There are many reasons why men may be sexually inhibited, but it is not within the scope of this article to explore all those possibilities. Freud ‘s theories explored and gave insight into human instincts, including the sexual and aggressive instinct. His theories about the development of sexuality and masculinity are the focus of this article. These theories are immensely valuable in understanding the possible unconscious dynamics at play in sexuality.
Freud make the important discovery that children do experience infantile sexuality and that later sexual perversions can be understood when the child’s sexual development is understood.
Freud believed that children’s sexuality is auto-erotic (satisfied by self-stimulation), bisexual (can be directed towards either gender) and incestuous (directed towards the child’s parents). These are all normal stages of sexual development, but can become problematic when the person fixates (gets stuck) at any of these stages. Freud also described how different bodily areas are experienced as the focus of pleasure at various stages and that a child can get stuck at any stage. The first source of pleasure is oral (the mouth), during this early stages children experience pleasure through sucking and aggression by biting. Adults who mostly find sexual satisfaction orally are fixated at this stage, clearly some form of oral satisfaction (kissing) remains part of normal adult sexual functioning. During the next phase, the anal phase, pleasure is experienced anally and again we all know of people who prefer anal pleasure. From about three to five years the child inters the phallic stage when the penis becomes important to boys (and girls). Exhibitionism (the sexual desire to show your genital to another person) and voyeurism (the desire to see other people’s genitals or see others engaging in sexual activity) is typical of this stage of development. As we know there are adults who struggle with these perversions (e.g. men who expose themselves to others in order to experience sexual excitement). During the phallic stage a very important drama plays itself out unconsciously. This drama is called the Oedipus drama and the resolution of this drama is of vital importance in the little boy’s sexual development. In this article I will only describe the oedipal conflict from the perspective of the little boy. All little boys are destined to direct their first sexual wishes towards their mothers and on some level (mostly very unconscious) they will experienced their fathers as their rivals. The little boy can feel jealousy and murderous feelings towards their father and long to get rid of their father so that they can have their mother for themselves. Sometimes this is expressed very directly with the boy saying that he wants to marry his mother and when the little boy wants to keep his parents apart. Naturally this causes extreme guilt and because these feelings are so unacceptable they are repressed (pushed out of consciousness). If a man is stuck here – unconsciously still wanting his mother and experiencing his father as his rival he will repress his sexuality because it will causes to much guilt (because at the core he still want his mother sexually).
How does a boy move on from this situation where he wants his mother to himself as his sexual object and experience hostile feelings towards his father who is experienced as his rival for the mother? The little boy feels enormous guilt about this hostility towards the father and wanting the mother. The little boy also starts fearing that the father will prevent him from acting out his desire for the mother. Freud called this castration anxiety – the fear that his father can take away his penis (as punishment). The boy resolves this dilemma by giving up his mother as the person he wants sexually and identifies with his father. Now in stead of wanting to replace his father he wants to be like his father (his father is not his rival anymore) and he is prepared to give up his mother in order to one day have another woman sexually. Many things can interfere with the resolution of this conflict (e.g. the son having a poor relationship with his father which will interfere with him identifying with his father).
These stages of sexual development are universal and all children have to negotiate all these stages and the oedipal conflict in order to develop healthy sexual functioning. Sexuality is very complex and as we all know many people are stuck at various stages of sexual development and we may all at times experience some of the residues of these stages (and feelings such as guilt) in sexual fantasies and dreams. Few people come through this entire process without some struggles. It is very clear that if a boy gets stuck in the oedipal phase and unconsciously cannot give up his mother (sexually) and does not identify with his father that it will have a massive impact on his sexual functioning and can cause sexual inhibition. This is because unconsciously having sex causes great guilt because symbolically it can feel incestuous. Therefore he cannot allow his sexual longing be uninhibited.
If you are a man you may still feel the residues of any of these stages of sexual development and perhaps you are aware of the impact of the highly guilt inducing oedipal longings for your mother or this can be so unconscious that you do not understand your sexual inhibition. For girls the Oedipus conflict also plays itself out with the little girl wanting her father as her sexual object and feeling rivalries towards the mother, but more about that in another article.