own, I hope this isn’t right I never thought a penis could be such a valuable commodity lol
ChristineApril 28th, 2022 at 4:26 PM
Freud was a nutter ! The trouble was at this time psychiatrists et al were pretty much all men, hence they saw things from a total masculine perspective ! It’s all to do with the supposed 3 stages of psychosexual development and the id, the ego and the superego . Personally I’ve never in my life envied a man his penis cos in any case who’d want a sexual organ that both excretes urine and ‘ excretes ‘ semen ? But Freud did an awful lot to damage women’s mental health and if you read about her life you’ll find that Prince Phillip’s mother eventually fell into Freud’s clutches til she effectively managed to escape ! Read up her life story – it’s VERY sad !
anonJune 11th, 2022 at 10:52 PM
Hey Jo, it seems to me that you may be experiencing internalized transphobia. Don’t listen to anyone telling you that it’s a problem or it’s something that you have to fix about yourself. Transness is very real and very normal. You don’t have to change anything about yourself or identify by that, but I’d suggest getting over the trans=gross mindset. Even if you don’t end up identifying as trans, binders and packing could help you feel more comfortable in your body, you don’t have to do anything permanent. I’m your age, and there’s nothing wrong with experimenting and reaching out to others! What you’re experiencing is very valid and there are communities you can reach out to and feel more understood. Good luck! As long as you keep an open mind and self-awareness I think everything will turn out alright.
NealJune 16th, 2022 at 10:46 AM
Hi, I just wanted to say that a lot of those feelings you are describing are more common than I had ever realized and more than the majority ever realize. I’m a 31 yo male that had similar feelings start around 8-10. But I never considered that I was trans. Often times people are hesitant to admit they’ve felt that way and it often makes people feel alienated or depress their emotions. Also people hold onto an idea of what will make them happy, and often is related to an insecurity from childhood. It’s been 20 years and things continued to get worse until I realized no matter what I did/accomplished, I knew that feeling wasn’t going to leave. It wasn’t until I accepted I needed to rethink/retrain how my brain worked and accepted myself, would I be able to live the life I want. If you know that you 100% want to be a man, go for it. But expecting it to bring you happiness is going to be more detrimental. Unfortunately most people it take too long in their lives to understand, and it’s way easier for most to remain in a harmful cycle than come to terms with the source. For example, some people may somehow link money=love/respect. They’ll work their whole lives believing this but won’t realize their are unhappy until they retire. Those feelings are way more common than I originally knew/thought. Since the social norm is making money=good, people often normalize their thoughts even though they aren’t logical. Just saying feeling different than others, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are or aren’t trans. I don’t want people to learn from my mistakes or experiences lol. Most of the time, the problems are more complex than having a black and white solution. Often times it can be frustrating and when you accomplished said goal and the happiness doesn’t come, there hope though. Obviously I wish more people recognize the need for mental health and what it means.
KsyuAugust 3rd, 2022 at 12:00 AM
People here who write that “male desires male” has not enough testosterone but much estrogene are complete and utter nutters who crawled up right from 18th century and are just homopobes and misandrists. No hormones would ever change someone’s sexuality or neurological sex. You’re wired the certain way and that’s it. Hormones can only lower or high your libido. I thought even schoolboys know that. If a man is gay and you will give him testosterone, it will only make him more horney. He’s either will be a horney top or power bottom. And there are straight men who has lower testosterone. Those statements are very homophobic and insecure. Gay men are normal men with normal hormonal level. And there is nothing wrong in being trans or gay, top or bottom, be a man who’s into pegging or a woman into pegging etc. There are many way to be heterosexual. Jo, if you feel like a gay man, when you get older you can find yourself a man who’s willingly will be a bottom for you. They do exist in high percentage.
No one can and no one should change their true nature. Gay and trans people are not criminals or psychos. Don’t make everybody the same. The whole point is people are different. People are diverse. And that’s beautiful. Except being trans is complicated because it requires a lot to do to feel comfortable in your skin.
Don’t listen to people who try to erase you and change you.
Love yourself. Be yourself.
ChristineAugust 3rd, 2022 at 12:14 PM
Hang on a tick – I have a Double First Class Honours degree in Combined Sciences ( Biology and Psychology ) from 1974 when they were so rare and so few, each University published the names of it’s students who got a First in the National Press and in my university there were 30 across ALL disciplines.
Now, from biology I know that the basic mammalian template is FEMALE and how the brain develops in the early foetus depends on when testosterone comes in and makes the brain male ( or conversely if not – female ) . So it’s perfectly possible to develop as a female but with a male brain, or as a male but with a female brain. These children and then adults will almost certainly become either lesbians or gays. But then of course as a child there’s the nature/ nurture debate which is why the study of identical twins ( as undertaken by that EVIL EVIL man Joseph Mengale in Auschwitz ) and identical twins reared apart is so fascinating. But from psychology I know that Freud was basically a misogynist who didn’t understand that clever women at the time had no proper role in society and when they took to their beds with ‘ the vapours ‘ or depression being basically expected to be nothing more than breeding machines for their husbands , he seriously thought women wanted to have a man’s penis – not inside them ( ! ) but because they wanted physically to be men !
You can see how difficult the world was for women in the past cos Marianne Evans had to call herself George Eliot ( obviously a man’s name and the ‘ Eliot ‘ was from her ‘ common law’ husband which would also have been disapproved of at the time ) to get her wonderful books especially ‘ Middlemarch ‘ but also Silas Marner and the Mill on the Floss published !
Unfortunately Prince Philips’s mother eventually fell into the hands of Sigmund Freud . She’d had a most disturbed life moved from country to country and it had a devastating effect on Prince Philip as a child , but eventually she came to live with him and the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and though ‘ eccentric ‘ as she dressed as a nun but wasn’t one infact, all the good works she did and especially saving Jews means that there is a memorial to her in Jerusalem ( where also is commemorated Raoul Wallenberg ) as ‘ Blessed amongst the Nations ‘
Leave a Comment
By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.