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.

back to services

  • The First Programmatic Writings (1907-1914)
  • Technological Change and the Future of Sexology
  • The Second Phase of Theoretical Writings (1915-1926)
  • References
  • Concepts of Sexology: A Chronological List of Early Programmatic Writings

  • 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 enterprise.

    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.

    The First Programmatic Writings (1907-1914)

    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 science".3

    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 reform.

    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 questions.

    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 medicine.

    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 science".11

    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 (1915-1926)

    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, values".

    "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 cultural science".12

    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 . . . natural sciences.14

    "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, sociology, etc".20

    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 standpoint".

    Technological Change and the Future of Sexology

    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 discipline.

    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 that

    "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.

    8. ibid.

    9. Magnus Hirschfeld, "Über Sexualwissenschaft", Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, Nr. 1, 1908, pp. 1-2.

    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, pp. 2-3.

    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.

    18. ibid.

    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: Alber 1972.

    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. Section 2.1

    Note: All quotations, except Nr. 2 (Bloch, The Sexual Life . . . ) were translated from the German by the author Erwin J. Haeberle for this essay.

    Concepts of Sexology: A Chronological List of Early Programmatic Writings

    • 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

    page up back to services

    Note: Our directories depend on the input of interested readers. For corrections, additions, and suggestions, please contact: