Freud’s Psychosexual Stages

The psychosexual stages of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory are:

Oral stage (birth-2 years): the infant’s mouth is the focus of libidinal gratification derived from the pleasure of oral exploration of his or her environment (the tendency to place objects in the mouth). Experiencing delayed gratification leads to understanding that specific behaviours satisfy some needs (crying leads to holding or being fed). Too much or too little gratification of desire might lead to an oral-stage fixation (orally aggressive: chewing gum and the ends of pencils and orally passive: smoking, eating, kissing) characterized by passivity, gullibility, immaturity and unrealistic optimism, which is manifested in a manipulative personality.

Anal stage (1,5-3 years): toilet training is the child’s key anal-stage experience and results in conflict between the Id (demanding immediate gratification) and the Ego (demanding delayed gratification) in eliminating bodily wastes, and coping with parental demands that may be too demanding or too indulging. The consequences of anal-stage fixation are: anal retentive (obsessively organized or neat) and anal expulsive (reckless, careless, disorganized).

Phallic stage (3-6 years): the child’s genitalia are his or her primary erogenous zone, and they become aware of their bodies, their parents and other children’s bodies at this age. In the phallic stage, a boy’s decisive psychosexual experience is the Oedipus complex, his son–father competition for possession of mother. For a girl it is the Electra complex (according to Carl Jung), involving her daughter–mother competition for psychosexual possession of father. Unresolved psychosexual competition for the opposite-sex parent might produce a phallic-stage fixation leading a girl to become a woman who continually strives to dominate men and a boy to become an aggressive, over-ambitious, vain man. The satisfactory parental handling and resolution of the Oedipus complex and of the Electra complex are most important in developing the infantile super-ego, because, by identifying with a parent, the child internalizes morality, thereby, choosing to comply with societal rules, rather than having to reflexively comply in fear of punishment.

Latency stage (6 years-puberty): in this stage the child consolidates the character habits he or she developed in the three, earlier stages of psychosexual development. The drives are latent (hidden) and gratification is delayed so the child must derive the pleasure of gratification from secondary process-thinking that directs the libidinal drives towards external activities, such as schooling, friendships, hobbies, etc. If fixation occurs in this stage it will lead to unfulfilled sexual desire.

Genital stage (puberty-death): as in the phallic stage, the genital stage is centred upon the genitalia. The psychological difference between the phallic and genital stages is that the ego is established in the latter; the person’s concern shifts from primary-drive gratification (instinct) to applying secondary process-thinking in order to gratify desires symbolically and intellectually by means of friendships, a love relationship, or family and adult responsibilities. If fixation occurs at this stage it will lead to frigidity, impotence and unsatisfactory relationships.


See list of related concepts.