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"Perverse polymorphous": what does this concept of Freud mean?

February 2, 2024

The conception of children under 5 as "perverse polymorphs" It is a very striking aspect of the work of Sigmund Freud, creator of psychoanalysis.

In this article we will describe what exactly this curious concept means, which is related to the potentiality of obtaining sexual pleasure from any object during early life.

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The Freudian concept of perversion

Freud affirmed that the main characteristic of sexuality during childhood is polymorphous perversion. To understand this concept it is necessary to define first how perversion is defined in the work of the father of psychoanalysis.

For this author perversion is simply a non-normative sexual behavior ; in the context in which Freud lived, heterosexual genital intercourse was considered normal, while practically any other type of sexual behavior was seen as a deviation from the dominant morality. To a great extent this idea is still valid today.

However, in Freud's work the vision of "perversion" is not necessarily negative. Although rape or pedophilia, which bring suffering to the victim, are forms of perversion, according to Freud's definition so are fetishism or homosexuality , which considered abnormal behavior patterns but not pathological ones.

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What does "perverse polymorph" mean?

According to Freud, during the first years of life, girls and boys obtain sexual gratification from very different sources. The drives are directed towards any object that can provide pleasure ; In addition, the stimulation does not have to be limited to the genitals, but all parts of the body are susceptible to receiving gratification.

Thus, as we will explain in detail later, depending on the stage of psychosexual development the little ones would get sexual pleasure from sucking the mother's nipple, from holding or expelling the feces and from many other behaviors.

At the beginning of life, sexuality has not yet focused on the objects that normative socialization demands, that is, heterosexual intercourse. From the work of Freud it follows that this type of sex education depends more on culture than on biology , whereby each society or group would reinforce these patterns to a different extent.

This means that young children lack sexual and gender identity. Once the period of latency is over, that is, with the arrival of puberty, sexual gratification is progressively redirected to heterosexual intercourse with the ultimate goal of reproduction. There is a clear relationship between this fact and the development of the moral or superego.

So, describe children as "perverse polymorphs" it implies that they are capable of feeling sexual pleasure in many different ways that move away from the established social norm. This includes sexual orientation; thus, we could say that according to Freud in the first stages of life all people are bisexual or even pansexual.

The stages of psychosexual development

Psychoanalytic theory is largely based on the five stages of psychosexual development described by Freud. According to this author, people go through these phases in the process towards puberty and adolescence, a time when sexuality is definitively configured.

In each of these phases the sexual energy is focused on a different erogenous zone: the mouth, the anus or the genitals. If the gratification of the needs is insufficient or excessive during any of these stages, there is the risk of psychological "fixation" ; this would imply the appearance of neuroses and concrete perversions.

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1. Oral phase

The first phase of sexual development corresponds approximately to the first year of life. During this period the baby gets pleasure through the mouth, for example by introducing objects in it, which also allows him to explore his environment. The id dominates the psychic structure, so the operation is based on the pleasure principle.

The fixation in the oral phase would cause the appearance of psychological traits such as immaturity, passivity and manipulability. At the sexual level, perversions related to the mouth would develop, such as focus of pleasure in kissing, fellatio or cunnilingus .

2. Anal phase

The anal stage occurs between the second and the fourth year of life.During this period the children learn to control personal hygiene, including the retention and expulsion of feces and urine. According to Freud in the anal phase, sexual pleasure is obtained from the elimination of excrement through the intestinal and urinary tracts.

If a fixation occurs at this stage of development, traits and behaviors of the obsessive type may appear (if the parents' emphasis on cleanliness is excessive) or a tendency towards lack of organization, self-indulgence and rebellion (in the case opposite). Regarding sexuality, the coprofilia and the urofilia would be related to the anal phase .

3. Phallic phase

Between three and six years of age, the genitals become the main erogenous zone. At this age, girls and boys become aware of their own body and that of others, and therefore of the differentiation of sex and gender. The famous Oedipus and Electra complexes (proposed by Carl Jung and rejected by Freud) would occur during this phase.

Compulsive masturbation is the perversion that can be related more clearly to the phallic phase. There would be a focus on the pleasure obtained through the penis or clitoris, depending on the biological sex of the person.

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4. Latency phase

Between the anal phase and puberty (that is, approximately between 6 and 10 years old) the sexual impulses are silenced and the energy is redirected towards social interaction, learning, leisure activities ... During this period the character is consolidated acquired during the previous psychosexual stages.

It is considered that fixations in the latency stage are less common than in other phases. When they happen tend to be related to intense sexual frustration and / or with an inability to focus pleasure on activities considered acceptable by the individual's social context.

5. Genital phase

Freud considered that after puberty people reach the final stage of psychosexual development: the genital phase, in which we will remain throughout adult life. The gratification focuses again on the genitals, although in this case normality includes obtaining pleasure through other people, and not in a solitary way.

Failures in the progress of this period can interfere with the acquisition of adaptive sexual relationship patterns. Thus, it is common for them to appear Sexual dysfunctions as difficulties for excitement (mainly erection and lubrication, depending on sex) in sexual relationships, and also that these are not satisfactory.

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