Archive for Sexology
In our Western civilization attempts at a rational and systematic study of human sexual behavior date back at least to the ancient Greeks (see Chronology of Sex Research). Indeed, physicians like Hippocrates and the philosphers Plato and Aristotle can be claimed as the legitimate forefathers of sex research, since they made extensive observations and offered the first elaborate theories regarding sexual responses and dysfunctions, reproduction and contraception, abortion, sex legislation, and sexual ethics. In imperial Rome, Greek physicians like Soranus and Galen further advanced and systematized ancient sexual knowledge. Their work, in turn, prompted later Islamic scholars to devote a great deal of attention to sexual questions. These studies, originally written in Arabic, were translated and introduced into medieval Europe. Together with re-edited Greek and Roman manuscripts, they became standard texts at newly established medical schools and stimulated a rebirth of anatomical research in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The names of Fallopio (Fallopian tubes), de Graaf (Graafian follicles), Berthelsen (Bartholin's glands) and Cowper (Cowper's glands) recall, even today, the first flowering of modern anatomy and remain associated with the then newly discovered parts of human sexual anatomy. The Age of Enlightenment ushered in a vigorous and increasingly secularized discussion of sexual ethics and produced the first programs of public and private sex education as well as new classifications and documentations of sexual behavior. In 19th century, new concerns about overpopulation, sexual psychopathy and degeneracy gave rise to the concept of "sexuality" and led to intensified efforts on many fronts to get a firmer intellectual grasp on a subject matter that rapidly seemed to grow ever more complex. Biological, medical, historical, and anthropological research by von Baer, Darwin, Mendel, Kaan, Morel, Magnan, Charcot, Westphal, Burton, Morgan, Mantegazza, Westermarck, Krafft-Ebing, Forel, and others, laid the foundations of sex research in the modern, more specific sense. Finally, at the turn of the 20th century, the pioneering work of Havelock Ellis, Sigmund Freud, and Iwan Bloch established the investigation of sexual problems as a legitimate endeavor in its own right.
The concept of a special scientific and scholarly effort devoted to the understanding of sex was first proposed by the Berlin dermatologist Iwan Bloch (1872-1922), who also coined the new term for it: Sexualwissenschaft. The term was first translated as "sexual science", but this is somewhat misleading, since the German Wissenschaft comprises both the natural sciences and the humanities. The translation as "sexology" is therefore preferable, because the Greek root "logos", which is part of the word, traditionally refers to all powers of reason and therefore to any rational study, to organized knowledge of any kind. Thus, the Latin-Greek hybrid "sexology" simply refers to the theoretical study of sex, just as the German original. In this sense, Iwan Bloch may be rightfully called the father of sexology (or Sexualwissenschaft). The modern concept of sexology (i.e. the theoretical study of sex or scientia sexualis) is, of course, to be distinguished from the older concept of erotology (i.e. the practical study of lovemaking or ars amatoria). Erotological writings like Vatsayana's Kama Sutra and other Hindu love manuals, indeed even recent Western counterparts like van de Velde's Ideal Marriage or Comfort's Joy of Sex want to guide the reader to subjective experiences. They are, in a popular phrase, "how-to books". Sexological writings, in contrast, want to convey objective insight. In this general sense, therefore, the term "sexological" can also be applied retroactively to older Western literature, such as Hippocrates' On Semen or Schurig's Gynaecologia historica-medica.
The purely theoretical study of sex had, several decades before Bloch, entered a new phase of concentration and specialization. 19th-century medicine, elaborating a theme it inherited from the Age of Enlightenment, began to concern itself more with the bizarre, dangerous, and supposedly unhealthy aspects of sex. As early as 1843, the Russian physician Heinrich Kaan, in his book Psychopathia Sexualis, offered a classification of sexual mental diseases, a method that was adapted, greatly expanded and refined over forty years later by von Krafft-Ebing in another book of the same title. Indeed, this presexological era of modern sex research was almost exclusively devoted to the study of people believed to be sick. The sexual manifestations of their sickness were carefully listed and, as a rule, ascribed to degeneration.
A broadening of this view could come only from outside medicine and biology as they were then understood. Indeed, as the work of Iwan Bloch demonstrates, in eventually came from two hintherto neglected sources - history and anthropology. Bloch, a man of enormous erudition, who spoke several languages and possessed a personal library of 40,000 volumes, knew from his readings that many supposedly pathological and degenerate sexual behaviors had always existed in many parts of the globe and among both "primitive" and civilized peoples. Therefore, he gradually came to the conclusion that the medical view of sexual behavior was shortsighted and needed to be corrected by historical and anthropological research. He began to see the "sexual psychopathies" as timeless and universal manifestations of the human condition and finally, in the first years of our century, attacked the notion of sexual degeneration in a seminal study.
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