What is Psychosexual Development?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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Psychosexual development is a theory credited to Sigmund Freud, a neurologist who became well known for his psychological theories. According to Freud, a person's experiences at an early age dramatically influence both his personality and his future actions. Freud's psychosexual development theory focuses on psychosexual stages, with each focused on a particular part of the body capable of producing pleasant or pleasurable feelings, and each playing a role in the development of sexual instinct. Freud asserted that sexual instinct was the most important influence on personality. He claimed this instinct was present when a child was born and continued to develop through the psychosexual stages.

The psychosexual development theory doesn't focus solely on pleasurable feelings; it also considers the conflicts that can arise from experiencing these feelings. Freud believed that fixations would develop if these conflicts were left unresolved for long enough. In such a case, the child's psychic energy, referred to as libido, would become so entangled in dealing with one stage that little would be left for dealing with the conflicts and challenges of the next stage. He also believed that overindulgence would cause a child to be unwilling to progress, and under-indulgence would leave the child needy. Difficulty in any of the stages could result in certain personality characteristics.


The oral stage of psychosexual development begins at birth and continues until age one. It is focused on the mouth, and gratifying experiences of this stage include sucking, eating, and biting, while a challenge of this stage is weaning. If a person had unresolved problems during this stage, Freud believed he might be overly optimistic, gullible, dependent, passive, hostile, aggressive, or sarcastic as an adult.

Next is the anal stage, which extends from one year of age to age three and focuses on the anus. Freud believed the gratification of this stage came from pushing out and holding in fecal matter, while toilet training was the challenge. He claimed unresolved conflicts of this stage might cause a child to become overly neat, rigid, stubborn, messy, or rebellious.

The phallic stage extends from three years to five or six years of age and concentrates on the genitals. Sexual curiosity and masturbation are the gratifying experiences of this stage while oedipal conflict, which is marked by a child's love of the opposite sex parent and desire to replace the same sex parent, is the challenge. According to Freud, growing into adulthood with unmet challenges from this stage could cause a person to become overly chaste, promiscuous, vain, flirtatious, or prideful.

In the latency stage, from five or six until puberty, the libido interests are less prominent, and children experience sexual calm. There is no body part associated with this stage, and children become more interested in hobbies, friends, and even school. The genital stage takes over from puberty onward, and people are said to develop renewed sexual interests and engage in mature relationships. Since Freud believed most personality traits were developed early in life, these stages aren't associated with particular personality characteristics. Challenges may occur during these stages as a result of the unresolved conflicts of other stages, however.


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