Descriptions, definitions, synonyms, organizer terms, types of
Psychosexual Development generally refers to Sigmund Freud's theory of internal conflict that results in a naturally determined behavior and belief system. Specifically, he focused on the effects of the sexual pleasure drive on the psyche. At specific stages in a child's development, a single part of the body serves as the center for sexual pleasure. These erogenous zones create internal developmental conflicts for the child that need to be resolved before the child can move on to the next stage.
There are four primary stages:
The Oral Stage
This stage begins at birth and lasts for approximately one and half years. An infant's needs are satisfied as the child nurses, sucks, and accepts things into his mouth. If a child becomes frustrated at this stage (his mother refuses to nurse him on demand, ceases nursing sessions too abruptly, etc.) he can become pessimistic, envious, suspicious and sarcastic. Alternatively, if the child's needs are fully met, the child's personality development can best be described as optimistic, gullible, and admiring (Stevenson, 2001).
The Anal Stage
This stage begins at the conclusion of The Oral Stage and can last up to two years. It is characterized by characterized by a shifting of erogenous pleasure from the mouth to the anus. As a child begins the process of toilet training, he experiences a conflict between the id, superego, and ego. In short, the child desires to experience the pleasures of releasing bodily wastes; however, he also recognizes the need to comply with his parents' demands to control such pleasure. The successful resolution of this stage can permanently affect the individual's attitude toward authority. Freud provides two possible problematic resolutions to this conflict:
Anal Expulsive Character
A child who resolves the conflic in this way decides to fight the demands of the supego as embodied in his care-giver. He can decide to take pleasure in excreting maliciously. The child's personality development will generally be "messy, disorganized, reckless, careless, and defiant" (Stevenson, 2001).
Anal Retentive Character
This child also decides to fight the demands of the superego, but does so by enjoying the pleasure of the build-up of feces on the intestine. This personality can be characterized as "neat, precise, orderly, careful, stingy, withholding, obstinate, meticulous, and passive-aggressive" (Stevenson, 2001).
The Phallic Stage
This stage is often described as the most critical one for personality development. It can last from ages 4-7 and is characterized by a shifting of focus away from the anus and toward the genitals, and the genitals of others. The conflics associated with this stage are different for men and women, but are generally defined as desire to possess the care-giver of the opposite sex, and eliminate the same-sex care-giver.
The Oedipus Complex
In boys, as the erogenous focus shifts to the genitals, they quickly develop libidal energy, and associate that energy with the mother. Because they see their father as standing in the way of their desire to express this libidal energy, they develop animosity and fear toward their father, and wish to see him eliminated. This fear of the father develops into a castration anxiety. As a young boy notices that his mother does not have a penis, he begins to fear that his father will take away his penis. This fear develops into an anxiety that is so strong, it forces a repression of the desire to possess the mother. As a child moves successfully through this stage, he begins to accept that he will never possess his mother, and therefore, begins to identify with his father as a way to possess her vicariously. This allows the boy to resolve the conflict, and develop an appropriate sexual role.
The Electra Complex
For girls, this stage begins with the realization that the girl lacks the penis that the father and other men have. As a result, her libidal desires begin to focus on her father, but also develop into an envy for a penis of her own. Freud suggests that women will never successfully resolve this penis envy. Although, like boys, women will identify with her mother as a means to vicariously possess the father, she will never completely lose penis envy, remaining permantly, but slightly, fixated on the phallic stage.
The Latency Stage
This phase lasts until the onset of puberty as defined by a focus on other, nonsexual pursuits. As the individual, both male and female, resolve the conflicts of the Phallic Stage, they apparently have no psychosexual developmental conflicts until a later age.
The Genital Stage
This is the stage that lasts throughout life, and characterized by a desire to develop sexual relationships with the opposite gender. If a child has unresolved issues from previous stages however, the consequence is further repression of libidal desires, and unhealthy sexual relationships.
Application in and effects on classrooms and similar settings
The application of Freud's psychosexual development theory to the classroom is a precarious endeavor at best. It is hard to honestly assert that an appreciation for the fact that a child may be experiencing Penis Envy, or Castration Anxiety will help a teacher to better educate that child. I can only imagine the parent-teacher conference in which the well-meaning educator calmly leans over to the parents, and whispers in confidential tones, "I think little Jenny is experiencing a bit of penis envy right now. She may want to eliminate you Mr. Jones." Such concerns may ring especially true when considering criticisms to Freud's theories, discussed later.
On a more general level, however, it is wise to understand that as we teach students who are of the age of Freud's genital stage, that is the ages beginning with the onset of puberty, we have a responsibility to appreciate the child's need to resolve their inner conflicts (whether they be of Freud's variety or no). Schools have addressed this issue with sex education classes and in other ways; however, there are questions that educators need to have answers to as they deal with this stage in their students: How will I address the topic of sex in my classroom? How will I deal with sexual expressions, words, comments, innuendo when uttered by students? How will I deal with issue of homosexuality in the classroom? How will I address this issue of birth control?
Any answers to these questions need to reflect a careful understanding of both the cognitive and social development of the child.
Critics and their rationale
Freud has been highly criticized for years for many different reasons. Below, I've provided some brief categories for such criticism, and some excerpts and links to more thorough discussion of these critiques.
Freud and Women
"Perhaps we are seeing a man attempting to struggle and come to terms with his own views and the ideas of his patriarchal culture. Slipp (1993) argues that to understand Freuds view on women one must understand both personal traumas that Freud experienced with important females in his life as well as the views of the Victorian era. Due to the space constraints of this paper, I will only touch briefly on the patriarchal context of the Victorian era.
Slipp (1993) provides a brief overview of the historical connection of women to nature, mystery and magic and asserts that the consequent of this is the consistent fear of women throughout time and, therefore, the need to control them*10. He argues that this connection was often made because of womens menstrual cycles and reproductive capabilities: "Because of these fantasized ties to nature, women and their sexuality were feared and had to be controlled." (p. 20). He further argues that, "Vienna, like other nineteenth-century European societies, remained patriarchal and phallocentric and felt the need to control women and their sexuality." (p. 20). The culture in which Freud grew up, and created within, was no stranger to patriarchal structure and with its especially conservative views regarding sexuality, greatly oppressed womens expression of their selves and their bodies. Perhaps the most paradoxical aspect of this time was that the female supreme ruler, Queen Victoria, "herself promoted the notion of domesticity as womens sphere" (Hunt et al., p. 778)."
"In 1993 Frederick Crews, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, entered the fray. In a series of scathing articles he argued, in effect, that Freud and Masson were both full of it. Freud's patients, Crews said, seldom reported sexual abuse spontaneously. Instead the therapist--whom Crews characterized as megalomaniacal--used a combination of suggestion and browbeating to plant ideas in their heads that would fit his preconceived views. Modern reports of ritual sexual abuse, etc, were the result of a similar process and likewise bogus; suggestible souls were just telling therapists what they wanted to hear. The articles caused an uproar--you can read all about it in two books, The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute (1995) and Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend (1998)."
"Freud trained as a medical doctor, and as such, he believed his research methods and conclusions were scientific. However, his research and practice were condemned by many of his peers, as well as later psychologists and academics. Some, like Juliet Mitchell, have suggested that this is because his basic claim, that many of our conscious thoughts and actions are motivated by unconscious fears and desires, implicitly challenges universal and objective claims about the world (some proponents of science conclude that this invalidates Freudian theory as a means of interpreting and explaining human behavior; some proponents of Freud conclude that this invalidates science as a means of interpreting and explaining human behavior). Psychoanalysis today maintains the same ambivalent relationship with medicine and academia that Freud experienced during his life."
Alternative explanations due to Diversity considerations
Freud has been routinely criticized for deriving his theory based on a very narrow pool of observational data. Specifically, he relied almost exclusively on Austrian middle-aged women for his data. The link above, seen in "critics and their rationale", provides a great explanation of why Freud's data sample is problematic.
Signed life experiences, testimonies and stories
It's hard to know what people will add to this category; however, I do have one experience that is worth mentioning, only in that it relates directly to education.
When I first started teaching a teacher down the hall from me had a rather odd experience in his classroom that, according to Freud's theories, would suggest that a student had not successfully resolved some psychosexual conflicts.
As this teacher was finishing up his lessons for the day, and getting ready to give the homework for the next class period, he noticed a student in the back moving his hands under his desk in a manner that caused the teacher to have concern. As he gave the assignment, he took a few steps back, and was able to confirm his suspicions: The student, a male, was masturbating. Because the student was in the back of the class, none of the othe students noticed. As soon as the student noticed that the teacher was aware of what he was doing, he quickly stopped, and was noticeably embarrassed. The bell rang shortly thereafter, and the teacher told that student to stay, which he did. Without going further into the story, how should a teacher, or school handle this situation? How should the problem be assessed? Is it a disciplinary issue? Should the student be referred to counselling?
Wow…well this is an interesting problem to consider. I suppose it is a lot more common than most of us realize or like to admit. I am wondering how old the student is because that would have an impact on the best way to proceed. I think that I would try my best not to be embarrassed myself and calmly explain that masturbation is normal, but that it is also private. That type of behavior is certainly not appropriate for school or other public places. It would also be appropriate to contact the parents, but that can be tricky because you don’t know how they are going to react to that kind of thing. I could see that confrontation being potentially very difficult. What dot he rest of you think? –J. Blanken-Webb
Stevenson, David, B., 2001. "Freud's Pschosexual Stages of Development." Accessed 7.31.05 from http://www.victorianweb.org/science/freud/develop.html.
"Psychosexual Development - Enpsychlopedia" 2005. Accessed 7.31.05 from http://www.psychcentral.com/psypsych/Psychosexual_development