From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search
French: génital

Sigmund Freud

Psychosexual Development

In the stages of psychosexual development listed by Freud, the genital stage is the last stage in the series, coming after the two pregenital stages (the oral stage and the anal stage).

The genital stage first arises between the ages of three and five (the infantile genital organization or phallic phase) and is then interrupted by the latency period, before returning at puberty (the genital stage proper).

Freud defined this stage as the final "complete organization" of the libido, a synthesis of the previously anarchic "polymorphous perversity" of the pregenital stages.[1]

Jacques Lacan


Because of this, the concept of "genitality" came to represent a privileged value in psychoanalytic theory after Freud, coming to represent a stage of full psychosexual maturity.

Lacan rejects most psychoanalytic theory concerning the genital stage, genital love, etc., calling it an "absurd hymn to the harmony of the genital."[2]

According to Lacan, there is nothing harmonious about genitality.

Genital Stage

The stages of psychosexual development are conceived by Lacan not as natural phases of biological maturation but as forms of demand which are structured retroactively.[3]

In the oral and anal stages, desire is eclipsed by demand, and it is only in the genital stage as a third moment which comes after the oral and anal stages.[4]

However, Lacan's discussion of this stage focuses on what Freud referred to as the "infantile genital organization" (also known as the phallic phase); a stage when the child knows only one sexual organ (the male one) and passes through the castration complex.


Thus the genital phase is only thinkable, Lacan emphasizes, insofar as it is marked by the sign of castration; "genital realization" can only be achieved on condition that the subject first assumes his own castration.[5]

Furthermore, Lacan insists that even when the polymorphous perverse sexuality of the pregential phases comes under the domination of the genital organization, this does not mean that pregenital sexuality is abolished.

"The most archaic aspirations of the child are... a nucleus that is never completely resolved under some primacy of genitality."[6]

He therefore rejects the concept of a final stage of synthesis; synthesis is not possible for human beings, in Lacan's view, since human subjectivity is essentially and irremediably divided.

Genital Drive

The genital drive is not listed by Lacan as one of the partial drives.

Given that Lacan argues that every drive is a partial drive, his refusal to include the genital drive among the partial drives is tantamount to questioning its existence.

In 1964, Lacan makes this explicit.

He writes: "the partial drive, if it exists, is not at all articulated like the other drives.[7]

Unlike the other drives, the genital drive (if it exists) "finds its form" on the side of the Other.[8]

Furthermore, there is no "genital object" that would correspond to a supposed genital drive.

Genital Love

Lacan rejects Michael Balint's concept of "genital love".

The term indicates a psychosexual maturity in which the two elements of sensuality and affection are completely integrated and harmonized, and in which there is thus no longer any ambivalence.

Freud, however, never used the term, and Lacan rejects it as completely alien to psychoanalytic theory.

For Lacan, the idea of final psychosexual maturity and synthesis implied in the term "genital love" is an illusion which completely overlooks "the barriers and snubs (Erniedrigungen) that are so common even in the most fulfilled love relation."[9]

There is no such thing as a post-ambivalent object relation.


The concept of genital love is closely linked to that of "oblativity", a term used by some psychoanalysts to designate a mature form of love in which one loves the other person for what he is rather than for what he can give.

Lacan is as critical of the concept of oblativity as he is of the concept of genital love, viewing it as a form of moralism and a betrayal of the analytic discovery of the part-object.[10]

He argues that the concept of oblativity has little to do with genitality and has far more in common with anal eroticism.

Following Freud's equation between faeces and gifts, Lacan states that the formula of oblativity - "everything for the other" -- shows that it is a fantasy of the obsessional neurotic.[11]

See also