Sexual Drive

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". . . . The sexual [drive] does not originally serve the purposes of reproduction at all, but has as its aim the gaining of particular kinds of pleasure. It manifests itself in this way in human infancy, during which it attains its aim of gaining pleasure not only from the genitals but from other parts of the body (the erotogenic zones). . . . We call this stage the stage of auto-erotism. . . . The development of the sexual [drive] then proceeds from auto-erotism to object-love and from the autonomy of the erotogenic zones to their subordination under the primacy of the genitals which are put at the service of reproduction" (Freud, 1908d, p. 188). The psychoanalytic movement is a revolution of "The sexual [drive]or more correctly, the sexual [drives], for analytic investigation teaches us that the sexual [drive] is made up of many separate constituents or component [drives]" (p. 187).

Thus Freud dissociated reproduction and sexuality. The innate sexual drive appears in earliest infancy. Its composite origin accounts for its perverse, neurotic, and normal adult manifestations, which appear in a vast synthesis. The importance of its dynamic manifestations in the psyche is well recognized in the form of libido, which is the fixed point in psychic conflict. The libido is opposed first to the drives of self-preservation or the ego drives, and then to the death drive. In this latter case, the libido goes under the name of "life drives" or Eros.

The term Geschlechtstrieb (sexual drive) appeared in 1894, at the same time as "libido" (1895b [1894]). In 1895, Freud published a review of a lecture entitled, "Der Geschlechtstrieb," and denounced the underestimation of the sexual drive (1895i). He noted the importance of sexuality in the etiology of the neuroses and referred to "the participation of sexual motive forces as an indispensable premise" (1896c, p. 200). The discovery of infantile sexuality and its synthesis with the diversity of adult sexual life was announce in 1905 in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d).

The Three Essays can be credited with "enlarging the concept of sexuality" (1905d, p. 134). Insofar as it is supported by all the other vital functions, the sexual drive in infancy is perverse, ubiquitous, and a composite of partial drives. Education and the development of the ego are able to modify the sexual drive: with no predetermined object it is entirely plastic, except for fixation. When its energy is deflected, libido can be invested in the interests of the ego and of culture. This view of the sexual drives (though disturbing) accounted for the essentials of psychic energy with repression playing a central role and is to be modified through the next two steps. Libidinal investment in the ego makes its appearance as an original contribution, necessary and essential to the sexual drive for survival. And then it is only the sexual drives that have the power to stand against the death drive.

As the very paradigm of the drive, the sexual drive is so central that there could be no conception of psychoanalysis without it. As Freud stated at the time of his break with Carl Jung in 1913, to dispute the importance of the sexual drive is tantamount to rejecting psychoanalysis.

MichÈle Porte

See also: Adolescence; Anaclisis/anaclictic; Anxiety; Desexualization; Dipsomania; Drive/instinct; Ego-libido/object-libido; Eroticism, anal; Eroticism, oral; Libido; Lost object; Oral stage; Otherness; Pleasure ego/reality ego; Psychogenic blindness; Puberty; Reciprocal paths of influence (libidinal coexcitation); Sexuality; Symbol; Transference/counter-transference (analytical psychology); Work (as a psychoanalytical notion).


Freud, Sigmund. (1896c). The aetiology of hysteria. SE, 3: 186-221.

. (1908d). "Civilized" sexual morality and modern nervous illness. SE, 9: 177-204.

. (1895b [1894]). On the grounds for detaching a particular syndrome from neurasthenia under the description "anxiety neurosis." SE, 3: 85-115.

. (1895i). Rezension von: Hegar, Alfred, Der Geschlechtstrieb. Eine social-medicinische Studie. In Wiener klin. Rdsch., 9 (1895): 77.

. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-245.