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Truly Notable Sexologists

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Sure, Alfred Kinsey is a household name. And who doesn’t know about Masters and Johnson? But beyond these big names in sexuality research, most people are unfamiliar with the field of sexology’s biggest stars – the European professionals who got things officially started back in the 1800s. In many ways, they deserve equal, if not more, recognition for their early, brave efforts in pursuing sexology as a legitimate area of study.

Here, we highlight the top 10 influential people in sexological history…


1. Karl-Maria Kertbeny (1825 – 1895)
This Austrian-born, Hungarian journalist was one of the first gay rights activists, arguing that the Prussian sodomy law violated the “rights of man.” He is also credited with having, for better or for worse, coined the terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual.”

2. Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840 – 1902) As a Vienna-based leader in sexual psychology, this university lecturer and asylum director wrote a book on sexual mania and deviation based on 238 case studies. He was amongst the first to describe sexual behavior within a framework of disease categories. While a valuable contribution at that time, such an effort is debatable now.

3. August Forel (1848 – 1931)
Forel was a Swiss psychiatrist and neuroanatomist who encouraged discussions with his 1905 publication of “The Sexual Question.” Such was quite the daring endeavor given Europe was dominated by prudery at that time. For examples, in England, “the unspeakables” was used when referring to one’s pants.

4. Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)
While a pop culture figure, few outside of mental health circles truly know Freud’s contributions to sexology in addition to being the father of psychoanalysis. Freud challenged lay people and professionals alike in blurring the line between “normal” and “abnormal” when it comes to sexual desire. Unlike other sexologists, he believed that sexuality is oriented to pleasure, and that humans realize pleasure in many ways beyond genital sex. Freud examined sexuality as a major source of psychological and social conflict.

5. Havelock Ellis (1859 – 1939)
This English medical doctor was amongst the first researchers to challenge the sexual repression of the Victorian Era (1819 – 1901). A huge supporter of sexual liberation and sexuality studies, Ellis wrote several books, including “Studies in the Psychology of Sex,” where he attempted to analyze sexual instinct. Not surprisingly, great controversy ensued and the book was banned for several years. 


6. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 – 1935)
A German physician who took on the taboo, Hirschfeld founded the first Institute for Sexology in Berlin in 1919. The institute, which was destroyed by Nazis in 1933, accumulated a huge body of research on human sexual development and the treatment of sexual disorders and concerns, as in 20,000 volumes, 35,000 photographs, 40,000 confessions and biographical letters, and a large number of objects and works of art. Hirschfeld also edited the first journal for sexology as a science – “Zeitschrift Fur Sexualwissenschaft” – formally launching sexology and developing it into an academic pursuit.

7. Iwan Bloch (1872 – 1922)
This Berlin-based dermatologist is considered by some to be the father of sexology. He is credited for first officially proposing a special scientific, scholarly effort for understanding sexuality – “Sexualwissenschaft.” He is also applauded for going beyond the medical view of sexuality, which dominated the times, studying sexual phenomena more holistically, e.g., history and cultural influences as well.

8. Max Marcuse (1877 – 1963)
An outspoken supporter of the women’s movement, Marcuse became the first officially recognized sexologist in German courts when called as a sexological expert witness in criminal trials. An avid writer and editor, Marcuse authored “The Dangers of Sexual Abstinence for Health,” published in 1910, and edited “Sexual Problems – Journal for Sexology and Sexual Politics.”  

9. Ernst Grafenberg (1881 – 1957)
How could we not include the German gynecologist for whom the G-spot is named? In addition to researching this erogenous zone, Grafenberg is credited with inventing one of the first intrauterine contraceptives and for studying female ejaculation.

10. Marie Bonaparte (1882 – 1962)
We can’t leave the ladies out of early sexological efforts, as they were certainly doing their part too. French author and psychoanalyst Marie Bonaparte is known for having published the earliest study of orgasm in relation to genital anatomy in 1924. She also published Female Sexuality in 1953.

5. Havelock Ellis (1859 – 1939)
This English medical doctor was amongst the first researchers to challenge the sexual repression of the Victorian Era (1819 – 1901). A huge supporter of sexual liberation and sexuality studies, Ellis wrote several books, including “Studies in the Psychology of Sex,” where he attempted to analyze sexual instinct. Not surprisingly, great controversy ensued and the book was banned for several years. 

5. Havelock Ellis (1859 – 1939)
This English medical doctor was amongst the first researchers to challenge the sexual repression of the Victorian Era (1819 – 1901). A huge supporter of sexual liberation and sexuality studies, Ellis wrote several books, including “Studies in the Psychology of Sex,” where he attempted to analyze sexual instinct. Not surprisingly, great controversy ensued and the book was banned for several years. 

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