Oral Phase

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Because the mouth is the first organ to provide an infant with pleasure, Freud's first infantile stage of development is the oral phase. Infants obtain life-sustaining nourishment through the oral cavity, but beyond that, they also gain pleasure through the act of sucking.

The sexual aim of early oral activity is to incorporate or receive into one's body the object-choice, that is, the nipple. During this oral-receptive phase, infants feel no ambivalence toward the pleasurable object and their needs are usually satisfied with a minimum of frustration and anxiety. As they grow older, however, they are more likely to experience feelings of frustration and anxiety as a result of scheduled feedings, increased time lapses between feedings, and eventual weaning. These anxieties are generally accompanied by feelings of ambivalence toward their love object (mother), and by the increased ability of their budding ego to defend itself against the environment and against anxiety (Freud, 1933/1964).

Infants' defense against the environment is greatly aided by the emergence of teeth. At this point, they pass into a second oral phase, which Freud (1933/1964) called the oral-sadistic period. During this phase, infants respond to others through

Infants satisfy oral needs one way or another.

40 Part II Psychodynamic Theories biting, cooing, closing their mouth, smiling, and crying. Their first autoerotic experience is thumb sucking, a defense against anxiety that satisfies their sexual but not their nutritional needs.

As children grow older, the mouth continues to be an erogenous zone, and by the time they become adults, they are capable of gratifying their oral needs in a variety of ways, including sucking candy, chewing gum, biting pencils, overeating, smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars, and making biting, sarcastic remarks.

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