Seminar VI : 3rd June 1959 : Ernest Jones & the term castration complex

by Julia Evans on April 16, 2014

Quotation from Seminar VI (Availability given here) : 3rd June 1959 (23) : p292 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation :

Simply I am articulating this angle, this flash, this moment that Mr. Jones dwelt on when he tried to give its concrete meaning to the term castration complex, and from which for reasons required by his personal understanding he does not depart, because this is the way that for him things are phenomenologically tangible.

People are brought to a halt all the same by the limits of understanding when they try to understand at all costs; this is what I am trying to get you to go beyond a little by telling you that one can go a little further by stopping oneself trying to understand. And it is for this reason that I am not a phenomenologist.

And Jones identifies the castration complex with the fear of the disappearance of desire. It is exactly what I am in the process of telling you in a different form.

The Ernest Jones text is probably : The Phallic Phase : given in Wiesbaden on 4th September 1932 [1933] : Ernest Jones : Information & availability here  :  This paper was read in brief before the Twelfth International Psycho-Analytical Congress, Wiesbaden, September 4th, 1932, and in full before the British Psycho-Analytical Society, October 19th and November 2nd, 1932.

This paper is also referred to in Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexuality : 1958 [Presented in Amsterdam, 5th September 1960] : Jacques Lacan : details available here

P453 of Jones : I will first remind you that in Freud’s (Freud : The Infantile genital Organisation of the Libido : Collected Papers : International Psycho-Analytical Library : 1924, vol ii, p245. More details below) description of the phallic phase the essential feature common to both sexes was the belief that only one kind of genital organ exists in the world-a male one.

According to Freud, the reason for this belief is simply that the female organ has at this age not yet been discovered by either sex : human beings are thus divided, not into those possessing a male organ and those possessing a female organ, but into those who possess a penis and those who do not: there is the penis-possessing class and the castrated class. A boy begins by believing that everyone belongs to the former class, and only as his fears get aroused does he begin to suspect the existence of the latter class. A girl takes the same view, save that here one should use the corresponding phrase, ‘clitoris-possessing class'; and only after comparing her own with the male genital does she form a conception of a mutilated class, to which she belongs. Both sexes strive against accepting the belief in the second class, and both for the same reason-namely, from a wish to disbelieve in the supposed reality of’ castration. This picture as sketched by Freud is familiar to you all, and the readily available facts of observation from which it is drawn have been confirmed over and over again. The interpretation of the facts, however, is of course another matter and is not so easy.

Note: The Infantile Genital Organisation of the Libido is published as

The infantile genital organization: An interpolation into the theory of sexuality : 1923E : Sigmund Freud : SE Vol 19 p141 : Summary from the website of the Contemporary Freudian Society, here : The infantile genital organization is discussed. The main characteristic of the infantile genital organization is its difference from the final genital organization of the adult. This consists in the fact that, for both sexes, only one genital, namely the male one, comes into account. What is present, therefore, is not a primacy of the genitals, but a primacy of the phallus. The small boy perceives the distinction between men and women, but to begin with he has no occasion to connect it with a difference in their genitals. The driving force which the male portion of the body will develop later at puberty expresses itself at this period of life mainly as an urge to investigate, as sexual curiosity. Many of the acts of exhibitionism and aggression which children commit, and which in later years would be judged without hesitation to be expressions of lust, prove in analysis to be experiments undertaken in the service of sexual research. In the course of these researches the child arrives at the discovery that the penis is not a possession which is common to all creatures that are like himself, and concludes that the lack is due to castration. The significance of the castration complex can only be rightly appreciated if its origin in the phase of phallic primacy is also taken into account. The child believes that it is only unworthy female persons that have lost their genitals. Women whom he respects, like his mother, retain a penis for a long time. The sexual polarity of male-female finally seen at puberty appears in different transformations in childhood sexual development. The earliest antithesis is subject-object; later in the sadistic anal stage it is active-passive; and in the stage of infantile genital organization it is male-genital-castrated.

P454: It is plain that the difference between the two phases is marked by the idea of castration, which according to Freud is bound up in both sexes with actual observation of the anatomical sex differences. As is well known, he is of opinion (Footnote: Freud, ‘ Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes,’ International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1927, vol. viii., pp. 133, 141. See below) that the fear or thought of being castrated has a weakening effect on the masculine impulses with both sexes. He considers that with the boy it drives him away from the mother and strengthens the phallic and homosexual attitude- i.e. that the boy surrenders some of his incestuous heterosexuality to save his penis; whereas with the girl it has the more fortunate opposite effect of impelling her into
a feminine, heterosexual attitude. According to this view, therefore, the castration complex weakens the boy’s Œdipus relationship and strengthens the girl’s; it drives the boy into the deutero-phallic phase, while-after a temporary protest on that level-it drives the girl out of the deutero- phallic phase.

Note: Freud, Sigmund. (1925j). Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distinction between the sexes. SE, 19: 248-258 : Summary published at, available here :

This paper, finished by Freud in 1925 and read by his daughter Anna at the International Psycho-Analytical Congress in Hamburg on September 3, first appeared in the Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse in the same year.

Freud began by noting that he could no longer afford, as in his early days when he had no fellow researchers, to put off publication of new discoveries made on the basis of a mere handful of cases, even though they might not as yet have been confirmed. Then, starting out (as usual) from consideration of boys, Freud drew several new conclusions concerning girls. During the phallic phase, he argued, the boy remains attached to his mother and experiences his father as a rival whose place vis-à-vis his mother he wishes to usurp; at the same time, he would like to replace his mother as his father’s love object. The Oedipus complex is thus described as having two forms, active and passive—a duality consonant with the bisexual constitution of humans. When the boy first sees the girl’s genital area, he denies his perception that she has no penis (only later will the threat of castration arouse an emotional storm in him). In contrast, when the girl discovers the penis of the boy, “she has seen it and knows that she is without it and wants to have it” (1925j, p. 252). She falls victim to penis envy and to a masculinity complex. Consequences include a feeling of inferiority, jealousy (1919e), and a loosening of the girl’s tender relationship with her mother, whom she blames for her lack of a penis (1925j, p. 254).

For Freud, clitoral masturbation is masculine in character, and the mutilated aspect of the organ in question explains why women tolerate masturbation worse than men. The unfolding of femininity is based on a desire to eliminate clitoral sexuality. Under the sway of the Oedipus complex, the girl abandons her desire for a penis and replaces it by the desire for a child, and with this in mind takes her father as love object: “Whereas in boys the Oedipus complex is destroyed by the castration complex, in girls it is made possible and led up to by the castration complex” (1925j, p. 256). Indeed, the Oedipus complex never really disappears in women (1924d). This, according to Freud, accounts for characteristically feminine traits linked to a weaker and less perfectly formed superego. In this connection, Freud refused to see the sexes as equal.

It should be noted that Freud’s description of women as castrated beings who “refuse to accept the fact of being castrated” is hardly endorsed by all psychoanalysts.

JE notes that Jacques Lacan is arguing against the underlying logic of this summary.

P457 : Otherwise castration and copulation would not be equated. A fear of this wish being put into effect would certainly explain the fear of being castrated, for by definition it is identical with this, and also the ‘horror ‘ of the female genital-/.e., a place where such wishes had been gratified. But that the boy equates copulation with castration seems to imply a previous knowledge of penetration. And it is not easy on this hypothesis to give adequate weight to the well-known connection between the castration fear and rivalry with the father over possession of the mother-i.e., to the Œdipus complex. But we can at least see that the feminine wish must be a nodal point in the whole problem.

And so on…….

Further references:

Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexuality : 1958 [Presented in Amsterdam, 5th September 1960] : Jacques Lacan or here


Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Earl’s Court, London


Further texts

By Ernest Jones here

Of the clinic : here

From other LW working groups : here

Translation Working Group here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud : here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here