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Tarpley, H. (1993). Vagina Envy in Men. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 21:457-464.

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(1993). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 21(3):457-464

Vagina Envy in Men

Harold Tarpley, M.D.*

Envy is a complicated and powerful feeling. It is a grudging desire for another's excellence or advantage. This excellence or advantage may be real or imaginary. Rosenblatt (1988) suggests that this feeling can (a) direct human growth by emulation, (b) be assimilated by coming to terms, (c) be turned inward as a narcissistic wound, or (d) turn to rage and anger at being deprived.

Women may envy men. Penis envy exists in women. Kirkpatrick (1990) discusses penis envy. She finds that normal female gender development accepts the lack of a penis as a fact. There is no psychic energy invested in penis envy. If energy is invested in penis envy severe psychological dysfunction can ensue, as reported by Satow (1983) in a female patient under her care.

Likewise, men may envy women. Breast and womb envy have been described in men. I believe that breast and womb envy are relatively easily sublimated by a man by providing a home and nurturing environment for his wife and family. I find that penis envy has a counterpart in men and label this vagina envy. Vagina envy is associated with energy that is difficult for men to sublimate; lust and orgasm. As with women, normal male gender development accepts the lack of a vagina as a fact. Unconscious vagina envy may prove a disaster in men's lives. I believe vagina envy can play a role in men's abuse of women just as penis envy can play a role in women's abuse of men (Tarpley, 1991).

America is said to be a patriarchy based on men's privilege and supremacy. Perhaps male stereotypes arise in the locker room, where men exaggerate their manhood. Men are questioning the psychology of being a man. Rakow (1991) questions the supremacy of men in our society.

Men are ambivalent about the male roles assigned and demanded of them by cultures. Although men enjoy the “male prerogatives” bestowed on them by culture, there is another side.


* Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco-Fresno.

Presented at the Winter Meeting of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, December 1991.

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