Freud on bisexual fluidity

“‘In every sexual act four persons are involved’. This is, indeed, the very essence of bisexuality.” Charlotte Wolff wrestles with Freud in her book “Bisexuality: A Study”. 


Excerpt from Charlotte Wolff’s “Bisexuality: A Study“:

Freud could be as enlightened as he could be uncertain. He expressed long ago the modern idea that the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ had no real meaning. For a time, he preferred instead to differentiate between active and passive qualities but also felt uncertain about this classification. One cannot but agree with him that it is questionable whether any division between specifically male and female qualities is justifiable at all. Unfortunately, he never got to the truth about female psychosexuality, but he went some way towards it. He progressed because he was not afraid to admit that his former views were mistaken. He was an eternal student, which made him, finally, a master, in spite of obvious flaws in his teaching. The way he developed the theme of bisexuality is crystallized in a number of papers, and in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud produced some excellent formulations of bisexuality. For example, he wrote in one of his ‘Letters to Fliess’: ‘In every sexual act four persons are involved’ (p. 289). This is, indeed, the very essence of bisexuality.

The same lucidity is evident in the following from Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality:

‘The sexual object [in homosexuality] is not someone of the same sex, but someone who combines the characteristics of both sexes.’ No better explanation of the intrinsic connection between bi- and homosexuality could be given.

But perhaps the most impressive of his verbal ‘pearls’ is this:

It is well known that at all times there have been, as there are, human beings who can take as their sexual objects persons of either sex without the one trend interfering with the other. We call these people bisexual … But we have come to know that all human beings are bisexual in this sense, and that their libido is distributed between objects of both sexes, either in manifest or latent form. But the following point strikes us. While in the individuals I first mentioned the libidinous impulses can take both directions without producing a clash, in the other, more frequent, cases, the result is an irreconcilable conflict. (Collected Papers, Vol. V, p. 347.)

I consider this statement to be perfect, though the conflict is, in our time, less irreconcilable.

Wolff, Charlotte. Bisexuality: A study. London; New York: Quartet Books, 1979.

Charlotte Wolff (30 September 1897 – 12 September 1986) was a German-British physician whose writings on lesbianism and bisexuality were influential early works in the field. She was made a Fellow of the British Psychological Society in 1941.

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