Psychosexual development is the central component of Freudian psychoanalytic theory. For Freud, the development of the personality was synonymous with the development of drives—particularly sexual ones.
Stages of Psychosexual Development
Sigmund Freud argued that an individual progresses through five stages of psychosexual development. This development occurs primarily in early childhood, and memories of the conflicts associated with each stage are typically repressed.
- Oral Stage – Extending from birth to age two, during this stage the primary source of gratification is orally, through the nursing of breast milk. The process of weaning is challenging for the baby, and helps the infant understand that he can’t exercise full control over his environment. Problems that occur during this stage can cause oral fixations leading to excessive chewing or smoking, and might also cause a gullible or manipulative personality.
- Anal Stage – Spanning the ages of approximately 18 months through three years, the primary conflict during the anal stage centers around toilet training. The id, which demands instant gratification, conflicts with the ego, which must meet cultural demands for control. Problems during this stage can produce an anally retentive, excessively controlling and organized personality, or an anally expulsive, reckless personality.
- Phallic Stage – Occurring between the ages of three and six, the phallic stage causes increased concentration on the penis for boys, and penis envy—awareness and resentment at one’s lack of a penis—in girls. The Oedipal conflict, a central conflict in Freudian psychology, occurs during this time. A boy develops a strong affinity for his mother and a desire to defeat and surmount his father. Carl Jung proposed a similar conflict, the Electra Complex, for girls, although Freud advocated for no such conflict.
- Latency Period – From six years until puberty, children enter a latency period where there are no obvious psychosexual conflicts. Freud argued that during this period, children consolidate the lessons learned during other stages of psychosexual development and repress memories of earlier conflicts. Children may become “stuck” at this stage, may become sexually unfulfilled and immature adults.
- Genital Period – During puberty, children develop normal, healthy adult sexuality and gain independent from their parents. Unlike in the phallic stage, a person now has a fully-developed ego and superego, and is therefore able to balance the desire for instant gratification with the need to conform to social and ethical norms.
Psychosexual Development in Modern Psychology
Freud’s theories are not heavily relied upon by modern psychologists in understanding child development. However, elements of Freud’s theories—including the early power struggles between children and their parents and the ways in which improper development can affect adult psychology—have been incorporated into modern developmental psychology. The stage theory of child development is a popular one, and several subsequent psychologists have proposed stage-based theories of child development.
- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., & Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
- Stevenson, D. B. (n.d.). Psychosexual development. The Victorian Web. Retrieved from http://www.victorianweb.org/science/freud/develop.html
Last Updated: 08-18-2015
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