Is Freud’s theory on psychosexual stages, genius or ludicrous?

Ok, so for this week’s blog I want to start off a debate which is already controversial in the Psychology world. I want to discuss Freud’s theory of Psycho-sexual stages of development, also looking into each stage to see whether or not his views are shared or rejected in this day in age?

Sigmund Freud was an influential scientist as well psychologist. He came up with a theory, where personalities can be explained from five psycho-sexual stages of development.

I must be totally honest at this stage; I know very little of Freud’s theory, but am interested in his concepts and wanted to learn more about his theory, after talking briefly about it with a friend. Reading Freud’s opinion on psycho-sexual it definitely pushes the boundary’s, and in some aspects of his theories, promotes views that are not only controversial, but also negative views on women.

The first stage in development was the Oral stage; Freud believed that during the ages 0-18 months, the child would develop a sexual instinct to their care giver (his mother). This is quite disturbing to read but Freud interpretation on sexual was something that gives pleasure through the body i.e. cuddling a teddy bear or receiving a hug; not in a sexual way.

The second stage was the anal stage (18-36 months). The child was able to control their bowls; where his focus was on this element of control. He believed that if you were unable to develop from oral to anal stage (Fixed), the child would seek self gratification through smoking or thumb sucking etc.

He thought that becoming fixed at this stage was down to the mother not breast feeding the child enough or that they exerted too much pleasure at the breast.

The third stage was the most shocking; in my opinion, and has created world wide controversy in his field. He believed that at the age 3-6 years the child develops an interest to their genitals, but also on the opposite gender parent; their mother. This introduces the Oedipus complex, where the boy basically wants to have his mother’s full attention, and is envious of his father. But at the same time is anxious that his father will find out about his feelings.

Other stages were the Latency stage, where little development takes place and the genital stage (puberty) main focus in on the genitals and relationships.

Freud was interested in Darwin’s theory of evolution and also the Oedipus conflict; which he named his third stage.

In Greek mythology Oedipus fell in love with his mother and killed his father, only later realising who they actually were. (COLLINS Second Edition, Cardwell. M, Clark. Liz, Meldrum. C, Psychology for A Level, p480).

Freud also believed women fell into this category during the Phallic stage, but to their opposite gender care giver. Questioning that woman went through the Electra complex; which in a nutshell was to have penis envy?

Us women apparently blame our mothers for us not having a penis and is something that would stay with us, until we had our own desire to have children?

Personally I don’t fancy the idea of having a penis or have the desire to have children anytime soon!

Freud was a man who was very sexual; which showed in his studies, but also into Cocaine. You could argue that his opinions on the Oedipus complex theory were clouded by his own bias feeling towards his mother.


COLLINS Second Edition, Cardwell. M, Clark. Liz, Meldrum. C, Psychology for A Level, p480-482.

Norton, Gleitman. H, Gross. J, Reisberg. D, International student edition Psychology, P609-610


7 thoughts on “Is Freud’s theory on psychosexual stages, genius or ludicrous?

  1. Freud’s theory could be completely accurate, but it is an un-falsifiable theory as it is to do with unconscious influences which cannot be tested. Also, these stages take place before the age of 6 and therefore it will be very difficult to get an accurate opinion from these children about whether they have ‘sexual instincts’ towards their caregivers. therefore it is very difficult to decide whether this theory is genius or ludicrous.

  2. There are many criticisms of Freud’s theories, especially when it comes to the Psycho-sexual stages of development. Of course, all of Freud’s theories and concepts have no scientific worth and cannot be proved. He is criticised by Feminists for excluding women in his studies, although further research was conducted to create the Electra complex. Karen Horney proposed that it is not ‘penis envy’ that girls face, but ‘power envy’. She further proposed that males are envious of the female ability to bear children, this is known as ‘womb and vagina envy’. Freud is not only criticised for being sexist, but for also being obsessed with human sexuality. It has been argued that his fixation with this has led him to link all theories back to sexual references (Frank Cioffi, 2005). Another big question is whether Freud considered other cultures when creating his ideas, are his theories universally generalisable? Non-Western cultures are usually ignored, but what about families where there is not one mother and one father? For example, Bronislaw Malinkwski’s study on children from the Trobriand Island revealed that boys are disciplined by their uncles, not their fathers. He proposed that power, not sexual jealously, is the source of oedipal conflict. Although Freud is often criticised it is important to remember that his theory of psycho-sexual stages has offered psychologists ideas and concepts into childhood minds, and offering suggestions that the mind works on more than one level. However interesting Freud’s theories may be, they will not be taken seriously until empirical evidence is offered, therefore it could be suggested that his theories are both ludicrous and genius.

    1. Frank Cioffi (2005) “Sigmund Freud” entry The Oxford Guide to Philosophy Oxford University Press

    2. Bronislaw Malinowski, Sex and Repression in Savage Society, 1927

  3. Freud also failed to take into account any other possible reasons and systems of child attachment and development. His research was entered with a bias towards his own theories involving male genitals, castration and sex, and were mainly supported and based on findings of case studies. Other theories such as Bowlby’s attachment and conditioning theories have gained stronger evidence as alternative explanations and more easily tested, verified and influential (Bretherton, 1992; Barnes, 1952).


    Barnes, C. A., (1952). A statistical study of the Freudian theory of levels of psychosexual development. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 45, 105-174. Abstract retrieved from
    Bretherton, I., (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 759-775. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.28.5.759

  4. First of all, I would like to start with the fact that wanting a penis is not that bad, end of the day, they are awesome!:p but on a serious note, although Freud’s theories were greatly influential in the field of Psychology, and highly interesting as they are, one must also remember, they are JUST theories. It has absolutely no scientific evidence or background research, meaning all of this, was just the workings of a man. And a man who may not actually have been stable, as mentioned above he participated in the takings of Cocaine, making his beliefs and mental health questionable, as it may have all been one huge drug trip.

  5. I think the genius opinion could be argued for the grounds that these theories are still taught and argued over today, if they were worthless then surely debate over Freuds ideas would of ended long ago. However these theories, in the eyes of falsification, are scientifically unviable as they rely on abstract ideas that can not be verified. The fact freud was a prolific opium user during his creation of the psychodynamics theories may lead some to question his theories and, as they are more atypical may lead them to be labelled as ludicrous. The debate goes on.

    1996). Freud and Cocaine — The Deal. Available: Last accessed 17th Oct 2011.

  6. Going out on a limb here, I am going to take the rare view of support for Freud’s psychosexual theories. While his totally unscientific methods and conclusions drawn have genuinely no defence in their lack of scientific methods, his overall point may have touched upon something profound. Human beings are animals, albeit highly sophisticated and social ones. Animals, indeed all forms of life as we know it are driven by two ultimate forces: to survive and to reproduce. This can be seems in mammals, reptiles, fish and even plants and bacteria. Take the Titan Arum plant (commonly known as the corpse plant) of western Sumatra for example: it’s horribly pungent smell, reminiscent to take of decaying flesh, fulfils both drives: the smell drives away birds, or smaller vegetation eating animals, but also attracts flies, which then take it’s pollen to fertilise elsewhere and found a new plant. These drives are literally universal in life on this planet.
    Back to Freud: if we are so keen to accept it as ‘only natural’ for a human to want to survive then we must also accept the need to reproduce as equally fundamental to human behaviour. As this is an evolutionary byproduct it seems only natural for it to been present in some kind in childhood and infancy, and therefore the psychosexual stages, although the details may be debatable, are a perfectly legitimate theory.

    Titan Arum ‘Corpse’ Plant :

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