Archive for Sexology
Erwin J. Haeberle
Theoretical Foundations of Sexology
This section provides, for the first time in English,
lengthy original passages from the theoretical discussions of the early German sexologists.
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The scientific study of sex, even in the modern, narrow sense,
is no recent academic fad but, as the section on the history of sexology shows,
grew out of several old and respectable traditions which, in the
course of the 19th century, coalesced into a special intellectual
In the first years of the 20th century, Iwan Bloch, the "father
of sexology", came to attack and then to dismiss the concept
of sexual degeneracy that dominated medical and scientific thinking
at the time.
Bloch arrived at his position by seizing upon a suggestion made
decades earlier by the physician and ethnologist Bastian, who
believed that every religion, language, philosophy, art, social,
and legal system contains certain universal "basic ideas".
These basic ideas receive their particular form as a result of
geography which forces people into particular economic systems.
Thus, the elementary ideas appear in the special form of "ethnic
ideas". However, war, migration, and commerce eventually
carry some of them into areas in which they did not originate.1
It is Bloch's unique accomplishment that he applied this concept
of "basic ideas" to the subject of sex. Accordingly,
he sought to treat this subject in a new, more comprehensive manner
than was customary in his days, and, in order to do so, he became
the first sexologist.
In 1907 Bloch published his first truly sexological work under
the title Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit (The Sexual Life
of Our Time) and stated in its foreword:
"The author of the present work . . . is . . . convinced
that the purely medical consideration of the sexual life . . .
is yet incapable of doing full justice to the manysided relationships
between the sexual and all the other provinces of human life.
To do justice to the whole importance of love in the life of the
individual and in that of society, and in relation to the evolution
of human civilization, this particular branch of inquiry must
be treated in its proper subordination as a part of the general
science of mankind, which is constituted by a union of all other
sciences of general biology, anthropology and ethnology, philosophy
and psychology, the history of literature, and the entire history
of civilization . . . Hitherto there has existed no single comprehensive
treatise on the whole of the sexual life . . . The time is indeed
fully ripe for an attempt to sift . . . the enormous mass of available
material, and to present the result from a centralized standpoint".2
This "centralized standpoint" was that of sexology (Sexualwissenschaft).
Bloch's new concept and new term were quickly embraced by several
of his colleagues, and only one year later the first Zeitschrift
für Sexualwissenschaft (Journal for Sexology) was edited
by Magnus Hirschfeld, who used the occasion to publish some programmatic
writings of his own. However, before turning to these, it is perhaps
useful to trace Bloch's own further thinking on the subject.
He soon embarked on an ambitious plan to edit a series of monographs,
written by specialists from various fields. Taken together, they
would constitute a broadly based, proper introduction to sexology.
This Handbuch der gesamten Sexualwissenschaft in Einzeldarstellungen
(Comprehensive Handbook of Sexology in Monographs) remained fragmentary
because of Bloch's untimely death, but in the preface to the first
volume, which he wrote himself, he once more offered a brief theoretical
essay. The subject of the book, prostitution, represented for
Bloch the central problem of sexology, because it combined the
biological and cultural aspects of sex in the most dramatic fashion.
Trying to deal with this problem therefore led him quite naturally
to the concept of a new science:
"The double nature of sex drive, its biological and cultural
aspect, lets us understand the whole difficulty of scientific
sex research and makes it comprehensible that, on the one hand,
medical and natural scientists, and on the other hand theologians,
philosophers, lawyers, and cultural scientists believe they should
solve the "sexual question" from their respective narrow
points of view. This fact alone proves that it is necessary to
found sexology as a science in its own right, which must no longer
be seen as an appendix of any other science or, what is utterly
nonsensical, as the sum total of all these different disciplines
as so many different sexual sciences. Where this would lead us
has been shown by the purely medicalclinical approach of Krafft-Ebing
. . . his predecessors and successors, some of whom believed they
had enriched science when they had only coined new foreignsounding
terms . . . . The purely medical (let alone psychiatric) view
of sexuality . . . is not sufficient to understand the manysided
relationships of sex to all other spheres of human life. These
relationships in their totality are the subject of sexology. It
faces the task of investigating not only the physiological, but
also the social and culturalhistorical relations between the sexes.
By studying both natural and civilized man, it must find, as it
were, the sexual elementary ideas of mankind, i.e. the common
biologicalsocial phenomena in all peoples and historical periods.
They are the firm foundation for the building of the new science.
Only this anthropological view (in the widest sense of the word),
by providing us with largescale observations for which the material
can never be extensive enough, . . . gives us a scientific basis
of the same exactitude and objectivity as that found in natural
In outlining this greatly enlarged perspective for the study of
sex, Bloch was able to point to a truly illustrious predecessor
the reformer of the German university system Wilhelm von Humboldt,
whose collected works had just appeared in a new, critical edition.4
This edition published, for the first time, the proposal for a
sexological work, the History of Dependency in the Human Race,
which Humboldt had sketched around 1827. An outgrowth of a still
earlier plan for a History of Whoring (1790's), the work was to
trace the sexual question through all historical periods. In four
major sections: "History of the Female Sex," "History
of the Reproductive Drive," "History of Servitude,"
and "History of Dependency in Male Freedom", Humboldt
had planned to examine the evolution of human freedom and to use
as his focus the relationships between the sexes. Obviously, the
phenomenon of prostitution had to be central to this study, just
as it was to Bloch's own. Moreover, in the introduction to his
plan, Humboldt had even anticipated Bastian's later concept of
"basic ideas," and he had applied it to the sexual sphere:
"So far, one has not sufficiently tried to follow the history
of a condition of individuals and the human race through all situations
of private life and all events of tradition. . . . However, .
. . we must examine not only human beings under various conditions,
but also the general conditions as they manifest themselves in
various human beings and peoples. These conditions remain as the
. . . individual perishes. . . . They develop . . . and are transformed
into ideas, and, as such, they are so much higher than the human
race, as whole generations can be sacrificed on their altar".5
It is understandable that Bloch was elated to have found this
precedent in the works of the man who, more than any other, had
been responsible for the form and direction of higher learning
in Germany. Indeed, the fact that Humboldt, far ahead of his time,
should already have conceived of a comprehensive science of sex,
was proof enough that sexology was more than an academic experiment,
but the logical product of scientific progress. As Bloch states
in reference to Humboldt's attempt:
"The time was not ripe for such an enterprise. Both cultural
history and general natural science still moved in a prioristic
constructions; ethnology was still in its first, all too modest
beginnings, in short, everything needed for an objective foundation
of sexology and . . . sexual reform was still missing. Another
century of exact scientific research, . . . exact methods in the
. . . cultural and historical sciences, . . . an . . . accumulation
of facts in ethnology, comparative moral and legal history . .
. were needed to renew the attempt on a more secure basis".6
Looking around him, Bloch saw this new basis being assembled.
The enormous mass of new ethnological findings, for example, simply
waited to be analyzed from the "centralized standpoint"
of sexology, and thus Bloch asked Ferdinand von Reitzenstein,
an assistant at the Berlin Museum for Ethnology, to write two
illustrated monographs for the planned sexological handbook: "Man
in Natural and Civilized Societies" and "Woman in Natural
and Civilized Societies".7 For a similar reason Bloch also
approached Magnus Hirschfeld about a volume on homosexuality,
because his statistical studies and personal acquaintance with
thousands of homosexuals (both patients and nonpatients) had provided
him with more material than any other person in history had ever
possessed.8 Bloch chose both of these authors mainly for their
extensive and detailed knowledge, less for their speculative powers.
He wanted as much factual evidence as possible, and he wanted
documented variety as an antidote to the narrow unquestioned assumptions
of traditional sexual medicine. In this respect, Bloch was an
empiricist, and it is clear that he would have been enthusiastic
about such later research as that conducted by Kinsey and his
associates. For all his personal interest in ideas, Bloch knew
only too well that, in sexology, they needed to be supported by
facts. The facts were all the more important as the ultimate goal
of every sexological effort was a rational and durable sexual
The same concerns had also been expressed by Hirschfeld in his
capacity as the editor of the already mentioned Zeitschrift für
Sexualwissenschaft (1908). In this pioneering journal he
had written three lengthy programmatic articles explaining the
new science. The first of these articles, "Introducing Sexology"
(January, 1908), begins by emphasizing the new, disinterested
point of view of the sexologist:
"The study of sex, to which this journal shall be devoted, is
not a new field. There have always been men who approached the
problems of the human love and sex life as researchers and scholars.
However, they always remained isolated, and in both number and
importance they remained far below those who approached the subject
from two other points of view the ethical and the artistic".
It was only our own time which created the concept of an exact
science (Wissenschaft) of sex. Natural science, to which sexology
obviously belongs, collects natural phenomena, i.e. it is, above
all descriptive. However, it also allows us to understand the
facts, since it carries thoughts into the phenomena and thereby
connects them. This is characteristic of all scientific endeavor
(Wissenschaft) especially also of the venerable triad theology,
jurisprudence, and philosophy. The main principle of thought is,
in this case, simplification and reduction of the varied observations
to basic phenomena down to the point where further reduction becomes
impossible. . . . Sexology, like any other science, is based on
the knowledge of individual phenomena. It collects and describes
them and thus tries to explain them by finding, through reasoned
deduction, their common principle or natural law. This law, in
turn, helps us to understand the subsequently encountered phenomena.9
This introductory passage, although it may appear simpleminded
at first glance, nevertheless contains the germs of the most important
later discussions. Hirschfeld's demand that sexology be descriptive
was of course, easily accepted, but his characterization of it
as a natural science was soon found to be inadequate. The case
is somewhat muddled by his mentioning of theology, jurisprudence,
and philosophy as sciences which share the same principles with
sexology. On the other hand, his assertion that finding natural
laws leads to an understanding of the observed phenomena was later
considered hasty. These shortcomings were then corrected by a
clearer distinction between natural and cultural sciences. Still,
Hirschfeld deserved credit for having raised the basic theoretical
He deserved even more credit for outlining the branches of sexology
in his second programmatic article (Oktober, 1908). Here, in a
preliminary fashion, he listed no less than 14 areas of sexological
investigation: (1) Sexual Anatomy (the study of physical sex differences
down to the cell), (2) Sexual Chemistry (the study of pheromones,
external and internal glands), (3) Sexual Physiology (the study
of bodily changes during sexual activity), (4) Sexual Psychology
(the study of cultural influences on sexual behavior), (5) Sexual
Evolution (the study of sexual development throughout human life),
(6) Comparative Sexual Biology (the comparison of various animal
and human sexual behaviors), (7) Sexual Hygiene (the study of
the effects of abstinence, nutrition, sex education, etc.), (8)
Sexual Prophylaxis (the study of veneral diseases and genetic
problems), (9) Sexual Politics (the study of civil law with regard
to sex and the promotion of general happiness), (10) Sexual Legislation
(the study of criminal sex laws and of their intended and unintended
effects), (11) Sexual Ethics (the search for realistic sexual
standards), (12) Sexual Ethnology (the study of sexual customs
worldwide), (13) Sexual Varieties (the study of the full range
of sexual behaviors), and (14) Sexual Pathology (the study of
sexual shortcomings and malformations).
Obviously, this list was not exhaustive, since it did not even
mention erotic art or literature, whose investigation had long
been supported by both Hirschfeld and Bloch. Even so, the list
offers a dramatic illustration of the vastly enlarged perspective
for sex research. The psychopathia sexualis, which had completely
dominated research in the preceding century, had shrunk to a special
problem area among many, and most of those had no connection with
Equally instructive is Hirschfeld's last article on the methods
of sexology (December, 1908). It enumerates seven kinds of research
tools that can produce sexological insight. The first large group
is, of course, composed of all tools and methods of the natural
sciences, from the measuring tape to scales, from the knife to
the microscope to chemical analysis. The second important method
is what Hirschfeld calls "psychoanalytic exploration"
by means of an extensive questionnaire. The article actually reprints
the questionnaire, which had been developed with the help of such
colleagues as Bloch and Karl Abraham. Many of the 127 main items
are subdivided into several special and rather openended questions,
so that their total number, depending on the individual, might
reach over 400 and more. In content, they are quite similar to
those later asked by Kinsey in his interviews: family background,
physical characteristics, health, childhood experiences, religiosity,
hobbies, sexual activity, sexual attitudes, etc. Hirschfeld later
expanded and renamed the questionnaire "psychobiological"
and used it extensively in his own research and therapeutic practice.
Different individuals differed, of course, also in the length
of their answers, although on the average, they were completed
within 2 weeks. The record was held by a man who took 3 years,
nearly every answer filling a large volume.10 This enormous, invaluable
collection of documents is now lost to science as a result of
Nazi destruction. However, two rather detailed originals somehow
found their way to the Kinsey Institute, where they remain untranslated
and unanalyzed to this day.
Given this interest in sexual self-exploration, it is not surprising
that Hirschfeld also described autobiography and biography as
the third sexological method. The fourth is provided by statistical
studies, some of which had already been conducted by Hirschfeld
himself. The fifth method is historical study, the sixth and seventh
are ethnographic and philological studies. The article concludes
with a call for institutes, journals, and congresses of sexology
which would demonstrate its comprehensive character and consolidate
its academic standing.
In sum, Hirschfeld's three programmatic articles make it quite
clear that sexology could claim its place as a science in its
own right. They also implicitly refute his characterization of
it as a strictly natural science, since many of its areas of interest
as well as many of its methods are not those of the natural sciences.
This issue was to be resolved only later by newcomers to the field.
Still, as a first broad outline, Hirschfeld's attempt has well
stood the test of time. The actual development of sexology followed
rather closely his original demands and predictions.
Bloch, thereafter, had only one other opportunity to expand on
his views. This was in 1914, when he, together with Albert Eulenburg,
republished the Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft
and opened the first issue with an article on "The Tasks
and Goals of Sexology". At that time, new endocrinological
studies, especially those of Eugen Steinach in Prague, had raised
great expectations, and this is reflected in Bloch's reassessment
of his earlier position. He was still concerned with ideas and
their development, but now believed them to be traceable to a
biological basis. Accordingly, his definition of sexology carried
a new and different accent:
"Sexology . . . is the study . . . of the forms and effects
of sexuality in their physical and psychological, individual and
social aspects. This definition does justice to the peculiar double
nature of the sex drive, its biological and its cultural side,
and it shows us that, even as physicians and natural scientists,
we must never neglect the social and cultural aspects, especially
since they always have a biological substratum. A truly scientific
study of sexual phenomena is possible only on this primary, biological
basis. The biological phenomena of sexuality explain the psychological
and cultural phenomena. . . . Sexology is, in essence, a biological
This was the last word on the matter from the "father of
sexology". Medical duties during the First World War prevented
him from participating in further discussions, and shortly after
the war he developed a serious, lingering illness and died.
The second phase of theoretical writings is connected with the
name of Max Marcuse, who did not actually formulate sexological
theory himself, but who, as a journal and book editor, stimulated
others to do so. His first accomplishment in this respect was
the publication of an article by Julius Wolf on "Sexology
as a Cultural Science" in the Archiv für Sexualforschung
(1915). Bloch, Hirschfeld, and Marcuse himself were physicians,
and, although their interests ranged widely their training had
been in the natural sciences. Wolf, as a social scientist, approached
sexology from quite a different direction. The article first reviews
various approaches to sexuality that had been listed in Auguste
Forel's The Sexual Question (1904). Forel had distinquished
between 10 basic approaches: the pornographic, autoerotic, and
artistic; the religious, political, legal, ethical, and pedagogical,
the medical and the historical-ethnographic. He had also offered
some unsystematic criticism of some of these approaches and finally
recommended some combined methodology.
Obviously, as Wolf points out, this is not enough for the establishment
of a science. Indeed, a critical examination reveals that the
first three approaches (the pornographic, autoerotic, and artistic)
are nonscientific and, in this context, need not be considered
at all. The next five (the religious, political, legal, ethical,
and pedagogical-ethnographic) may use scientific insight, but are essentially
normative in character. Only the last two approaches (the medical
and historical-ethnographic) can be regarded as scientific in a
strictly empirical sense, especially if we consider them paradigmatic
for the natural and cultural sciences, respectively. Indeed, there
are only two kinds of science: natural science (Naturwissenschaft)
and cultural science (Kulturwissenschaft), and the knowledge
obtained in one of them is fundamentally different from the
knowledge obtained in the other. As Wolf explains:
"The objects of natural science are those processes or events
that do not depend on human intention. This . . . is what we mean
by natural processes. However, with this negative characterization
. . . we have, at the same time, also defined the objects of cultural
science. One only has to drop the negative".
"Of course, processes and events that do not depend on human
intention cannot be traced to any motivation as their cause. Thus,
it has been said that "nature knows nothing of purposes and
ideas". However, as long as we do not know the cause of an
event we cannot truly claim to "understand" it. The
knowledge gained through natural science has therefore very appropriately
also been called an external knowledge. Seen from the outside,
everything appears as . . . matter. The knowledge of natural
science is therefore said to turn everything into matter, to take
the soul out of things. Natural science does not show us a motivation,
but explains everything by offering some hypothetical ultimate
cause. This is true not only for mechanics, physics, and chemistry,
but also for the other explanatory natural sciences: biology,
physiology and psychology. One only has to think of concepts such
as selection, variation, tumescence, detumescence, reflex, association,
etc. In contrast, the knowledge of cultural science means real
understanding, identification, and experience. Political battles,
religious currents, artistic movements, etc. can and want to be
understood "from the inside". The knowledge of cultural
science has therefore, not without justice, been called a perception
of purpose, because the ultimate causes are always purposes, ideals,
"Given this great difference, it is clearly inadvisable to mix
the insights of natural and cultural science and perhaps even
to cultivate both together within the framework of a universal
science. Each of these kinds of insight requires a separate science.
Not, as suggested by Forel, a combination, but . . . two different
empirical sexologies: one as a natural science, the other as a
In the then following passages, Wolf makes clear that he does
not preclude both sexologies being cultivated by the same researcher,
as long as he keeps the distinction well in mind. After noting
that sexology has already made a good start as a natural science,
Wolf mentions Havelock Ellis, whose work he considers an attempt
at an encyclopedic treatment of sexology as a natural science.
Iwan Bloch's The Sexual Life of Our Time, on the other
hand, is cited as an attempt to present the findings of cultural
science with regard to sex. However, the book is criticized on
the grounds that it advocates certain legal and political changes.
This is unscientific:
"Even as a cultural science, sexology must . . . proceed differently.
It must not justify of condemn anything. Just as natural science,
it must only investigate and explain. It must never present the
erotic life of one particular group or historical period as a
model. Thus, sexology must . . . illuminate the sexual life of
different social classes, peoples, and historical periods . .
. and must try to achieve a full understanding of it by tracing
it to the economic, cultural, and other conditions".13
Our love life is . . . not purely animalistic, but also a product
of culture, and, as such, it is related to other cultural objects
and values, such as the economy, the state, art, religion, law,
etc. An understanding of these can never come from the . . .
"However, the mere . . . understanding of differences in the
sexual life of different classes . . . provides not much more
than the basis for sexology as a cultural science. Based on this
understanding, we must . . . investigate for each social class
what reciprocal relations exist between the sexual life and all
other activity, further, what consequences the sexual life has
for the nation, its growth and its organization as well as its
material and spiritual culture".15
Having raised these demands, Wolf makes some suggestions as to
the areas that might usefully be investigated. For example, he
believes that the "asexual", purely economic population
theory of his time should be amended by a sexological approach,
since the "reproductive customs" had obviously changed
since Malthus, and not necessarily for economic reasons. Further
objects of sexology as a cultural science could be male and female
fashions, housing conditions, civil and criminal law, all forms
of entertainment from theaters and public dances to private parties,
art and music. In this latter context, he mentions specifically
the operas of Wagner and Richard Strauss, which cried out for
a sexological interpretation. In addition, the history, content,
and form of religion, especially of religious sects, would become
much more comprehensible if examined by sexology. The essay concludes
with a call for cooperation between the two sexologies, "sister
sciences", which together can overcome the remaining enormous
obstacles to sex research.
Unfortunately, Wolf's suggestions were made at time when sexology,
barely born, faced the first external threat to its survival.
The First World War was in its second year, with no end in sight,
and the nation was otherwise preoccupied. The periodical in which
the essay appeared was the official organ of the International
Society for Sex Research, founded by Albert Moll, which was now
prevented from moving forward. Moll had planned an international
congress, but, because of the war, it had to be cancelled. It
was only after the war, when Max Marcuse became the editor of
the older and more important Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft,
that Moll's society began to prosper. Finally, in 1926, this great
journal renewed the theoretical discussion. In the same year,
Marcuse edited an expanded version of his Handwörterbuch
der Sexualwissenschaft (Hand Dictionary of Sexology), and
Moll succeeded in convening his first congress in Berlin.
Marcuse's Handwörterbuch offered lengthy entries in
alphabetical order which, while written from the sexological "centralized
standpoint", reflected the different methods of many disciplines.
Thus, they demonstrated the fact that sexology does not have,
and cannot be defined by, a scientific method of its own. This
was duly noted by Hans Kunz in an article for the Zeitschrift
für Sexualwissenschaft. Under the title "The Methodology
of Sexology", Kunz states flatly:
"If one wanted to make the validity of a science dependent on
the existence of a . . . specific method as well as that of an
. . . exclusive, specific object, there would be no sexology.
It was mostly the enormous importance of sexuality in life that
played . . . the decisive role in the creation of the term sexology
(Sexualwissenschaft) by Iwan Bloch. This is in contrast to other
disciplines where the affective element played a more subordinate,
unconscious . . . role. The fact that we do not have a special
science of "smell" or "hunger" is not due
to logical insight the justification would be the same as that
for sexology but is due alone to that affective element".16
As for the "object" of sexology, Kunz points to the
continued disputes about psychoanalytic concepts and remarks:
"There is no prospect of a general agreement on a valid definition
of what we mean by sexuality. We see no way of . . . exactly determining
the objects of sexology".17
However, this need not disturb us:
"Other academically tolerated sciences find themselves in the
same situation, psychology and biology, for example. Nobody will,
in the hope of achieving general agreement, dare to offer a neat
definition of "soul" or "life"."18
These sober remarks illustrate the greatly increased sophistication
of sexological theoreticians, who were becoming more critical
of their own previous assumptions. The same level is maintained
in Marcuse's Handwörterbuch itself, to which Arthur
Kronfeld contributed the new entry "Sexology" (Sexualwissenschaft),
a substantive essay reviewing and summarizing the entire issue.
Kronfeld, a brilliant psychiatrist and temprorary collaborator
of Hirschfeld's, was eventually offered an important position
in Moscow, where, together with his wife, he committed suicide at the approach of the German army. It is also possible that
he became the victim of Stalinist terror and killed himself for that reason.19
His essay is important not only for historical reasons.
After briefly recapitulating the history of sexology, he turns
to the unavoidable question:
"Is sexology . . . a selfsustainable, fully valid science in
its own right? . . ".
"Sexology most certainly does not have a unified object. Sexuality,
its conditions, forms and effects are so overwhelmingly varied
. . . that they cannot be isolated from the totality of life processes.
In so far, a special sexology does not seem necessary. Instead,
sexuality is absorbed without a rest in the wealth of problems
tackled by the comprehensive sciences. But even according to method,
sexology can apparently not be justified as a science in its own
right. For example, sexual biology has no other methods in its
arsenal than biology as such. Also all other partial disciplines
of sexology the anthropological, heredological, sociological,
etc. must use the methods developed by . . . anthropology, heredology,
Returning to his question, Kronfeld then gives the following answer:
"I can here only offer my personal conviction, which is probably
shared by all contributors to this hand dictionary, namely that
there is indeed a criterion which justifies sexology as a science
in its own right".
"It seems to me that this criterion can be found in the unity
of all these different disciplines with regard to their guiding
perspective, their guiding maxim, their point of view, their manner
of focusing on the life processes and events. Sexology does indeed
go hand in hand with all individual sciences, deals with the same
objects and uses the same methods: But the point of view, from
which it selects the phenomena and problem areas, takes a position
on them, understands and evaluates them, this point of view is
everywhere the same. It emphasizes the relationships to sexuality,
isolates them in conscious onesidedness, and thus merges the results
of individual researches in a special total picture. This onesidedness
is the guarantee of unity. In this fashion, we obtain one scientific
view of the totality of life. It may not be the ultimate one,
other and perhaps more profound views are possible. But this view,
onesided as it may be, nevertheless offers an organized structure
of hierarchically interrelated . . . insights and evaluations".21
Thus, after nearly two decades of theoretical discussion, the
argument returns to Bloch's original, one is tempted to say instinctual,
notion that sexology is characterized, above all, by its "centralized
Unfortunately, soon thereafter sexology faced its second external
threat in the rise of Nazism, and this time it proved to be fatal.
Within a few years, all sexological journals ceased publication,
the great pioneering books were burned, the sexological institutes
closed, the congresses cancelled, the sexologists themselves silenced,
arrested, or driven into exile. Thus, any further theoretical
discussion also became impossible. Indeed, as the Nazis proceeded
to conquer Europe, sexology itself, in all its manifestations
and with all its accomplishments, came to a tragic end.
After Hitler's defeat and the end of the Second World War, it
took Europeans many years to revive sexological research. Especially
German sexologists faced tremendous obstacles, as the entire previous
basis of their work had been destroyed. Eventually, there were
again some theoretical writers, but they showed little awareness
of their great lost tradition. This third phase of German sexological
theory deserves a thorough discussion elsewhere.22 In the present
context it may suffice to mention one symptomatic detail: When
the first German postwar sexologist Hans Giese published a new
Wörterbuch der Sexualwissenschaft (Dictionary of Sexology,
1952), it did not even contain an entry "Sexualwissenschaft"
(sexology) that would have hinted at some theoretical effort or
challenged the existing academic establishment. Sexology did not
yet dare again to define itself. In fact, the timidity of the
fragmentary effort became painfully obvious in the first sentence
of the "Foreword":
"We do not adhere to the thesis that the public must necessarily
be enlightened about sexual matters, but rather believe that sexuality
should, in accordance with its essence, take place between two
people and not go beyond this framework without special reason".23
Of course, since these words were written, there has been much
progress in Germany, where a few universities now employ sexologists.
Indeed, these are not only physicians, but also social scientists,
who have shown a renewed interest in theoretical questions. Nevertheless,
since they remain tied to medical schools, most of their work
is devoted to therapeutic demands and concerns. As for the wider
academic community, it knows little or nothing about the lost
sexological tradition and therefore has not yet shown any interest
in seeing it restored.
In principle, this situation prevails in other countries as well,
even in the United States. American research has, since Kinsey
and Masters and Johnson, taken the lead in the development of
sexology worldwide, but the established universities have done
less than their European counterparts to promote it within their
own walls. Some token "Human Sexuality Programs" have
remained academically superficial and have not been allowed to
solidify into serious centers for graduate teaching and research.
The public perception of sexology is utterly distorted by popular
pseudoscientific "sex reports", therapy fads, and various
moral crusades. The mass media, lacking any reliable guideposts,
lean toward sensationalism. In short, the study of sex is still
widely regarded as suspect, frivolous or, at best, unnecessary.
Under these conditions it may seem reckless to predict a bright
future for sexology. However, such a future can be ours, if we
develop a greater awareness of our distinguished past. Our rediscovered
tradition can help us avoid practical mistakes and theoretical
dead ends, as we prepare once more to advance in our field. For
example, there have been suggestions that we might see the "development
of sexology as an academic discipline".24 However, as the
preceding brief review of early theoretical writings has shown,
sexology is not, was never, and can never be an academic discipline
in the proper sense of that term. Having neither a clearly delineated
object nor a method of its own, it cannot offer any standard training,
no fixed curriculum or definite set of courses. On the contrary,
it is, in essence, an interdisciplinary effort, taking its methods
from both the natural and cultural sciences. Indeed, according
to these methods, one can speak of two different sexologies. Their
object, sexuality, is not an unmistakable, naturally given constant,
but is virtually the product of their particular point of view.
This point of view can be acquired by and taught to researchers
from various fields, but, in itself, it does not constitute a
This fact is not at all contradicted by a recommendation the World
Health Organization (WHO) made in 1975. In a report "The
Sexological Training of Health Professionals", it proposed
"Depending on local conditions, human sexuality should be encouraged
to develop as an autonomous discipline in the education and training
of health professionals..".25
First of all, the word "discipline" here refers not
to sexology (a science), but to "human sexuality" (a
topic or object of science). Second, "discipline" is
here used in the narrow sense of a particular course of study
in an applied science, i.e., in this case, health care. Indeed,
in this field, the WHO recommendation has, in the meantime, led
to the development of various curricula and degree requirements
in clinical sexology and sex education. Although these differ
considerably from one country and even one institution to another,
they also show an astonishing consensus about the basic requirements.
In short, as an applied health science, the study of sex can very
well be developed into a discipline. As a broader interdisciplinary
academic enterprise, however, sexology cannot be narrowed down
this way. Nevertheless, it can be organized and formalized as
a science in its own right.
Sexology is a science, not unlike archeology, criminology or the
study of religions, which approaches an important issue in any
available rational, systematic and internally consistent way.
When we look at it in this light, sexology not only justifies,
but demands the establishment of special research institutes,
university programs and departments. Obviously, these departments
must employ scholars and scientists from a broad variety of disciplines.
Under no circumstances should they be dominated by one discipline.
Especially any subservience to medicine or psychiatry is to be
avoided, if one expects meaningful progress. After all, as we
have seen, sexology owes its very existence to a critique of the
medical model of sexual behavior. The sexological pioneers were
themselves physicians, but finding the medical view too restrictive,
they created the broader perspective of sexology.
Today, the medical study of sex often remains scientifically naive
and is still moving in "aprioristic constructions",
just as it was in Bloch's time. Terms like sexual "perversion",
"aberration", "deviation", and indeed "paraphilia",
demonstrate that medicine and psychiatry are still haunted by
the prescientific chimera of a single, naturally given, correct
sexual behavior from which people stray at their peril. This idea
is a relic of earlier religious doctrines, as we can learn from
sexology as a cultural science. If we as scientists want to characterize
certain sexual behaviors as undesirable, which is our privilege,
we will have to do so on openly stated, secular, entirely different
grounds. At present, however, mythical and openly teleological
notions of an "evolutionary design", "intent of
nature", or "biological purpose" continue to appear
in academic discussions of sex and rob them of any scientific
value. Even WHO definition of "sexual health" is ideological
in that it formulates an ideal typical of the present industrial
and postindustrial Western societies. It cannot possibly claim
universal validity, either with regard to our own past or to non-Western
cultures. This does not mean that the definition is bad in itself;
it only becomes bad, if it is uncritically taken as dogma. Much
of the still prevailing, naive innocence of sex researchers can
be overcome, however, by criticism from outside of medicine, and
by a continuous dialogue between different academic disciplines,
as Bloch so well understood.
Does this mean that sexology departments are doomed to perennial
disagreement and cannot set up graduate training programs leading
to academic degrees? Not at all. Such programs already exist,
and academic degrees in sexology have been awarded not only in
the USA, but also in many European countries, indeed, even at
the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. The criterion for
such a degree, as for any other, is academic excellence as proven
by an examination and research presented in an acceptable thesis
or dissertation. Needless to say, the research must be sexological,
i.e. it must focus on some topic related to sex, and in order
to be able to do such research, the degree candidate must go through
a rigorous interdisciplinary program. The details of such a program
are, of course, very much open to argument, and many valid solutions
are conceivable. This is an area where future discussions among
sex researchers, based on the available experience, can bring
much progress and useful innovation. These discussions may also
prompt hitherto reluctant universities and graduate schools to
recognize the value of sexology and to grant it the formal recognition
to which it is well entitled. Not only the academic world, but
also society at large would benefit greatly.
Suggestions for a possible structure of sexology departments can
be found in the early programmatic writings of our pioneers. As
we have seen, Bloch, Hirschfeld, Wolf, Kunz, and Kronfeld listed
a good number of disciplines that could make valuable contributions.
In fact, Hirschfeld's own Institute for Sexology in Berlin (1919-1933),
with its four major sections sexual biology, sexual pathology
(medicine), sexual sociology, and sexual ethnology might be as
good a model to follow as any. Unfortunately, so far, most universities
have not yet taken any decisive steps in this direction, and,
as a result, the necessary cooperation between sexologists has
been hampered. Thus, we find ourselves in a kind of vicious circle:
the lack of academic institutionalized recognition prevents sexology
from conducting the kind of lively and critical debate that would
lead to recognition.
On the other hand, the opportunities offered by the 'electronic
age', such as the Internet, CDROMs, email, and teleteaching, the
worsening financial situation of many traditional universities
and the increasing irrelevance of geographical boundaries may
very well lead to a new flourishing of sexology. For example,
it is conceivable that sooner or later legitimate university programs
in sexology will offer at least many theoretical parts of their
courses electronically and thereby attract many new students.
These could continue to live in distant cities or even other countries.
They might be required to take only certain practica, special
seminars, and their examinations "on location". This
way, sexology may become accessible to whole new groups of health
professionals. At the same time, many countries with growing sexual
problems but undeveloped or nonexisting sexological training programs
may be able to take advantage of foreign resources. All of this,
in turn, may give the whole field a much needed boost and help
it to emerge from the academic shadows in which it has been kept
hidden much too long.
Note: The preceding text is an updated version of an article previosly published in
"Challennges in Sexual Science: Current Theoretical Issues and Research Advances", Clive M. Davis, ed.,
Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, 1983, pp. 141-160
1. Cf. Karl von den Steinen, "Adolf Bastian Gedächtnisrede",
Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, vol. 37, 1905. Bastian's
major works are Der Mensch in der Geschichte, 3 vols. 1860
and Das Beständige in den Menschenrassen und die Spielweite
ihrer Veränderlichkeit 1868.
2. Iwan Bloch, The Sexual Life of Our Time, transl. by
Eden Paul, New York: Allied Book Company 1908, pp. ixx.
3. Iwan Bloch, Die Prostitution, vol. I, Berlin: Louis Marcus
1912, pp. vii-viii.
4. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. VII,
ed. Königlich Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin:
B. Behr 1908, pp. 653-655.
5. ibid. pp. 654-655.
6. Iwan Bloch, Die Prostitution, p. x.
7. ibid. pp. xii-xiii.
9. Magnus Hirschfeld, "Über Sexualwissenschaft",
Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, Nr. 1, 1908, pp.
10. Magnus Hirschfeld, Sex in Human Relationships, London:
John Lane the Bodley Head 1935, p. 88.
11. Iwan Bloch, "Aufgaben und Ziele der Sexualwissenschaft",
Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, vol. I, Nr. 1,
12. Julius Wolf, "Sexualwissenschaft als Kulturwissenschaft",
Archiv für Sexualforschung, vol. I, Nr. 1, pp. 2-3.
13. ibid. p. 4.
14. ibid. p. 3.
15. ibid. p. 4.
16. Hans Kunz, "Zur Methodologie der Sexualwissenschaft",
Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, vol. XIII, Nr.
1, p. 21.
17. ibid. p. 22.
19. Kurt Hiller, Leben gegen die Zeit (Logos), Reinbek
b. Hamburg: Rowohlt 1969, p. 114.
20. Artur Kronfeld, "Sexualwissenschaft", Handwörterbuch
der Sexualwissenschaft, ed. Max Marcuse, Bonn: Marcus &
Weber 1926, p. 740.
21. ibid. pp. 740-741.
22. In this theoretical discussion, the relatively greatest awareness
of tradition is displayed by the medical historian Werner Leibbrand
and his assistant (later wife) Annemarie Wettley. Unfortunately,
their efforts did not receive the echo they well deserved. See
esp. Annemarie Wettley, "Von der Psychopathia sexualis
zur Sexualwissenschaft", Stuttgart: Enke 1959, Annemarie
LeibbrandWettley and Werner Leibbrand, "Medizin und Sexualwissenschaft",
München: Bayerische Landesärztekammer 1970, and Annemarie
und Werner Leibbrand, Formen des Eros, 2 vols. Freiburg/München:
23. Hans Giese, Wörterbuch der Sexualwissenschaft,
Bonn: InstitutsVerlag 1952, p. 5.
24. John Sumerlin, "Development of Sexology as an Academic
Discipline", The Society Newsletter (SSSS), Winter
1981, p. 4.
25.WHO, Technical Report Series Nr. 572, 1975, Education
and Treatment in Human Sexuality: the Training of Health Professionals.
Note: All quotations, except Nr. 2 (Bloch, The Sexual
Life . . . ) were translated from the German by the author
Erwin J. Haeberle for this essay.
- Bloch, Iwan, "Vorwort", Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit, Berlin: Louis Marcus 1907.
- Hirschfeld, Magnus, "Über Sexualwissenschaft"; "Einteilung der
Sexualwissenschaft"; "Zur Methodik der Sexualwissenschaft", Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, Nr. 1 (January),
Nr. 10 (October), Nr. 12 (December) 1908.
- Rohleder, Hermann, "Die Sexualwissenschaft in ihrer Bedeutung für die ärztliche Allgemeinpraxis", Zeitschrift
für Sexualwissenschaft, Nr. 2 (February) 1908.
- Katte, Max, "Über den Begriff der Abnormität mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des sexuellen Gebietes",
Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, Nr. 7 (July) 1908.
- Bloch, Iwan, "Vorrede", Die Prostitution, vol. I, Berlin: Louis Marcus 1912.
- Bloch, Iwan, "Aufgaben und Ziele der Sexualwissenschaft", Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, vol. I, 1914
- Rohleder, Hermann, "Die Bedeutung der Sexualwissenschaft für die ärztliche Praxis", Zeitschrift
für Sexualwissenschaft,vol. I, 1914
- Wolf, Julius, "Sexualwissenschaft als Kulturwissenschaft", Archiv für Sexualforschung, vol. I, Nr. 1, 1915.
- Elster, Alexander, "Sozialhygiene - Eugenik und Eubiotik - Sexualsoziologie. Ein Versuch methodischer Klarstellung",
Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, vol. XII, 1925.
- Elster, Alexander, "Sexualsoziologie", Handwörterbuch der Sexualwissenschaft, Max Marcuse ed., Bonn:
Marcus und Weber 1926.
- Kronfeld, Arthur, "Sexualwissenschaft", Handwörterbuch der Sexualwissenschaft, Max Marcuse ed., Bonn:
Marcus und Weber 1926.
- Kunz, Hans, "Zur Methodologie der Sexualwissenschaft", Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft,vol. XIII, 1926
- von Müller, Hermann, "Über den Begriff der Norm im Geschlechtlichen", Zeitschrift für
Sexualwissenschaft und Sexualpolitik, vol. XVII, 1931.
- Bien, Ernst, "Fortschritte der Sexualwissenschaft", Sittengeschichte der Nachkriegszeit, vol. I, Magnus
Hirschfeld ed., Leipzig und Wien: Verlag für Sexualwissenschaft Schneider and Co. 1931
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