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The term pregenital designates the libidinal phases prior to the definitive, genital organization of psychosexuality.

This adjective first appeared in Sigmund Freud's 1913 article, "The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis: A Contribution to the Problem of Choice of Neurosis." The idea of a pregenital organization of the libido was introduced in the context of anal erotism. The qualifier "pregenital," which at this point in Freud's work generally defines the child's psychosexual organization, takes into consideration the play of the instincts that are not yet under the primacy of the erotism of the genital zones. Such instincts are called "component" instincts because they remain closely dependent on their somatic sources, they have partial aims, and they function independently of one another. Partial oral and anal sexual activities are supported by the corresponding physiological functions: eating and defecating. In other words, they rely anaclitically on those functions and are thereby instituted as erotogenic zones; their excitability will mark the later genital stage.

In the case of Little Hans, recounted in "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy" (1909b), Freud described an infantile libidinal mode of organization under the sway of an erotogenic zone, namely the genital area. In the boy the Oedipus complex is born of castration anxiety, that is, the fear of being deprived of a precious organ, the penis (as punishment for masturbation). Freud maintained that at this stage, there is a primacy of the male organs for both sexes.

This model, however, based as it was on the boy's libidinal organization, made the case of the girl problematic for Freud and for many of his successors. In his paper on "The Infantile Genital Organization" (1923e), Freud nevertheless clearly assigned the phallic phase of libidinal organization to the pregenital period. He also revised the general picture of the successive phases of libidinal organization and its polarities. That organization was characterized by the subject/object opposition and its beginnings in the ambivalence of the second stage of the oral phase; then by the opposition, in the anal-sadistic phase, between active and passive. In the next stage, the phallic or infantile genital organization, the phallic/castrated opposition emerged, but this preceded the masculine/feminine opposition. "The complete organization is only achieved at puberty, in a fourth, genital phase," wrote Freud in "An Outline of Psychoanalysis" (1940 [1938], p. 155).

Under these conditions, is it appropriate to call the phallic organization "pregenital"? The very title "The Infantile Genital Organization" invites a negative response; and indeed, the actual use of the term "pregenital" tends to embrace only the oral and anal organizations. However, this same paper of 1923 clearly defines phallic organization as preceding the ultimate genital organization. This question might appear to be purely formal, but it raises substantive issues about libidinal development and the obstacles it encounters, in both sexes, that are not easily clarified.

Dominique J. Arnoux

See also: Anal-sadistic stage; Archaic; Obsessional neurosis; Oral-sadistic stage; Oral stage; Partial drive.


Freud, Sigmund. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.

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

. (1923). The infantile genital organization. SE, 19: 141-145.

. (1940a [1938]). An outline of psycho-analysis. SE, 23: 139-207.

Further Reading

Blum, Harold P. (1977). The prototype of preoedipal reconstruction. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 25, 757-786.

Galenson, Eleanor, and Roiphe, Herman. (1980). The preoedipal development of the boy. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 28, 805-828.

Neubauer, Peter B. (1985). Preoedipal objects and object primacy. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 40, 163-182.