When people think about psychology and psychotherapy, especially those unfamiliar with the fields, most tend to think about Sigmund Freud and his theories on psychosexual development.
One of Freud’s most controversial theories was that boys go through a phallic stage when they have an unconscious sexual attraction towards their mothers (with an absolute hatred of their fathers), while girls go through the same phallic stage with unconscious attractions towards their fathers and jealousy of their mothers.
The Oedipus and Electra complexes
Freud called these complexes the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complexes for girls. He believed that both boys and girls go through these stages between the ages of three and six (Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual Development Theory, n.d.).
Several ideas that Freud developed are still used today (such as the idea of the id, ego, and superego); however, some of Freud’s theories have either been disproved or been extremely controversial as well. The Oedipus and Electra complexes tend to fall in the latter category.
Most people think of a sexual attraction towards their own family members as disgusting and incest. Of course, incestuous relationships are illegal in most developed countries and can lead to birth defects as well as numerous mental health issues.
However, sexual thoughts towards a family member are not illegal and there have probably been numerous people who have had the thought about an attractive cousin “if he/she weren’t my family member, then I would pursue them” or similar thoughts.
So, where does Freud’s phallic stage come into play, or does it at all? If we look at Freud’s final stage of psychosexual development, then we may discover the answer. Freud’s final stage is titled the genital stage and Freud stated this stage began at puberty.
Freud believed that this was when previously dormant sexual desires became activated and boys and girls started exploring their attractions to the opposite sex (Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual Development Theory, n.d.). This last stage has proved fuel for the people that all that young boys want is sex and nothing else.
However, recent studies have even disproved this theory. It appears that boys that have just recently gone through puberty are looking for relationships with girls (or guys, depending on sexual orientation) for closeness and trust (Norton, 2014).
Although the studies referred to in the article have not been large-scale studies, they certainly do refute the idea that young, pubescent boys are only focused on having sex in their relationships. Freud’s genital stage was based on this notion, and his phallic stage was based on the notion that young three- to six-year-olds had unconscious sexual desires as well.
If pubescent boys and girls are not the sexual expressionists that Freud may have thought they were, it would also imply that young three- to six-year-olds are probably more focused on playing with toys and friends than on unconscious sexual desires towards their parents.