R. Gray

German 390/Comp. Lit 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

Freud and the Literary Imagination


Freud's Libidinal Phases of Psycho-Sexual Development


"Libido" = the sexual or erotic drive; for Freud analogous to the drive for hunger. Freud views it as a fundamental human instinct that is evident already at birth. All the libidinal impulses, for Freud, are inherently attached to vital bodily functions (e.g. nourishment, voiding of waste, etc.). What distinguishes the libidinal dimension from the functional aspect as pure bodily necessity is the pleasure with which the activity is associated. Thus the libidinal drive is tied to the pleasure principle. All transitions from one libidinal phase to the next are marked by the experience of loss (hence of strong displeasure).


5 Phases of Libidinal Development:


1)    Oral Phase (birth to approximately 2 years)

-      It is attached to the bodily function of obtaining nourishment.

-      It's erotic object is hence the breast, which serves the child as the source of nourishment.

-      The distinct erotogenic zone (that is, the area of the body that experiences excitation and pleasure) is the lips. Sucking becomes an activity inherently associated with sensations of pleasure > thumb-sucking as infantile activity, and also the tendency of infants to place everything and anything in their mouths.

-      In adult life, oral libidinality expresses itself in kissing, etc.

-      Trauma that leads to dissolution of this phase: the experience of weaning from the mother's breast.

-      Sexual pleasure in this phase is distinctly and solely auto-erotic.


2)    Anal Phase (approximately years 2-4)

-      Vital function to which it is attached: defecation or movement of the bowels, the stool. The child associates this with the pleasure of producing something all its own.

-      Erotic object: the anus.

-      The anus is also the erotogenic zone, the source of sensations of pleasure. Retention of stool to increase the pleasure of its release is, according to Freud, not uncommon.

-      In adult life anal libidinality expresses itself as an attraction to the posterior.

-      Trauma that leads to dissolution of the anal phase: toilet training. It represents a form of coercion to adapt to the hygienic rules of the adult world. Child senses this as a forced denial of enjoying the pleasure of its own products.


3)    Phallic Phase (approximately ages 4 to 6 or 7)

-      Vital function to which it is attached: urination. Voiding of water sensed as pleasurable. It constitutes a form of discharge of fluid, and for Freud this is inherently pleasurable. Pleasure experienced here as a preliminary form of orgasmic pleasure.

-      Erotic object: genitals. This is the first time that erotic pleasure is associated with the genital area.

-      Freud takes the phallus as the model for both boys and girls; hence his designation of this period as the "phallic" phase.

-      Bed-wetting in this period is connected to phallic pleasure; it marks the child's discovery of his or her own genitals.

-      Erotogenic zone: genitals as source of pleasure. This phase Freud also considers to be auto-erotic (but without orgasm).

-      Trauma that leads to dissolution of phallic phase: fear of loss of phallus, or "castration complex."

-      For Freud, the phallic phase represents the crucial stage of sexual-psychological development. The Oedipus complex occurs during this phase.


4)    The Latency Period (ages 6 or 7 to puberty, or about age 11-12)

-      In this phase all libidinal activity is suppressed.

-      No auto-eroticism.

-      This period is one in which the psyche constructs barriers and inhibitions against sexuality, against perversions, and against the earlier forms (oral, anal, phallic) stages of sexual expression and pleasure.

-      Sexual energy is sublimated and diverted to create precisely these dams or blocks against sexual expression.

-      Libidinal object: still the genitalia, but during this period, according to Freud, their function is paralyzed.


5)    The Genital Phase (begins with puberty, or about age 11-12)

-      This phase represents for Freud the onset of “normal” sexual function. The libido is turned to the ends of reproduction, and sexuality focuses primarily on this aim.

-      Erotic object: genitals and orgasm.

-      Not auto-erotic.