Contributions to the Psychology of Love

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"Contributions to the Psychology of Love" is the title given collectively to three articles by Sigmund Freud: "A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men," published in 1910; "On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love," published in 1912; and "The Taboo of Virginity," published in 1918. It was Freud himself who, believing they formed a whole, decided to publish them under a single title.

In "A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men," Freud considers men who are interested only in women over whose affections they must compete with another man; women who by virtue of their sexual life have something of the prostitute about them and for that reason are more exciting. The lover of this type proposes to save the woman he desires, though he readily accepts the presence of his rival. Freud explains this behavior by reference to the Oedipus complex (a term he used for the first time in the same year, 1910, that this article was published). What is involved here is a desire to steal the mother from the father, or at least share her with him. The mother has first been compared to a prostitute when, at puberty, the boy was obliged to acknowledge, after the idealization of childhood, that she too has had sexual relations. Thenceforward he feels he must save her from degradation. This pattern, Freud adds, is repetitive, because it can only result in disappointment.

In "On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love," Freud discusses male impotence. This problem arises for the most part from an "incestuous fixation on mother or sister" (p. 180). Freud distinguishes two "currents" in erotic life: the "affectionate" and the "sensual." The affectionate current is the older, as it was directed towards the infant's earliest caretakers, that is, towards the primary object-choice, typically the mother. The sensual current reaches its acme during puberty but, coming into conflict with the oedipal prohibition, turns to other objects, while often remaining fixated to the first. It "can happen that the whole of a young man's sensuality becomes tied to incestuous objects in the unconscious, or to put it another way, becomes fixated to unconscious incestuous phantasies. The result is then total impotence" (p. 182). But, Freud wonders, why is this relatively uncommon? His answer is that in many cases where the same factors are at work the upshot is sexual relations unaccompanied by pleasure. For the two currents to combine and produce complete satisfaction is unusual, and the solution that consists in directing each current to a different woman is very frequent. But, Freud adds, it is no doubt in the very nature of the instinct to remain ever unsatisfied in the choice of object. The gain, perhaps, is to be found in the processes of sublimation, the motor of the development of civilization.

In "The Taboo of Virginity," the last of this set of three papers, Freud returns to some of the ideas concerning women briefly referred to in the previous article. He cites ethnologists according to whom, in certain so-called primitive peoples, a person other than the husband deflowers the fiancée. This practice, according to Freud, is followed in order to protect the husband from danger. He then examines a number of causes for fear in this connection. The bleeding that results from the loss of virginity is associated with physical wounds and death. In a number of so-called primitives, all of sexual life is wrapped in taboos. The woman is feared because of the assumed loss of virility that occurs through physical contact with her and this activates the fear of castration, especially as a result of her first sexual intercourse. But these general considerations are inadequate in Freud's view. The analysis of female frigidity, he argues, leads us to consider such other factors as the Oedipus complex, penis envy, the desire to obtain a child from the father as reparation, and hostility towards any man who appears as a poor substitute for the true object of this ancient desire. Thus the husband who avoids deflowering his wife acts thus because he fears losing his penis and, like Holofernes, his life.

Roger Perron

See also: Castration complex; Love; Oedipus complex; Sexuality; Taboo of virginity; Tenderness.

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1910h).Über einen besonderen Typus der Objektwahl beim Manne (Beiträge zur Psychologie des Liebeslebens I). Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen, 2: 389-97; GW, VIII: 66-77; A special type of choice of object made by men. SE, 11: 165-175.

. (1912d).Über die allgemeinste Erniedrigung des Liebeslebens (Beiträge zur Psychologie des Liebeslebens II). Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen, 4: 40-50; GW, VIII: 78-91; On the universal tendency to debasement in the sphere of love. SE, 11: 179-190.

. (1918a [1917]). Das Tabu der Virginität (Beiträge zur Psychologie des Liebeslebens III). Sammlung kleiner Schriften zur Neurosenlehre, Leipzig-Vienna: Vierte Folge, p. 229-251; GW, XII: 159-180; The taboo of virginity. SE, 11: 193-208.