Freud’s Stages of Psycho-Sexual Development



Freud (1905) proposed that psychological development in childhood takes places in a series of fixed stages.

These are called psychosexual stages because each stage represents the fixation of libido (sexual drives or instincts) on a different area of a body. As a person grows physically, certain areas of their body becomes important as sources of potential frustration (erogenous zones), pleasures or both.

Freud believed that life was built around tension and pleasure. Tension was due to the built up of libido (sexual energy) and that all pleasure came from its discharge.

Freud stressed that the first five years of life are crucial to the formation of adult personality. The id must be controlled in order to satisfy social norms; this sets up a conflict between frustrated wishes and social demands. The ego and superego develop in order to exercise this control and direct the need for gratification into society acceptable channels.

The role of Conflict:-

Each of the psychosexual stages is associated with a conflict that must be resolved before the individual can successfully advance to the next stage.

Frustration, Overindulgence and Fixation:-

Some people do not seem to be able to leave one stage and proceed to the next. One reason for this may be that the needs of a developing individual at any particular stage may not have been adequately met in which case there is frustration. Or possibly, the person needs may have been so well satisfied that he is reluctant to leave the psychological benefits of a particular stage in which there is overindulgence.

Both frustration and overindulgence may lead to what psychoanalysts call fixation at a particular psychosexual stage. Fixation refers to the theoretical notion that a portion of the individual’s libido has been permanently invested in a particular stage of his development. It is assumed that some libido is permanently invested in each psychosexual stage and thus each person will behave in some ways that are characteristics of infancy, or early childhood.

Psychosexual stages of development:

  1. The oral Stage (0-1 year)

Erogenous Zone: Mouth:

During this stage, the libido is centered in a body’s month. It gets much satisfaction from putting all sorts of things in its month to satisfy libido, and thus its id demands, which at this stage are mouth-orientated, such as sucking, biting and breast-feed.

The primary conflict at this stage is the weaning process- the child must become less dependent upon caretaker. It fixation occurs at this stage, Freud believed the individual would have issues with dependency or aggression. Oral fixation can result in problems with drinking, eating, smoking or nail biting.

The Anal Stage (1-3 years)

Erogenous Zone: Bowel and Bladder control during the anal stage, Freud believed that the primary focus of the libido was on controlling bladder & bowel movements. The major conflict at this stage is toilet-training-the child has to learn to control his or her bodily needs.

According to Freud, success at this stage is dependent upon the way in which parents approach toilet training. Parents who utilize praise and rewards for using the toilet at the appropriate time encourage positive outcomes and help children feel capable and productive. It served as the basis for people to become competent, productive and creative adults.

On the other hands, inappropriate parental responses can result in negative outcomes. If parents take an approach that is too lenient, Freud Suggested that an anal – expulsive personality could develop in which the individual has a messy, wasteful or destructive personality. If parents are too strict or begin toilet training too early, Freud believed than an anal-retentive personality develops in which the individual is stringent, orderly, rigid and obsessive.

The phallic stage (3-6 years)

Erogenous Zone: Genitals

During this stage, the primary focus of the libido is on the genitals and children also begin to discover the differences between males and females.

Oedipus Complex:-

The Oedipus complex arises in young boys which results in development of sexual (pleasurable) desires for his mother. He wants to possess his mother exclusively and get rid of his father to enable him to do so. However, a child also fears that he will be punished by the father for these feelings, a fear Freud termed castration anxiety.

The three to six year old boy resolves his Oedipus complex by imitating, copying and jointing in masculine dad-type behaviors. This is called identification. Identification means internally adopting the values, attitudes and behaviours of another person. Thus boys take on the male gender roles and adopt an ego ideal and values that become the superego.

Electra Complex:-

For girls, the Oedipus or Electra complex is less than satisfactory. Briefly, the girl desires the father, but realizes that she does not have a penis. This leads to the development of penis envy and the wish to be a boy.

The girl resolves this by repressing her desire for her father and substituting the wish for a penis with the wish for a baby. The girl blames her mother for her castrated state and this crates great tension. The girl then represses her feelings and identifies with the mother to take on the female gender role.

Consequence of being fixated at this stage:

If a child becomes fixated during this phase, the result could be sexual deviance or a confused sexual identity. It can have negative effects on personality development because the development of supergo and gender appropriate behavior is reliant on the conflict being resolved successfully. Adult consequences or fixations for men include anxiety and guilty feelings about sex; fear of castration, and narcissistic personality (loving yourself). For women – It has been suggested by Freud that women never really progress post this stage fully, and that they always maintain a sense of inferiority and envy.

Latency (6 to Puberty):-

Erogenous Zone: Sexual feelings are inactive:

During this period, the libido interests are suppressed. The development of the ego and superego contribute to this calm. Sexual energy is still present but it is directed towards school work, hobbies and friendships. This stage is important in the development of social and communication skills and self-confidence.

The Genital Stage (Puberty to Death):-

Erogenous Zone: Maturing Sexual interests during this stage, the individual developments a strong sexual interest in the opposite sex. Sexual interest is directed to heterosexual pleasure, rather than self-pleasure during the phallic stage.

For Freud, the proper outlet of the sexual instinct in adults was through heterosexual intercourse. Fixation and conflict may prevent this with the consequence that sexual perversions may develop. For example, fixation at the oral stage may result in a person gaining sexual pleasure primarily from kissing and oral sex, rather than sexual intercourse.

Evaluating Freud’s Psychosexual Stage Theory: –

  1. The theory is focused almost entirely on male development with little mention of female psychosexual development.
  2. His theories are difficult to test scientifically. Concepts such as the libido are impossible to measure, and therefore, cannot be tested. The research that has been conducted tends to discredit Freud’s theory.
  • Future predictions are too vague. How can one know that a current behavior was caused specifically by a childhood experience? The length of the time between cause and the effect is too long to assume that there is a relationship between the two variables.
  1. Freud’s theory is based on case studies and not empirical research. Also, Freud based his theory on the recollections of his adult patients, not on actual observation and study of children.
  2. General criticism of Freud’s theory is directed at his perhaps over-emphasis on the expression or repression of sex as a means of explaining human behavior. Additionally is it reasonable to assume that majority of mental disorders and illnesses are rooted in unfulfilled sexual complexes resulting from “fixation?” Despite Freud’s widespread reference to sex, his use of the word “sexual” is perhaps sometimes misinterprets as it is often used simply in relation to bodily features and functions.
  3. Sexism:
  • Critics argued that psychodynamic theories are characterised by a sexist bias against women.
  • Freud believed that females penis envy make them inferior to males.
  • He also thought that females tend to develop weaker superegos and to be more prove to neurosis then males.
  • The sex bias in modern psychodynamic theories has been reduced considerably nonetheless; the psychodynamic approach has generally provided a rather male centered point of view.


Frued’s psychodynamic theory, despite its perceived weaknesses and flaws, was one of the very first attempts to examine our unconscious behavior and explain the causes and processes behind mental disorders. His hypothesis, which acted as the catalyst for modern psychoanalysis, also paved the way for further research into the intricacies of human behaviour and what may induce it.


fraud stages of psycho sexual developmentlatency stage freud defense mechanismsneo freudiansoedipus complex definition psychologypsychosexual definitionpsychosexual development definitionpsychosexual stages definitionsigmund freud psychoanalytic theory