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Oral, Anal and Phallic Stages

  Freud came to believe that, for the infant, sexual pleasure is derived from stroking any part of the body, that the sexual instinct must take some object, but that the specific type of object is not innate but is determined by environmental conditions and learning. He took as a starting point the union of opposite-gender sexual organs as the normal aim; following from that premise, focusing on other parts of the body is seen as a perversion of that aim. Freud recognized that parts of the body other than the genitals were used in sexual practice, particularly the oral and anal cavities; he considered them to be objects of the varied manifestations of the sexual instinct. He called these ‘component instincts’, and saw that they could totally replace the aim of genital sex.

At different stages of a child\'s development, different parts of the body would take on a sexual character. They would not only be used for their obvious function but could also be the main sources of physical pleasure and centres of experience. At first Freud thought that an infant could experience pleasure in any part of the body and was what he called ‘polymorphously perverse’. Then, through the activities of feeding and sucking the erogenous zone becomes the mouth. Freud saw this as the origin of adult oral sexuality, and called it the oral stage of psychosexual development.

People who are orally fixated, and unconsciously experience the mouth as the primary erotic zone, are, in psychoanalysis, seen to be mother-fixated (or breast fixated). Such people engage heavily in talking, eating, smoking and drinking; they are prone to manic-depressive mood swings and to identify with others rather than relating to them as separate people. The reason for this is that survival (keeping the breast) has become equated with identifying with the breast. The manic swing is synonymous with feelings of fusion with the breast and the depressed swing with feelings of loss of the mother. If an infant is overindulged he or she may be cheerful or over-optimistic, if underindulged, prone to pessimism, acquisitive and envious.

The anus is the second erotic zone in the child\'s developing sexuality. From the point of view of the parents, toilet training is a landmark in a child\'s development and, from the child\'s point of view, controlling the anal sphincter is one of the first acts of mastering the body that is rewarded with so much praise from adults, thereby giving the child much pleasure. A child is capable of stimulating the anal region by retention and expulsion of faeces. As this is experienced daily, it gradually takes over the central position that the mouth had in producing pleasurable feelings. Anal ideas such as smearing and cleaning can be central to the anal character. Freud worked out the anal character in more detail than the oral, or later phallic phase, as the idea of this development phase raised such feelings of disgust. If the child had harsh toilet training, the adult retains traits of orderliness, obstinacy and parsimony.

The third phase is the phallic phase when children discover their own genitals as a source of physical pleasure. Despite its name it applies to both sexes around the ages of four to six years when a child\'s interest in sexual matters is at a peak. This stage moves into latency with the beginning of the Oedipal phase. The phallic character is one who sees sexuality as a display of potency. Over-emphasis in terms of curiosity or exhibitionism is the result of trauma at the phallic stage. MJ

Further reading Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society; , Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality; , B.D. Lewin, The Psychoanalysis of Elation;



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