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Woolf, M. (1955). On Castration Anxiety. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 36:95-104.

(1955). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 36:95-104

On Castration Anxiety

M. Woolf, M.D.

In the libidinal development of the child, the castration complex plays a rôle secondary in importance only to the Oedipus complex, but as yet much of it is obscure and undelineated.

Almost all our knowledge of the masculine castration complex is contained in the works of Freud, according to whom it is the fusion of the following two circumstances which contributes most to its establishment:

1. Castration threat as a punishment for masturbation and bedwetting, and

2. The discovery of the female genital which lends reality to this threat.

The boy enters the Oedipus phase; he begins to manipulate his penis, and simultaneously has phantasies of carrying out some sort of activity with it in relation to his mother; but at last, owing to the combined effect of a threat of castration and the spectacle of women's lack of a penis, he experiences the greatest trauma of his life, and this introduces the period of latency with all its attendant consequences.

Only one of these instances does not seem to have the same severely traumatic effect:

In the course of these investigations [of sexual curiosity—M.W.] the child makes the discovery that the penis is not one of the possessions common to all creatures who are like himself. The accidental sight of the genitals of a little sister or a little playmate is the occasion of this. … We know how they [the boys] react to their first perception of the absence of the penis. They deny its absence, and believe they do see a penis all the same; the discrepancy between what they see and they imagine is glossed over by the idea that the penis is still small and will grow; gradually they come to the conclusion, so fraught with emotion, that at least it had been there and had at some time been taken away.

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