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Auto-eroticism

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
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According to Freud, the Oedipus complex is contemporaneous with the 'Phallic Phase' of infantile sexuality. Prior to this phase Freud thought of all children as essentially bisexual beings who attained sexual satisfaction through auto-eroticism. By this he means that very young infants gain sexual stimulation through their own bodies. There is no sexual object as such, but they achieve satisfaction through the manipulation of erotogenic zones. An erotogenic zone is any area or organ of the body that is assigned sexual significance by the infant, such as the oral and anal orifices as well as the sexual organs. For example, thumb-sucking is an auto-erotic activity in the sense that it involves the stimulation of a particular area of the body and the infant derives pleasure from it. What changes through the phallic phase is that the genitals become the focus of sexual stimulation. There is a crucial difference, however, between adult and infantile sexuality in that during infancy, for both sexes, 'only one genital, namely the male one, comes into account. What is present, therefore, is not the primacy of the genitals, but the primacy of the phallus' (Freud 1991e [1923]: 308). It is the sight of the presence or absence of the penis that forces the child to recognise that boys and girls are different. To begin with, Freud postulated that both sexes disavow the absence of the woman's penis and believe they have seen it, even if it is not there. Eventually, however, they are forced to admit its absence and they account for this absence through the idea of castration. The boy sees the woman as a castrated man and the girl has to accept that she has not got and never will have a penis. Freud did not distinguish between the penis as an actual bodily organ and the 'phallus' as a signifier of sexual difference. The phallus within Freud's work always maintained its reference to the male sexual organ.