Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex
Category: Science
Genres: Psychology
Level 11.14 3:40 h
Sigmund Freud is the founder of psychoanalysis, which focuses on the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind to bring repressed fears into the conscious mind. Freud was a major figure in psychology, and his book Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex is a significant analysis of the psychology of sex. read the discoveries Freud made using his therapy method to analyze perversions, puberty, and childhood sexuality.

Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex

Nervous and Mental Disease Monograph Series No. 7

Prof. Sigmund Freud, LL.D.

Authorized Translation by A. A. Brill, Ph.B., M.D.

With Introduction by James J. Putnam, M. D.

Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex

Introduction to Translation

The somewhat famous “Three Essays,” which Dr. Brill is here bringing to the attention of an English-reading public, occupy — brief as they are — an important position among the achievements of their author, a great investigator and pioneer in an important line. It is not claimed that the facts here gathered are altogether new. The subject of the sexual instinct and its aberrations has long been before the scientific world and the names of many effective toilers in this vast field are known to every student. When one passes beyond the strict domains of science and considers what is reported of the sexual life in folkways and art-lore and the history of primitive culture and in romance, the sources of information are immense. Freud has made considerable additions to this stock of knowledge, but he has done also something of far greater consequence than this. He has worked out, with incredible penetration, the part which this instinct plays in every phase of human life and in the development of human character, and has been able to establish on a firm footing the remarkable thesis that psychoneurotic illnesses never occur with a perfectly normal sexual life. Other sorts of emotions contribute to the result, but some aberration of the sexual life is always present, as the cause of especially insistent emotions and repressions.

The instincts with which every child is born furnish desires or cravings which must be dealt with in some fashion. They may be refined (“sublimated”), so far as is necessary and desirable, into energies of other sorts — as happens readily with the play-instinct — or they may remain as the source of perversions and inversions, and of cravings of new sorts substituted for those of the more primitive kinds under the pressure of a conventional civilization. The symptoms of the functional psychoneuroses represent, after a fashion, some of these distorted attempts to find a substitute for the imperative cravings born of the sexual instincts, and their form often depends, in part at least, on the peculiarities of the sexual life in infancy and early childhood. It is Freud’s service to have investigated this inadequately chronicled period of existence with extraordinary acumen. In so doing he made it plain that the “perversions” and “inversions,” which reappear later under such striking shapes, belong to the normal sexual life of the young child and are seen, in veiled forms, in almost every case of nervous illness.

It cannot too often be repeated that these discoveries represent no fanciful deductions, but are the outcome of rigidly careful observations which any one who will sufficiently prepare himself can verify. Critics fret over the amount of “sexuality” that Freud finds evidence of in the histories of his patients, and assume that he puts it there. But such criticisms are evidences of misunderstandings and proofs of ignorance.

Freud had learned that the amnesias of hypnosis and of hysteria were not absolute but relative and that in covering the lost memories, much more, of unexpected sort, was often found. Others, too, had gone as far as this, and stopped. But this investigator determined that nothing but the absolute impossibility of going further should make him cease from urging his patients into an inexorable scrutiny of the unconscious regions of their memories and thoughts, such as never had been made before. Every species of forgetfulness, even the forgetfulness of childhood’s years, was made to yield its hidden stores of knowledge; dreams, even though apparently absurd, were found to be interpreters of a varied class of thoughts, active, although repressed as out of harmony with the selected life of consciousness; layer after layer, new sets of motives underlying motives were laid bare, and each patient’s interest was strongly enlisted in the task of learning to know himself in order more truly and wisely to “sublimate” himself. Gradually other workers joined patiently in this laborious undertaking, which now stands, for those who have taken pains to comprehend it, as by far the most important movement in psychopathology.

It must, however, be recognized that these essays, of which Dr. Brill has given a translation that cannot but be timely, concern a subject which is not only important but unpopular. Few physicians read the works of v. Krafft-Ebing, Magnus Hirschfeld, Moll, and others of like sort. The remarkable volumes of Havelock Ellis were refused publication in his native England. The sentiments which inspired this hostile attitude towards the study of the sexual life are still active, though growing steadily less common. One may easily believe that if the facts which Freud’s truth-seeking researches forced him to recognize and to publish had not been of an unpopular sort, his rich and abundant contributions to observational psychology, to the significance of dreams, to the etiology and therapeutics of the psychoneuroses, to the interpretation of mythology, would have won for him, by universal acclaim, the same recognition among all physicians that he has received from a rapidly increasing band of followers and colleagues.

May Dr. Brill’s translation help toward this end.

There are two further points on which some comments should be made. The first is this, that those who conscientiously desire to learn all that they can from Freud’s remarkable contributions should not be content to read any one of them alone. His various publications, such as “The Selected Papers on Hysteria and Other Psychoneuroses,” “The Interpretation of Dreams,” “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” “Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious,” the analysis of the case of the little boy called Hans, the study of Leonardo da Vinci, and the various short essays in the four Sammlungen kleiner Schriften, not only all hang together, but supplement each other to a remarkable extent. Unless a course of study such as this is undertaken many critics may think various statements and inferences in this volume to be far fetched or find them too obscure for comprehension.

The other point is the following: One frequently hears the psychoanalytic method referred to as if it was customary for those practicing it to exploit the sexual experiences of their patients and nothing more, and the insistence on the details of the sexual life, presented in this book, is likely to emphasize that notion. But the fact is, as every thoughtful inquirer is aware, that the whole progress of civilization, whether in the individual or the race, consists largely in a “sublimation” of infantile instincts, and especially certain portions of the sexual instinct, to other ends than those which they seemed designed to serve. Art and poetry are fed on this fuel and the evolution of character and mental force is largely of the same origin. All the forms which this sublimation, or the abortive attempts at sublimation, may take in any given case, should come out in the course of a thorough psychoanalysis. It is not the sexual life alone, but every interest and every motive, that must be inquired into by the physician who is seeking to obtain all the data about the patient, necessary for his reeducation and his cure. But all the thoughts and emotions and desires and motives which appear in the man or woman of adult years were once crudely represented in the obscure instincts of the infant, and among these instincts those which were concerned directly or indirectly with the sexual emotions, in a wide sense, are certain to be found in every case to have been the most important for the end-result.


BOSTON, August 23, 1910.

Author’s Preface to the Second Edition

Although the author is fully aware of the gaps and obscurities contained in this small volume, he has, nevertheless, resisted a temptation to add to it the results obtained from the investigations of the last five years, fearing that thus its unified and documentary character would be destroyed. He accordingly reproduces the original text with but slight modifications, contenting himself with the addition of a few footnotes. For the rest, it is his ardent wish that this book may speedily become antiquated — to the end that the new material brought forward in it may be universally accepted, while the shortcomings it displays may give place to juster views.

VIENNA, December, 1909.

Author’s Preface to the Third Edition

After watching for ten years the reception accorded to this book and the effect it has produced, I wish to provide the third edition of it with some prefatory remarks dealing with the misunderstandings of the book and the demands, insusceptible of fulfillment, made against it. Let me emphasize in the first place that whatever is here presented is derived entirely from every-day medical experience which is to be made more profound and scientifically important through the results of psychoanalytic investigation. The “Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex” can contain nothing except what psychoanalysis obliges them to accept or what it succeeds in corroborating. It is therefore excluded that they should ever be developed into a “theory of sex,” and it is also quite intelligible that they will assume no attitude at all towards some important problems of the sexual life. This should not however give the impression that these omitted chapters of the great theme were unfamiliar to the author, or that they were neglected by him as something of secondary importance.

The dependence of this work on the psychoanalytic experiences which have determined the writing of it, shows itself not only in the selection but also in the arrangement of the material. A certain succession of stages was observed, the occasional factors are rendered prominent, the constitutional ones are left in the background, and the ontogenetic development receives greater consideration than the phylogenetic. For the occasional factors play the principal role in analysis, and are almost completely worked up in it, while the constitutional factors only become evident from behind as elements which have been made functional through experience, and a discussion of these would lead far beyond the working sphere of psychoanalysis.

A similar connection determines the relation between ontogenesis and phylogenesis. Ontogenesis may be considered as a repetition of phylogenesis insofar as the latter has not been varied by a more recent experience. The phylogenetic disposition makes itself visible behind the ontogenetic process. But fundamentally the constitution is really the precipitate of a former experience of the species to which the newer experience of the individual being is added as the sum of the occasional factors.

Beside its thoroughgoing dependence on psychoanalytic investigation I must emphasize as a character of this work of mine its intentional independence of biological investigation. I have carefully avoided the inclusion of the results of scientific investigation in general sex biology or of particular species of animals in this study of human sexual functions which is made possible by the technique of psychoanalysis. My aim was indeed to find out how much of the biology of the sexual life of man can be discovered by means of psychological investigation; I was able to point to additions and agreements which resulted from this examination, but I did not have to become confused if the psychoanalytic methods led in some points to views and results which deviated considerably from those merely based on biology.

I have added many passages in this edition, but I have abstained from calling attention to them, as in former editions, by special marks. The scientific work in our sphere has at present been retarded in its progress, nevertheless some supplements to this work were indispensable if it was to remain in touch with our newer psychoanalytic literature.

VIENNA, October, 1914.

The Sexual Aberrations

The fact of sexual need in man and animal is expressed in biology by the assumption of a “sexual impulse.” This impulse is made analogous to the impulse of taking nourishment, and to hunger. The sexual expression corresponding to hunger not being found colloquilly, science uses the expression “libido.”

Popular conception makes definite assumptions concerning the nature and qualities of this sexual impulse. It is supposed to be absent during childhood and to commence about the time of and in connection with the maturing process of puberty; it is supposed that it manifests itself in irresistible attractions exerted by one sex upon the other, and that its aim is sexual union or at least such actions as would lead to union.

But we have every reason to see in these assumptions a very untrustworthy picture of reality. On closer examination they are found to abound in errors, inaccuracies and hasty conclusions.

If we introduce two terms and call the person from whom the sexual attraction emanates the sexual object, and the action towards which the impulse strives the sexual aim, then the scientifically examined experience shows us many deviations in reference to both sexual object and sexual aim, the relations of which to the accepted standard require thorough investigation.

1. Deviation in Reference to the Sexual Object

The popular theory of the sexual impulse corresponds closely to the poetic fable of dividing the person into two halves — man and woman — who strive to become reunited through love. It is therefore very surprising to hear that there are men for whom the sexual object is not woman but man, and that there are women for whom it is not man but woman. Such persons are called contrary sexuals, or better, inverts; the condition, that of inversion. The number of such individuals is considerable though difficult of accurate determination.

A. Inversion

The Behavior of Inverts. — The above-mentioned persons behave in many ways quite differently.

(a) They are absolutely inverted; i.e., their sexual object must be always of the same sex, while the opposite sex can never be to them an object of sexual longing, but leaves them indifferent or may even evoke sexual repugnance. As men they are unable, on account of this repugnance, to perform the normal sexual act or miss all pleasure in its performance.

(b) They are amphigenously inverted (psychosexually hermaphroditic); i.e., their sexual object may belong indifferently to either the same or to the other sex. The inversion lacks the character of exclusiveness.

(c) They are occasionally inverted; i.e., under certain external conditions, chief among which are the inaccessibility of the normal sexual object and initiation, they are able to take as the sexual object a person of the same sex and thus find sexual gratification.

The inverted also manifest a manifold behavior in their judgment about the peculiarities of their sexual impulse. Some take the inversion as a matter of course, just as the normal person does regarding his libido, firmly demanding the same rights as the normal. Others, however, strive against the fact of their inversion and perceive in it a morbid compulsion.

Other variations concern the relations of time. The characteristics of the inversion in any individual may date back as far as his memory goes, or they may become manifest to him at a definite period before or after puberty. The character is either retained throughout life, or it occasionally recedes or represents an episode on the road to normal development. A periodical fluctuation between the normal and the inverted sexual object has also been observed. Of special interest are those cases in which the libido changes, taking on the character of inversion after a painful experience with the normal sexual object.

These different categories of variation generally exist independently of one another. In the most extreme cases it can regularly be assumed that the inversion has existed at all times and that the person feels contented with his peculiar state.

Many authors will hesitate to gather into a unit all the cases enumerated here and will prefer to emphasize the differences rather than the common characters of these groups, a view which corresponds with their preferred judgment of inversions. But no matter what divisions may be set up, it cannot be overlooked that all transitions are abundantly met with, so that the formation of a series would seem to impose itself.

Conception of Inversion. — The first attention bestowed upon inversion gave rise to the conception that it was a congenital sign of nervous degeneration. This harmonized with the fact that doctors first met it among the nervous, or among persons giving such an impression. There are two elements which should be considered independently in this conception: the congenitality, and the degeneration.

Degeneration. — This term degeneration is open to the objections which may be urged against the promiscuous use of this word in general. It has in fact become customary to designate all morbid manifestations not of traumatic or infectious origin as degenerative. Indeed, Magnan’s classification of degenerates makes it possible that the highest general configuration of nervous accomplishment need not exclude the application of the concept of degeneration. Under the circumstances, it is a question what use and what new content the judgment of “degeneration” still possesses. It would seem more appropriate not to speak of degeneration: (1) Where there are not many marked deviations from the normal; (2) where the capacity for working and living do not in general appear markedly impaired.

That the inverted are not degenerates in this qualified sense can be seen from the following facts:

1. The inversion is found among persons who otherwise show no marked deviation from the normal.

2. It is found also among persons whose capabilities are not disturbed, who on the contrary are distinguished by especially high intellectual development and ethical culture.

3. If one disregards the patients of one’s own practice and strives to comprehend a wider field of experience, he will in two directions encounter facts which will prevent him from assuming inversions as a degenerative sign.

(a) It must be considered that inversion was a frequent manifestation among the ancient nations at the height of their culture. It was an institution endowed with important functions. (b) It is found to be unusually prevalent among savages and primitive races, whereas the term degeneration is generally limited to higher civilization (I. Bloch). Even among the most civilized nations of Europe, climate and race have a most powerful influence on the distribution of, and attitude toward, inversion.

Innateness. — Only for the first and most extreme class of inverts, as can be imagined, has innateness been claimed, and this from their own assurance that at no time in their life has their sexual impulse followed a different course. The fact of the existence of two other classes, especially of the third, is difficult to reconcile with the assumption of its being congenital. Hence, the propensity of those holding this view to separate the group of absolute inverts from the others results in the abandonment of the general conception of inversion. Accordingly in a number of cases the inversion would be of a congenital character, while in others it might originate from other causes.

In contradistinction to this conception is that which assumes inversion to be an acquired character of the sexual impulse. It is based on the following facts. (1) In many inverts (even absolute ones) an early affective sexual impression can be demonstrated, as a result of which the homosexual inclination developed. (2) In many others outer influences of a promoting and inhibiting nature can be demonstrated, which in earlier or later life led to a fixation of the inversion — among which are exclusive relations with the same sex, companionship in war, detention in prison, dangers of hetero-sexual intercourse, celibacy, sexual weakness, etc. (3) Hypnotic suggestion may remove the inversion, which would be surprising in that of a congenital character.

In view of all this, the existence of congenital inversion can certainly be questioned. The objection may be made to it that a more accurate examination of those claimed to be congenitally inverted will probably show that the direction of the libido was determined by a definite experience of early childhood, which has not been retained in the conscious memory of the person, but which can be brought back to memory by proper influences (Havelock Ellis). According to that author inversion can be designated only as a frequent variation of the sexual impulse which may be determined by a number of external circumstances of life.

The apparent certainty thus reached is, however, overthrown by the retort that manifestly there are many persons who have experienced even in their early youth those very sexual influences, such as seduction, mutual onanism, without becoming inverts, or without constantly remaining so. Hence, one is forced to assume that the alternatives congenital and acquired are either incomplete or do not cover the circumstances present in inversions.

Explanation of Inversion. — The nature of inversion is explained neither by the assumption that it is congenital nor that it is acquired. In the first case, we need to be told what there is in it of the congenital, unless we are satisfied with the roughest explanation, namely, that a person brings along a congenital sexual impulse connected with a definite sexual object. In the second case it is a question whether the manifold accidental influences suffice to explain the acquisition unless there is something in the individual to meet them half way. The negation of this last factor is inadmissible according to our former conclusions.

The Relation of Bisexuality. — Since the time of Frank Lydston, Kiernan, and Chevalier, a new series of ideas has been introduced for the explanation of the possibility of sexual inversion. This contains a new contradiction to the popular belief which assumes that a human being is either a man or a woman. Science shows cases in which the sexual characteristics appear blurred and thus the sexual distinction is made difficult, especially on an anatomical basis. The genitals of such persons unite the male and female characteristics (hermaphroditism). In rare cases both parts of the sexual apparatus are well developed (true hermaphroditism), but usually both are stunted.

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