Special Issue of HHS! Histories of sexology today: Reimagining the boundaries of scientia sexualis

A new special issue of History of the Human Sciences on “Histories of sexology today: Reimagining the boundaries of scientia sexualis” will interest AHP readers. Full details below.

“Histories of sexology today: Reimagining the boundaries of scientia sexualis,” Kirsten Leng, Katie Sutton. Abstract:

The historiography of sexology is young. It is also expanding at a remarkable pace, both in terms of the volume of publications and, more notably, in terms of its geographical, disciplinary, and intersectional reach. This special issue takes stock of these new directions, while offering new research contributions that expand our understanding of the interdisciplinary and transnational formation of this field from the late 19th through to the mid 20th century. The five articles that make up this special issue stage historiographical interventions by challenging the tendency within sexological history to focus on the medical, the homosexual, the human, and the Western European at the expense of other disciplines, diagnoses, non-human subjects, and geographical locations. A particular strength of these contributions is their focus on mapping conversations among and between sexologists on both sides of the Atlantic in the early to mid 20th century – particularly in Germany, Britain, and the US – and between East and West in the early Cold War era.

“More than a case of mistaken identity: Adult entertainment and the making of early sexology,” Sarah Bull. Abstract:

Sexology emerged as a discipline during a period of keen concern about the social effects of sexually explicit media. In this context, sex researchers and their allies took pains to establish the respectability of their work, a process that often involved positioning sexual science in opposition to erotic literature and images. This article argues that this presentation of sexual science obfuscated sex researchers’ complex relationship with erotic print culture, which during the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided sexual scientists with access to explicit material that served as evidence for theories about human sexuality, facilitated transnational exchanges of sexual-scientific thought by bringing sex research across borders, and introduced sex research to wider audiences. Erotic print culture can thus be seen as one of several fields that contributed to the interdisciplinary development of sexology and facilitated the diffusion of sexual-scientific theories. Sex researchers’ shifting, often ambivalent relationship with erotic print and its producers emphasizes that while the boundaries of sexology were extremely porous, they were also heavily policed: Working to establish a modern, respectable new branch of science, sexual scientists reframed the output of other fields of enquiry as products of their own, blotted their reliance on these sources from the historical record, and denigrated them in public writing.

“The potency of the butterfly: The reception of Richard B. Goldschmidt’s animal experiments in German sexology around 1920,” Ina Linge. Abstract:

This article considers the sexual politics of animal evidence in the context of German sexology around 1920. In the 1910s, the German-Jewish geneticist Richard B. Goldschmidt conducted experiments on the moth Lymantria dispar, and discovered individuals that were no longer clearly identifiable as male or female. When he published an article tentatively arguing that his research on ‘intersex butterflies’ could be used to inform concurrent debates about human homosexuality, he triggered a flurry of responses from Berlin-based sexologists. In this article, I examine how a number of well-known sexologists affiliated with Magnus Hirschfeld, his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, and later his Institute of Sexology attempted to incorporate Goldschmidt’s experiments into their sexological work between 1917 and 1923. Intersex butterflies were used to discuss issues at the heart of German sexology: the legal debate about the criminalisation of homosexuality under paragraph 175; the scientific methodology of sexology, caught between psychiatric, biological, and sociological approaches to the study of sexual and gender diversity; and the status of sexology as natural science, able to contribute knowledge about the sexual Konstitution of the organism. This article thus shows that butterfly experiments function as important and politically charged evidence for a discussion at the heart of the sexological project of those involved in the founding of the Institute of Sexology: the question of the nature and naturalness of homosexuality (and sexual intermediacy more broadly) and its political consequences. In doing so, this article makes a case for paying attention to non-human actors in the history of sexology.

“The unexpected American origins of sexology and sexual science: Elizabeth Osgood Goodrich Willard, Orson Squire Fowler, and the scientification of sex,” Benjamin Kahan. Abstract:

In spite of the fact that the term ‘sexology’ was popularized in the United States by Elizabeth Osgood Goodrich Willard and that the term ‘sexual science’—which is usually attributed to Iwan Bloch as ‘Sexualwissenschaft’—was actually coined by the American phrenologist Orson Squire Fowler in 1852, the archives of American sexology have received scant attention in the period prior to Alfred Kinsey. In my article, I explore the role of Transcendentalism and phrenology in the production and development of American sexology and sexual science. In particular, I argue that shifting the origins of sexology and sexual science away from Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Karl-Maria Kertbeny and the more familiar narratives of the German invention of sexuality furnishes a radically different account of early sexology and sexual science. Rather than the unevenly homophilic sympathies of early German activists, their American counterparts promote marital, reproductive, loving sex and vilify prostitution, polygamy, masturbation, contraception, sex for pleasure, and, if they think to mention it, sodomy. In addition to this less progressive story, however, I argue that early American sexologists provide the first theories of gender and help to provide a fuller description of the politics of sexology and sexual science.

“Cold War Pavlov: Homosexual aversion therapy in the 1960s,” Kate Davison. Abstract:

Homosexual aversion therapy enjoyed two brief but intense periods of clinical experimentation: between 1950 and 1962 in Czechoslovakia, and between 1962 and 1975 in the British Commonwealth. The specific context of its emergence was the geopolitical polarization of the Cold War and a parallel polarization within psychological medicine between Pavlovian and Freudian paradigms. In 1949, the Pavlovian paradigm became the guiding doctrine in the Communist bloc, characterized by a psychophysiological or materialist understanding of mental illness. It was taken up by therapists in Western countries who were critical of psychoanalysis and sought more ‘scientific’ diagnostic and therapeutic methods that focused on empirical evidence and treating actual symptoms. However, their attitude towards homosexuality often played a decisive role in how they used aversion therapy. Whereas Czechoslovakian researchers cautioned readers about low success rates and agitated for homosexual law reform in 1961, most of their anglophone counterparts selectively ignored or misrepresented the results of ‘the Prague experiment’, instead celebrating single-case ‘success’ stories in their effort to correct ‘abnormal’ sexual orientation. In histories of queer sexuality and its pathologization, the behaviourist paradigm remains almost entirely unmapped. This article provides the most detailed study to date of aversion therapy literature from both sides of the East/West border. In doing so, it contributes to the project not only of ‘decentring Western sexualities’, but of decentring Western sexological knowledge. Given its Pavlovian origins, the history of homosexual aversion therapy can be fully understood only in the context of Cold War transnational sexological knowledge exchange.

“Kinsey and the psychoanalysts: Cross-disciplinary knowledge production in post-war US sex research,” Katie Sutton. Abstract:

The historical forces of war and migration impacted heavily on the disciplinary locations, practitioners, and structures of sexology and psychoanalysis that had developed in the first decades of the 20th century. By the late 1940s, the US was fast becoming the world centre of each of these prominent fields within the modern human sciences. During these years, the work of Alfred C. Kinsey and his team became synonymous with a distinctly North American brand of empirical sex research. This article offers the most nuanced account to date of the shifting relationship between these two fields in the late 1940s to mid 1950s. It argues that this was more collaborative and mutually influential than previous historians have assumed, even as, following the publication of the first ‘Kinsey report’, tensions grew between the Indiana team and the conservative brand of psychoanalysis that by this stage dominated 1950s North American psychiatry. A keen sense of professional competitiveness accelerated the growing split between these two fields, as Kinsey’s team developed a distinctly modern, technologized brand of statistically oriented sexology that contrasted with the older patient case history, and assumed a very different approach to conservative analysts on ideas of homosexuality and ‘normal’ sexual behaviour. Yet this story of divergence is also tempered through consideration of other aspects of ‘situated knowledge’ such as religion and gender identity, even as accounts of cross-disciplinary competitiveness are expanded by contrasting Kinsey’s positions on psychoanalysis with those of contemporaries such as Harry Benjamin.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.