Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes

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This paper, finished by Freud in 1925 and read by his daughter Anna at the International Psycho-Analytical Congress in Hamburg on September 3, first appeared in the Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse in the same year.

Freud began by noting that he could no longer afford, as in his early days when he had no fellow researchers, to put off publication of new discoveries made on the basis of a mere handful of cases, even though they might not as yet have been confirmed. Then, starting out (as usual) from consideration of boys, Freud drew several new conclusions concerning girls. During the phallic phase, he argued, the boy remains attached to his mother and experiences his father as a rival whose place vis-à-vis his mother he wishes to usurp; at the same time, he would like to replace his mother as his father's love object. The Oedipus complex is thus described as having two forms, active and passivea duality consonant with the bisexual constitution of humans. When the boy first sees the girl's genital area, he denies his perception that she has no penis (only later will the threat of castration arouse an emotional storm in him). In contrast, when the girl discovers the penis of the boy, "she has seen it and knows that she is without it and wants to have it" (1925j, p. 252). She falls victim to penis envy and to a masculinity complex. Consequences include a feeling of inferiority, jealousy (1919e), and a loosening of the girl's tender relationship with her mother, whom she blames for her lack of a penis (1925j, p. 254).

For Freud, clitoral masturbation is masculine in character, and the mutilated aspect of the organ in question explains why women tolerate masturbation worse than men. The unfolding of femininity is based on a desire to eliminate clitoral sexuality. Under the sway of the Oedipus complex, the girl abandons her desire for a penis and replaces it by the desire for a child, and with this in mind takes her father as love object: "Whereas in boys the Oedipus complex is destroyed by the castration complex, in girls it is made possible and led up to by the castration complex" (1925j, p. 256). Indeed, the Oedipus complex never really disappears in women (1924d). This, according to Freud, accounts for characteristically feminine traits linked to a weaker and less perfectly formed superego. In this connection, Freud refused to see the sexes as equal.

It should be noted that Freud's description of women as castrated beings who "refuse to accept the fact of being castrated" is hardly endorsed by all psychoanalysts.

Colette Chiland

See also: Archaic; Bisexuality; Castration complex; Disavowal; Female sexuality; Feminism and psychoanalysis; Masculinity/femininity; Negative hallucination; Penis envy.

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1925j). Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distinction between the sexes. SE, 19: 248-258.


Freud, Sigmund. (1919e). "A child is being beaten": a contribution to the study of the origin of sexual perversions. SE, 17: 175-204.

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

. (1924d). The dissolution of the Oedipus complex. SE 19: 171-179.