Eroticism, Anal

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The term anal eroticism is defined as sexual pleasure predominantly linked to the excitation of the anal sphincter and the functions of excretion in infancy.

In his correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess, Freud observed that sexually-based emotional discharges originating in the anal region, like those in the mouth and throat, had ceased by the time the normal person reached adulthood (letter of November 14, 1897, 1950a). He continued, "the memory of [stimulation] will produce by deferred action . . . not a release of libido but of an unpleasure" (p. 269). In January of 1898, he sent his friend a summary of his "Drekkologie " (1985c [1887-1904], p. 291), a neologism that he coined during his self-analysis to designate the science of filth.

In his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), Freud described how the child's sexual activity could be anaclitically supported by the anal zone: sexual activity in the infant is propped up by another physiological function, namely defecation; this occurred in accordance with Freud's general conception of anaclitic erogenous zones. There were, in his view, three erogenous zones that could thus prop up physiological functions: oral, anal, and genital. Freud noted that to a certain degree the excitability linked to these zones could remain connected to genitality throughout life. The human sexual drive was thus a highly complex mechanism, produced by the contributions of numerous components, of partial drives. One of those components was anal eroticism, which defines one of the pregenital organizations of the libido. Freud wrote that "The playing of a sexual part by the mucous membrane of the anus is by no means limited to intercourse between men: preference for it is in no way characteristic of inverted feeling" (1905d, p. 152). He thus initiated all the psychoanalytic research that would later define the role of anal masturbation in relation to the constitution of the ego in both men and women.

In "Character and Anal Erotism" (1908b), Freud described a specifically anal character. As with all other elements of eroticism, a part of the excitation contributes to sexuality while another part was diverted from sexual aims and directed towards other ends by the process of sublimation. He recognized the traits of the anal character (orderliness, parsimony, and obstinacy) as the results of the sublimation of anal eroticism. In particular, the way of handling money merges with psychic interest in excrement, the product of the anal zone.

Freud suggested in a letter to Sándor Ferenczi that anal eroticism might have the same relation to hypochondria as sadism did to obsessional neurosis. In "The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis" (1913i), he suggested that the passive current of sexuality was fed by anal eroticism, while activity coincided with sadism. The accentuation of anal eroticism during the pregenital stage of organization could predispose a man, in the genital stage, to homosexuality.

Within the framework of a discussion of stages of the libido, anal eroticism was at the center of the dialogue between Freud and Karl Abraham. Their common research led to Freud to write, among other essays, "Mourning and Melancholia" (1916-1917g [1915]). One of melancholia's striking characteristics derives from an anal eroticism which is torn from its connections and regressively transformed. For Freud, the regression connected with this illness allowed him to discover the importance of anal eroticism and its involvement with relationship to the object, whether this was expressed in terms of retention or expulsion.

Freud's writings on narcissism and object relations were clarified by this insight. In his article "On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism" (1917c), he hypothesized that defecation provided the infant with its first opportunity to choose between a narcissistic attitude and one of object-love. Stubbornness and obstinacy came from the narcissistic persistence of anal eroticism. The stool was the object of a loss that gave rise to feelings of ambivalence. Toilet training supplied a model for object relations, for the ego latched on to this experience, which would color its future relationships. Later Freud theorized, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930a), that "Anal erotism . . . succumbs in the first instance to the 'organic repression' which paved the way to civilization" (p. 100n).

Anal eroticism and its links with introjection and projection were studied clinically by Karl Abraham. According to him, each of the two early stages of psychosexual development, the oral and the anal, included a substage. The ambivalence arising during the second, oral-sadistic substage of the oral stage was reinforced during the immediately following anal-sadistic substage (Abraham, 1924/1949). Freud later (1933a [1932]) adopted Abraham's substages, characterizing the first as destructive and the second as possessive and conservative with respect to the object.

The work of Abraham and Freud made it possible to understand how "the fear of becoming poor . . . is derived from anal erotism" (1917e, p. 252). This idea inspired Melanie Klein (1935) when she conceptualized the tendencies to idealize and denigrate of the object, and also the manic defenses related to such regressive states that would eventually define her notion of a paranoid-schizoid position.

Ernest Jones (1918), for his part, took up the connections between anal erotism and the capacity for concentration as the origin of thought. Leonard Shengold (1985) asserted that an excess of control prevented anal erotism from being manifested. This excess was dehumanizing because of links that forced narcissism and anal erotism into a deobjectalizing regression.

Note that anal eroticism should be seen in relationship with the mastery of the ego functions and with the mastery wielded over the object as separate from the subject. André Green (1993/1999) has considered the importance of primary anality for subjectivation and its influence on the object relation.

Dominique J. Arnoux

See also: Anality; Castration complex; Character formation; Coprophilia; Erotogenicity; Feces; Gift; Libidinal stage; Mastery; Money in the psychoanalytic treatment; "Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis" (Rat Man); Pregenital; Psychosexual development; Stage (or phase); Symbolization, process of.


Abraham, Karl. (1949). A short study of the development of the libido, viewed in the light of mental disorders. In Selected papers of Karl Abraham (pp. 418-501). London: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1924)

Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.

. (1913i). The disposition to obsessional neurosis: A contribution to the problem of choice of neurosis. SE, 12: 311-326.

. (1916-1917g [1915]). Mourning and melancholia. SE, 14: 237-258.

. (1930a [1929]). Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21: 57-145.

. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.

. (1985c [1887-1904]). The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904 (Jeffery M. Masson, Ed. and Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press.

Green, André. (1999). The work of the negative (Andrew Weller, Trans.). London: Free Association. (Original work published 1993)

Jones, Ernest. (1948). Anal-erotic character traits. In Papers on psycho-analysis (5th ed.). Boston: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1918)

Klein, Melanie. (1935). A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states. In The writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. 1, pp. 262-289). (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 16, (1935) 145-174.)

Shengold, Leonard. (1985). Defensive anality and anal narcissism. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 66, 47-74.