Psychology For Dummies
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Psychologist Sigmund Freud’s model of sexual development proposes a series of stages in which people grow and mature. The pleasure sought by your inborn instincts is focused on sexual desire and gratification, through proper stimulation of each erogenous zone. If properly stimulated, you progress to the top of Freud’s psychosexual peak: sexual and psychological maturity. If not, you’re fixated on that particular zone and stuck in that particular stage.

Here are the stages by ages:

  • Oral: Birth to 18 months

  • Anal: 18 months to 3 years

  • Phallic: 3 years to 8 years

  • Latency: 7 to 8 years to puberty

  • Genital: Puberty to adulthood

Oral Stage

The oral stage is Freud’s first stage of personality development. From birth until about 18 months of age, an infant’s life centers on his mouth. The main task of this stage is to satisfy oral desire by stimulating the erogenous zone of the mouth. Infants are born with a very well-developed sense of taste, and their mouths are the most sophisticated tools they have to explore their world.

If an infant fails to wean or is weaned harshly or incompletely, he may become fixated at the oral stage. He will develop an oral character in which he’s dominated by feelings of dependency and helplessness. Infants are not able to provide themselves with autonomous satisfaction; as long as they are in the oral stage, they depend entirely on mothers.

Anal Stage

Freud’s second stage of personality development is all about the erogenous focus of the anal stage. Freud emphasized a person’s control over defecating as the pleasure center from 18 months to 3 years old. The central conflict for toddlers is control! Kids in this stage want the ability to poop whenever they want and wherever they want.

Who and what withholds the pleasure of pooping at will? Our parents and the constraints of reality do. In fact, some of your adult characteristics may be the consequence of how your parents handled your toilet training. According to Freud, your creativity and productivity are indicators of how well you’ve successfully navigated the anal stage.

If you’re stuck in the anal stage, you’re dominated by anal satisfaction. This satisfaction can come in one of two ways:

  • If you’re messy, sloppy, or careless, it indicates an expulsive rebellion against parental control.

  • If you’re withholding, obstinate, and obsessed with neatness, you’ve learned control in reaction to your toilet-training experience.

Phallic Stage

Just when you thought that all of your personality traits had been described, Freud comes up with his third stage: the phallic stage. The 3- to 5-year-old child is focused on the erogenous stimulation of the genital area, the penis and vagina specifically. In the phallic stage, gratification begins with masturbation.

The need for satisfaction soon turns toward our parents, typically the parent of the opposite sex. As sexual satisfaction expands, a child finds himself within the realm of one of Freud’s most controversial and strange contributions to the study of personality, the Oedipus complex, which essentially states that a male child sees his own mother as a sexual object of desire, causing inevitable conflict with his own father of course.


With successful resolution of the conflicts of each previous stage, children enter into a more quiet time of psychosexual development called latency. The libido loosens its grip on the personality, and sexual impulses cease to dominate. Kids find more freedom to explore and expand on the skills they’ve gained from each subsequent stage.

Latency lasts from about six years old until puberty. Things cool down, so to speak. There’s no rivalry with the opposite-sex parent. There’s no battle for control over satisfaction. It’s a time for basic social exploration like making friends and forming social cliques.

Genital Stage

With the onset of puberty, the smooth ride of latency turns turbulent again. The flames of earlier conflicts are rekindled. Desire begins to dominate the picture again in the genital stage, but this time it’s different. The self-centered pleasure-seeking child of earlier stages gives way to a more mature form of satisfaction.

A concern for the pleasure of others begins to shape the direction of psychosexual development, and the child is now open to learning how to engage in mutually satisfying love relationships.

Freud never proposed that all people reach this point of full maturity. It’s more like an ideal, something to strive for, a lifelong project. But if somebody doesn’t make it (at least some of the way), he can easily drift back into selfish phallicism, which seems to conjure images of the selfish lover who doesn’t care about the pleasure of his partner: as long as he gets what he wants, he’s just fine.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Adam Cash is a clinical psychologist who has practiced in a variety of settings including forensic institutions and outpatient clinics. He has taught Psychology at both the community college and university levels. He is currently in private practice specializing in psychological assessment, child psychology, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

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