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Cornwell, J. (1985). The Establishment of Female Genital Sexuality. Free Associations, 1B(1):57-75.

(1985). Free Associations, 1B(1):57-75

The Establishment of Female Genital Sexuality

Joan Cornwell

This paper attempts to trace the historical development of a psychoanalytic view of the emergence of female genital sexuality from Freud to present-day analysts. It does not attempt to be comprehensive.

Throughout his life, Freud persisted in his belief that the child, whether male or female, had no knowledge, or even inkling of the vagina, up to the age of puberty. Thus when little girls became aware of how diminutive their clitoris was in comparison with the little boy's penis, they immediately felt inferior. The more optimistic maintained a belief that it would grow bigger in time; the pessimists were confirmed in their belief of a just punishment having been meted out. The little boys were both frightened and contemptuous of the girls.

Penis envy in girls thus seemed inevitable. That boys might have a parallel envy of femininity was not considered, as there was no awareness of the vagina, nor apparently of the womb except as connected to either mouth or rectum.

Freud equated masculinity with activity and femininity with passivity, activity applying to the basic instinctual trend but not necessarily to the means of achieving its end.

By 1925 (‘Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes’), and presumably long before, when he analysed the Wolf Man, Freud was aware of the double Oedipus situation, due to bisexuality. The little girl's initial relationship is of course with mother. This is seen to be both passive and active — thus bisexual in Freud's terms. Mother feeds, washes, fondles the little girl, who in her turn has phantasies of actively doing these things to mother.

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