Vicissitudes of infantile sexuality

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“Describe and explain the vicissitudes of infantile sexuality with particular reference to the infant's polymorphously perverse disposition and to the parts played by suppression, sublimation and reaction formation.”

“No one has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction in later life” According to Freud, Sexuality, is any type of pleasurable feeling connected with the areas of the body that have an area of high sensitivity. These areas of the body are known as the erogenous zones.

An infant's sexuality is believed to hold the foundations of adult sexuality. Sexual impulses are present in a new born baby, right up to becoming a child and develop over time until the person reaches adulthood. The desires that are there in childhood are eventually suppressed by a process called infantile amnesia. They do not reappear until adolescence. In this paper the main aspects of infantile sexuality will be discussed. This includes the theory of psychosexual development, the Oedipus and Electra complexes, also the polymorphously perversion disposition of the child. There will be references to some of Freud's case studies, which include Little Hans, Dora, and the Schreber case.

“The organic impression of this experience - the first source of pleasure in our life - doubtless remains indelibly printed on us” (ibid: 87)

The first psychosexual stage, according to Freud is The Oral Stage. This is from birth up to 18 months old. During this time, the infant's primary source of interaction is the mouth. It is vital for nourishment and so because of this, the infant takes pleasure from oral stimulation through activities such as sucking and rooting. As the infant is totally and completely dependent on their parents or the people who are responsible for feeding them they develop a sense of comfort and trust from this oral stimulation. The most important and vital encounter during the oral phase is the weaning process. This is where the infant becomes less dependent upon the people or the parents who are feeding them. Freud believes that “fixation” occurs at this stage. Fixation in the oral stage can have one of 2 effects. If a child is under-fed or neglected they may become orally dependant and obsessed with achieving oral stimulation of which they are deprived of. Freud believes that if it occurs at this stage that the infant will grow up to have issues with dependence and aggression. They learn to manipulate others to fulfil their needs, rather than becoming independent.

The second psychosexual stage is The Anal Stage. This occurs from 2 - 3 years of age. It represents the conflict with the id, ego and superego. Freud believes that the primary focus of the libido is on controlling the bladder and bowel movements. The major issue at this stage is toilet training; the child has to learn to control their bodily needs. Once this control is developed, it leads them to a sense of independence. It is believed that success at this stage occurs on the way in which parents of the child approach the toilet training. Parents who use praise and rewards for using the toilet at appropriate times incite positive outcomes and help the child to feel capable and productive. A positive experience during this stage may serve as the basis for the child to grown into a competent, creative and productive adult. However, some parents punish shame and ridicule children for accidents. Inappropriate parental responses can result in negative outcomes. If parents are too strict, Freud believes that it could lead to anal-retentive personality. In which the child grows up to be obsessive, rigid and demanding adult. If some approaches are too lenient towards toilet training, then the child could develop anal-expulsive personality which could lead to them becoming a destructive and messy adult.

The third psychosexual stage is The Phallic Stage. It occurs from the ages of 3 - 6. The primary focus around this time is the genitals. Also, children learn the difference between male and female. Both boys and girls begin to have conflicting feelings of guilt about their secret sexual desires and they also have a fear of punishment about these feelings. They deal with this by repressing the feelings due to competition and fear of identifying with a same sex partner. This is known as Identification with the Aggressor. Boys begin to view their fathers as rivals for their mothers' affections. Also known as the Oedipus complex. The young boy believes he will be punished by his father for these feelings. This is known as the castration complex.

The Oedipus Complex occurs during the phallic stage, which is during the oedipal phase of libidinal and ego development this is usually aged 3-5. If it is not resolved the child will experience sexual deviances, such as becoming promiscuous and sexually confused as an adult. The development of the superego can help in resolving this conflict. It does this by incorporating moral and social values from society by the parents about sexual roles as a male or a female. The Oedipus Complex is a group of unconscious ideas and feelings that centre on the desire to possess the parent of the opposite sex and also eliminate the parent of the same sex. The transferring of affections may also occur as the child seeks to be independent of the mother. At some point during this, the child realises that there is a difference between the mother and the father. Also, they realise that they are more alike to one than the other, this is where the child acquires gender.

As The Oedipus Complex is to young boys, the Electra Complex is to young girls. The Electra Complex is the psychoanalytic theory that a female's development involves a sexual attraction to her father. Originally the girl is attached to her mother. But during the phallic stage, the young girl discovers she has no penis. She becomes libidinally attached to the father figure while becoming more hostile towards the mother. Freud believes this is all because of penis envy. This is where a young girl is envious of the male penis. This leads to resentment of the mother figure, who she believes caused her “castration”. The hostility towards the mother is later revoked. This is for fear of losing her mothers' love, and so the mother becomes internalized.

“There is consequently little resistance towards carrying them out, since the mental dams against sexual excess - shame, disgust and morality - have either not yet been constructed at all or are only in course of construction, according to the age of the child.” Polymorphous perversity is a psychoanalytic term for human ability to gain sexual satisfaction outside socially normative sexual behaviours. This term is used by Freud to describe the normal sexual disposition of humans, from infancy to age 5, where it processes through 3 developmental stages; oral, anal and phallic. Freud called a child's sexuality polymorphously perverse as it has common factors with adult “perversion”. Such as sadomasochism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, fetishism, and homosexuality. It is said that humans are born with unfocused sexual libidinal drives, which take sexual pleasure from any body part. Only in subsequent developmental stages do children learn to constrain sexual drives to socially accepted norms, culminating in adult heterosexual behaviours, that is focused on genitals and reproduction. Lacking knowledge that certain modes of gratification are forbidden, the polymorphously perverse child seeks sexual gratification whenever it occurs. . . Hans's anxiety, which thus corresponded to a repressed erotic longing, was, like every infantile anxiety, without an object to begin with: it was still an anxiety and not yet a fear”

Repression is the involuntary act of excluding desires, wishes, fantasies and feelings from a person's consciousness and storing them in the unconscious. It is known as a defense mechanism. Traumatic events are usually the most commonly repressed. There are two different stages of repression, the first; Primary Repression. This occurs in infancy. When it is learned that some aspects or parts of reality are pleasant, while some are not. The same goes for aspects that are controllable and those that are not. To define the self, the infant has to repress the fact that things are equal. At the end of this stage, the child can make the distinction between desires, fears, others and themselves.

The second stage of repression is Secondary Repression. This stage occurs once the child has realised that acting on some for the desires they are feeling could eventually lead to anxiety. This in turn will lead to the repression of desire. The threat of punishment that is related to this anxiety where it is internalized becomes the superego.

The superego mediates against the desires of the id, which works on the pleasure principle without the need for any threat. Repression occurs in Freud's case history of “Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy” also known as Little Hans. In this Little Hans has a phobia of horses. His fear is of them biting him. Which brings it back to the castration anxiety as all he wants to do is “coax with his mother” instead of going out onto the street. Which he believes has to do with his father punishing him as he wants to be close to his mother and not his father. Known as the Oedipal Complex.

Suppression is quite the opposite as Repression, even though it has the same end result. Suppression is the process of deliberately trying to stop thinking about certain thoughts. Its associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD). In which the person will repeatedly attempt to neutralize intrusive and distressing thoughts that are centred around one or more obsession.

“It is during this period of total or partial latency that build up the mental forces which are later to impede the course of the sexual instinct and, like dams, restrict its flow - disgust, feelings of shame and the claims of aesthetic and moral ideals” The Latent Period is one of the more important phases. It occurs from the ages of 3 - 7 and 8- 13. This is the time when the child starts to identify with the parent of the same sex. The child learns to adapt to reality and begin “infantile amnesia”, which is the repression of the child's earliest traumas. At this time, the child realises that their wishes and longings for the parent of the opposite sex cannot be fulfilled and so they turn away from their desires. The libido interests are suppressed. The ego and superego development contribute to this. All this occurs around the time that the child begins school. They become interested in hobbies and peers. Their sexual and aggressive drives are expressed in socially accepted forms through repression and sublimation. It is an important stage for the development of social communication skills and self confidence. It's also an exploration time where sexual energy is present, but it is instead directed into social interactions and intellectual pursuits. The child has now evolved from a baby with primitive drives to a human being with complex feeling such as shame, guilt and disgust.

“If one were to yield to a first impression, one would say that sublimation is a vicissitude which has been forced upon the instincts entirely by civilisation”

Also in infantile sexuality, the role of Sublimation is important. It is used to describe the spirit as a reflection of the libido. It is also the process of transforming the libido into “socially useful” achievements, mainly art. It is a defense mechanism that allows us to act out on an unacceptable impulse by converting these behaviours into a more acceptable form. For example, a person who has a lot of built up anger, should take up kick boxing or some other type of aggressive sport. In Freud's theory, erotic energy is allowed only a limited expression due to the constraints of human society. This defense mechanism is considered the most productive compared to all the others he identified.

The final defensive mechanism is known as Reaction-Formation. This is a defensive process in which anxiety producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are mastered by exaggeration of directly opposing tendency. Usually when if occurs, it is assumed that the original, rejected impulses does not vanish. But instead persists, unconscious in its original infantile form.

When a person feels an urge to do or to say something. But actually does or says something completely different than what they really want. This is reaction formation. It also appears to be a defence against a feared social punishment. A common pattern in reaction Formation is there the person uses “excessive behaviour”. For example, exaggerating friendliness when the person is actually being unfriendly.

There are many different areas into infantile sexuality. The main being psychosexual development, which is the development of the child during the different stages. Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latency and Genital. The Oedipus Complex and the Electra Complex is an important factor to consider during this developmental stage. It is concluded that during infantile sexuality that all the defense mechanisms that are used are all vitally important to a child's development from infancy to adolescence. Particularly the ways that a parent or child-carer goes about implementing these stages.