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Oral Fixation: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:01 Five Stages of Development
  • 1:39 The Oral Stage
  • 2:50 An Oral Fixation
  • 3:57 Criticisms
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tiffany Frye
Freud proposed that we all go through stages of development tied to different parts of our bodies. Read on to find out about the oral fixation that could occur if we don't make it through the oral stage of development successfully.

Five Stages of Development

Why does Sherlock Holmes always have a pipe in his mouth? What is it with businessmen and fat cigars? Why is Penny Pingleton constantly sucking on lollipops in Hairspray? A possible answer to all these questions may be found in Sigmund Freud's theories of psychosexual development and the concept of oral fixation.

According to Freud, the human personality begins its rapid development immediately from birth and is almost completely determined by the age of five. During this period, development is driven by an instinctual sexual appetite (the libido) that focuses its energies upon particular erogenous zones.

Human beings are, as Freud puts it, polymorphously perverse, meaning that infants will seek to derive pleasure from many different parts of their bodies. Freud, therefore, divides human development into five psychosexual stages, each one characterized by the erogenous zone towards which the libido focuses its desires. The five stages are the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent, and the genital. If a desire is either under- or over-satiated during its corresponding developmental stage, fixation can occur.

Fixation is an unhealthy attachment in adult life to one of these erogenous zones, where the adult subject remains 'stuck' in an earlier stage of sexual development. In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Freud described fixation as the after-effects of infantile object-choice, an incestuous fixation of his or her libido.

The Oral Stage

The oral stage, spanning from birth to 21 months, is when the infant's pleasure centers are situated around the lips and the mouth. The first 'love-object' of this stage is the mother's breast, where libidinal gratification is first granted in the pleasures of feeding. Enjoyment is further sought in the baby's oral exploration of his or her environment, i.e. sticking things in his or her mouth, or in auto-erotic behaviors, i.e. thumb-sucking.

The key developmental experiences of this stage, where the dangers of later fixation are very prevalent, is the process of weaning, the gradual withdrawal of the child from his or her mother's breast and the supply of milk. As well as being the child's first experience of loss, weaning is also a key moment in the human development of self-awareness, independence, and trust. Weaning teaches a child that it does not have full control over its environment and he or she experiences the necessary limit of the self and the pleasure. The duration of this oral stage depends very much on the child-rearing traditions of the mother's society and when it is believed weaning should begin.

An Oral Fixation

Freud proposed that if there is any thwarting of the infant's libidinal desires in the oral stage, i.e. if the child's breastfeeding is neglected or over-provided, or if he or she is weaned too late or too early, he or she may become orally-fixated as an adult. This oral fixation can manifest itself in a number of ways. It may result in a desire for constant oral stimulation such as through eating, smoking, alcoholism, nail-biting, or thumb-sucking. It has also been suggested that being overly talkative, gullible, manipulative, or sarcastic can stem from an oral fixation.

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