«Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes by Sigmund Freud EDITOR'S NOTE: This paper was finished by August, ...»
Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical
Distinction between the Sexes
by Sigmund Freud
EDITOR'S NOTE: This paper was finished by August, 1925, when Freud showed it to Ferenczi. It was read
on his behalf by Anna Freud at the Homburg International Psycho-Analytical Congress on September 3,
and was published in the Zeitschrift later in the autumn.
What is in effect a first complete re-assessment of Freud's views on the psychological development of
women will be found condensed in this short paper. It contains the germs of all his later work on the subject.
From early days Freud made complaints of the obscurity enveloping the sexual fife of women. Thus, near the beginning of his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), he wrote that the sexual life of men 'alone has become accessible to research. That of women...is still veiled in an impenetrable obscurity.' (Standard Ed., 7,151.) Similarly, in his discussion of the sexual theories of children (1908c), he wrote: 'In consequence of unfavorable circumstances, both of an external and an internal nature, the following observations apply chiefly to the sexual development of one sex only that is, of males.' (Ibid., 9, 211.) Again, very much later, in his pamphlet on lay analysis (1926e): 'We know less about the sexual life of little girls than of boys. But we need not feel ashamed of this distinction; after all, the sexual life of adult women is a "dark continent" for psychology.' (Ibid., 20, 212.) 1 One result of this obscurity was to lead Freud to assume very often that the psychology of women could be taken simply as analogous to that of men. There are many examples of this. In his first full account of the Oedipus situation, for instance, in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), he assumes that there is a complete parallel between the two sexes, that 'a girl's first affection is for her father and a boy's first childish desires are for his mother' (Standard Ed., 4, 257). Similarly, in his long description of the sexual development of children in Lecture XXI of the Introductory Lectures (1916-17) he writes: 'As you see, I have only described the relation of a boy to his father and mother. Things happen in just the same way with little girls, with the necessary changes: an affectionate attachment to her father, a need to get rid of her mother as superfluous...' Or, speaking of the early history of identification in Group Psychology (1921c): 'The same holds good, with the necessary substitutions, of the baby daughter as well' (Standard Ed., 18, 106). Even in The Ego and the Id (1923b) the complicated processes accompanying and following the dissolution of the Oedipus complex are supposed to be 'precisely analogous' in girls and boys (p. 32 above) 2. Or the account of the female Oedipus complex may simply be omitted, as in the article for Marcuse's Encyclopaedia (1923a), Standard Ed., 18, 245.
On the other hand, in describing the 'phallic phase' in the paper on the infantile genital organization (1923e) Freud writes frankly:
'Unfortunately we can describe this state of things only as it affects the male child; the corresponding processes in the little girl are not known to us.' But in fact over a long period from the time of the 'Dora' analysis in 1900, Freud's interest had not been directed to feminine psychology. It was not for fifteen years that he published any important case material dealing with a woman. Then came the case of female paranoia 'running counter to psychoanalytic theory' (1915f), the essence of which lay in the patient's relation to her mother. Not long after came the case of female homosexuality (1920a) of which the same might well be said. Between them came the study of beating fantasies (1919e), which was almost wholly concerned with the infantile sexual development of girls. And here already there is clear evidence of dissatisfaction with the 'precise analogy' between the two sexes: 'the expectation of there being a complete parallel was mistaken' (Standard Ed., 17, 196).
Thereafter the problem of the sexual history of women was no doubt constantly in Freud's mind. And although there is little about it in The Ego and the Id (1923b), it was the theories developed there concerning the end of the Oedipus complex which, linked with fresh clinical observations, gave the key to
Almost every detail is already present in a condensed form in this work. But it is remarkable that many of these details had been ready to hand long before and only required linking up. Thus certain peculiarities in the sexual development of girls had been noted and insisted upon. Already in the first edition of the Three Essays (1905d) Freud had maintained that in little girls the leading sexual organ was the clitoris, that, in conformity with this fact, 'the sexuality of little girls is of a wholly masculine character,' and that 'a wave of repression at puberty' is required before the clitoris gives place to the vagina and masculinity to femininity (Standard Ed., 7, 219-21). Most of this had, indeed, been indicated many years before in a letter to Fliess of November 14, 1897 (Freud, 1950a, Letter 75). The matter was carried further in the paper on 'The Sexual Theories of Children' (1908c), where it was brought into relation with the girl's envy for the penis and the castration complex (Standard Ed., 9, 217-18) 4. The fact that the injury to her narcissism caused by this leads to resentment against her mother was pointed out in the paper on 'Some Character Types' (1916d), ibid, 14, 315; and other grounds for this resentment had been enumerated in the paranoia case history a little earlier (1915f), ibid., 267-8.
Nor had the fundamental basis of the new thesis been unstated-though for long periods it seemed forgotten. In the Three Essays we find the plain statement that a child's first sexual object is the mother's breast and that this is the prototype of every later love-relation (Standard Ed., 7, 222). This was clearly meant to be true of girls as well as boys, but it seems to be repeated explicitly for the first time here (p.
251) 5. The twofold change required of the little girl before she could arrive at the 'normal' Oedipus complex thus became evident: a change in her leading sexual organ and a change in her sexual object.
And the path lay open for an investigation of her 'pre-Oedipus' phase, together with the differences between girls and boys implied by the hypotheses in The Ego and the Id the difference in the relation of their castration and Oedipus complexes and the further difference in the construction of their super-egos.
It is the synthesis of these various pieces of knowledge, derived from such widely separated historical strata of Freud's work, which gives its importance to the present paper.
In my own writings and in those of my followers more and more stress is laid on the necessity that the analyses of neurotics shall deal thoroughly with the remotest period of their childhood, the time of the early efflorescence of sexual life. It is only by examining the first manifestations of the patient's innate instinctual constitution and the effects of his earliest experiences that we can accurately gauge the motive forces that have led to his neurosis and can be secure against the errors into which we might be tempted by the degree to which things have become remodeled and overlaid in adult life. This requirement is not only of theoretical but also of practical importance, for it distinguishes our efforts from the work of those physicians whose interests are focused exclusively on 10 therapeutic results and who employ analytic methods, but only up to a certain point. An analysis of early childhood such as we are considering is tedious and laborious and makes demands both upon the physician and upon the patient which cannot always be met. Moreover, it leads us into dark regions where there are as yet no signposts. Indeed, analysts may feel reassured, I think, that there is no risk of their work becoming mechanical, and so of losing its interest, during the next few decades.
In the following pages I bring forward some findings of analytic research which would be of great importance if they could be proved to apply universally. Why do I not postpone publication of them until further experience has given me the necessary proof, if such proof is obtainable?
Because the conditions under which I work have undergone a 2 20 change, with implications which I cannot disguise. Formerly, I was not one of those who are unable to hold back what seems to be a new discovery until it has been either confirmed or corrected. My Interpretation of Dreams (1900a) and my 'Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria' (1905e) (the case of Dora) were suppressed by me if not for the nine years enjoined by Horace at all events for four or five years before I allowed them to be published. But in those days I had unlimited time before me'oceans of time' 6 as an amiable author puts it-and material poured in upon me in such quantities that fresh experiences were hardly to be escaped.
Moreover, I was the only worker in a new field, so that my reticence involved no danger to myself and no loss to others.
But now everything has changed. The time before me is limited. The whole of it is no 30 longer spent in working, so that my opportunities for making fresh observations are not so numerous. If I think I see something new, I am uncertain whether I can wait for it to be confirmed. And further, everything that is to be seen upon the surface has already been exhausted; what remains has to be slowly and laboriously dragged up from the depths. Finally, I am no longer alone. An eager crowd of fellow-workers is ready to make use of what is unfinished or doubtful, and I can leave to them that part of the work which I should otherwise have done myself. On this occasion, therefore, I feel justified in publishing something which stands in urgent need of confirmation before its value or lack of value can be decided.
In examining the earliest mental shapes assumed by the sexual life of children we have 40 been in the habit of taking as the subject of our investigations the male child, the little boy. With little girls, so we have supposed, things must be similar, though in some way or other they must nevertheless be different. The point in development at which this difference lay could not be clearly determined.
In boys the situation of the Oedipus complex is the first stage that can be recognized with certainty. It is easy to understand, because at that stage a child retains the same object which he previously cathected with his libido-not as yet a genital one-during the preceding period while he was being suckled and nursed. The fact, too, that in this situation he regards his father as a distributing rival and would like to get rid of him and take his place is a straightfoward consequence of the actual state of affairs. I have shown 50 elsewhere how the Oedipus attitude in little boys belongs to the phallic phase, and how its destruction is brought about by the fear of castration that is, by narcissistic interest in their genitals. The matter is made more difficult to grasp by the complicating circumstance that even in boys the Oedipus complex has a double orientation, active and passive, in accordance with their bisexual constitution; a boy also wants to take his mother's place as the love-object of his father a fact which we describe as the feminine attitude. 8 As regards the prehistory of the Oedipus complex in boys we are far from complete clarity We know that that period includes an identification of an affectionate sort with the boy's father, an identification which is still free from any sense of rivalry in regard to his 60 mother. Another element of that stage is invariably, I believe, a masturbatory activity in connection with the genitals, the masturbation of early childhood, the more or less violent suppression of which by those in charge of the child sets the castration complex in action. It is to be assumed that this masturbation is attached to the Oedipus complex and serves as a discharge for the sexual excitation belonging to it. It is, however, uncertain whether the masturbation has this character from the first, or whether on the contrary it makes its first appearance spontaneously as an activity of a bodily organ and is only brought into relation with the Oedipus complex at some later date; this second possibility is by far the more probable. Another doubtful question is the part played by bed-wetting and by the breaking of that habit through the intervention of training measures. We are inclined to 3 70 make the simple connection that continued bed-wetting is a result of masturbation and that its suppression is regarded by boys as an inhibition of their genital activity that is, as having the meaning of a threat of castration; 9 but whether we are always right in supposing this remains to be seen. Finally, analysis shows us in a shadowy way how the fact of a child at a very early age listening to his parents copulating may set up his first sexual excitation, and how that event may, owing to its after-effects, act as a starting- point for the child's whole sexual development.
Masturbation, as well as the two attitudes in the Oedipus complex, later on become attached to this early experience, the child having subsequently interpreted its meaning. It is impossible, however, to suppose that these observations of coitus are of universal occurrence, so that at this point we are faced 80 with the problem of 'primal phantasies.' 10 Thus the prehistory of the Oedipus complex, even in boys, raises all of these questions for sifting and explanation; and there is the further problem of whether we are to suppose that the process invariably follows the same course, or whether a great variety of different preliminary stages may not converge upon the same terminal situation.
In little girls the Oedipus complex raises one problem more than in boys. In both cases the mother is the original object; and there is no cause for surprise that boys retain that object in the Oedipus complex. But how does it happen that girls abandon it and instead take their father as an object? In pursuing this question I have been able to reach some conclusions which may throw light precisely on the prehistory of the Oedipus relation in 90 girls.