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The Anal Phase Of Psychosexualdevelopment

Object Relationships

Psychoanalytic metapsychologists teach that there is a shift of pleasurable investment from oral to anal zones and activities at approximately the ninth month of life. It might be inferred that the mouth or oral zone activities lose their important pleasurable significance (reinforcing characteristics) acquired and expanded through earlier experience. Clinical data indicate that this inference is incorrect. It is true, however, that anal activities acquire significant reinforcing value at about this age. There are two proposed reasons for this shift in investment: 1. An alteration in the character of the stool from predominantly soft, mushy, and unformed to firm and packed occurs. With this shift, there is a change in the characteristics of the stimulus provided to the anal region with passage of feces. More massive and intense stimulation of this zone results with fecal passage. 2. There is a shift in focus of attention by the parents from feeding to excretory technics and patterns at about this time. It is the rare parent who emphasizes excretory control before the sixth to ninth month. The intimate relationship between the development of indwelling self-control and the guerrilla warfare between parent and growing child over sphincter activities already has been alluded to. The behavioral mechanisms which associate shame, guilt, and a sense of power and autonomy or impotence, rage, and submissiveness with excretory experiences are not yet clarified, though they are certainly amenable to systematic study.

The infant gratifies his earliest inclinations toward independent activity by retaining or expelling excretory products. He can give or withhold. In this process, he runs the risk of being shamed, disapproved of, punished, or rejected by the nurturant environment. The risk is extremely high when he withholds in contempt of environmental demands and gives under unacceptable circumstances. Many parents identify his cooperative giving, that is, excreting on request or demand, as an activity worthy of admiration and with special emphasis on the product given as a material of great value. The so called expulsive phase of anal psychosexual development is referred to as the anal-aggressive mode. It is linked, metapsychologically, with resistance, negativism, and "self-will."

Some may find it difficult to accept the likelihood that erotic or pleasurable investments are made in anal activities, whether in infancy, childhood, or later life. The testimony of the bathroom library, which serves as a resource for pleasurable fantasy and relaxation and, in addition, the large amount of frank anal activity in adult sexual behavior speak strongly for the fact of erotic investment. Certain environmental factors intensify the sexual significance of anal activity. Some parents strongly reinforce scheduled excretory activities and equate regulated bowel functioning with physical well-being, social desirability, and acceptance. Not uncommonly the poorly informed physician directs. unnecessary attention to bowel function in a sick child by instructing an already overconcerned mother to "be sure that his bowels are open" or "to see to it that he gets a good cleaning out." Literary allusion to bowel functioning as related to survival is exemplified in the often quoted injunction of Ernest Hemingway to all men in military service, paraphrased somewhat as follows: "If you want to survive, keep your bowels open, your mouth shut, and don't volunteer."

Anal experiences also acquire intensely reinforcing characteristics through the seductive manipulation of anal areas by mothers who are forever inserting suppositories or giving enemas as. a proof of their concern over the health and welfare of their children. It is not surprising, then, that we encounter many adults who, under conditions of intercurrent mild stress and especially under conditions where conflicts with authority or threats to financial integrity are paramount, seek regressive sexual gratification in high colonic irrigations or other purgative experiences at fashionable and immaculate spas. Anal manipulative activities frequently are exploited by parents with little or no appreciation of their significance in shaping the habit patterns, behavioral repertoires, and, ultimately, value systems of their growing children.

The Phallic Phase Of Psychosexualdevelopment

This phase appears as a result of the increasing awareness in the developing child of anatomic differences between the sexes. Specific environmental influences strongly determine the course of this phase and, of course, unadulterated curiosity plays a role as well. The phallic phase usually extends from the fourth to the ninth or tenth year, and during this period, it is common for the child to show a polymorphous pleasurable investment in inanimate objects, in self, and in homosexual as well as heterosexual objects.

The phallic phase is characterized by exploratory activity. Clinical studies of the psychosexual phases of normal children have been carried on by Anna Freud, who has recently indicated that the general characteristics of oral and anal psychosexual epochs can be clearly identified but that there is gross irregularity in the emergence and characteristics of the phallic phase in both male and female children. An experience which accentuates conflict during the phallic phase is generally referred to as primal scene anxiety. The accidental or inadvertent witnessing of adult heterosexual activities by the child of five years or older is frequently an occasion for profound anxiety. The experience demands secrecy and creates the favorable environment for long retained and ill-understood interpretations of what has been observed. Whether this experience is solitary or repeated, conflicts over its meaning and significance may persist into adult life without any clear resolution.

In our own culture, the broad spectrum of activities involving self-stimulation and explorations with partners of the same and opposite sex is conspicuous during the phallic phase with, however, substantial anxiety and guilt accompanying all such activities because of the generalized cultural taboos against them. As early as the second year, the normal female child becomes fascinated and provoked with the curious difference between herself and her brothers or exhibitionistic male playmates. Clear-cut anxiety is not necessarily associated with the experience and recognition of this difference, but there may be real fascination with the fact that urination occurs through the penis and at a distance in the boy but not in herself. One recalls the striking example of preoccupation with this difference in a two-year-old girl standing before the toilet and waiting impatiently for the urine to run through an everted umbilicus held expectantly in her hands. The restive distress which comes as an accompaniment of parental attitudes of shock, alarm, or horror over sexually curious exploration in the young child assures that such activities must acquire dangerous and threatening overtones. Where, for example, self-stimulating activities, such as rocking or crossed-thigh movements, are discovered and vigorously interdicted, the growing girl may develop an uncomfortable awareness of her anatomic "loss," and with this develop an increasing sense of unfair structural deprivation. The resultant attitude is called penis envy. Such an attitude may be strongly intensified in a female child brought up by a mother who has rejected her own feminine role and who provides either limited or no reinforcements for those activities commonly considered feminine in her own child or herself. Many mothers, in many subtle or even direct ways, show bitter resentment and even aggressive hostility about the burdens of femininity, show impatience with female homemaking functions, are inclined to avoid or escape the home and all it entails and, often enough, frankly and openly demean the role of mother and housewife. It is not likely that this mother will reinforce the moves toward female role functions in her growing girl. She may directly or indirectly provide aversive consequences for such activities and thus indirectly communicate the conclusion that the feminine role and all that accompanies it (including the absence of the penis) is intolerable and unacceptable. Little more than anecdotal correlations between the factors described have thus far appeared in the psychiatric and psychologic literature. Critical studies are still required to demonstrate the postulated association between intense penis envy and rejection of the female role by the mother figure.

Significant castration fears in the boy, less so in the girl, are not as important a factor in psychosexual development as they were in the immediate post-Victorian period. The change may reflect increasing knowledge about the importance of such factors and the physiologic aspects of sexual activities and curiosity by recent generations of parents. In spite of this change, such fears do manifest themselves not only in normal children but also, in much sharper focus, in the productions of neurotic and psychotic individuals. Such fears are focused and accentuated by parents who respond to exploratory activities in female children with terrifying injunctions and, more directly, with specific and often impulsively brutal threats. A factor which mitigates penis envy in the girl is provided by the gratification which she discovers in her daily activities. In this regard, it is fortunate that the female child .generally moves along at a more rapid developmental pace than the male during the period of four to ten years. The result is that girls generally can compete successfully and even surpass their male peers during this developmental interval and thus derive more satisfaction from competitive as well as sublimating activities. Where these gratifications are experienced in the environment provided by a maternal figure who is healthily acceptant of her own role, there can be no serious question about the satisfactory sexual maturation and identification of her female child.

Genital manipulation and exploration are, of course, very much more common in the male child for obvious anatomic reasons. Restricted attitudes toward biologic realities can drive such activities far underground but rarely succeed in terminating them. Where serious castration threats are used to control such activities, however, there may be intense and pervasive concerns about such an eventuality in the male child. Under these circumstances, the actual discovery of the female apparently deprived of a genital organ can reinforce such experiences and further intensify anxious concern in the child.

A few additional comments about primal-scene anxiety are indicated. The significance of mature sexual activity can be quite successfully distorted or completely missed by the sensitive child who witnesses the primitive "combat" of parental intercourse. The child of five or somewhat older usually interprets such activity as a battle between male and female, a mysterious struggle during which these familiar figures are doing unbelievable things, making gross and unfamiliar sounds, and generally bringing the world of reality down in a clatter of bedsprings about them. If this experience occurs in an environment of volcanic parental argumentation, it may confirm the worst suspicions of the child; for example, that his father is killing or terribly maiming his mother. Needless to say, the conventions of the following morning, with perhaps even more than usual conviviality in these otherwise quarreling parents, can intensify the confusion of the already apprehensive child and make identification with such strange people an even more difficult task.

Most of the activities of homosexual or heterosexual type which emerge during the prepubertal period are mediated either through more sophisticated playmates, through seductive adults, or indirectly through parents who clothe sexual activities with mystery and secrecy, thus intensifying their attractiveness.

Certain differences between the curiosity of the male and female child are accentuated during this period. The growing boy usually is more visually oriented than his female counterpart, possibly because he is fascinated and provoked by what he has and what he sees. We are told that the male is much more prone to erotic stimulation through visual experience than is the female, as testified, for example, by the Kinsey Reports. The abundance of visual imagery in dreams as well as the mundane testimony of "art" in the public toilets across the country give further evidence of the erotic significance of visual experience in the male. Why is the female relatively less affected by visual stimuli? One might infer that the female is not particularly delighted by what she sees, by the fact that the vision of the male is a constant reminder of her "loss." This significant psychologic difference in visual stimulus potential between the male and female generally is lost sight of by both in terms of their commonly discordant attitudes toward sexually stimulating experiences, especially in marriage.

The final phase in sexual development is the genital phase, which is represented in normal heterosexual relationships. The relevant psychologic experiences involved in this shift will be discussed in the following chapter.

In the human male, genital erection is possible from the day of birth. The infant male frequently develops an erection with bladder distention or with bodily stimulation in or around the genital area. Ejaculatory function develops during the prepubertal period, but the production of normal sperm usually is delayed until later in life. It would appear that orgasm and ejaculation are not necessarily mutually dependent. According to some, the former can occur even in the very young child. Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin maintain that male infants less than one year of age can respond to genital manipulation with thrusting movements of the pelvic muscles. With continued stimulation, these may increase in frequency and intensity and, finally, result in general motor spasm (orgasm?).

Restrictive attitudes toward sexual activities before marriage are by no means relegated to our highly developed occidental cultures. Such attitudes are common in many primitive, native, nonindustrialized societies. A thoroughly permissive attitude toward sexual activities and exploration in the young does not appear to be associated with decreased childhood curiosity and even preoccupation with sexual matters, as reported in one study of a South American Indian culture. Attitudes toward sexual intercourse after puberty also vary in different cultures. Some are completely free and permissive, while others are reserved with respect to possible pregnancy. Still others are quite rigidly restrictive, as in our own culture. Special significance is attached to pregnancy as well as to virginity before marriage in both permissive and restrictive cultures. In general, there are no clear-cut divisions of attitudes in so called primitive as opposed to technologically developed subcultures.

The major difficulties to be anticipated in assisting children through the turbulent years of developing sexual awareness derive from two sources: imposing adult standards and interpretations on the curious and exploratory behaviors of children; and telling bald falsehoods concerning sexual organs and functions. Some parents teach that sexual organs, the body itself, or especially the anal and genital areas, are dirty and bad. These same parents frequently teach the child that sexual activity is dangerous, bad, and sinful in itself and that the inevitable conseqence of such activity is disease of the body or mental derangement. The unfortunate identification of sin and evil with normal physiologic structure and function continues to create profound conflicts and distorted values in growing children and ultimately results in crippling adult attitudes toward psychosexual activities.


Additional topics

Human Behavior