Freud’s Perversions

By D.R. Gayton

In 1905 Freud proffered his theory of sexuality in his book Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie. Central to Freud’s ideas on the development of sexuality was his idea that perversion were “innate in everyone, though as a disposition it may vary in its intensity and may be increased by the influences of actual life” (633). This idea of perversions as “innate” was a very important idea within the development of the sexology in Freud’s time, for by making perversions ubiquitous Freud not only attempted to destigmatize the term, but by adding “the influences of actual life” to its innateness, Freud established perversions as both a biological and a psychological element of both men and women.

Having redefined the term perversions near the opening of his essay as sexual activities that (a) extend beyond the “regions of the body that are designed for sexual union,” and (b) that “should be normally traversed rapidly on the path towards the final sexual aim,” Freud expanded not just the meaning of the term perversion, but most importantly its role within the attainment of what he calls a “normal sexual life.” That is, for Freud perversions were but an essential component in the stages of psychosexual development that span from our early infancy and culminate during our adulthood in the form of genital copulation.

The problem that Freud found with perversions, however, is that within what he calls “influences of actual life” perversions may lead to neurosis when repressed and aberrations, or pathological conditions, when they either become centered on anyone of the erogenous zones or remain fixed within anyone of the stages of psychosexual development. In one very important passage regarding this idea of the pathalogizing of perversions Freud states, “if, in short, a perversion has the characteristics of exclusiveness and fixation – then we shall usually be justified in regarding it as a pathological symptom” (629). It is then this element of fixation within a perversion that Freud also identifies as being central to neurosis. Stating that, “most psychoneurotics only fall ill after the age of puberty as a result of the demands made upon them by normal sexual life” and then parenthetically adding, “It is most particularly against the latter that repression is directed,” (633) Freud not only emphasizes the causal relation of repression to neurosis but most importantly readdresses himself to the task of creating normalcy.