The next stage in the progression of psychosexual development is the phallic stage beginning some time during the third year of life and extending until approximately the end of the fifth year. The phallic phase is characterized by the focusing of sexual interest, sexual stimulation, and sexual arousal on the genital area. The penis in this stage becomes the organ of principal interest and concern to children of both sexes. In the classic theory, the lack of a penis in the female is thought to be the basis for feminine castration concerns and penis envy. The phallic phase is associated with an increase in genital masturbation in both sexes, usually more predominant in male children in view of the greater availability and utility of the penis, but occurring in females as well. Such genital activity is accompanied by predominantly unconscious fantasies of sexual involvements with the opposite-sex parent. The threat of castration and the related castration anxiety is connected to guilt over masturbation and to such oedipal wishes. It is during this phase that the oedipal involvements and the oedipal conflict are established and consolidated.

During the phallic stage, one of the most significant psychosexual developments takes place, namely, the integration of pregenital instinctual derivatives under the primacy of the genital area. In this way, erotic interest becomes focused on the genitals and their functioning. This lays the foundation for a more specific sense of gender identity and serves to integrate the residues of previous psychosexual stages into a predominantly genital sexual orientation. The establishing of the oedipal situation and its conflicts is essential to the organization and integration of these functions and to laying the basis for subsequent identifications, which not only will consolidate sexual identity but also will serve as the basis for extremely important and enduring dimensions of character organization and functioning.

The derivation of such pathological traits from the failures of phallic-oedipal involvement is extremely complex and is subject to such a wide variety of modifications and influences that it covers the entire range of neurotic and normal development. Neurotic personality development, in fact, is defined in terms of the genesis and resolution of phallic oedipal conflicts. The primary issues are those of castration in males and penis envy in females. The influence of castration anxiety and penis envy, the defenses against both of these, and the patterns of identifications emerging from the phallic phase become the primary determinants of the development of human character.

The phallic phase is also the stage in which the residues of previous psychosexual stages are integrated so that any fixations or conflicts that may be left over from these previous stages can play a continuing role in the modification and resolution of the oedipal situation. The persistance of preoedipal conflict can contaminate the child’s experience of the oedipal situation and thus contribute to the manner in which the child’s pattern of sexual identification and integration takes place. The male child, for example, who remains excessively close and dependent on the preoedipal mother, cannot sufficiently take her as a love object and cannot adequately separate from her in order to begin to identify with the father as an appropriate object of masculine identification. The pull in the masculine direction, that is in the direction of separation from the mother, assertiveness, and masculine aggressiveness, will prove to be too conflicting and too threatening and drive the child back to a more defensive position of dependent clinging to the preoedipal mother.


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