1. What are some alternatives to Freud’s focus on childhood sexuality that might also explain adult psychological difficulties? 2. Freud’s view was that normal sexual behavior in adults could develop only if many aspects of the child’s “polymorphously perverse” sexual predispositions were repressed. How else could the development of healthy adult sexuality be explained, with alternative theoretical perspectives? 3. How might Freud’s focus on a central role for sexuality be related to the sexually repressed culture of his time and place? Does the approach seem to fit as well when applied to environments that are less prudish than Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century?

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In order to discuss sexuality in terms of “adult psychological difficulties” and “healthy adult sexuality,” it is important to take a cultural and cross-cultural perspective. What is normal and healthy in one society, one class, or one segment of a society is not seen as such in other societies or in all segments of a society.

For example, in Freud’s fin de siecle Vienna, the upper classes had different norms and expectations for men and women. Men were expected to choose wives based on how that wife could help them financially and socially and were free (and expected) to express their sexuality via sexual exploits and affairs with women of varying social classes. Upper-class women, however, were expected to be chaste and not enjoy sexual activity. This suppression of their sexuality, or the guilt they felt if they expressed their sexuality, often resulted in the many neuroses that Freud and his colleagues cited.

Sexuality in other cultures, classes, and time periods have very different definitions of what is “healthy” or “normal”. Modern day western society is an obvious example in which, although there are various cultural approbations, for the most part, men and women are free to express their sexuality.

A theoretical approach to adult psychological health in all areas, including sexuality, can be seen in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, published in 1943. According to Maslow, there is a pyramid of needs that need to be met in order to proceed to higher levels. First, basic physiological needs must be met, such as food, water, sleep, etc. On the next level is the need for safety and security, followed by the need to feel loved and have a sense of belonging. Following that is the need for respect and self-esteem. When all these needs are met, people are self-actualized in all areas of their lives and are healthy adults who can express their abilities and creativity, including having healthy adult sexual relationships.

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Sigmund Freud was an influential psychologist of his time. Supporters of Freud include Carl Jung and Erik Erikson. These psychologists were influenced by Freud's work but also developed their own ideas on sexuality and adult development.

According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, healthy adulthood is formed through the repression of instincts, often sexual in nature. He termed these powerful instincts as libido. According to Freud, libido is a part of the id of personality, which is present at birth and is the driving force of all behavior. The ego's job is to control the id and express these instincts in appropriate ways.

Carl Jung was a supporter of Freud in many ways. However, he disagreed with Freud's ideas about libido. Where Freud attributed mostly sexualized instincts to libido, Jung believed libido encompassed more generalized instincts that motivated a range of behaviors. He also agreed with Freud that childhood experiences shape adulthood; however, Jung also gave credit to future experiences in forming a person. Jung also had many other ideas on how healthy adult development is formed, which are outlined here.

Erik Erikson is another psychologist influenced by Freud's work, but he focused more on psychosocial development rather than psychosexual development. According to Erikson, there are eight ordinal stages from birth through adulthood that make up healthy adult development. In each of these stages, the person encounters a "conflict" that must be resolved in order to move onto the next stage. If an adult has psychological difficulties, the idea is that a conflict in one of these stages has not been resolved yet.

Freud's focus on sexuality was likely an anomaly for the culture and time period of Vienna. Perhaps this is evidence of the power of environment in shaping thoughts and ideas, which could certainly be the case with Jung and Erikson as well. What seems like over-focus on sexuality may have been Freud's way of addressing a taboo issue of the time.

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Over the years, numerous theories about children and adult psychology have developed. One popular theory is Freud’s theory about childhood sexuality influencing adults; however, other theories also have formed that explain child development.

Some alternative theories to Freud’s theories include Vygotsky’s theories and the Behaviorism theory. Vygotsky believed that children develop their “Zone of Proximal Development” or “ZPD” (their level of ability) by learning through a process termed “scaffolding.” With this, children reach higher levels of development through interaction with others on a higher ZPD level (such as parents or teachers). According to this theory, if children have proper scaffolding, they can develop into productive individuals. On the other hand, Behaviorism illustrates that children develop based on the behaviors that are allowed and encouraged (such as through positive and negative reinforcement). According to this theory, children need correct behavior enforced to become beneficial adults.

Although these two theories are not as focused on sexuality, they reveal alternate perspectives about the development of adult sexuality. For example, with proper scaffolding, children can become beneficial and well-rounded adults (sexuality included) according to Vygotsky. Furthermore, with Behaviorism, if children experience beneficial positive and negative reinforcement, they would become sexually healthy adults as well. However, without the reinforcement, repercussions, such as a non-healthy sexual life could occur.

As a result of Freud’s background in Vienna, many scholars have speculated about how it impacted his theories. However, his theories are still being applied and analyzed by scholars today. Although most scholars reject aspects of his theories, they still use many of the basic components to speculate and create new theories today. Thus, although some scholars may avoid aspects of his theories today, they are still praised and utilized by many modern psychologists.




Santrock, John W. Children. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.

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