Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual Stages

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Sigmund Freud, a popular figure in psychology, who is known for psychoanalysis, created the five phases of sexual development, more popularly known as the psychosexual stages of development. These stages consist of: Oral phase, Anal phase, Phallic phase, Latency, and Puberty. These stages of development show developmental growth from birth into adolescence. Child development is significant because it explains the upbringing of a person into their adult life. Each of Freud’s stages have their own conflicts that must be overcome, or else a child may grow up and enter adult life with personal traits that can reflect unresolved conflicts. Sexual development and psychological development both play equal parts in overall development, and impact each other in a way that shapes each person differently.

Sigmund Freud, a well-known figure in psychology and father of psychoanalysis, was a theorist who was most concerned with children’s development of their personalities and social/emotional health. He was one of the first scientists to research how human behavior could be explained by scientific methods. By using scientific methods, he discovered the methods of development and mental health issues. Freud, although from a Jewish background, tended to distance himself away from it. He had strong efforts to even keep psychoanalysis from being viewed as a Jewish science because of him rejecting his religion (Punzi, 2014). Science and religion are seen as contradictory to some people, so it makes sense as to why he did so, in prevention of being criticized by the church for his theories. In Freud’s psychosexual development theory, he believed that there was unconscious reasons and desires that caused conscious actions. One main concern that this theory addresses is sexual development and the innate need of pleasure: from being taken care, receiving basic needs, natural human attraction seeking other humans, or the desire to reproduce of have sexual intercourse for pleasure.

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The article, “Freud’s Psychosexual Stage Conception: A Developmental Metaphor for Counselors” by John L. Garcia (1995), states that, “It is through psychosexual activity that the nascent human being first establishes significant interpersonal connections.” Each stage of the psychosexual stages is different from previous steps, but are interrelated in a person’s development. Garcia (1995) describes the psychosexual stage as “… more or less sequential, yet oscillating, evolvement of developmental motifs.” The five stages of psychosexual development are: Oral phase, Anal phase, Phallic phase, Latency and Puberty. The first stage is the Oral phase, taking place from birth to one year old. In this stage, babies receive bodily pleasure from their mouth, for example, sucking their mother’s nipple or bottle to receive milk. Conflict in this stage arises when parents do not assist their child in filling their need, and resolution of this stage occurs when the baby is able to find different ways to receive oral pleasure. This may be from sucking their thumb or placing toys in their mouth. If the child grows up as an adult who is dependent on oral adult activities like, excessive eating, drinking, smoking, or the constant need to keep or put something in their mouth, then Freud would say that the phase was unresolved in childhood. Freud’s second stage, the Anal phase, lasts from ages one to three years old. In this period, a child receives pleasure from the anus, and should learn rectum control to control defecation. Conflict might arise out of potty-training and is resolved when the child accepts pleasure from self-control and awareness of their body. This is followed by the skill of giving and receiving. When an adult exhibits signs of selfishness or high levels of aggression, then Freud would consider this stage unresolved. The third stage, Phallic stage, is from age three to six years old. Freud observed that children during this age period begin to express sexual curiosity, but because of his findings, this phase is the most questioned phase by other theorists. Freud thought that in this period, children learned to understand gender differences between their and the other gender’s sexual organs. The fourth stage, Latency, takes place from six to twelve years old. Freud refers to this period as “the definitive sexual organization” (Garcia, 1995). Freud did not observe a sexual need during this time, so he concluded that this period is where sexual drive is contained into the self. Some other skills gained in Latency are expanding nonsexual social interactions and being able to focus on thinking into the future, focusing on furthering one’s education. Freud’s fifth and final stage of the psychosexual stages is Puberty/Genital, which results in being able to have adult sexual intimacy. This takes place in ages twelve and beyond. This stage’s resolution is completed by finding a sexual partner. From here, a child has developed into adulthood, which is the completion of Freud’s psychosexual stages, as mentioned in Human Development: Traditional and Contemporary Theories by Doris Bergen (2008).

Freud focuses on psychological development’s relation to sexual development, which when combined, creates his psychosexual development. Over the course of his life, he had expressed different ideas regarding homosexuality, sometimes making inconsistent statements contradicting himself. This may be due to his lack of available research of the topic to him. In the article, “What Freud Really Said about Homosexuality and Why” by Joseph Nicolosi, the author says that there was written evidence from Freud himself and his views of homosexuality, calling it “perverse forms of intercourse” and “ethically objectionable, and degrades the relationships of love between two human beings” (Nicolosi, 2015). These statements then suggest that his psychosexual stages of development may only be applied to heterosexual beings, and if a person expresses homosexuality, then their development is off track from this theory’s prediction of the chronological psychosexual stages.

This theory has been a root for other theorists, for example, Freud’s student, Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. Similar to Freud’s theory, Erikson’s theory also includes different stages and conflict and resolution of those stages. Freud’s elements of psychosexual theory that are still relevant today are Latency, the time of extending and increasing nonsexual interactions with others, and Puberty, which are still concepts used today in studying human development. This theory is broken down into phases that explain developmental characteristics within their respective phases make this theory organized and clear to understand. Although this theory can apply across cultures, genders and disabled people because it suggests milestones and resolution to phases’ conflicts, it can be perceived as excluding sexuality, especially homosexual peoples’ development. Based off of Freud’s views of homosexuality listed earlier and his deviation from religion, it may not provide acceptance towards them. All cultures encase their own different values, but Freud’s psychosexual theory of development may be objected by cultures who do include sexual development for their psychological growth. Multiculturally, the psychosexual theory can be used as a guide for development, but some may omit the sexual aspect of becoming sexually curious at a young age. Freud describes the role of a child’s caretaker or parent as very important to a child’s development. Bergen (2008), writes, “He saw the environment (nurture) as important for determining how conflicts are resolved.” When children are not nurtured or taken care of properly, then they may struggle in the stage of development that they are in because they are still in conflict with that stage and not meeting resolution. Freud also talks about socializing skills and dedicated focus in his developmental stages, which are both necessary for child development to be successful.

Through Freud’s psychosexual stages, he proposes that this development is a natural route of development. By developing psychosexually first, other areas of life will mature over time to match the psychosexual development. Although his theory is controversial, even offensive to some, he has received criticism from other theories, especially regarding the Phallic phase which notes that the Phallic phase has sexuality rooted deeply in human development and is an unconscious basic human need. Therefore, all development is attributed to this.


  1. Bergen, D. (2008). Human Development: Traditional and Contemporary Theories (pp. 36-44). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
  2. Garcia, J. L. (1995, May 1). Freud’s Psychosexual Stage Conception: A Developmental Metaphor for Counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 73(5), 498-502. Retrieved from EBSCOHost.
  3. Nicolosi, J. (2015). What Freud Really Said about Homosexuality and Why. Journal of Human Sexuality, 7, 24-42. Retrieved from ProQuest.
  4. Punzi, E. H. (2014, December 1). Freud’s Jewish identity, circumcision, and the theory of castration anxiety: problem or pride? Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 17(10), 967-969. doi:10.1080/13674676.2014.980721
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Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual Stages. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from