Psychosexual Development Theory


Distinct phases in the development of one’s instinctual libido (sexual energy)

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … range of developmental possibility
  • Knowing is … functioning adequately
  • Learner is … a developing agent
  • Learning is … mastering stage-specific anxieties
  • Teaching is … N/A




An element of Psychoanalytic Theories, the theory of Psychosexual Development is based on Sigmund Freud's observation that children’s behaviors are oriented towards particular parts of their bodies during predictable phases. Five stages – oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital – are identified. Each is associated with an anxiety that must be mastered in order to avoid the emergence of a neurosis in adulthood.


Perhaps the most common criticism of Psychosexual Development was that Sigmund Freud was fixated on sexuality in a way that compelled him to overemphasize some elements of personal development and ignore other (perhaps much more impactful) elements. As well, and as with most other Developmental Discourses, the perspective is frequently criticized for being normative – that is, for failing to account for broad variations among individuals and across cultures. Among educational researchers and teachers, the theory is often marginalized as irrelevant to the concerns of schooling.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Sigmund Freud

Status as a Theory of Learning

Psychosexual Development is a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Psychosexual Development is a not theory of teaching, but it has been used to as a source of insight and advice on age- and stage-appropriate knowledge and activity in formal educational settings.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Psychosexual Development meets most of our requirements to be classified as a scientific theory. Its focus is explicit, its images and metaphors are carefully selected and deployed, and it does have an evidence base. That said, in the judgment of many, it has failed to answer to counter-evidence and other Developmental Discourses have been argued to offer more encompassing and integrated insights into elements of sexual development.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Psychosexual Development Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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