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Sex, Freud, and Weininger (iii)

Notes on Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

“The Transformations of Puberty”


A normal sexual life is only assured by an exact convergence of the two currents directed towards the sexual object and the sexual aim, the affectionate current and the sensual one.

Freud’s anticipation of the discovery of sex hormones and how little adjustment his theory needed to account for their reality is noted (by Strachey). The anticipation was not only in this work from 1905, but as early as 1896 in letters to Fliess (March 1st and April 2nd). [Thus Weininger’s contemporaneous speculations along the same lines (also citing Fliess and Freud as sources) were scarcely out of the mainstream.]


…we are giving expression to the presumption that the sexual processes occurring in the organism are distinguished from the nutritive processes by a special chemistry. The analyses or the perversions and psychoneuroses has shown us that this sexual excitation is derived not from the so-called sexual parts alone, but from all the bodily organs.

[Cf., Weininger’s conjecture that sexual determinants suffuse and affect every cell of the body.]

Guarding the specifically sexual character of the libido from dilution, Freud adds in 1920:

It would … be sacrificing all that we have hitherto learned from psycho-analytic observation, if we were to allow the example of C. G. Jung and water down the meaning of the concept of the libido itself by equating it with psychical instinctual force in general.

[Because of its singular impact on a higher order of differentiation in perception and valuation (as noted in Weininger), it was important for the sexual instinct not to be obscured by subsumption in a more expansive notion. Other instincts do not set the parameters of culture, nor color it, to the same extent. Freud was right to insist here, even if he was somewhat unwitting of the full implication.]


The development of the inhibitions of sexuality (shame, disgust, pity, etc.) takes place in little girls earlier and in the face of less resistance than in boys…. So far as the autoerotic and masturbatory manifestations of sexuality are concerned, we might lay it down that the sexuality of girls is of a wholly masculine character. In deed, if we were able to give a more definite connotation to the concepts of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, it would even be possible to maintain that libido is invariably and necessarily of a masculine nature, whether it occurs in men or in women and irrespectively of whether its object is a man or a woman.

In a 1915 note to the above, Freud explains that the “essential” and “most serviceable to psycho-analysis” meaning of the masculine and feminine concepts is their equation with activity and passivity, respectively.


Continuing from the note on the previous page:

Activity and its concomitant phenomena (more powerful muscular development, aggressiveness, greater intensity of libido) are as a rule linked to biological masculinity; but they are not necessarily so, for there are animal species in which these qualities are on the contrary assigned to the female…. Every individual on the contrary displays a mixture of the character-traits belonging to his own and to the opposite sex; and he shows a combination of activity and passivity whether or not the character-traits tally with his biological ones. [A later discussion of this point will be found in a footnote at the end of Chapter IV of Civilization and its Discontents (1930a).]

[The ancient associations of the active with the masculine and passivity with the feminine (going back to Aristotle, at least) are to some degree criticized by Agacinski among others. The associations are defensible but only by washing the concepts of the patina of favor that has accrued over centuries on one and not the other…

Perhaps a more enlightening contrast, less likely to be abused (if only because less understood), is that between immanence and transcendence. At least each of these, in turn, has had its time to shine in the history of ideas. I mean here the orientation toward the empirical and material or cosmic on the one side and the push or pull toward the reification of the abstract—the otherworldly, the heterocosmic—on the other. The association of these ultimate orientations with gender was first made clear to me by Weininger.

While I do not think our survival as a species is necessary in any sense, least of all moral, if it does survive gracefully for a time longer, it will be because it will have come to terms with the indispensability of these unmistakably incompatible orientations to its development.]


A mother would probably be horrified if she were made aware that all her marks of affection were rousing her child’s sexual instinct and preparing for its later intensity. She regards what she does as asexual, ‘pure’ love, since, after all, she carefully avoids applying more sexual excitations to the child’s genitals than are unavoidable in nursery care. As we know, however, the sexual instinct is not aroused only by direct excitation of the genital zone. What we call affection will unfailingly show its effects one day on the genital zones as well. Moreover, if the mother understood more of the high importance of the part played by the instincts in mental life as a whole—in all its ethical and psychical achievements—she would spare herself any self-reproaches even after her enlightenment. She is only fulfilling her task in teaching the child to love.

Social barriers against incest arise from society’s need to form larger bonding units than families. Boys especially are directed outward for their sexual object choices. Nevertheless, the impulse toward transgression is deep and often in reality carried through.

Heterosexual orientation in boys is predisposed by early childhood affection by his mother and other female care givers. Through this, coupled with a sexual and affectional distancing from his father, he comes to seek the attention of females thereafter.

Inversion results from boys being raised by males, as in antiquity (Plato’s milieu).

[Do single mothers of daughters incline to raising lesbians? Or is Freud’s dynamic more exclusive to males, that is, to some greater need for, or susceptibility to, on their part, an external sexual object? In the area of sexual orientation, if few others, are boys more impressionable than girls? Are girls more “pre-set” or perhaps simply less likely to require external prompts for sexual orientation? Perhaps, because bisexual impulses in girls are so diffuse and continuous with the normally unhindered channels of affection that engender the network of relations females are inclined to weave about them, their object choice is always more fluid than his is usually allowed to be. Character-building requires stability in allegiances. His object choices, in kind if not in particular, bearing on moral standing in a way hers do not, must be more permanent than hers; hence, expressions of bisexuality in him are likely to be less common. Ambiguity in his moral script is less tolerable.]

Sexual precocity linked to early intellectual development.

[A strong early sexual impulse must to the otherwise normally developed mentality of a child pose a special challenge that engages its attention to the point of obsession. The child must solve the puzzle of the insistence of this drive in the face of the imposition of the “shame, guilt and disgust” that inevitably attends it. Why is he so drawn to what he should not be? In the normal case the impulse and the mentality to contend with it develop abreast. In the sexually precocious child, either he will be lost to perdition while yet innocent, or he must strive to get wise as fast as possible. If it does not morally kill him, it will make him stronger. This describes the boy.

The sexually precocious girl is less easily isolated from environment and her drama is likely to be played out in some great effort at psychic survival in a field of relationships. If she is damaged, her wounds will not be, at least initially, self-inflicted. She will be distorted to fit her environment. The boy, in contrast, if he fails to properly sublimate, will cause distortion in his environment…

But the colors used to draw these pictures, of course, reflect the parameters of the very conventional assignment of the active and passive modes. Will not the distorted self of the wounded girl have effect on her relationship, including offspring, that can hardly be called passive? Will not the boy absorb much that will shape him?

The point is that the “conventional” as used here does not imply an arbitrary constellation of loaded descriptors, open to rearrangement at the behest of the enlightened. At every point of development we might choose with equal justice to switch our terms of description from active to passive as easily as we may the mode of a transitive verb in a sentence. Nevertheless, the claim is that the boy will perceive his situation or role in the world as one of impact and not as one of the impacted. A nail is driven when two bodies collide in space, but we do not normally conceive of the nail as causing the hammer to emit a sound and rebound in its effort.

We might choose to describe the event in terms that make the nail the actor. We typically do not. This is not a matter of arbitrary convention and history.

If we are so constructed that we cannot help but see it as positive act to hammer, and this interpretation is associated with an abuse in favor of the hammer at the expense of the significance of the nail, we are squarely confronted with a moral challenge. Morality is not about indulging our impulses or validating our inclinations.* Its role is to counter the structural hubris that permeates the momentum of our every breath.

The hammer will need to be reminded that it is as much acted upon and the nail that it is responsible.

*(Editor’s note: Luno is not merely reiterating Kant here. Luno would not exclude from the class of impulses that toward the belief in the rational autonomy human beings. In men, “structural hubris” takes exactly that form. The conviction that this one feature of our being is to be hallowed at the expense of others—most notably, the feminine one that inclines to view ethical human agency as always serving life before it serves anything else—is under scrutiny as well.)]

Further related references to look up**:

“The Economic Problem of Masochism,” Collected Papers, 2, 255; Standard Edition, 19, 157.

“Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes,” Collected Papers, 5, 186; Standard Edition, 19, 243.

(**Editor’s note: Luno’s note to himself.)

Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III

Posted by luno in sexualities, Freud, philosophy and sex, sex differences, Weininger (Friday August 10, 2007 at 12:51 pm)

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