Eroticism, Oral

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Sexual pleasure that is linked predominantly to the excitation of the oral cavity and the lips, first experienced through an infant's feeding, is defined as oral eroticism.

Freud spoke of the "oral sexual system" as early as his letters to Wilhelm Fliess (letter of January 3, 1897, in 1950a, p. 222). Sucking was from then on considered as a sexual activity, and the lips, together with the surrounding area, as the oral erogenous zone. The sexual drive acquires an autonomy visà vis the vital functions (nutrition) which support it, and satisfies itself in autoerotic fashion. Freud remarked that this excitability may remain, to a certain degree, linked to genitality. The human sexual drive can appear therefore as a highly complex montage, born of the confluence of numerous factors, some of which are drives known as "partial," which at the beginning were independent.

One of the components of the pregenital organization of the libido, consequently, issued directly from oral erotism. In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), Freud distinguished between two pregenital phases: the oral or cannibal phase and the anal-sadistic phase. He added: "[During the oral phase] the sexual aim consists in the incorporation of the objectthe prototype of a process which, in the form of identification, is later to play such an important psychological part" (p. 198). This constituted, therefore, a way of relating to the object (note of 1915).

In his article, "Mourning and Melancholia," (1916-1917g) Freud described identification as a "preliminary stage of object-choice, that it is the first wayand one that is expressed in an ambivalent fashionin which the ego picks out an object" (p. 249). It would like to incorporate the object, and that by way of devouring it. Therefore in the phase of the oral organization of the libido, the loving attachment to the object still coincides with the annihilation of the latter, as Freud affirmed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g).

In "The Economic Problem of Masochism," (1924c) he emphasized that the existence of masochism is expressed erogenously, in all phases of libido development; erogenous masochism often changes its psychic dress. So, "The fear of being eaten up by the totem animal (the father) originates from the primitive oral organization" (p. 165).

Karl Abraham, in "A Short Study of the Development of the Ego, Based on an Analysis of Mental Problems" (1924), said that sadistic drives always have a special affinity with anal eroticism, rather than oral eroticism.

In terms of relation to the objectthe motherfrom the point of view of the child, never gave enough milk; it is "as though they had never sucked long enough at their mother's breast," said Freud in his article, "Female Sexuality" (1931b, p. 234). Taking up the conclusions of Karl Abraham of 1924, Freud conceived of two stages in the oral phase, one pre-ambivalent regarding the breast, the second oral-sadistic; linked to the development of dentition and characterized by the appearance of ambivalence, which will be intensified in the following phase, that of anal-sadism (1933a).

Melanie Klein would later connect an oral fixation, in both sexes, to sucking the father's penis, with the exacerbated phase of sadism.

Dominique J. Arnoux

See also: Anal-sadistic stage; Anorexia nervosa; Basic Neurosis, The-oral regression and psychic masochism ; Breast-feeding; Bulimia; Depression; Dream screen; Drive, partial; Erotogenicity; Libidinal stage; Melancholy; Oedipus complex, early; Orality; Pregenital; Psychosexual development; Stammering; Sucking (oral stage) Transitional object; Transitional object, space; Weaning.


Abraham, Karl. (1924). The process of introjection in melancholia: Two stages of the oral phase of the libido. In Selected papers in psychoanalysis. (Douglas Bryan and Alix Strachey, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press.

. (1924). Melancholy and obsessional neurosis: Two stages of the anal-sadistic phase of the libido. In Selected papers in psychoanalysis (Douglas Bryan and Alix Strachey, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press.

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

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

. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.

. (1924c). The economic problem of masochism. SE, 19: 155-170.

. (1931b). Female sexuality. SE, 21: 221-243.

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

. (1950a). Extracts from the Fliess papers. SE, 1: 173-280.

Klein, Melanie. (1932). The psychoanalysis of children. London: Hogarth.