Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development


Introduction: Sigmund Freud was an Austrian scientist well known as the founder of Psychoanalysis which is primarily devoted to the study of human psychological functioning and behavior. He also created theories to explain human development relating to how the mind works. Freud's theory of Psychosexual Development is one of the most controversial theories in psychology today and is often discredited. In this theory, Freud suggests that the driving force behind behavior is Libido, which is psychosexual energy. Healthy personalities are a result of successful completion of the five psychosexual stages.


  • Oral Stage (first 18 months of life): infant’s primary source of interaction occurs through the mouth, so the rooting and sucking reflex is especially important. This stage is responsible for pleasure from oral stimulation. During this stage, the infant also develops qualities such as trust and comfort with its caretakers because they feed it.

  • Anal Stage (late infancy to 1.5-3 years of life):During this stage, the child’s primary focus is on controlling the bowel and bladder movements. This is the stage where toilet training is important to the child’s development. Success in this stage is heavily weighted on the way parents approach toilet training. Freud says that if parents are too lenient during toilet training, children can have a wasteful of destructive personality (anal-expulsive personality). His theory also says that if parents are too strict or starting training too early, the child can become orderly, rigid, and obsessive (anal-retentive personality).

  • Phallic Stage (early childhood-3 to 6 years of life): the primary focus of the libido is on the genitals. This is when children discover the differences between males and females. The Oedipus complex plays into this part of the theory. The Oedipus complex explains boys’ angst toward their fathers and the desire to replace them in their mother’s eyes. Boys often fear that their fathers will discover these feelings and physically castrate them. This fear is called Castration Anxiety. Freud’s theory explains a similar reaction in girls called the Electra Complex, or informally, Penis Envy, in which they acquire a physical attraction to their fathers and become envious of their mother.

  • Latency Stage (middle and late childhood-from six to puberty): Sexual energy in the Latent Period is still present, but the mind becomes more focused on other things in their lives, such as peer relationships, hobbies, and other interests. Social and communication skills and self-confidence are key in a child’s development during this stage.

  • Genital Stage (Puberty-Adulthood): This is the final stage in psychosexual development. During this time, the individual develops a strong sexual interest in the opposite sex. Interest in the welfare of others grows during this stage. If the other stages have been completed successful, the individual should now be well-balanced, warm and caring. The main goal during this time is to gain a balance in different aspects of life.

Key Notes:

  • Freud emphasized that a child's first five years were the most important years to social and personality development.

  • Gratification has a big role in a child's development, as well as the child's parents. Conflicts occur when the child's gratification is put off by the parents, who decide when, where, and how gratification is granted. Problems can occur if the parents give in to every want and need of the child or never give the child what they want or need. Balance is very important.

  • This theory is often discredited by many psychologists.

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Practical Applications:

This theory is often critisized and discredited by many psychologists, so not many psychologists use it as an application in patients today. The biggest critisism of Freud's theory is that it is very sexist. When Freud created this theory, psychologists say that he used a lot of introspection, and looked mostly at how he developed as a child. Psychologists also say that Freud had trouble relating to and relaying female desires. Freud even admitted to not fully understanding female sexuality. Because of this lack of knowledge, Freud did not have much hope that his theory would be believed in psychology. Scientist say that Freud's psychosexual are plausible and can be observed in children, they are not determined to happen.
The most applicable part of Freud's psychosexual theory is said to be observed during the Phallic Stage, concerning the Oedipus Complex. The Oedipal Complex came from Socrates' story Oedipus, in which the main character, Oedipus, unknowingly falls in love with his mother and then gauges his eyes out when he finds out. This proposed theory is often applied in psychology when a small child develops an unusual attraction to one of their parents, just as Freud's theory states.

An modern day example of this theory can be presented in the recent movie "Grown Ups" Staring Adam Sandler. In the movie, there is a 4 year old child who still breastfeeds from his mother. Throughout the movie he is always at his mother's side, and always demanding milk. It is clear he has a strong feeling for his mother, and can be seen as being selfish and protective. This itself is an example of the Oedipus Theory. Near the end of the movie, the boy is denied his mother's milk by his father, and is made to drink regular milk. The boy then proceeds to say "I am just like daddy" which is the stage of the Oedipus theory where the child internalizes the rules of his father, and identifies with his father figure.

Related Articles:
Small Biography on Sigmund Freud
Dr. Paul McHugh, retired director of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine discusses the oedipal complex
Bruce Bower discusses the Oedipus Complex
This article evaluates psychosexual behaviors in females
This is an article from the New York times that observes crime in the United States using Psychosexual Development with men as subjects


1. What are the 5 stages of Psychosexual development according to Freud?

2. What is the Oedipus Complex?

3. According to Freud, personality is mostly established by what age?
a) 5
b) 10
c) 15
d) 20

4. What energy did Freud believe was the driving force behind behavior?
a) Motivation
b) Stress
c) Libido
d) Drive

5. This term refers to Freud's idea that boys have an unconscious desire to possess their mother.
a) Castration Anxiety
b) Oedipus Complex
c) Penis Envy
d) Electra Complex

6. Around what age are your desires oriented towards your lips and your mouth?

7. The number one critisism of this theory is that it is:
a) racist
b) generally prejudice
c) sexist
d) none of the above
take this quiz!


Cherry, Kendra. "Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development - What Is Psychosexual Development." Psychology - Complete Guide to Psychology for Students, Educators & Enthusiasts. 2010. Web. 08 Nov. 2010. <>.

Plotnik, Rod. Introduction to Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2005. Print.

"Psychosexual Development: Criticism of Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development." Psychotherapy Resources. 31 May 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. <>.