The “Good Parts” – Freud’s Engagement With the Issue of Intimacy and Sex

Freud is quite clear from the first paragraph: Adult development and mature, standard sexuality, requires the reconciliation of intimacy and sex, affection and sensuality,


San Diego Repertory Theatre Performs Oedipus: Monica Sanchez and Lakin Valdez (shown)

personal relatedness and physical “hooking up.” Freud then describes a  description of the challenge of puberty as “object choice.” After the long latency of childhood, puberty arouses all of the polymorphous perversity of the erogenous zones again with their divergent aims of gaining pleasure from oral, anal, and phallic forms of autoeroticism, including sex play with members of the opposite sex (which, however, Freud handles very circumspectly). Unless these diverging impulses are brought to a coherent unity and subordinated to adult, genital, reproductive sexuality, the individual will become neurotic. Freud locates some remarkably modern and accepting (“tolerant”) remarks about the “[homoerotic] sexual inclinations of no small number of people” (SE 7: 229) towards the end of the third essay, to which we shall return. Meanwhile, the devil is in the details, to which we now proceed.

With the third of Freud’s “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” (1905), entitled “Transformations at Puberty,” the reader arrives at “the good parts.” Those are the parts of the books in their parents “adult reading” collection to which pubertal boys immediately  turned prior to formal “sex education” in school or “Internet porn.” Clear? The reader is bound to be impressed by just how modern is the challenge with which Freud engages, namely, the distinction between intimacy and sex. Without revealing anything confidential, one can still register for training and development seminars with titles similar to “intimacy and sex,” precisely because people are still grappling with the problem. One can also turn on television and watch one hundred and one different versions of “Sex and the City,” in which the protagonists of both genders struggle with reconciling personal affection (intimacy) with sex. Another possibility is that, especially due to the “authoritative prohibition of society” (SE 7: 229) of an object-choice of a member of the same sex, that the individual ends up with the fragmented, incomplete sexuality (remember, as discussed in the first of the three essays, “perversion” or “inversion” are a technical terms, not devaluing ones). As usual, James Strachey’s translation is good but not perfect:

“A normal sexual life is only assured by an exact convergence of the two currents directed towards the sexual object and the sexual aim, the affectionate current and the sensual one. (The former, the affectionate current, comprises what remains over of the infantile efflorescence [Frühblüte = “early blooming”] of sexuality.) [Die Normalität des Geschlechtslebens wird nur durch das exakte Zusammentreffen der beiden auf Sexualobjekt und Sexualziel gerichteten Strömungen, der zärtlichen und der sinnlichen, gewährleistet, von denen die erstere in sich faßt, was von der infantilen Frühblüte der Sexualität erübrigt.].”

The key phrase here is “affectionate current and the sensual one [der zärtlichen und der sinnlichen]” – which literally means “tender and sensual.” In other words, personal intimacy and physical sensuality. They layered development of Freud’s thinking is shown in that these last words were added in 1915 and then the further clarification was added in 1920: “affectionate current comprises what is left over of the infantile efflorescence of sexuality”. In other words, intimacy and sex have to come together in order to be “normal” [Normalität].

Freud’s innovation in these essays is to decompose a single, unified adult sexual aim, reproduction, into its component parts. What seems like the indivisible unity of so-called normal, adult reproductive sexuality, aiming at propagating the species, has numerous, components. The research of the first essay on the so-called perversions that underlie adult neurotics (without, however, adult neurosis being a perversion as such) points at infantile forms of sexuality. The infantile forms of sexuality can, in turn, be gathered from evidence collected by observing children in the nursery and interviewing caretakers: the infant’s pleasure in sucking as an end in itself, distinct from nourishment; the dynamics of toilet training around the withholding of the bowel movement and “gifting” it to the empathic caretaker who receives it with delight (prior to discarding it down the sewer); the uninhibited impulse to openly masturbate on the part of many children and the problems that result from an unempathic sanctioning of such relatively innocent activities. The sexual aim of infantile sexuality is the autoerotic pleasures to be derived from oral, anal, and phallic (the “phallus” including the clitoris) goes “underground” at about the age of five as the child enters a period of latency. This occurs for biological reasons as the child’s reproductive capabilities are immature and unusable but even more significantly under the pressures of the community that the child masters the challenges of socialization to the community – go to school, learn to play with others, prepare to participate in a complex social milieu that requires cognitive skills and mastery of communal norms and ethical standards. The child is rudely awakened from this period of latency by the arrival of the hormonal changes of puberty.

From a psychosexual point of view, in order to succeed the growing individual must exchange the infantile aims of pleasure from the erogenous zones of the oral, anal, and phallic zones for the reproductive aim of propagating the species. In the case of the man, this requires discharge of semen. In the case of the woman, the process is complicated by the requirement of being both receptive and productive, but the aim of propagating the species is the same:

The sexual drive is now subordinated to the reproductive function; it becomes, so to say, altruistic (SE 7: 207).

The altruism consists in subordinating the selfish interest of individual pleasure to the welfare of the offspring, the family, and the community at large. This subordination is never completely finished and the resulting dynamic will engage Freud for the rest of his career culminating in such works as Civilization and Its Discontents (1931) according to which the more advanced a given culture, the more the individual has to struggle with renunciation and the resulting guilt.

Freud describes the changes at puberty as the maturing of the sex organs – the ability of the male to produce fertile sperm and of the females to produce a fertilizable egg and welcoming womb for the development of the baby.

The “good part” consists in Freud’s inquiry into the dynamics of sexual excitement. Sexual arousal. Sexual tension (Sexualspannung). Though an over-simplification, Freud suggests that sexual tension is not unambiguously pleasureable. Arousal has as aspect to it of displeasure.

Here Freud is working with his commitment to what is called “the pleasure principle,” namely, that the organism strives to reduce tension. In brief, the pleasure principle is the commitment to the organism at the biological level to reduce tension. Even delayed gratification, which is the complementary reality principle (and which does not come up in this text), is only a detour and strategic way of getting to gratification. Delayed gratification is, after all, gratification promised in the future. Freud will continue to work with the paradox that tension is something to be discharged as stressful yet a source or pleasure in “The Economic Problem of Masochism” (1924) and “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” (1920).

At this point, Freud marshals evidence of the dangers of fixation on what is developmentally a isolated erotogenic zone. For example, and at the risk of a gross over-simplification, in the case of the Wolf Man (his real names was Sergei Pankejeff), he and his slightly older sister are believed to have indulged in sex play as Sergei was of tender age. The amount of pleasure that was (in effect) burned into his unconscious memory was so great that the need for mutual masturbation derailed his emerging adult, reproductive sexuality. Instead of being able to attain a mature sexual organism with a women in standard intercourse, the process of foreplay becomes an end in itself, whether with oral or anal or fetish being the object of desire, not reproduction. In a reconstruction that lives as one of the most celebrated examples of Victorian quasi-pornography, the process of psychoanalysis infers that he witnessed his father having intercourse with his mother from the rear, with his father on his knees penetrating her from behind. Naturally, the young child misinterpreted what he saw as an act of violence [see the second essay on Infantile Sexuality and the theories of children of tender age about intercourse] and when his sister subsequently and unwittingly used a picture of “the big bad wolf” in a fairy story sadistically to scare the young boy, all these impressions were condensed and amalgamated into a wolf phobia, with the wolves appearing to the lad in nightmares. Hence, the need for a psychoanalysis with Freud to disentangle this fixation at an immature stage of sexuality (which, however, was just the tip of the iceberg.

Freud is on the path of pleasure as he calls attention to “fore pleasure,” what might today be redescribed as [sexual] “foreplay.” From the point of view of energy dynamics, fore-play heightens the sexual and emotional tension in order to produce a heightened sense of satisfaction as the tension is relieved and discharged in the sexual climax. Freud finds an analogy to the sexual dynamic in an unconventional place, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905). In telling a joke, tension is heightened by the length of the story, culminating in a “punch line.” This provide a model for sexual fore-play.

Freud subscribes to a chemical theory of the onset of puberty (SE 7: 215). In 1905 when the essays were first published, Freud would likely have know that in 1849, Arnold Berthold (1803 – 1861) establish that castrated roosters did not develop combs and wattles or exhibit overtly male behavior [Berthold AA (1849). “Transplantation der Hoden,” Arch. Anat. Physiol. Wiss. Med. 16: 42–6.]. Freud was still alive in the 1920s when the steroid structure of the sex hormones was discovered. Though Freud did not comment, he may actually have believed that his libido theory was being validated as the first breakthroughs came in 1929 as the American biochemist Edward Doisy (1893-1986) isolated a crystalline form of estrone. Five years later, German biochemist Adolf Butenandt (1903-1995) and his colleagues isolated progesterone.

Freud’s libido theory remains an attempt at scientific generalization and theorizing that contains significant issues. In his monumental The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (1970), Henri Ellenberger finds the origin of the notion in animal magnetism, which was the physical substance hypothesized by Anton Mesmer, analogous to diverse forms of physical energy in thermodynamics. Animal magnetism because the basis for hypnotism, which, in turn, became the basis for the altered states of consciousness experienced in dissociative and hysterical trances and absences in Freud’s teachers, Martin Charcot (1825 – 1893) and Hippolyte Bernheim (1840-1919). There is something compelling about the idea that falling in love, idealizing a mentor, or even the affection and affinity of a friendship activate a certain emotional energy and exchange between the individuals. When people pay attention to an issue or object, it engages their attention. We invest a certain cognitive and emotional interest in our world and people in it that are important to us. In an amygdala “hijack” neurotransmitters activate a “flight or fight” response, not a sex hormone as such, but a quantifiable amount of anxiety. But what has never been established is any correlation between physiological or metabolic processes and some substance or quantity = x that Freud labels “libido” (which, by the way, is the Latin word for “desire,” e.g., as used by Cicero). In short, everyone has to decide for her- or himself how much credibility is to be given to a metaphorical notion of “emotional energy,” in one’s life project and relationships. Nevertheless, the energetic point of view is fundamental to reading and understanding Freud. Though engaging attempts have been made to substitute communication theory or linguistics for the libido, none have completely succeeded in capturing the felt sense of emotional engagement of the ego with the obscure objects of desire that seem inevitably to result in felt, emotional conflict between desire and a frustrating world.

At this point Freud says some things, which though brilliant in their studied ambiguity, became both the source of the sexual revolution of the1960 as well as sometimes making Freud the target of feminist anger. In particular, the role of the clitoris in female sexuality. It is above all else a phallic instrument, and to attain to full female organism, additional repression is required, to translate clitoral stimulation to the vagina:

“When at last the sexual act is permitted and the clitoris itself becomes excited, it still retains a function: the task, namely, of transmitting the excitation to the adjacent female sexual parts, just as—to use a simile—pine shavings can be kindled in order to set a log of harder wood on fire” (SE 7: 221).

Kindling indeed. Close enough. According to Freud, the male has it relatively easy and his commitment is to discharge semen, pure and simple. The female and to advance beyond stimulating the clitoris, which remains essentially masculine in its pleasure, to an entirely new erotogenic zone, the clitoris. In short, since there are more steps in development, there are more things that can go wrong. That is Freud’s explanation as to why his psychoanalytic practice saw more women than men. He did not consider the possibility that the ways in which women were able to express their ambitions and their sufferings were more constrained by the paternalistic society of Vienna 1900 than those offered to men.

Freud has now exhaustively surveyed the biological changes that occur at puberty. In order to complete the psychological changes that occur, too, Freud has to consider the redirection of the objects of desire from those corresponding to the child’s desire for the breast to the sex organ of the opposite sex. The breast is lost in the process of weaning, during which the object shows up as a whole person. For the male in particular, the lost breast results in the search for a satisfying relationship with a woman. This leads to one of the most famous lines in Freud: “The finding of an object is in fact the refinding of it” (SE 7: 222).

But after a long detour through biology, Freud needs to motivate the requirement of combing intimacy and sex. Freud does an elaborate dance, describing how the mother (caretakers) physical ministrations to the body of the child of tender age is stimulating in a sexual way and then insisting that such processes are wrappered in an affection and affinity for the person that teaches the child to love in an aim-inhibited way (SE 7: 223). Today we would say: “Yes, such physical ministrations are sexually stimulating, but when undertaken with empathy for the child as a whole person, then they lay down the structures needed to unite intimacy and sex when the child grows up to be an adult.”

This provides the basis for Freud’s advice to parents about childhood spoiling, children’s fear of the dark, and other childhood anxieties. When children of tender age lose the love (and affection) that they so crave and that they perceive (rightly) as required for their well being, the libido is transformed into anxiety. This is exactly when adult neurotics do when their socially unacceptable desires to behave perversely are repressed and the libido is transformed into symptoms plus a remainder of anxiety. Hence, fear of the dark when the child’s care-taker can no longer be perceived. Freud provides a wonderful example of a child who was afraid of the dark because he could not see her and asked his nanny to talk to him. She said that it would not help him to see her; but he had a different opinion” “When you talk to me, it gets lighter.” And to him, it seemed actually to do so.

At this point, the reader encounters another two page footnote, added in 1920 and 1924, on the incest taboo. Every society has an incest taboo, and acknowledges a special horror at incest. As Freud explains in Totem and Taboo (1912), it makes no sense to prohibit something unless people want to do it. For example, there is no taboo against eating insects or worms. People rarely want to do so, and there is no need to prohibit doing so.

Why the taboo against incest? Because people want to commit incest – father/daughter, brother/sister, mother/son. But rarely does such a desire rise above the level of a fantasy of “marrying mommy” or “marrying daddy” on the part of a five year old boy or girl. If such childish affection to the opposite sex parent and aggression towards the one of the same sex is met with empathic appreciation of the desire of the boy or girl to grown up and be “just like” mommy or daddy, then it is just another stage of development. However, if such affection is responded to seductively or with adult level counter-aggression, then the potential for an unresolved neurotic fixation in fantasy is laid down in the unconscious. By prohibiting such relations, the object-choice is forced into fantasy by community standards and sanctions confronting the family unit. Rarely are such incestuous fantasies enacted; and when they are they boundary violations produce disastrous results for all involved. Nevertheless such unconscious fantasies – complexes – form the basis of object-choice on the part of the maturing individual. Freud names this complex in yet another page long footnote, added in 1920:

“It has justly been said that the Oedipus complex is the nuclear complex of the neuroses, and constitutes the essential part of their content. It represents the peak of infantile sexuality, which, through its after-effects, exercises a decisive influence on the sexuality of adults. Every new arrival on this planet is faced by the task of mastering the Oedipus complex; anyone who fails to do so falls a victim to neurosis” (SE 7: 226ftnt).

In some ways, this is the navel into the unknown of Freudian psychoanalysis. In addition to the evidence gathered in the process of performing many psychoanalysis, which, however, is subject to a certain bias, the most compelling evidence of the Oedipus complex is Sophocles’s drama of the same name, along with the hundreds of different versions of the narrative from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Ibsen’s Rebecca West, which continue to touch, inspire, and move audiences emotionally to this day.

Still, the Oedipus complex LIVES. A sexually inexperienced young man is attracted to an older woman, who either resembles his mother or is distinctly unlike her in a way to suggest that he is still dominated by his mother, though in a negative mode. The inexperienced young woman is attracted to an older man, who resembles her father or is distinctly unlike him in a way to suggest that she is still dominated by the father in a negative mode (SE 7: 228). Another affect effect of an unresolved incestuous complex is the triangular nature of jealousy whereby the individual was not even that interested in his or her partner he or she expressed mutual interest in a third party (SE 7: 228). Marcel Proust (who apparently never read Freud, though he was approximately a contemporary) provides example after example of the struggle to unite intimacy and sex in the context of his overly affectionate attachment to his mother and jealousy of his girl friends’ other romantic relationships. Given the highly patriarchal society of Vienna 1900, in which women had limited prospects for higher education, economic independence, or self-expression outside of raising a family, some women were simply unable to separate from the family unit. In the dynamic between intimacy (affection) and sex (sensuality), love remains aim-inhibited and (so to speak) “Platonic”:

“Girls with an exaggerated need for affection and an equally exaggerated horror of the real demands made by sexual life have an irresistible temptation on the one hand to realize the ideal of asexual love in their lives and on the other hand to conceal their libido behind an affection which they can express with self-reproaches by holding fast throughout their lives to their infantile fondness, revived at puberty, for their parents or brothers or sisters” (SE 7: 227 – 228).

(By the way, this is one sentence.) The point is that the unification of intimacy and sex does not only fail as a series of meaningless sexual encounters. It also fails as sexual inhibition, which according to many contemporary surveys is the most common form of sexual problem even today.

Another reason is psychosocial: to drive adolescent boys out of the family unit and create larger communities through intermarriage between tribes:

Respect for this [incest] barrier is essentially a cultural demand made by society. Society must defend itself against the danger that the interests which it needs for the establishment of higher social units may be swallowed up by the family; and for this reason, in the case of every individual, but in particular of adolescent boys, it seeks by all possible means to loosen their connection with the family…(SE 7: 225).

Still, given what Freud describes as “the authoritative prohibitions of society” (SE 7: 229) of an object-choice of a member of the same sex, Freud is inclined to push back to a certain extent, at least prior to aligning himself with adapting to the status quo:

Chief among these is its [homoeroticism’s] authoritative prohibition by society. Where inversion is not regarded as a crime it will be found that it answers fully to the sexual inclinations of no small number of people (SE 7: 229)

This is simply described as “what’s so.” Lots of people are sexually attracted to the same sex partner. Get over it. Unfortunately, such attractions were regarded as a crime in England, where Oscar Wilde got himself imprisoned in Freud’s time and the computational genius Alan Turing in our time, actions of appalling injustice with tragic results. No where in Freud does he ever recommend trying to use psychoanalysis to change an individual’s sexual preference, nor is there any evidence that Freud thinks such an approach would have any chance of success. On the contrary, his April 1935 letter to a mother concerned about her son’s sexual orientation, state explicitly “homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of”. Freud continues:

Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis. [The letter has appeared in an exhibit at the Wellcome Collection on load from the Kinsey Institute ( checked April 02, 2016 ]

Meanwhile, in the third essay, Freud returns to his reflections in the first essay on bisexuality in a length footnote added in 1915:

[…] in human beings pure masculinity or femininity is not to be found either in a psychological or a biological sense. Every individual on the contrary displays a mixture of the character-traits belonging to his own and to the opposite sex; and he shows a combination of activity and passivity whether or not these last character-traits tally with his biological ones (SE 7: 219ftnt).

Indeed Freud ends the third essay where he began the first one, namely, with an allusion to the method of education of the ancient Greeks in Athens:

“The education of boys by male persons (by slaves, in antiquity) seems to encourage homosexuality. The frequency of inversion among the present-day aristocracy is made somewhat more intelligible by their employment of menservants, as well as by the fact that their mothers give less personal care to their children” (SE 7: 230).

This is not a devaluing judgment; it is a historical description of what was so; and indeed continued to live on among the aristocracy (those holding titles of nobility) in Freud’s own time. No doubt, many things have shifted since then in education and society, and, paradoxically, both our own contemporary sexual puritanism and our license have expanded since Victorian times in ways that we struggle to grasp. We continue to struggle with boundary issues – as did Freud – and the good news is that we often get it right.In other cases, we just struggle. On this note, the third essay ends.

The essays include a substantial summary that do a lot of work in consolidating and carrying forward the key ideas about bisexuality, perversions, infantile sexuality, and the role of sexuality in puberty and adult life.

Freud reiterates his conclusion that

“[…] [N]eurosis is, as it were, the negative of perversion. In view of what was now seen to be the wide dissemination of tendencies to perversion we were driven to the conclusion that a disposition to perversions is an original and universal disposition of the human sexual instinct and that normal sexual behavior is developed out of it as a result of organic changes and psychical inhibitions occurring in the course of maturation; we hoped to be able to show the presence of this original disposition in childhood. Among the forces restricting the direction taken by the sexual instinct we laid emphasis upon shame, disgust, pity and the structures of morality and authority erected by society” (SE 7: 231).

These are precisely the kinds of statements that outraged the delicate sensibilities of Freud’s contemporaries and some of our own. Civilization and culture – the community – has standards that require that the polymorphous perverse drives of the oral, anal, and phallic pleasures associated with sucking, bowel movements, and masturbation be kept in their place. Neither Freud (who is at times quite conventional in his life) nor is anyone else suggesting having a conversation about these bodily functions before or during dinner with the family. That felt sense of shame or disgust is precisely the force of repression that inhibits one’s attention to such matters keeps them out of conscious awareness.

Herein lies a short account of the relation between perversion and psychoneurosis (especially hysteria). The individual engaging in would-be perverted activities such as a shoe fetish or sex with a minor (a criminal act) or bondage (etc.) is unrepressed – uninhibited – in acting out his or her sexual fantasies. While such activities may be problematic for other reasons, for example, if they involve boundary violations and are not between consenting adults or would result in incarceration for violating social standards or criminal codes, they are technically speaking acting out infantile forms of sexuality. The individual who is destined to be neurotic is so scrupulous in his or her conscience that the individual is unwilling even to fantasize about such activities and does not acknowledge any such wishes. However, the wish will out. The idea is expressed as a symptom and the desire is transformed into anxiety. So, for example, Dora would not admit to herself that she was interested in performing oral sex, but the fantasy of cunnilingus was totally unacceptable to her and repressed. As a result, she developed multiple symptoms that converted the idea into a somatic form – a chronic cough, an irritation of the mucus membranes of her throat, and a vaginal discharge. In turn, these symptoms were a compromise formation punishing the individual for her “bad” wish and expressing the idea that she was not self-expressed in the oral mode. The desire itself was converted into a towering rage at the misbehavior of the grown ups in her environment, which caused her father to call in his friend, Professor Freud, to try to convince her to “be reasonable.” Thereby hangs a tale.

From our perspective today, in which evolutionary psychology has gained significant traction, Freud makes a powerful point. The latency period is an important innovation in which the species homo sapiens is distinguished from its primate relatives:

“… [T]hat [man’s sexual] development is interrupted by the period of latency, seemed to call for particular notice. This appears to be one of the necessary conditions of the aptitude of men for developing a higher civilization, but also of their tendency to neurosis. So far as we know, nothing analogous is to be found in man’s animal relatives” (SE 7: 234).

The delay of reproductive, sexual maturity means that the growing person has an opportunity to be trained in whatever skills are important to the community of which he is a part, so that his or her skills grow along with the synapse in the brain, and whether those skills include hunting, foraging, or computer programming. When latency is interrupted by a sexual seduction – Freud’s euphemism for a “boundary violation” – then “such premature sexual activity diminishes a child’s educability (SE 7: 234).

Freud develops a nuanced position on nature versus nurture:

“It is not easy to estimate the relative efficacy of the constitutional and accidental factors. In theory one is always inclined to overestimate the former; therapeutic practice emphasizes the importance of the latter. It should, however, on no account be forgotten that the relation between the two is a co-operative and not a mutually exclusive one. The constitutional factor must await experiences before it can make itself felt; the accidental factor must have a constitutional basis in order to come into operation” (SE 7: 239).

In summary, there are three possible outcomes as the growing person attempts to unite the diverse erogenous zones. If the constitutional commitment to the genital zone (“nature”) is weak and the forces of repression (‘nurture”) are not too strong, then the result is perversion. If the forces of repression are strong, then the result is psychoneurosis. However, even if the constitutional factors are unfavorable and the societal one’s problematic, the individual is not necessarily doomed. Indeed, upon reading this summary, the reader ends up amazed that not everyone is either a pervert or a neurotic, Freud would probably suggest that even those of us who do not satisfy rigorous criteria for perversion or neurosis all lie on a continuum with those who do so. The alternative is sublimation. Sublimation is the psychological mechanism whereby the aim of the unruly, polymorphous perverse sex drives is itself shifted from one of pleasure to aim-inhibited gratification in artistic or aesthetic or even scientific pursuits, though the shift is usually an imperfect or incomplete one:

“Here we have one of the origins of artistic activity; and, according to the completeness or incompleteness of the sublimation, a characterological analysis of a highly gifted individual, and in particular of one with an artistic disposition, may reveal a mixture, in every proportion, of efficiency, perversion and neurosis” (SE 7: 238).

A cruder example of sublimation is the principle of compensation displayed by the mechanism of reaction formation. Thus, those ultimate bad boys, the Rolling Stones and their song “Sympathy for the Devil,” which runs “just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinner’s saints”:

“A sub-species of sublimation is to be found in suppression by reaction-formation, which, as we have seen, begins during a child’s period of latency and continues in favorable cases throughout his whole life. What we describe as a person’s ‘character’ is built up to a considerable extent from the material of sexual excitations and is composed of instincts that have been fixed since childhood, of constructions achieved by means of sublimation, and of other constructions, employed for effectively holding in check perverse impulses which have been recognized as being unutilizable” (SE 7: 238 – 239).

In short, those of us who are not natural geniuses, compensate for our weaknesses and build community in the process.

In conclusion, one criticism of Freud. On a positive note, he produces many innovations and insights that provide the breakthrough of a modern approach to sexuality – tolerance of bisexuality; endorsement of sexual foreplay; a foundation for understanding how adult sexuality is a synthesis of polymorphous perverse components such as oral, anal, phallic; astute observations from the nursery and crib about the nonobvious sexuality of children of tender; and a commitment to making a coherent whole out of intimacy and sex. However, the latter seems to drop off the radar at about the point where, in the throes of the Oedipal crisis, the child of tender age has to renounce fantasies of “marrying” the parent of the opposite sex while simultaneously doing away with the same sex parent. What actually happens such that intimacy and sexuality are united in a happy adult relationship and marriage?


Freud, Sigmund. (1905). Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 7 (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on Sexuality and Other Works: 123-246)).

Featured image credit (on splash page): San Diego Repertory Theatre Does Oedipus with Monica Sanchez and Lakin Valdez

(c) Lou Agosta, Ph.D. The Chicago Empathy Project



Categories: Empathy, fore-play, fore-pleasure, Freud, Freud's Three Essays on Sexuality Reviewed, Love, narrative empathy

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