Development Of Male Sexuality According To Freud


So much of our understanding of sexuality in childhood is due to the pioneering work of Freud, so it is necessary to consider his theory of infantile sexuality. He was the first to show why experiences in the earliest years of life may have such far-reaching consequences. Until he pointed the way it was not realized that much of an individual's character which was usually attributed to heredity was, in fact, the product of early environment. We are accustomed to think of character-training at an age when a child can talk and understand the difference between right and wrong.

Freud showed that the foundations of character are laid very much earlier. The attitude of the mother in feeding him at the breast and training him in toileting is not a trivial matter. He needs emotional as well as bodily nourishment if lie is to pass safety through the successive stages of growth that lie ahead. It is of overwhelming importance that he should feel the security of being loved.

The great contribution of psycho-analysis was to call attention to the significance of these stages of development. The first stage is called 'oral' because the chief means of gratification is the mouth. Then, as the infant becomes more aware of his other bodily functions, he reaches the 'anal' stage.

It is easy to see that something remains of this infantile absorption in zones of the body all through adult life. It may play a preliminary part in sexual arousal, or it may, In some cases, become an end in itself. Most of the so-called sexual perversions show a regression to infantile behavior. But it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that homosexuality, for example, is merely a return to anal eroticism. As we shall see later, homosexuals' commonest practice is mutual masturbation which may or may not be accompanied by oral contacts.

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Superficially, adult sexual behavior resembles the behavior of a child, but the great difference is that it has a full sexual content. In an adult, sex in so far as the individual is concerned, is fully developed and the probIem we have to solve is why it should be discharged in some unusual manner. For some reason there has been a halt at one of the stages of development towards maturity. Given a good environment the child can usually succeed in jumping these hurdles.

For the present we will leave aside the question of how perversions are acquired. In by far the greater majority of cases it is due to a failure to pass through the crucial stage that reaches its climax about the age of four years. It cannot be too strongly emphasized, however, that success or failure at this period may depend very largely on what has happened in the preceding years.

During the oral and anal stages the relationship between the child and his parents, especially the mother, provides the soil in which he is rooted. If the soil is poor he will have the greatest difficulty in meeting the demands which life will later make upon him. The most severe strain will be felt when he has to adjust himself to the first direct onset of the sex instinct.

The term 'Oedipus complex' has received wide notoriety and is only too often misunderstood. It is the name given by Freud to the intense emotional attachment that a boy feels for his mother during the third, fourth, or fifth years of his life. A somewhat similar situation arises between a girl and her father at this time, and it is called the 'Electra complex'.

These descriptions are unfortunate because they refer to Greek characters who were guilty of adult incestuous attitudes. Consequently, Freud made himself an easy target for the obvious criticism that a young child could not even desire such a relationship. But Freud did not mean anything so crude as this. He held that the sex instinct develops in two great thrusts, the first occurring after the oral and anal stages, and the second at puberty.

This does not imply that the first stirring of sex is accompanied by desires of which an adult is capable. The child's body is obviously too immature for any such thing to be possible, but anyone who has had some experience in bringing up children knows that the young child becomes extremely interested in the purpose of his testicles and penis. As we have already pointed out, sheer curiosity is a sufficient explanation of the sort of questions he asks.

Unfortunately the conventions of society focus his attention abnormally on the subject. Infantile masturbation is a completely normal phenomenon, but a horrified mother may even threaten to remove the child's penis. She does not mean her words literally of course, but to the child it is a terrifying possibility.

The idea of losing his penis is increased if he happens to see a girl or his mother in the nude. For he then believes that they may have been actually castrated. These nightmarish fantasies are among the many fears of childhood should be taken seriously if the child is to be helped pass through the emotional crisis with which he is faced.


A new quality infuses the child's relationship with his mother when the Oedipal situation begins. The reason is that he has found a new object for his love. He has been dually outgrowing the early pre-occupations in purely bodily sensations. Instead of the sole love-object being his in body it becomes the mother.

This is a tremendous leap forward. It is proof that he is capable of far more complex emotions. He is no longer solely concentrating his attention on the pleasurable sensations he can derive from erogenous zones such as his penis and testicles. He still finds these sensations agreeable, of course; but there are other, richer, possibilities. His mother is no longer one who merely ministers to his bodily needs and gives a sense of security in a dangerous world.

Just as his personality has developed, so his mother's is more nice for him. She seems as different to him from any other woman as a young bride appears to her own husband.

Indeed, he will declare that when lie is a man he will marry her. There must be few small boys who have not made Some such remark. All they can possibly mean by 'marriage' is complete monopoly of the mother's affection. They cannot bear to think they must share her love with anyone else. This poses a painful problem. The boy may be with his mother throughout the day, but he is usually supplanted when his father comes home in the evening.

As a rare privilege he is sometimes allowed to sleep with his mother, but in the ordinary way he cannot share her bed. He resents this bitterly. He is at an age when everything is felt with an intensity that a grown-up can hardly imagine. He has little experience of life, no ability to reason about what happens to him, and consequently there is no protection against the fierce emotions that rage within him. One moment he is in ecstasy; the next he is plunged into despair.

He cannot help regarding his father as a rival, and the primitive aggression he felt as a baby whenever his wishes were frustrated is again unleashed. Yet he knows that if he hates his father his mother will be displeased with him and he may lose her love - the very thing he desires to retain above all else. He is now in the throes of the Oedipal conflict.

Before considering how he can solve it, notice how similar this situation is to the later situations which occur when we can no longer doubt the presence of the sexual factor. The child is going through a rehearsal for the love-relationships of adulthood.

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