Updated: Jun 9, 2022
This paper is a critique of the psychosexual development model by Sigmund Freud. The psychosexual development theory is part of the psychoanalytical sexual drive theory. This psychoanalytical sexual drive theory states that men and women have an instinctual sexual drive from the time they are born to the time that they die. Sigmund Freud used five stages to explain the sexual development of human beings from one age to another. All the stages have erogenous zones that the individual uses to get pleasure. Freud was also able to link sexual tension and frustration in the sexual development of anxiety and other mental illnesses when the child grows of age. The five stages that will be discussed in this paper briefly, and then criticized are the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latent stage and the genital stage.
Five stages of psychosexual development
As mentioned, there are five stages of psychosexual development. These are the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latent stage and the genital stage (Carducci, 2009). This part will briefly look in to each of the five stages in order to be able to effectively and comprehensively criticize them.
a) The Oral Stage
This is the first stage of psychosexual development according to Freud. The stage happens between the ages of birth and one year old. The erogenous zone in this stage is the mouth. This means that the child gets pleasure from using and tasting things. This is why children at this age put everything that they can touch in their mouths. The infant also gets great gratification from the mother’s nipple. The child will always try and explore his or her surroundings using his or her hands and put whatever they can hold in their mouths.
According to Freud, the child uses the id. The ego and the superego are inactive and not well developed. This explains why the child appears “selfish”. The child does not have a sense of identity due to the lack of the ego and everything that they do is for pleasure. Freud also explains that the ego starts to develop at the end of this stage. This is because the child is aware of the pain and other things that will affect them, and that do not give pleasure. Since the child will be crawling, and at times walking, at this stage, they will be aware that there are some things that can hurt them. They also experience delayed gratification as the parents do not give them much attention as before. This is why they cry when they do not get what they want. They realize that crying will make the mother or father give them what they want (Carroll, 2009).
Freud gives a lot of importance to weaning. He argues that weaning can either ensure that the child passes the first sexual development stage successfully. This is because the child is detached from the mother’s nipple and, therefore, feels a loss of sorts (DeWit & O'Neill, 2013). This, in turn, explains why the child cries when they start being weaned. Some of the consequences of failing to pass this stage successfully include: orally aggression, immature and manipulative.
b) Anal Stage
As the name would suggest, the gratification comes from the anus. The stage occurs between the ages of one and three. This is the stage when the child is toilet trained. The ego is still forming at this stage. However, it has some impact on the decisions that the child makes. This is because the id wants immediate gratification while the ego wants delayed gratification. The id wants the child to remove bodily wastes immediately and this means spoiling their clothes. The ego, on the other hand, wants the child to hold the urge until they get to a toilet. Some of the consequences of failing to successfully pass this stage include: being extremely organized and neat or being careless and disorganized.
c) The phallic stage
The phallic stage is the third stage of psychosexual development. The ego is fully developed at this stage. It occurs between the ages of three to six. The child realizes that his or her genitalia are his or her erogenous zones. They are more aware of their bodies and those of other people. They note the differences between their bodies and those of others. The boy experiences the Oedipus complex while the girl experiences the Electra complex. In the case of the boy, he fights for the attention of the other against his father. The daughter fights for the attention of the father against the mother (Carroll, 2009).
According to Freud, the id of the child wants to ‘kill’ the father but the ego realizes that the father is much stronger and, therefore, the child cannot kill his father. The id makes the child irrational and fearful of the father. The boy develops castration anxiety where he thinks the father will castrate him. The same happens for the girls but instead of castration anxiety, the girl develops penis envy. Since the girl does not have a penis she cannot posses her mother sexually and, therefore, she turns to her father. This makes the girl heterosexual and when she grows up, the gratification moves from her clitoris to her vagina. Some of the consequences of a failed resolution of the conflict between the id and the ego include repression, identity crisis, submissiveness and high self esteem.
d) The latent stage
The latent stage starts from age 6 up to puberty. The erogenous zone is very sexual and the growing child continues to explore his or her sexual organs. At the end of this stage, the child grows up to be a sexual individual. The girls develop breasts and hips, the boys, on the other hand, break their voice, the testicles drop even lower and both genders develop pubic and armpit hair. The id has very little control and the ego is in full force. Gratification is not only delayed, but the individual can hide their sexual drives. The thought process becomes an easy way of both delaying gratifications and satisfying the hidden drives. One of the consequences that would be experienced if there is a fixation at this stage include lack of sexual satisfaction.
e) The genital stage
This is the last stage of the psychosexual model by Sigmund Freud. It occurs from puberty to death. The individual is now independent and detaches himself or herself from the parents. This stage usually involves the solving of unresolved conflicts from the other previous stages. Sexuality is consensual and concentration is on the genitalia. The ego is in full control and starts to form the superego in some cases. The person focuses on relationships. The relationships increase as the person moves from within the family circle and starts relationships with friends, peers and also lovers. Some of the consequences of a failed resolution or fixation in this stage include formality, inability in starting and maintaining relationships and also having unsatisfactory relationships.
Critique of the five stages of psychosexual development by Sigmund Freud
The previous section was a brief discussion and overview of the five stages of psychosexual development as explained by Sigmund Freud. The paper was to provide a critique of the psychosexual development model and not just an overview. This next part will offer a critique of the psychosexual development model by Sigmund Freud. It will provide some of the opposing theories and what other scholars have mentioned about the psychosexual model of sexual development.
a) Scientific school of thought
There have been various scholars who have criticized the psychosexual development model by Freud. Some of the critics are scholars who have their own models while others are scholars who have applied the model. One of the major issues of criticism is the scientific relevance of the psychosexual development model. This is especially an issue because of the phallic stage. As mentioned, the phallic stage is the stage between age three and six. The Oedipus and Electra complexes are explained in the phallic stage. The example of Hans, a patient of Freud, has been used to show the weakness of the phallic stage.
Hans had a fear of horses and his father. The boy agreed that he had had pleasure moments thinking about procreating with his mother yet he did not know why he feared horses with the same intensity as he feared his father. The boy also added that he felt guilty for masturbating, which is a normal thing for boys at that age. However, several questions can be raised about Hans behavior, phobias and sexuality.
The fact that Hans had sexual feelings towards his mother proves that a part of the psychosexual development model is true. This is a part of the Oedipus complex. However, there is no mention of Hans wanting to ‘kill’ his father. Instead, he was actually afraid of his father. Carducci (2009) explains that the most logical reason as to why Hans would fear his father is because of guilt. The boy felt guilty having sexual feelings towards his mother. He felt guilty that he wanted to take his father’s place in the family. This could be linked to the fear of horses. This is because horses are dominating animals. They are a representative of masculinity as they are strong, fast and dependable. This would have been intimidating to Hans as the father might have also the same characteristics. Or they were the characteristics that Hans wanted in order for him to feel worth of his mother. Despite the reason, several things are clear. The first is that Hans did not want to kill his father. The second is that Hans felt guilty of both masturbating and having sexual feelings for his mother.
Scientific critics have argued that Freud impose his beliefs on his patients. For example, Frederick Crews is one of the biggest critics of Freud who uses the scientific logic to reject Freud’s ideas. He argues that the ideas that Freud gives his patients have led to sexual abuse in and among children. This is because the offenders believe that they were raised to be that way and their fixations were never resolved (Kilodavis, 2011).
b) Feminist school of thought
The second school of thought that has been used to reject the psychosexual development model is the feminist school of thought. The model is wholly a self analysis. Karen Horney, a German psychoanalyst and a non supporter of Freud explains that girls develop power envy and not penis envy. In fact, penis envy, as explained by Freud, means that the girl desires to have a penis in order to sexually possess her mother. According to Freud, if this fixation is not resolved, the girl becomes homosexual. However, this explanation only applies to the girls who, after growing up, undergo transgender operations to get the penis they so much desire. It does not explain the so termed ‘lipstick lesbians’.
According to Smith (2010) Karen Horney explains that the power envy means that the girl knows that the woman has some power as the mother of the house. The girl wants this power and realizes that the only way to get more power than the mother is through an alliance with the father. This means that the girl has also realized that the father has the leading role in the home.
Talks of the womb and vagina envy have also been discussed in the feminist school of thought. This is especially in relations to the boy’s castration anxiety. According to Freud, castration anxiety comes up after the boy feels threatened by the father’s strength and older demeanor. Smith (2010) explains that the boy feels like there is no place for him as he cannot give birth, like the mother, and he is weaker and has a smaller penis as compared to the father. Resolution of this conflict would, therefore, require that the boy understand his position in the family.
c) Anthropologic school of thought
According to several anthropologists, claiming that the ego and the superego are inert in a person but start to fully develop in later stages of their lives is an outreach. The fact that Freud explains that is model is universal does not sit well with the various anthropologists. Smith (2010) explains that some anthropologists do not even see the significance of the Oedipus and Electra complexes in sexual development.
The challenge of universality was proposed and enhanced by Bronisław Malinowski. Malinowski started to study the Trobriand Islanders trying to understand if the five stages of psychosexual development were universal. Malinowski explains that the cultural concepts of the Trobriand Islanders allowed the boys in the family to be disciplined by their uncles and not their fathers. The boys perceived their uncles as strong and disciplined while the fathers were perceived to be loving and encouraging. Many of the young boys growing up wanted to be like their uncles and not necessarily like their fathers. This means, therefore, that their driving force was power and not sex and jealousy.
Carroll (2009) explains that there are indeed some instances that can be exceptionally explained using the psychosexual development model. However, the link between childhood behaviors and the adult sexual life is not clear. There are people who have had trouble relating to their fathers but are still heterosexual and so forth.
The predictions are also very vague and cannot be linked. Freud gives predictions of what will happen if fixations are not resolved. The link between a childhood experience and an adult behavior has not, up to date been linked. It is true that there are some childhood instances that can lead to certain adult behaviors. However, not much research ahs been done to ascertain that sexual development actions of a child will affect their sexual life as adults.
d) Case studies
The fact that Sigmund Freud used case studies and not empirical research to argue his model has also been criticized. On many occasion, Freud defended this model by use of case studies. These case studies were of patients that he had had or was at the time treating. This means that he got is data from adults who had mental problems or sexual problems. Freud did not study children or at least, not as comprehensively to know what affects their behavior. He uses the experience of his patients to test and explain his model. The theory is, therefore, not empirical.
The issue of case studies also brings in the issue of personality disorders. Freud being a psychologist has had a fair deal with psychotic patients. The mental condition of the person would greatly affect the way he or she remembers his or her childhood. Gordon and Schroeder (2012) assert that there are people who like pity and, therefore, would feel better creating stories that would make other people pity them. For example, a man who cannot currently maintain relationships can manipulate people to think that his fixation at the genital stage was stalled by the impact of unresolved conflicts from the previous stages. However, it could be that the person does not sustain relationships because of other reasons. For example, he could be fearful of commitment because he has been hurt by a lover before. This is not addressed by Freud. These are just a few critiques that I have borrowed and intertwined with my own perception of the psychosexual model of sexual development.
In conclusion, the psychosexual development theory is not as comprehensive and reliable as it should be. It has very many loopholes. The model states that there are five stages of sexual development that all human beings have to go through. The first stage is the oral stage which occurs from birth to age one. The second stage is the anal stage which occurs from age one to three. The third stage is the phallic stage and the fourth stage is the latency stage. The phallic stage occurs from age three to six while the latency stage occurs from age six to puberty. Lastly is the genital stage that occurs from puberty to death. Freud has o many occasions explained that his model is universal. However, as explained in the paper it is not. Other critics that have been presented have shouldered several schools of thought. These schools of thought include the feminist school of thought, the anthropologic school of thought and the scientific school of thought. The fact that Freud uses his patients and their experiences to defend his model has raised questions about the reliability of the model. Many critics believe that for the theory is not comprehensive enough. Freud has to study children of various ages in order to understand their sexual development.
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Carducci, B. J. (2009). The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. New York, NY: Wiley pp.92
Carroll, J. (2009). Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity. Belmont, CA: Cengage pp.187
DeWit, S. C. & O'Neill, P. A. (2013). Fundamental Concepts and Skills for Nursing. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Health Sciences
Gordon, B. N. & Schroeder, C. S. (2012). Sexuality: A Developmental Approach to Problems. New York, NY: Springer pp.10
Smith, P. K. (2010). Children and Play: Understanding Children's Worlds. West Sussex, UK: Wiley pp.95
Kilodavis, C. (2011). My Princess Boy. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster