Psychosexual Development: Definition, Theory, Stages and Critiques.

The psychosexual development is an important development theory, which suggests that humans behave as they do because constantly seeking pleasure, for different periods or stages of life, the kinds of pleasure looking for a person change.

Each change in the location of the body where the person finds pleasure represents a stage in psychosexual development. There are a total of five stages; four of them are named for the primary part of the body from which a person derives pleasure during a given time in life.

What is psychosexual development?

Psychosexual development was a theory created by the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, where he described how the personality developed throughout childhood, although the theory is well known in psychology, it has always been quite controversial, both during the time of Freud as in modern psychology.

So how exactly do the psychosexual stages work? Freud believed that personality developed through a series of infantile stages in which the pleasure-seeking energies of identification were focused on certain erogenous areas. This psychosexual energy, or libido, was described as the driving force behind the behavior.

Psychoanalytic theory suggests that personality is mainly established by the age of five, early experiences play an important role in personality development and continue to influence behavior later in life.

So what happens during each stage? What if a person does not progress through a scenario completely or favorably? If these psychosexual stages are successfully completed, the result is a healthy personality. If certain problems are not resolved at the proper stage, fixations can occur, a fixation is a persistent focus on an earlier psychosexual stage, until this conflict is resolved, the individual will remain “stuck” at this stage. For example, a person who is obsessed in the oral stage may be overly dependent on others and may seek oral stimulation through smoking, drinking, or eating.

Theory of psychosexual development

Sigmund Freud proposed that an individual’s behavior and development are influenced by the interaction between the conscious and unconscious aspects of the person’s mind. Three components of the psychic apparatus function at different levels of consciousness and interact with each other to generate behavior.


The Id is present at the moment of birth and represents everything we inherit from our parents, understands our needs that require constant fulfillment, and operates on the principle of pleasure and the need for immediate gratification, regardless of consequences or consequences. realities.


The Ego develops as a result of the baby’s attempts to satisfy its needs through interactions with its physical and social environment, it arises from the Id, and attempts to satisfy its desire by serving as a negotiator fighting for a compromise between what the Ego wants. Id want and what the outside world can give you. The Ego is also a decision maker operating on the reality principle, evaluating real world conditions that may or may not satisfy the Id’s demands and seeking acceptable methods to fulfill the Id’s wishes.

Superego – The Superego

It arises from the Ego and develops as an internal representation of the moral values ​​of the environment, it judges what the individual should or should not do morally, and guides it on the duties and duties of life. The Superego rewards the individual with pride and positive feelings for doing good, and punishes the child with feelings of guilt, shame, or fear for not respecting the values ​​one has set for oneself.

Children develop as a consequence of the ways in which the Ego negotiates a compromise between

  • Id identification and insistence on immediate wish gratification
  • The environment that imposes limits on the conditions in which wishes can be fulfilled and
  • the Superego, which exerts pressure on the individual to comply with a set of moral values.

According to Freud, the unconscious aspect of an individual’s mind is a receptacle of ideas, of which we are not aware, but which influences our behavior in equally powerful ways, as does our conscious mind. As such, one of Freud’s most important contributions to understanding human behavior is enlightening us on the unparalleled role of the unconscious in directing and motivating our behavior.

Freud further stipulates that development is completed through a series of stages that occur in a predetermined sequence, with the individual’s activities revolving around a certain erogenous zone at each stage. Successfully moving from one stage to another will result in a healthy personality, whereas if the problems are not solved or stagnates in any of the stages, a problematic personality will be generated.

Evaluating Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development

Freud’s theory is still considered controversial today, but imagine how bold it seemed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there have been a number of observations and criticisms of Freud’s psychosexual theory on a number of grounds, including criticisms. scientists and feminists:

  • The theory focuses almost entirely on male development, with little mention of female psychosexual development.
  • His theories are difficult to prove scientifically, concepts such as libido are impossible to measure, and therefore cannot be proven.
  • The research that has been carried out tends to discredit Freud’s theory.
  • Future predictions are too vague. How can we know that a current behavior was specifically caused by a childhood experience? The amount of time between cause and effect is too long to assume that there is a relationship between the two variables.
  • Freud’s theory is based on case studies and not on empirical research. Furthermore, Freud based his theory on the memories of his adult patients, not on actual observation and study of children.

Stages of psychosexual development

Oral stage  (0-1 year)

In the first stage of personality development, libido is focused on a baby’s mouth, he gets very satisfied by putting all kinds of things in his mouth to satisfy him, and therefore demands his identification that at this stage of life are oral, or mouth-oriented, like sucking, biting, and suckling.

Because the baby is totally dependent on the caregivers (who are responsible for feeding the child), the baby also develops a sense of trust and comfort through this oral stimulation.

The main conflict at this stage is the weaning process: the child should be less dependent on caregivers. If fixation occurs at this stage, Freud believed that the individual would have problems with dependency or aggression. Oral fixation can lead to problems drinking, eating, smoking, or nail biting.

Freud said that oral stimulation could lead to oral fixation in later life, we see oral personalities all around us such as smokers, nail biter, finger chewers, and thumb suckers. Oral personalities participate in such oral behaviors, particularly when under stress .

Anal stage (1-3 years)

During the anal stage, Freud believed that the main purpose of libido was to control the bladder and bowel movements, the main conflict at this stage is toilet training: the child has to learn to control his bodily needs. Developing this control leads to a sense of accomplishment and independence.

According to Freud, success at this stage depends on how parents approach potty training, parents using praise and rewards for using the bathroom at the appropriate time promote positive outcomes and help children feel Capable and productive, Freud believes that positive experiences during this stage serve as the foundation for people to become competent, productive, and creative adults. However, not all parents provide the support and encouragement that children need during this stage, some parents instead punish, ridicule or shame a child for accidents.

According to Freud, inappropriate responses from parents can give negative results, if parents adopt an approach that is too lenient, Freud suggested that an anal-expulsive personality could develop in which the individual has a disorderly, wasteful or destructive personality. If parents are too strict or start toilet training too early, Freud believes that an anal retentive personality develops in which the individual is strict, orderly, rigid, and obsessive.

The anal expulsive, on the other hand, underwent a liberal regimen of potty training during the anal stage. In adulthood, the expulsive anal is the person who wants to share things with you. An anal-expulsive personality is also messy, disorganized, and rebellious.

Phallic stage (3 to 5 or 6 years)

Freud suggested that during the phallic stage, the main focus of libido is on the genitals, at this age, children also begin to discover the differences between men and women.

Freud also believed that children begin to view their parents as a rival for the mother’s affections. The Oedipus complex describes these feelings of wanting to possess the mother and the desire to replace the father, yet the child also fears that the father will punish him for these feelings, a fear that Freud called castration anxiety .

The term Electra complex has been used to describe a similar set of feelings experienced by girls, Freud believed that girls instead experience penis envy.

Eventually, the child begins to identify with the parent of the same sex as a means of indirectly possessing the other parent. For girls, however, Freud believed that penis envy was never fully resolved and that all women remain somewhat obsessed at this stage. Psychologists like Karen Horney questioned this theory, calling it inaccurate and degrading to women. Instead, Horney proposed that men experience feelings of inferiority because they cannot give birth to children, a concept she called womb envy.

Latency stage (5 or 6 at puberty)

During this stage, the superego continues to develop as the energies of identification are suppressed, children develop social skills, values, and relationships with peers and adults outside the family.

Ego and superego development contribute to this lull, the stage begins around the time children enter school and become more concerned with peer relationships, hobbies, and other interests. The latent period is a time of exploration in which sexual energy is still present, but it is directed to other areas, such as intellectual activities and social interactions, this stage is important in the development of social and communication skills and self-confidence.

No other psychosexual development takes place during this stage (latent media is hidden). The libido is asleep, Freud thought that most sexual urges are repressed during the latent stage, and sexual energy can be sublimated (re: defense mechanisms) towards school work, hobbies and friendships. Much of the child’s energy is channeled into developing new skills and acquiring new knowledge, and play is largely limited to other children of the same sex.

Genital stage (puberty to adult)

The onset of puberty causes the libido to be activated again, during the final stage of psychosexual development, the individual develops a strong sexual interest in the opposite sex, this stage begins during puberty but lasts for the rest of a person’s life .

When in previous stages the focus was solely on individual needs, interest in the well-being of others grows during this stage. If the other stages have been completed successfully, the individual should now be well-balanced, warm, and attentive. The objective of this stage is to establish a balance between the various areas of life.

It is a moment of adolescent sexual experimentation, the successful resolution of which is established in a love relationship with another person of more than 20 years, the sexual instinct is directed to heterosexual pleasure, instead of self-pleasure, as in the phallic stage.

For Freud, the proper outlet of the sexual instinct in adults was through heterosexual relationships, fixation and conflict can avoid it with the consequence that sexual perversions can develop. For example, fixation on the oral stage can cause a person to gain sexual pleasure primarily from kissing and oral sex, rather than having intercourse.

Critiques of psychosexual development


A common criticism of the scientific (experimental) validity of the Freudian psychology theory of human psychosexual development is that Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was personally obsessed with human sexuality; therefore, he was in favor of defining human development with a normative theory of psychological and sexual development. Therefore, the phallic stage proved controversial, as it is based on clinical observations of the Oedipus complex.


At one time, Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development is criticized as sexist, because it was informed by his introspection (self-analysis). To integrate female libido (sexual desire) into psychosexual development, he proposed that girls develop “penis envy.” In response, the neo-Freudian German psychoanalyst Karen Horney countered that girls instead develop “power envy” rather than penis envy. In addition, he proposed the concept of “envy of the uterus and vagina”, the envy of the male of the female ability to have children; however, contemporary formulations further develop such envy, from biological (parenting) to psychological (parenting), envy of women’s perceived right to be a kind father.


Contemporary criticism also questions the universality of the Freudian theory of personality (Id, Ego, Superego) discussed in the essay On Narcissism (1914), where he says that “it is impossible to suppose that a unit, comparable to the ego, can exist in the individual from the beginning ‘. Contemporary cultural considerations have challenged the normative assumptions of the Freudian psychodynamic perspective that posits the child-parent conflict of the Oedipal complex as universal and essential for human psychological development.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.