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Strictly speaking
the question for Freud is not:
'how does one become a pervert?'
The question is:
'how does one become sexually normal?'
because he was of the conviction
that human sexuality
is instrinsically,
is fundamentally
disturbed.
The first thing we need to understand is that
when Freud talked about sexuality
he employed
an enlarged concept of sexuality.
It no longer meant
genital, penetrative sexual acts
but any practice
that was invested with libido
that had an erotic charge for that person.
In a lot of contemporary theories about sexuality
people still speak using evolutionary theory
and say: 'you know, men like this
and women like that because we're sort of
designed to breed.'
But everybody knows
that it's not really like that.
Human beings are so much more complex than that
and more perverse, and more difficult
and look for totally other things.
They might not be interested in reproductive sex at all.
Which means that
we need to move away from thinking that
Freud's concept of sexuality
is all about people having sex.
It's about that too
but it's about much more than that.
Our sexuality is not bound up with
simply the task of reproduction,
but rather we can find pleasure and joy
as well as disturbance
all over the body.
What he had discovered very early on
was that young children experience
intense sexual desires.
Not in the adult form,
but in the form of that they get pleasure from
the 'oral drive', we would say,
from oral activities,
from anal activities,
from touching, from their skin,
from being tickled.
After a baby is born
the caregivers will focus on particular parts of the body.
There'll be an exchange of looks,
sustained eye contact with the baby.
There'll be feeding, which obviously
involves the mouth.
There will be speaking,
which involves the ears.
There will be all sorts of other
cleaning activity
bathing, changing nappies and so on.
All the things one imagines
in the care of children.
They are early forms
of what later becomes
organised into adult sexuality.
Adult sexuality
is quite a complex thing.
It includes
all the various forms of infantile sexuality
like the oral pleasures,
say, kissing,
anal pleasures, which may be
more or less repressed and acted on
touching, looking, being looked at.
But in adult sexuality
these are subordinated, usually,
to the main form of sexual activity,
which is genital sex,
and getting excitement and pleasure through that.
But then, if these infantile forms of sexuality
become the main sexual activity of the adult,
say, a voyeurist who gets off
just by watching somebody getting undressed
we could call this perversion.
But this watching is a normal part of
infantile sexuality.
So in a way he's making the point
that aspects of sexuality which
in an adult might be regarded as perverse
are there in infantile life.
Sexuality,
the way we think of it as an adult,
is a much more restricted version
of this sense of sensation
and enjoyment in the body
that is part of ordinary childhood.
So for Freud, perversion
is not really something that one acquires.
Perversion is something with which one is born
and, if all goes well
during the process of social development,
the perversion becomes contained
under the aegis of
processes of socialisation
but also under the aegises of shame and guilt
and the net result is
a form of sexuality that is
more normative, one could say.
But Freud is interested in
challenging the idea of a split between
the so-called 'normal' and 'abnormal'.
Freud made his first discoveries
by working with patients who were
suffering from some distressing,
debilitating symptoms,
so something 'abnormal', you could say.
But what he discovered
was that the underlying processes
were processes that are normal to every person.
So part of what's challenging in Freud
is that he doesn't allow us
comfortably to assume
that we are simply part of a
category called 'normal'
and that there's some other class of being
called the 'abnormal'
but that many of these processes and traits
are familiar, really, in everyone.
Freud showed that our sexuality
will be built up through our interactions
with our early caregivers.
Basically, the family.
And he's interested in how this develops
through phases that he describes:
he talks about the oral, the anal,
the genital, phallic, and so on.
Different zones of the body
that are particularly excitable
in the young child,
starting with the mouth,
that gets stimulated
when the child is being fed
and the child gets pleasure from it.
So we speak of an oral stage.
Then there would be the anal phase
which would be to do with
potty training or learning about how to
just sort of organise this thing.
You know, 'it's bad to do it this way',
'it's good to do it that way'.
Something important about it.
You're just beginning to learn to speak.
You have to understand the messages
you're receiving about it.
When you pee, or when you poo,
or all that sort of thing
suddenly becomes something important
that needs to be thought about and dealt with.
And then comes a phase when
both boys and girls
become interested in the penis.
And that is what is called the phallic stage.
And it would be phallic for boys as well as girls.
It would be to do with sexuality
and dealing with what it is to get
satisfaction from that part of the body.
What means that
there's something interesting about it.
The interesting thing about those activities,
those 'phases', as they're called, is that
they're so obvious to parents
of young children.
You spend all your time with
poo poo and pee pee and willies
and then a few years later
everyone's forgotten it.
The parents have forgotten it
and the children have forgotten it.
Children in particular, at the age of nine,
would be deeply ashamed
to remember the things they got up to
when they were three or four.
Some ideas get pushed out of consciousness
and then become unavailable
but they don't just go away.
They still try to, you know,
they look for expression.
So they try to come out,
but they always come out
as something else.
Perhaps Freud's most radical idea here
was that the human symptom
is itself a form of sexual activity,
that it takes up an erotic charge
linked to themes of sexuality,
linked to one's early history.
Behind many neurotic symptoms
is some conflict that involves
a sexual desire.
One of the promises of psychoanalysis
is that those ideas can come out
as themselves sometimes,
and then they become much
less worrying, less frightening,
less disturbing.
So psychoanalytic work will often involve
unravelling those threads
to bring out the components,
these threads that make up the symptom.
And in doing that, in many cases,
though not all,
the symptom will evaporate.
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What is Psychoanalysis? Part 2: Sexuality

589 Folder Collection
Christina Yang published on July 26, 2018
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