The foundations of 19th-century psychiatric approaches to sexual deviance

By Sylvie Chaperon

At the price of a certain schematization, the historian of the nineteenth century was able to observe three successive scientific models of theories and medical practices related to sexual deviation. During the first third of the century, the pioneers of French alienism introduced the notion of monomania, in its versions of nymphomania, erotomania, satyriasis and later masturbation. The majority of medical observations concerned women or girls. Given its evocations of demonic temptation, this theoretical framework, failing to separate itself from the surrounding religious culture, was widely contested. The theory of degeneracy, introduced in the late 1850s, became dominant in the last third of the century, giving rise to the classification of the perversions. This time, the great majority of observations concerned men, raising the question of the connections between this gender change of the patient and the simultaneous paradigm shift. Finally, the turn of the century saw the dawn of a new psychology of sexual life, with Freud’s formulations representing its theoretical synthesis.

  • alienism
  • psychiatry
  • monomania
  • sexual perversions
  • sexual psychology
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