"Vagina Dentata," Fantasy of

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The fantasy of "vagina dentata" (teeth in the vagina) is a horrifying image of the female genitals that derives from the sexual theories of children. It displaces from the oral cavity to the vagina a threat that children believe to come from women. The equation of mouth and vagina was introduced by Freud (1899a, 1905d) and was advanced by Karl Abraham (1916) as central to the oral-sadistic or cannibalistic stage of the infantile libido (devouring versus being devoured).

Fear of women and the great terror that they inspire, which for men is linked to castration anxiety, encompasses several other fears: a fearful representation of the all-powerful mother, in which men project outside of themselves an oral-aggressive component; fear of punishment for a desire for fusion with the archaic mother, for an incestuous bond with the mother, or for a return to the mother's womb at the moment of coitus (Sándor Ferenczi); fear of a parent's sadistic redirection of the sexual aim of the primal scene; a fearful infantile fantasy of incorporation in coitus (Melanie Klein); a fear of a woman's desire for revenge for her own castration (René de Monchy). This dread of a woman's mysterious cavity transforms it into a persecutory object that no longer inspires envy (Hanna Segal). In its passive form, the fantasy of being bitten or eaten by the genitals of a woman includes an element of bisexual desire. More often implied than stated, this fantasy turns up in various forms in dreams, stories, legends, and films.

The fantasy of teeth in the vagina must be carefully distinguished from a woman's vaginismus (an involuntary spasm of the muscles surrounding the vagina that closes the vagina), from the fantasy of a penis with teeth, from fear of incorporation linked to mourning, and from any nonoccidental anthropological data.

See also: Fantasy.


Abraham, Karl. (1927). The first pregenital stage of the libido. In Selected papers of Karl Abraham (Douglas Bryan and Alix Strachey, Trans.). London: Hogarth. (Original work published 1916)

André, Jacques. (1994). Sur la sexualité féminine. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Freud, Sigmund. (1899a). Screen memories. SE, 3: 299-322.

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

Gessain, Robert. (1957). "Vagina dentata" dans la clinique et la mythologie. Psychanalyse, 3, 247-295.

Lewin, Bertram D. (1933). The body as phallus. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 2, 24-47.

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