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Psychosexual Stages of Development

Psychosexual Stages of Development

Author: Erick Taggart

Distinguish between the stages of Freud's psychosexual development theory.

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Hello, class.

Within psychoanalytic theory, Sigmund Freud emphasized the importance of early experiences in our development. He said that a lot of personality comes as a result of the pleasure-seeking energies, or libido, and how it's focused during these different stages of development. To that end, he developed four stages of psychosexual development. It's important to realize that when we say psychosexual, sexual is referring to pleasure. It's not necessarily talking about only sex. It's any kind of pleasure-seeking behaviors.

Freud said that successful completion of each of these four stages leads to a healthy individual, whereas unsuccessful development leads to certain fixations. A fixation is a lasting focus on a particular stage of development. So let's take a look at each of these stages.

You'll notice, when looking at these stages, that each stage is focused on a particular area of the body. This was the focus of those sexual energies, or the libido, that we were talking about. You'll also notice that the first three stages come right there at the very early areas of childhood.

The first stage, from 0 to 1 year of age, is the Oral Stage. This is when the focus is on the mouth for pleasure. This is because a lot of the behaviors the child is performing involve the mouth, like sucking or eating. So they need to develop, because of this, a certain amount of trust with the parents, because they're the ones that are providing the food, particularly the mother. It's also important at the stage for weaning, from either the bottle or the breast, to develop. Eventually the child needs to be taken away from those sucking sorts of motions.

A fixation that might develop at this time-- and again, something bad that's occurring, or something wrong with the stage-- is that later on in life, the person might develop problems with either drinking, eating, or smoking. Or they might develop what's called "oral dependency," which is a passive nature to them, where they require a lot of attention from people around them. Or oral aggressive tendencies, where there are very argumentative and angry about stuff.

The next stage, from 1 to 3 years of age, is the Anal Stage. In the Anal Stage, the focus for the child is on excretion, either their bladder or their bowels. During this stage, toilet training is the most important thing that's going to be occurring. So the parents need to be very aware of how they're going about it. If a parent is too harsh, it can lead to unintended consequences. Or if they're too supportive or lenient. On the other hand, if they're very successful, then it can lead to feelings of accomplishment or pride.

If things go wrong at this stage, the fixation that occurs is a person can either be anal retentive, which is to say they are very rigid or obsessive, and they can't let go of things. Or anal expulsive, which is to say, they're very messy, disorder, or destructive. So you can see, it's kind of an unpleasant way to think of it, but it leads certain specific aspects of the personality.

The next stage, from 3 to 6 years of age, is the Phallic Stage, where the focus becomes on the genitals for the child. A child recognizes the difference between males and females, particularly the difference between males and females in their parents, because those are their models for what's a man and what's a woman. This is characterized, in this stage, by a certain conflict with the parent of the same sex, for the attention of the parent of the opposite sex.

This is what Freud referred to as the Oedipus or the Electra complex. Eventually, it sort of resolves itself. Either a boy becomes more identified with the father, which is to say they see themselves as the father in their relationship with their mother. Or, the girl might identify with the mother. And identify meaning they see themselves as being the same as their mother.

A fixation at this period would be that men and women become both overly ambitious, or they try to dominate the opposite sex. They develop an appropriate view of people of the opposite sex.

While there are four stages in psychosexual development, Freud also recognized, between the ages of six and puberty, a time of latency. What he meant by this is it's a time of lessened sexual development. It's not really stopped, but it's not as busy or as important as the other states. The focus during this time is a lot more on school, and on social, intellectual development. So the focus is kind of taken away from their sexual development.

The final stage that he recognized is the Genital Stage, and this is from puberty through the rest of their lives. The Genital Stage is recognized by an increased level of sexual energy and interest in the opposite sex. So its focused on the genitals, but it's different from the phallic stage, because it's more of a focus on their sexual energy in relation to others.

Issues at other stages also come back during the Genital Stage. This is a time when they can be resolved, so there are no further issues through the rest of their lives. This doesn't always occur, and those fixations can last for the rest of their lives. But resolution at this period-- successful completion of the genital stage-- means the person can be capable of full love, and they can be a well-balanced and caring person, as well. So this is the final stage of completion.

There's obviously a lot of controversy about these stages. In particular, a lot of people say that Freud was not necessarily scientific in his analysis of these stages. A lot of his research was based on case studies and anecdotal evidence, and not actual experimentation. Also, a lot of that the focus of the psychosexual stages is male-centered. He had an idea, during the Phallic Stage, of penis envy. Which is to say that a woman develops a feeling of inadequacy or inferiority that they carry with them for the rest of our lives. That's something that a lot of women psychologists disagree with.

And finally, a lot of these stages are developed by Freud's own experiences and opinions. For example, his mother was 20 years younger than his father, and she considered Sigmund Freud to be her absolute favorite of all of the children. So as a result of this, you can see how that might develop into the ideas of envy of his father at the Phallic Stage, as well as the idea of the Oedipus complex.

Terms to Know
Anal Stage

Sexual energy is focused on the anus/bladder (controlling bodily wastes).


Too much or too little stimulation of erogenous zones (sexual libido) during specific stages causes attachment/personality flaws.

Freud's Psychosexual stages

Stages of development identified by Freud that impact personality development.

Genital Stage

Sexual energy is focused on the genitals.


Unconscious modeling of one's self upon another person. Allows for identity to group values and attitudes as well as a feeling of connection, similarity, and idealization.


Child's sexual energy is dormant.

Oral Stage

Sexual energy is focused on the mouth.

Phallic Stage

Sexual energy is focused on the genitals.