As with so many aspects of his theory, Freud’s conception of drives changed considerably over the course of his work. In his earlier research, Freud focuses on the complex dynamics of the varied components of the sexual drive or libido, as distinct from the instinct of self-preservation. Unlike an animal instinct, the human sexual drive is not rooted in an effectively unalterable compulsion (cf. S11, 162) but comes to be configured in specific ways, determined over time in relation to distinct erogenous zones of the body (oral, anal, genital) and according to the particular trajectory of an individual’s psychic and socio-cultural development. Initially ‘polymorphous’ and disorganised, Freud argues (in his Three Essays on Sexuality of 1905) that normal sexual development, if and when it prevails, leads to the eventual coordination of its partial drives around the dominance of the genital organs and procreative heterosexuality.
Yet as he begins the three essays on sexuality by introducing the two technical terms of "object" and "aim"—denoting respectively the person from whom the sexual attraction proceeds and the act toward which the instinct tends, the lines and the problems of his theory begin to emerge. Through this "scientifically sifted observation,"17 Freud has separated the discussion of sexuality from the language of human relationships, and what gets lost in this sifting are the stories of his women patients.
Three Essays on Sexuality - Image courtesy Pricegrabber
Freud's theory of a universal bisexual potential represented a profound challenge not only to right-wing moralists, but also to the biologism of his contemporary liberal sexologists and campaigners for homosexual rights, such as Karl Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfield, who insisted that lesbians and gay men were 'born that way'. Rejecting their view of homosexuality as a fixed biological condition affecting only a minority of the population, Freud argued: "All human beings are capable of making a homosexual object-choice and, in fact, have made one in their unconscious. Indeed, libidinal attachments to persons of the same sex play no less a part as factors in normal mental life...than do similar attachments to the opposite sex' (Three essays on Sexuality).