Freud began his first essay, on "The Sexual Aberrations", by distinguishing between the sexual object and the sexual aim — noting that deviations from the norm could occur with respect to both. Discussing the choice of children and animals as sex objects — pedophilia and bestiality — he notes that most people would prefer to limit these perversions to the insane "on aesthetic grounds" but that they exist in normal people also.
He also explores deviations of sexual aims, as in the tendency to linger over preparatory sexual aspects such as looking and touching. Turning to neurotics, Freud emphasised that "in them tendencies to every kind of perversion can be shown to exist as unconscious forces Freud concluded that "a disposition to perversions is an original and universal disposition of the human sexual instinct and that His second essay, on "Infantile Sexuality", argues that children have sexual urges, from which adult sexuality only gradually emerges via psychosexual development.
Looking at children, Freud identified many forms of infantile sexual emotions, including thumb sucking , autoeroticism, and sibling rivalry. In his third essay, "The Transformations of Puberty" Freud formalised the distinction between the 'fore-pleasures' of infantile sexuality and the 'end-pleasure' of sexual intercourse. He also demonstrated how the adolescent years consolidate sexual identity under the dominance of the genitals.
Freud sought to link to his theory of the unconscious put forward in The Interpretation of Dreams and his work on hysteria by positing sexuality as the driving force of both neuroses through repression and perversion. In its final version, the "Three Essays" also included the concepts of penis envy , castration anxiety , and the Oedipus complex.
The Three Essays underwent a series of rewritings and additions over a twenty-year succession of editions  — changes which expanded its size by one half, from 80 to pages.
As Freud himself conceded in , the result was that "it may often have happened that what was old and what was more recent did not admit of being merged into an entirely uncontradictory whole",  so that, whereas at first "the accent was on a portrayal of the fundamental difference between the sexual life of children and of adults", subsequently "we were able to recognize the far-reaching approximation of the final outcome of sexuality in children in about the fifth year to the definitive form taken by it in adults".
Jacques Lacan considered such a process of change as evidence of the way that "Freud's thought is the most perennially open to revision There are three English translations, one by A. Brill in , another by James Strachey in published by Imago Publishing. Kistner's translation is at the time of its publishing the only English translation available of the earlier edition of the Essays. The edition theorizes an autoerotic theory of sexual development, without recourse to the Oedipal complex.
Freud discussed homosexuality in this general theoretical context — that is, how, from a developmental standpoint, a person would make either a homosexual or heterosexual object choice, the latter representing as much of a problem as the former. Either path might be taken in consequence of the anatomo-physiologic and psychic bisexuality that characterizes every human being, a hypothesis that Freud explicitly attributed to Wilhelm Fliess.
Freud sustained his argument with the concept of component instincts — several independent impulses, each related to an erotogenic zone or somatic source without being integrated with each other. One can thus better understand why numerous perversions are characterized by sexual behavior that preferentially involves the oral, and especially the anal, erotogenic zones — they are, that is to say, the result of psychic functions controlled by component instincts.
Component instincts and normal gratifications of childhood would be further discussed in the second essay. Whereas neurotics repress the desire for instinctual gratification, the anomaly of perversion in adults resides in the fact that their sexual practices are permanently and predominantly based on satisfying component instincts. From this reasoning emerged Freud's concept that " neuroses are, so to say, the negative of perversions " p. Ideas developed in the first essay led logically to the second, which focused on sexuality in infancy and childhood.
Freud pointed to the lack of knowledge on this subject while noting, at the same time, that it would be sufficient to carefully observe young children without hastening to declare sexual manifestations as abnormal. Every adult was once a child and should in principle be able to recall childhood in more than a fragmentary way, but most do not. Freud added two important observations. First, infantile amnesia affects everything concerning sexuality in childhood.
Second, the strong moral condemnation that impacts all manifestations of sexuality leads to repression or gratification through sublimation. Freud went on to advance a highly audacious and fertile idea that would lead to many further developments in psychoanalysis, both theoretical and clinical, and which would influence both his own later thought and that of his successors.
He stated, in effect, that sucking activity observed in the infant should be considered as the prototype for all future sexual gratification. Thumb-sucking or "sensual sucking" "consists in the rhythmic repetition of a sucking contact by the mouth or lips. There is no question of the purpose of this procedure being the taking of nourishment" pp. Thumb-sucking has no other aim but pleasure and is separate from, but attached to or initially dependent upon, the need for nourishment.
Herewith emerges implicitly the notion of anaclisis, which would later play a major role in developmental theory. Freud explicitly states that oral gratification is a prototype for every sexual gratification, is pleasurable in itself, and is autoerotic inasmuch as it does not require any other object than the infant itself. He writes that the infant seems to be saying, "'It's a pity I can't kiss myself'" p. Here we find one of the major sources of discomfort provoked by the second of the Three Essays.
Freud, like most psychoanalysts after him, would view any controversy that emerged around the notion of infantile sexuality to be the result of a misunderstanding. If sucking is to be considered sexual and to lie at the root of all later sexuality, this should be understood in the context of an extended definition of the concept of sexuality itself, not confounded with, or reduced to, genital sexuality. However, objections to the idea of infantile sexuality would grow still more vehement with Freud's further declaration that sensual sucking is masturbatory in nature and serves as a prototype for such gratification which, in addition, shifts from the labial zone to the anal zone, and lastly to the genital zone.
In addition, in a highly rational argument, Freud presented a further fundamental concept. The infant, due to the diverse and polyvalent character of erotogenic zones as invested by instinct and by the various means of gratification, may be characterized as possessing a "polymorphously perverse disposition.
By contrast, adult perversion is characterized by the abnormal persistence of infantile characteristics. In so-called normal development, the genitals become the dominant erotogenic zone, other erotogenic zones become subordinate to it, and there follows integration of the sources of sexual excitation and modes of sexual satisfaction.
In the last of the three essays, Freud described the "The Transformations of Puberty. Nevertheless, Freud examined three central themes in psychoanalysis — the libidinal economy of the onset of puberty, female and male sexuality, and object relations. Again, Freud raised the notion of the integration, "under the primacy of the genital zones" p. But then, Freud faced a problem, the solution to which he found difficult to accept. He had long reasoned that pleasure lowers tension while unpleasure raises it, writing that "I must insist that a feeling of tension necessarily involves unpleasure" p.
But if the very activity that seeks to decrease tension is perceived as a pleasure, how then to understand the search for sexual excitement, which commonly characterizes every sexual act including foreplay before culminating in orgasm and relaxation? Confronting the issue, Freud pursued it in connection with sexual chemistry, largely speculative at the time. In fact, the problem remained without a solution in the edition; it would only be much later, in such works as "The Economic Problem of Masochism" c , that Freud returned to it in a more satisfactory way.
Freud discussed a second theme in the third essay in a section titled "The Differentiation between Men and Women," in which he asserted rather baldly that "The sexuality of little girls is of a wholly masculine character" p. The clitoris, which Freud viewed as the distaff equivalent of the penis, is the site of masturbatory pleasure for little girls. In the woman, the clitoris may be viewed as the organ of forepleasure that transmits excitement to the "adjacent female parts," writes Freud, "just as — to use a simile — pine shavings can be kindled in order to set a log of harder wood on fire" p.
Freud's subsequent discussion of these ideas, particularly in New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis a  , would eventually incite considerable and lively controversy regarding the nature of female sexuality.
Still another theme in the third essay concerned "The Finding of an Object" during the transformations of puberty and as we would say today adolescence. In , Freud still subscribed to an overly simplistic theory that he would later modify in fundamental ways.
To infantile sexuality, which he supposed to be essentially auto-erotic, he opposed object-directed sexuality developed during puberty. The primal object, the mother's breast, has by then been long lost, so that libidinal investment in the sexual partner after puberty is in fact a "rediscovery," Freud notes.
He adds, "The finding of an object is in fact a refinding of it" p. This was a proposition that spawned fruitful and interesting developments. In effect, from this point on, Freud acknowledged the object-relations nature of infantile sexuality. He went on to consider infantile anxiety and the "barrier against incest" p. Freud clearly established here what, beginning in , he would call the " Oedipus complex.
This in brief reprise is Freud's rich and provocative Three Essays as the book was published in But to understand its place in terms of Freud's later work, it is important to realize that he revised the text with each new edition, of which there were six in his lifetime. He is not known to have considered publishing an entirely new edition, such as might have seemed necessary in light of all the developments in psychoanalytic theory. In any event, from to Freud made a host of emendations, some of which were quite significant yet difficult to reconcile with the original text to which they were attached.
Freud himself admitted that this could create difficulties for the reader. In a later paper, "The Infantile Genital Organization" e , he wrote, "Readers of my Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality will be aware that I have never undertaken any thorough remodeling of that work in its later editions, but have retained the original arrangement and have kept abreast of the advances made in our knowledge by means of interpolations and alterations in the text.
In doing this, it may often have happened that what was old and what was more recent did not admit of being merged into an entirely uncontradictory whole" p. The Standard Edition accurately indicates all the modifications, suppressions, and additions to the text as Freud revised it in , , , and also ; the emendations are particularly important, appearing as they do during the period that he wrote his papers on metapsychology; so too those of , which came during the transition to the second theory of instincts and what is sometimes referred to as the "second topography" or structural theory.
All these emendations appear either as notes at the bottom of the page, sometimes numerous and often quite long, or are included as extensions within the text itself. Three of these extended interpolations are of particular importance. Another section, also added to the second essay in , discusses "The Phases of Development of the Sexual Organization" p. This represented a major departure inasmuch as Freud introduced the notion of pregenital organizations — oral and anal stages — preceding the genital organization.
In , he added a note to the emendation itself in which he mentioned that he had advanced that same year e the idea of an intermediary stage, called infantile genital organization. For it knows only one kind of genital: For this reason I have named it the 'phallic' stage of organization" pp. This idea implies, importantly, that the development of object choice arises in two periods separated by latency.
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