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Ostow, M. (1957). The Erotic Instincts—A Contribution to the Study of Instincts. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 38:305-324.

(1957). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 38:305-324

The Erotic Instincts—A Contribution to the Study of Instincts

Mortimer Ostow, M.D.


I have attempted to review the theory of the erotic instincts and to include some original thoughts and some of the data of ethology. After describing displacement behaviour in vertebrates and proposing the existence of a unitary erotic instinct in mammals, comprising all instinctual behaviour in which a second individual of the same species participates, I have suggested that, in man, the progressive evolution in maturational sequence of patterns of instinctual behaviour is facilitated by the displacement phenomenon activated by an inhibition such as primary repression. A consequence of this type of maturation is that not only do the infantile patterns continue in an unremitting state of activity, but the adult patterns which supersede them and which are forced into action by the repression of the infantile forces remain constantly active so that instinctual behaviour in man is freed from the seasonal fluctuations which dominate the instinctual behaviour of the lower animals.

I have proposed further that instinctual drives and the primitive, unconscious wishes in which they are conceptualized contain the following elements: subject, object, contact apparatus, role and technique. Of these, the concept of technique is original, and it is discussed in detail. It refers essentially to the specific method by which the instinctual fulfilment is to be achieved. The combination of technique, role, and contact apparatus corresponds to instinctual aim in current terminology. It is peculiar to human instinctual organization that any of the series of elements in each category may be combined with any others in the other categories, depending on constitutional endowment and the individual's experience. Because of this tremendous variability in form and because of the consistency of activation, human instinctual behaviour is not limited to rigid patterns evoked intermittently by internal needs or to responses to external demands, but rather maintains a constant pressure leading to numberless varieties of constructive work and libidinal co-operation.

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