Individual Vs. Collective: Freud’s Sexuality and Music

It seems that every member of contemporary society listens to music one way or another. There are countless ways to listen to diverse genres of music. One could listen to music on the radio, Spotify, Youtube, etc. While it may seem presumptuous, it seems nearly impossible for one to go through life without listening to music. Therefore it seems that in contemporary society, every member listens to music.
According to the article below, there are physical symptoms for people listening to music, notably the skin orgasm. The skin orgasm indicates that the listeners derive physical pleasure from the music that they are listening to.

Skin Orgasms From Music

According to this other article, music preferences seem to be indicators of various personality qualities in the listener. In other words, the music preferences of an individual seem to be details of their orientations within their society.

What Does Your Music Say About You

These articles lend to the observations that listening to music gives a form of pleasure to the individual while also serving as a way to socially engage oneself. In fact, the article on music preference records data that seems to indicate that there is some form of automatic social connotation with the music of one’s choice. The starter pack meme below seems to support the results of said article; it details the traits of a Mac DeMarco fan, and also those of the artist Mac DeMarco himself. In doing so, it specifically shows a form of fanaticism found in contemporary music, where the individual imitates their favorite artist’s mannerisms and style. In addition, since listening to an artist like Mac DeMarco brings up this certain sort of connotation, it appears possible that individuals would listen to certain types of music not for pleasure but for upholding a certain image. It is this phenomenon in contemporary music that brings up an interesting question about contemporary music; do individuals listen to their music for pleasure or do they listen to it to fulfill some social function?


In Sigmund Freud’s Introductory Lectures to Psycho-Analysis, human sexuality is described very similarly to the way that music is described through the two articles. Freud describes part of sexuality, specifically perverse sexual desire, as a pursuit of pleasure. He writes, “On the contrary, we shall recognize more and more clearly that the essence of the perversions lies not in the extension of the sexual aim, not in the replacement of the genitals, not even in th the replacement of the genitals, not even always in the variant choice of the object, but solely in the exclusiveness with which these deviations are carried out and as a result of which the sexual act serving the purpose of reproduction is put on one side” (Freud 400). Freud’s perverse sexuality does encompass individuals who are sexually attracted and use organs and objects other than the genitals. However, Freud makes the distinction that the driving force behind perverse sexuality is the pursuit of pleasure without the goal of reproduction. Therefore this perverse sexual pursuit is an exclusive pursuit of pleasure regardless of the social norms that would judge the means by which this pleasure is achieved.

Freud also believes that participating in normal sexuality further subjects an individual to social power. It seems that by further normalizing reproductive sex, an individual further empowers society to reject individuals with perverse sexual desires. According to Freud, one way that perverse sexual desires are regulated is through the censorship of their appearances within an individual’s dream. Freud writes, “The purposes which exercise the censorship are those which are acknowledged by the dreamer’s waking judgement, those with which he feels himself at one” (174). The censorship of perverse sexual desires within dreams are to censor those which are not in line with that of the dreamer’s waking judgement, which is their judgement as influenced by the society that they interact when they’re awake. In this sense, societal norms extend their reach to within the individual’s dream to further alienate perverse sexual desires. The individual feels at self with this society that they wake up to, as stated by Freud, and thus further feels more identified with the society the more they censor their dreams. The censorship in this acts to maintain normal sexuality’s dominance within society as what is an acceptable identity for the individual.

It is hard to gauge whether individuals listen to music for pleasure or for social identity because the reasons why individuals listen to music are very subjective. However, it appears that Freud would assert that individuals listen to music for pleasure. The conditions of music are different from sexuality in that music is not as polarized as sexuality; there is no “normal” nor “perverse” music. For music, there are many genres which are inclusive to some  different genres and exclusive to other genres. In certain ways, followers of one genre may similarly try to reject other genres as normal sexuality does to perverse sexuality, but there are so many different genres that the effect is insignificant, as opposed to the rejection of perverse sexuality by normal sexuality. Even if an individual listens to certain genres of music to uphold a certain social identity, if having that social identity gave them pleasure, it would still uphold the pursuit of pleasure. How an individual listens to music is also too subjective for one to declare that the listener gains no pleasure that is true to their actual desires. Similarly, even music that one enjoys but feels like they must repress does not seem to yield manifest symptoms like the which that comes from the repression of libido. An individual cannot truly repress the pleasure that they receive from a music that is deemed unacceptable by their social identity in the way that an individual might repress their libido. Thus, it would appear that for Freud, the individual still consciously pursues pleasure when listening to music.

-Jason Lin


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