Eleanor Galenson, Expert on Children’s Sexual Identity, Dies at 94

From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/us/30galenson.html?ref=books

Published: January 29, 2011

Dr. Eleanor Galenson, a psychoanalyst whose research demonstrated that children are aware of sexual identity in infancy, even earlier than Freud had propounded, died on Jan. 15 at her home in Manhattan. She was 94.

Her son Paul Himmelstein confirmed the death.

Dr. Galenson, who in her 65-year career was a professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx and Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, spent thousands of hours observing and documenting the actions and reactions of infants.

In 1981, with Dr. Herman Roiphe, she published “Infantile Origins of Sexual Identity.” Considered a significant book in the field, it refined existing Freudian theory about when children begin their sexual development. Dr. Roiphe died in 2005.

Freud postulated that awareness of genital difference does not affect children until the Oedipal stage — around 4 to 5 years old — when boys become competitive with their fathers for their mothers’ attention and girls turn more toward their fathers.

But Freud’s writing on psychosexual development was based on work with adult patients, said Dr. Nellie Thompson, a historian of psychoanalysis.

“What Galenson and Roiphe were doing was observing very young children in the nursery over time,” Dr. Thompson said. “They concluded that children make the discovery of genital difference between the ages of 15 to 19 months, and that this has an impact on their play, their relationship with their own bodies, their relationship with their parents.”

Dr. Galenson and Dr. Roiphe wrote in the book that as their research proceeded “we became increasingly convinced that we had been engaged in tracing the development of the sense of sexual identity from its vague beginnings during the earliest weeks and months to a definite conscious awareness of specific gender and genital erotic feelings and fantasies by the end of the second year.

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