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THE EARLY SEX RESEARCHERS

In the mid to late 1800s, several investigators became interested in many aspects of human sexuality. In most respects, these individuals did not conduct research in the true sense of the word. Little actual experimentation was done; and the case study approach, with all the attendant problems such as lack of generalizability, was heavily relied upon. Also, some of the hypotheses proposed were stated in such a manner as to be essentially untestable. Finally, it must be remembered that all of these early investigators were working and writing at the time the Western world was just emerging from the Victorian era, a time of extreme restrictiveness, repression, and negative values and attitudes toward sexuality. As we shall see, these Victorian values strongly influenced the attitudes and beliefs of some of these investigators, leading to inappropriate and inaccurate conclusions based, not on data, but on religious and philosophical grounds.

KRAFFT-EBING

Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902) was a German physician who specialized in forensic psychiatry and was the most noted expert witness of his day in the criminal prosecution of sex crimes. Because of his purported expertise, his ideas about sexuality were accepted as truth by both professionals and lay persons throughout Europe and were of great importance in shaping the sexual attitudes of several generations. Unfortunately, most of his theories, in the light of today's knowledge, were inaccurate or incorrect and added little of scientific value to the study of sex.

His famous book, Psychopathia Sexualis, first published in 1886, presented very negative views regarding sex in general and in fact viewed most sexual behavior (except heterosexual intercourse between married adults) as terrible diseases. Intended originally only for professionals, Psychopathia Sexualis became a best seller and has been reprinted many times. A series of case studies, Psychopathia Sexualis begins with the most lurid descriptions of sex crimes in the classical sense, such as sex murders and crimes against children. Krafft-Ebing then proceeded to describe other sexual behaviors (e.g., voyeurism, masturbation) in this same negative tone. Inaccuracies abound in these descriptions. For example, he saw transvestites, transsexuals, and homosexuals as all "suffering" from different stages of the same "disease." Perhaps his most influential misconception was that he viewed all sexual variations as stemming from two basic causes: masturbation and genetic influences. He gave such weight to genetic predispositions that almost all the case studies began by "documenting" problems (sexual, psychological, or physical) among the relatives of the subject under study.

Krafft-Ebing's writings were very influential for several decades. Not only did he reinforce the negative views and misconceptions of the Victorian age, he added to them. Fortunately, few people today place much validity in the majority of his theories.

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