Penis Envy: What Is This Concept According To Freud’s Ideas?

penis envy

Psychoanalysis is one of the most classic currents of psychology and also one of the most criticized. Many of his assumptions have been questioned, especially those related to the theory of psychosexual development, a fundamental pillar of his thought.

Among the most famous concepts proposed by Sigmund Freud is that of penis envy a feeling that would occur in preschool girls and that, as its name indicates, is the desire to possess the male genital.

This idea has been very popular since it was formulated, and also very criticized, especially if a feminist and scientific perspective is taken. Let us now understand this idea and its controversy in more depth.

What is penis envy according to Freud?

One of the fundamental concepts within Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, specifically within his theory of psychosexual development and female sexuality, is the idea of ​​penis envy or “pensineid”. According to Freud, it would be a feeling that arises in girls when they discover that they are not anatomically the same as boys, seeing that they don’t have a penis. Girls would feel injured and mutilated compared to the male sex and begin to develop a castration complex.

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory raises the idea that as sexual development progresses, girls They will experience the Oedipus complex and penile envy will take two main forms. The first will be the purest desire to have a penis inside them, and to be able to have a child in the future, while the second will be the desire to have a penis during intercourse.

This fundamental explanation of the most Freudian psychoanalysis It would be the one used by Freud to justify the appearance of pathologies and psychological sublimations in the female sex.

History of the concept in psychoanalysis

At the origins of his theory of sexuality, Freud did not have a very different opinion between boys and girls regarding their psychosexual development. He believed that there was a more or less symmetrical relationship. In fact, in his Three essays on the theory of sexuality of 1905, in which it addressed how infantile sexuality evolved, in its first edition it makes no mention of the issue of penis envy or “penisneid”.

It was in 1908 when, in his text on Childhood sexual theories begins to explain the idea of ​​penis envy, talking about the fact that girls tend to be interested in male genitalia. It is the “proof” that they feel penis envy, that they want to have one and equate to people of the male gender In this book she comments that, when girls say that they would prefer to be boys, they show that they feel the lack of the male organ.

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Already in 1914, Freud used the term “penisneid” to describe the castration complex in girls. Later, in 1917, he published On the transmutations of drives and especially anal eroticismin which talks about how this envy evolves throughout sexual development turning into the desire to have a child or the desire to have a man as a kind of “appendage to the penis.”

Development in the phallic phase

Here we will see the way in which, always according to Freud’s ideas, penis envy hypothetically develops.

As we have mentioned, penis envy within Freudian psychoanalysis refers to the theory of how girls react when they know that boys have an organ that they do not have: the penis. During their psychosexual development they become increasingly aware that they are different from the male sex and, in Freud’s opinion, this discovery would be decisive in the development of gender and sexual identity in women.

We can locate penis envy within Freudian theory of psychosexual development in the phallic phase, between 3.5 and 6 years of age In this period of development the libidinal focus is mainly in the urethral area, which coincides with the genitals in the human body. It is in this phase that the vagina and penis become very important, especially the male genitals.

Freud defines libido as the primary energy force of motivation, which focuses on other physiological areas. Depending on the stage of development, this libido will be found in one place or another. For example, in the oral phase, which corresponds to 12 to 18 months of life, libidinal energy is concentrated on the desire to be able to eat, suck and bite, and in the anal phase attention is concentrated on the anus and the stool.

When the phallic phase is reached, the penis becomes the organ of main interest in both sexes, both masculine and feminine. It is the catalyst for a series of fundamental events for psychosexual development, including the Oedipus complex, relationships with parents, sexual orientation and the degree of adjustment of the person with respect to the role expected in people of the same gender. . Shortly after this phase has begun, the infant develops his first sexual impulses towards his mother.

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In the female case, the girl realizes that she is not physically prepared to maintain a heterosexual relationship with her mother, since, unlike children, he does not have a penis. The girl longs to have a penis and the power that comes with it both socially and relationally. It would be this particular moment when she would get penis envy. The girl sees the solution to her problems in obtaining her father’s penis.

The girl he develops a sexual desire for his own father and blames his mother for not giving him one or, directly, having castrated her, apparently. She interprets it as some kind of punishment from her mother for attracting her father. The girl redirects her sexual impulses from her mother to her father, understanding that she can maintain a heterosexual relationship, but with her father. She aspires to acquire the same sexual role as her mother, and thus be able to eliminate and replace her.

In principle, something similar would happen in the case of children, only the main difference is the focus of sexual impulses, since in the male case it is not necessary to change from the mother to the father. Since they already have a penis, children could have a heterosexual relationship with their mothers, without the need to redirect their sexual impulses towards the other parent. Children feel sexually identified with their father, although they also feel castrated, since the presence of their male parent prevents them from being able to relate sexually with their mother.

Criticisms of the concept of penis envy

Currently The idea of ​​penis envy has become very obsolete due to how sexist, pseudoscientific and ethically questionable it is Basically, the idea behind this concept is that women want to look like men anatomically because they have an organ that gives them power, and it is only that organ that completes a person. It could be interpreted from the Freudian theory of psychosexual development that women are incomplete men.

Today, psychoanalysis itself, or at least the currents that have evolved within it, reject these ideas. Even so The term is still used colloquially to say that women wish they had a penis or describing the anxiety that some men suffer about the size of their genitals, since we continue to live in a society in which the phallus seems to be very important from an anthropological perspective.

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Among the most notable criticisms of the concept of penis envy, we have it in the figure of Karen Horney, a psychologist who dared to criticize the greatest current of thought of her time Born near Hamburg in 1885, she managed to study medicine at a time when women had serious difficulties in being able to pursue university studies, which already says a lot about the type of person she was.

Race over, Horney He specialized in psychoanalysis in Berlin under the tutelage of Karl Abraham, one of Freud’s most prominent disciples Abraham not only taught her about this psychological school, but also offered her therapy, since Horney was suffering from depression and sexual problems in her marriage.

Abraham’s interpretation was that Horney was hiding his repressed incestuous desires towards his father, an explanation Horney considered truly stupid and, to make matters worse, it did not help him at all to fix his romantic situation. This is how he began to question psychoanalysis, something that would make him gain quite a bit of popularity over time.

Based on his first criticisms of the major current of thought of his time, it was a matter of time before he confronted the Freudian concept of penis envy. Horney did not believe at all that girls, even from a young age, could be envious of an organ. What he did believe was that, in reality, they were envious of the rights and privileges that men possessed simply by having a phallus, and that they longed to be able to enjoy such a position in society.

Still in Germany and working at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, Horney realized that psychoanalytic assumptions did not fit the reality of human behavior Psychoanalysis had focused too much on a biological vision of behavior, instead of treating psychological problems in a social sense, as was the case of penis envy. It was not a question of having a penis or not, it was a question that there was marked social inequality between men and women. Without knowing it, Horney was sowing the seed of feminist psychology.

His view on the concept of penis envy was not limited to questioning it, but also turned it around in a quite radical way. Those who were biologically envious were not the women of men for having penises, but rather the men of women because it was the female sex that could engender life, give birth. Men put semen, but those who “made” a new human being were, without a doubt, those who had a uterus, hence the talk of uterus or vagina envy.