Genital Love

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Genital love corresponds to the type of object relation organized during the adult genital phase of libidinal development. It is characterized by the unification, under the primacy of the genital, of pregenital sexual aims and, in particular, by the reunion of the two currents of sexualitysensuality and affection.

It is difficult to provide a univocal definition of love. The Greeks differentiated among eros, philia, and agapè, distinctions that were picked up by Freud, who distinguished sensual love from affection and from love in the more general sense of the term. Although he leaves discussions of love to the poets, Freud refers to the polysemy of the term "love," which he judges to be well founded: sexual and amorous relations between men and women, love between parents and children, friendship, self-love, the love of truth or humanity. "We are of the opinion, then, that language has carried out an entirely justifiable piece of unification in creating the word 'love' with its numerous uses, and that we cannot do better than take it as the basis of our scientific discussions and expositions as well" (1921c).

The concept of "genital love" has meaning only if it is associated with the concept of the "genital phase" of libidinal development. It would thus stand in contrast to that which characterizes the object relations of the preceding "pregenital" phases. Genital love should not be understood here solely as love in the form of sexual congress, but as the type of love organized after the oedipal phase and the latency period, at the moment when the libido is sufficiently evolved to enable the organization of the adult genital phase.

Thus, genital love is characterized by the unification, under the primacy of the genital, of all the sexual components that have not been repressed or sublimated, and of those pregenital sexual aims that have been maintained as preliminary pleasures. This unification is prepared during the infantile genital stage and is "completed" only after puberty with the development of adult sexuality.

During the period of oedipal decline, a new distribution of impulse cathexes will leave its traces throughout the sexual life with a new distribution of inhibited or sublimated erotic investments. In particular, there is a conjunction of the sensual erotic current and the affectionate current of adolescence following their relative disjunction during the latency phase. There is a reunion of "genital satisfaction and pregenital affection" (Balint, Michael, 1947). The union of these two currents brings about an equilibrium that is rarely static but can rather be compared to an interlacing, a struggle (Parat, Catherine, 1996).

The model of adult genital organization implies the choice of a heterosexual object, which leads to the reproduction, in a couple, of what was for the child the representation of the couple created by his or her parents. This assumes that the sexual nature of the images of the parents that were internalized during the oedipal phase have been sufficiently differentiated. In this sense genital love, that is, adult genital organization, is indeed the successor of the oedipal complex, and assumes further that it renounces the oedipal objects formed during childhood (Perron, Roger, Perron-Borelli, Michèle, 1994). Genital, or post-oedipal love, is the form of love best able to articulate the two currentsheterosexual and homosexualof oedipal love. Positive oedipal erotic investments are reflected onto the sexual partner in the couple, while homosexual investments will nourish, in a more or less desexualized form, social and professional relations.

Michael Balint (1947) emphasized the idealist nature of a concept that would manifest no trace of ambivalence or pregenital object relation. This type of ideal object relation would, therefore, contain no oral characteristics, would have no desire to devour the object; there would be no desire to dominate or master the object, no sadistic traits and therefore no vestige of anality; there would be neither envy nor fear of the genital organs of the other sex, therefore no trace of the phallic phase or castration complex, and so on. Clearly, such love does not exist. The pregenital components cannot all be integrated and every love assumes the destruction of the narcissistic "shell." We are justified, then, in emphasizing the idealist nature of such a concept, even its normative aura. This does not mean that a certain maturation of the ego and its abilities does not take place gradually when the genital phase of libidinal development is achieved. The state of being in love (David, Christian, 1996) then becomes possible: it is the result of the simultaneous activity of free sexual tendencies and inhibited tendencies and, in particular, of the union of sensuality and affection.

Jean-FranÇois Rabain

See also: Aberastury, Arminda, known as "La Negra"; Adolescence; Genital stage; Love; Organization; Partial drive; Pregenital; Psychosexual development; Puberty; Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality


Balint, Michael. (1972). L'amour génital. Amour primaire et Technique psychanalytique. Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1947)

David, Christian. (1996). Post-scriptum à l'état amoureux. Revue française de psychanalyse, 60 (3), 633-642.

Parat, Catherine. (1996).Á propos de l'amour et de l'amour de transfert. Revue française de psychanalyse, 60 (3), 643-662.

Perron, Roger and Perron-Borelli, Michèle. (1994). Le Complexe d'Œdipe. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Revue française de psychanalyse (1996).