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Freud's Psychosexual Stage Theory


Explanations > Learning Theory > Freud's Psychosexual Stage Theory

The stages | Fixation | So what


Sigmund Freud developed a theory of how our sexuality starts from a very young ages and develops through various fixations. If these stages are not psychologically completed and released, we can be trapped by them and they may lead to various defense mechanisms to avoid the anxiety produced from the conflict in and leaving of the stage.

The stages


Age Name Pleasure source Conflict
0-2 Oral Mouth: sucking, biting, swallowing Weaning away from mother's breast
2-4 Anal Anus: defecating or retaining faeces Toilet training
4-5 Phallic Genitals Oedipus (boys), Electra (girls)
6-puberty Latency Sexual urges sublimated into sports and hobbies. Same-sex friends also help avoid sexual feelings.  
puberty onward Genital Physical sexual changes reawaken repressed needs.

Direct sexual feelings towards others lead to sexual gratification.

Social rules


Strong conflict can fixate people at early stages.

Oral fixation

Oral fixation has two possible outcomes.

  • The Oral receptive personality is preoccupied with eating/drinking and reduces tension through oral activity such as eating, drinking, smoking, biting nails. They are generally passive, needy and sensitive to rejection. They will easily 'swallow' other people's ideas.
  • The Oral aggressive personality is hostile and verbally abusive to others, using mouth-based aggression.

Anal fixation

Anal fixation, which may be caused by too much punishment during toilet training, has two possible outcomes.

  • The Anal retentive personality is stingy, with a compulsive seeking of order and tidiness. The person is generally stubborn and perfectionist.
  • The Anal expulsive personality is an opposite of the Anal retentive personality, and has a lack of self control, being generally messy and careless.

Phallic fixation

At the age of 5 or 6, near the end of the phallic stage, boys experience the Oedipus Complex whilst girls experience the Electra conflict, which is a process through which they learn to identify with the same gender parent by acting as much like that parent as possible.

Boys suffer a castration anxiety, where the son believes his father knows about his desire for his mother and hence fears his father will castrate him. He thus represses his desire and defensively identifies with his father.

Girls suffer a penis envy, where the daughter is initially attached to her mother, but then a shift of attachment occurs when she realizes she lacks a penis. She desires her father whom she sees as a means to obtain a penis substitute (a child). She then represses her desire for her father and incorporates the values of her mother and accepts her inherent 'inferiority' in society.

This is Freud, remember. He later also recanted, noting that perhaps he had placed too much emphasis on sexual connotations.

So what?

Freud's theories are largely criticized now as lacking in substantial corroborative data. He was, however, using a model to describe observed behavior. His ideas may thus still be used as metaphors for actual developmental issues.

See also

Sigmund Freud, Defense Mechanisms

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