Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development

Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development

This article will tell you about Sigmund Freud's five stages of psychosexual development that are still debated in the field of psychology.
Do you think your personality is greatly influenced by the sexual pleasure you receive throughout your life? Well, that's what Sigmund Freud believed. His theory of psychosexual development focuses on the effects of sexual pleasure on one's psyche. According to him, every child is full of energy that needs to be channelized in the right direction. The overall development of a child depends on the way he/she controls or directs this energy. He named this energy as libido. He believed that libido provides the basic platform for the mind to run on. Freud's five stages of development essentially showcase how sexuality starts from a very young age in humans, and how it develops till adulthood at different stages. If these stages are not completed or are unsatisfied, a person may get fixated, which may lead to a conflicted personality in the adulthood. Given below are the five stages of psychosexual development in chronological order as described by Sigmund Freud.

Oral Stage

This stage occurs from birth to around the age of one year. As the name suggests, in this stage, a child tries to gratify his libidinal energy through his/her mouth by sucking, biting, chewing, etc. You would observe children putting everything in their mouth at this age, be it food, toys, or soil. Oral fixation has two possible outcomes. According to Freud, if a person is dissatisfied at this stage, he/she is characterized by pessimism, suspicion, and sarcasm and grows into an adult who reduces tension or anxiety through chewing gum or the ends of pens and pencil. Such a person is said have an oral receptive personality. On the other hand, an overindulged person is known to have an oral aggressive personality, which is characterized by optimism, gullibility, hostility, etc. A normal person, with an oral passive personality is characterized by indulging in smoking, kissing, eating, oral sexual pleasures, etc.

Anal Stage

This stage occurs between two to four years when a child starts toilet or potty training. According to Freud, the child becomes aware of his/her anus at this stage and tries to gratify this zone with retention or expulsion of the feces. Anal fixation may occur due to strictness showed by the child's parents while toilet training, which can have two possible outcomes. The first can be a person with an oral retentive personality, which is characterized by stinginess, excessive tidiness, perfectionism, and stubbornness. The other possible outcome is an anal expulsive personality, which is defined by a lack of self control, carelessness, and messy behavior.

Phallic Stage

This stage occurs between four to six years of age when the erogenous zones of the body, i.e., the genitals, start developing. At this stage, children frequently indulge in playing with their genitals in order to explore them. How parents react to this behavior of their children decides the outcome of the fixation at this stage. According to Freud, boys and girls experience Oedipus complex at this stage and the boys suffer from castration anxiety. According to Carl Gustav Jung, who did not agree with Freud about girls too experiencing the Oedipus complex, girls experience Electra conflict and suffer from a penis envy. According to Freud, a boy is more attracted towards his mother and the daughter is attracted towards her father at this stage, and both dislike the same-sex parent. It may be a stage when children idolize their parents, which Freud interpreted as sexual desire. This is one of the most debatable parts about this theory that is still discussed today.

Latency Stage

This stage occurs from the age of six till puberty when children express no sexual feelings. According to Freud, children at this stage suppress their sexual energy and direct it towards asexual pursuits, such as, school, athletics, hobbies, social relationships, friendships with same-sex, etc. Fixation at this stage results into sexual unfulfillment in later life.

Genital Stage

This stage occurs from puberty till death, which is also the period when children reach sexual maturity. How children explore and experiment their sexuality at this stage defines their adult behavior. Children with more resolved psychosexual development have greater capacity to develop normal relationships with opposite sex, whereas a fixation at this stage results into the child being frigid and impotent in later life, while also having unsatisfactory interpersonal relationships.

For better understanding, take a look at the following chart that would help you understand the stages in a glance.

StageYearCharacterized By
Oral Stage0 - 1 yearsA child derives pleasure through mouth by sucking, biting, and swallowing etc. Conflict arises when the oral needs of child are not met.
Anal Stage2 - 4 yearsAnus becomes the center of gratification as toilet training starts and the pleasure is derived by defecating or retaining faces.
Phallic Stage4 - 6 yearsGenitals become the center of gratification and children develop attraction towards the parent of opposite sex. Boys and girls suffer from Oedipus complex (according to Freud) and girls suffer from Electra complex (according to Carl Gustav Jung).
Latency Stage6 years - pubertyNo psychosexual development occurs in children. The libido is diverted towards asexual activities.
Genital StagePuberty - deathIt is the puberty period when sexual urges reawaken that may lead to children exploring their sexuality.

Freud's theory states that a person's development is completed by the time he/she reaches adulthood. Sexual experiences of individuals dominate their behavior throughout their life. However, this theory of psychosexual development was and is still criticized by experts due to its overemphasis on sexuality without any corroborative data. Instead, psychologists today believe that personality development is a continuous process that happens throughout life.