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Sexology  
 
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Sexology, the study of sex or of the interactions between the sexes among human beings, first emerged as a field of intellectual inquiry in the second half of the nineteenth century, approximately contemporary with the professionalization of the social science disciplines.

The original sexologists were medical professionals with an interest and talent for documenting the social contexts of their cases. They were among the first to identify homosexuality (along with other so-called perversions) as such, to describe it, and to speculate about its prevalence and its etiology. Over the course of its history, sexology has embraced elements from anthropology, sociology, psychology, literature, and the arts, though in recent decades it has moved more strongly toward a preoccupation with the details of human physiology and biochemistry.

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Yet sexology's taboo quality has prevented scientists and professionals from becoming its sole adjudicators, let alone the exclusive dispensers of advice, therapy, and treatment for sexual ills. If anything, it is an enterprise that is becoming increasingly heterodox and democratized.

Krafft-Ebing: The Quintessential Sexologist

In some ways, Richard von Krafft-Ebing is the first writer who may be properly called a sexologist. Krafft-Ebing was an early practitioner of the medical specialization coming to be known in the late nineteenth century as psychiatry, itself a derivative of mid-nineteenth century forensic medical inquiries into illegal sexual acts such as rape and . Unlike his predecessors, however, Krafft-Ebing demonstrated an interest in exhaustively documenting sexual behaviors perceived as unconventional as much for their own sake as for the interests of criminology. His Psychopathia sexualis, originally published in 1886, had gone through seventeen editions by 1924, twenty-two years after the death of its author.

Krafft-Ebing's masterwork is characterized by its assemblage of case histories, often penned by patients themselves, organized by the author into a rubric of "perversions." Each new edition was expanded by additional case histories, frequently mailed in by readers of earlier editions, as well as the invention of new categories of "perversion" to contain them. This emphasis on taxonomy spawned a host of terms that originated with Krafft-Ebing and that persist even today, including sadism, masochism, fetishism, and .

Significant, too, is Krafft-Ebing's use of the German vernacular in composing what was ostensibly a medical text. Earlier works that had dealt with sexual aberration were frequently written in Latin and destined only for the eyes of traditionally trained medical practitioners. With the increasing professionalization of medicine, as well as the perceived need to speak to forensic specialists and jurists who did not have classical training, Krafft-Ebing chose German (aside from occasional lapses into Latin when recounting morally sensitive acts or anatomical parts) as the language of Psychopathia sexualis.

This ensured that Krafft-Ebing's text would be accessible to a far larger audience than he had perhaps imagined. Given the potentially salacious and otherwise unprintable nature of the material in the book, no doubt this ostensibly scientific text doubled as a kind of clandestine pornography.

Nevertheless, some literate middle-class men encountered the book and saw themselves mirrored in its pages. They sent grateful letters to the doctor, recounting their own stories, often for the first time. To Krafft-Ebing, such correspondences were grist for the mill of his ongoing work, and excerpts from letters were inserted into subsequent editions of the book.

One of his most famous correspondents, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, sent Krafft-Ebing a copy of his manuscript entitled Venus in Furs, a roman à clef detailing one man's sexual subjugation at the hands of a cruel and unyielding mistress. From this account, the doctor coined the term "masochism" to refer to sexual stimulation derived from physical pain and humiliation. Nor was Sacher-Masoch's the only literary text to be embraced by Psychopathia sexualis; from the works of Donatien-Alphonse-François, Marquis de Sade, Krafft-Ebing derived the term "sadism," referring to sexual satisfaction achieved by the infliction of pain on another.

While Krafft-Ebing's textual assemblage is voluminous, the scope of its subject matter and the reach of his analysis are both limited by his editorial approach. Predictably, European bourgeois married life is taken as the norm par excellence against which the enumerated perversions are to be defined, although it must be acknowledged that Krafft-Ebing was rarely simply condemnatory of the perverts whose stories he recounts. The ideal pervert is perpetually imagined as male; women rarely appear in these pages.

Most importantly, there is little effort at a sustained analysis of the varying sexual behaviors, their origins, and their development. The doctor develops a taxonomy of sexual acts and personality types, but does not attempt to theorize or explain them.

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