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Freud described four crucial defining characteristics of sexual drives (1915a)

In the “Three Essays on the theory of sexuality”, Freud had already given what he had called a “provisional” definition of instincts: “By an “instinct” is provisionally to be understood the psychical representative of an endosomatic, continuously flowing source of stimulation, as contrasted with a “stimulus”, which is set up by single excitations coming from without. The concept of instinct is thus one of those lying on the frontier between the mental and the physical. […] What distinguishes the instincts from one another and endows them with specific qualities is their relation to their somatic sources and to their aims. The source of an instinct is a process of excitation occurring in an organ and the immediate aim of the instinct lies in the removal of this organic stimulus”.

Firstly, “By the pressure of an instinct we understand its motor factor, the amount of force or the measure of the demand for work which it represents. The characteristic of exercising pressure is common to all instincts; it is in fact their very essence. […] if we speak loosely of passive instincts, we can only mean instincts whose aim is passive”.

Secondly, “The aim of an instinct is in every instance satisfaction, which can only be obtained by removing the state of stimulation at the source of the instinct. In keeping with this notion of intermediate aims, in later passages of “Instincts and their vicissitudes”, Freud uses the term “aim” to refer, not to the satisfaction of instincts, but to the actions performed by the subject to reach satisfaction, e.g., to torture in the case of sadism, to watch in the case of scopophilia.

Thirdly, “The object of an instinct is the thing in regard to which or through which the instinct is able to achieve its aim. The object is not necessarily something extraneous: it may equally well be a part of the subject’s own body”.