Psychopathia Sexualis  

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That inversion of the sexual instinct is not infrequent is proved, among other things, by the circumstance that it is frequently a subject in novels. Chevalier (op. cit.) points out in French literature, besides the novels of Balzac, like "La Passion au Desert" [1830] (treating of bestiality) and " Sarrazine" [1830] (treating of the love of a woman for a eunuch), Diderot's " La Religieuse " (a story of one given to amor lesbicus) ; Balzac's " La Fille aux Yeux d'Or " [1835] (amor lesbicus) ; Th. Gautier's " Mademoiselle de Maupin" [1835]; Feydeau's "La Comtesse de Chalis" [1867]; Flaubert's "Salammbo [1862]," etc. Belot's " Mademoiselle Giraud, ma Femme" [1870] may also be mentioned (now translated into English). It is interesting that the heroines of these (Lesbian) novels appear in the character and role of the husband of a lover of the same sex, and that their love is extremely passionate. Moreover, the neuropathic foundation of this sexual perversion does not escape the writers. This theme is treated in German literature in " Fridolin's heimliche Ehe," by Wilbrand ; in "Brick and brack, oder Licht in Schatten," by Emerich Graf Stadion ; also by Balduin Groller, " Prinz Klotz ". The oldest urning romance is probably that published by Petronius at Rome, under the Empire, under the title " Satyricon ".--Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) by Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing

"Alton, a clerk in England [...] did not show the slightest trace of emotion, and gave no explanation of the motive or circumstances of his horrible deed. He was a psychopathic individual, and occasionally subject to fits of depression with taedium vitae. His father had had an attack of acute mania. A near relative suffered from mania with homicidal impulses. A. was executed."--Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) by Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing

"Among modern novelists who deal with the subject of sexual perversion in French are most pre-eminently; Catulle Mendès, Peladan, Lemonnier, Dubut de la Forest (" L'Homme de joie"), Huysmans ("La bas"), Zola."--Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) by Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing

"Very few ever fully appreciate the powerful influence which sexuality exercises over feeling, thought, and conduct, both in the individual and in society. Schiller, in his poem, "Die Weltweisen," recognizes it with the words:—

"Einstweilen bis den Bau der Welt
Philosophie zusammenhält,
Erhält sie das Getriebe
Durch Hunger und durch Liebe."

It is remarkable that the sexual life has received but a very subordinate consideration on the part of philosophers.

Schopenhauer ("The World as Will and Idea") thought it strange that love had been thus far a subject for the poet alone, and that, with the exception of superficial treatment by Plato, Rousseau, and Kant, it had been foreign to philosophers.

What Schopenhauer and, after him, the Philosopher of the Unconscious, E. v. Hartmann, philosophized concerning the sexual relations is so imperfect, and in its consequences so distasteful, that, aside from the treatment in the works of Michelet ("L'amour") and Mantegazza ("Physiology of Love"), which are to be considered more as brilliant discussions than as scientific treatises, the empirical psychology and metaphysics of the sexual side of human existence rest upon a foundation which is scientifically almost puerile.

The poets may be better psychologists than the psychologists and philosophers; but they are men of feeling rather than of understanding, and at least one-sided in their consideration of the subject. They cannot see the deep shadow behind the light and sunny warmth of that from which they draw their inspiration. The poetry of all times and nations would furnish inexhaustible material for a monograph on the psychology of love; but the great problem can be solved only with the help of Science, and especially with the aid of Medicine, which studies the psychological subject at its anatomical and physiological source, and views it from all sides.

Perhaps it will be possible for medical science to gain a stand-point of philosophical knowledge midway between the despairing views of philosophers like Schopenhauer and Hartmann (Hartmann's philosophical view of love, In the "Philosophy of the Unconscious," p. 583, Berlin, 1869, is the following : "Love causes more pain than pleasure. Pleasure is Illusory. Reason would cause love to be avoided if it were not for the fatal sexual instinct; therefore, It would be best for a man to have himself castrated." The same opinion, minus the consequence, is also expressed by Schopenhauer ("Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung," 3. Aufl., Bd. II, p. 586 u. ff.).) and the gay, näive views of the poets.

It is not the intention of the author to lay the foundation of a psychology of the sexual life, though without doubt psychopathology would furnish many important sources of knowledge to psychology.

The purpose of this treatise is a description of the pathological manifestations of the sexual life and an attempt to refer them to their underlying conditions. The task is a difficult one, and, in spite of years of experience as alienist and medical jurist, I am well aware that what I can offer must be incomplete.

The importance of the subject for the welfare of society, especially forensically, demands, however, that it should be examined scientifically. Only he who, as a medico-legal expert, has been in a position where he has been compelled to pass judgment upon his fellow-men, where life, freedom, and honor were at stake, and realized painfully the incompleteness of our knowledge concerning the pathology of the sexual life, can fully understand the significance of an attempt to gain definite views concerning it.

Even at the present time, in the domain of sexual criminality, the most erroneous opinions are expressed and the most unjust sentences pronounced, influencing laws and public opinion.

He who makes the psychopathology of sexual life the object of scientific study sees himself placed on a dark side of human life and misery, in the shadows of which the god-like creations of the poet become hideous masks, and morals and aesthetics seem out of place in the "image of God."

It is the sad province of Medicine, and especially of Psychiatry, to constantly regard the reverse side of life,—human weakness and misery.

Perhaps in this difficult calling some consolation may be gained, and extended to the moralist, if it be possible to refer to morbid conditions much that offends ethical and aesthetic feeling. Thus Medicine undertakes to save the honor of mankind before the Court of Morality, and individuals from judges and their fellow-men. The duty and right of medical science in these studies belong to it by reason of the high aim of all human inquiry after truth.

The author would take to himself the words of Tardieu ("Des attentats aux moeurs"): "Aucune misère physique ou morale, aucune plaie, quelque corrompue qu'elle soit, ne doit effrayer celui qui s'est voué a la science de l'homme et le ministère sacré du médecin, en l'obligeant à tout voir, lui permet aussi de tout dire."

("No physical or moral misery, no suffering, however corrupt it may be, should frighten him who has devoted himself to a knowledge of man and the sacred ministry of medicine; in that he is obliged to see all things, let him be permitted to say all things." (The following pages are addressed to earnest investigators in the domain of natural science and jurisprudence. In order that unqualified persons should not become readers, the author saw himself compelled to choose a title understood only by the learned, and also, where possible, to express himself in terminis technicis. It seemed necessary also to give certain particularly revolting portions in Latin (The Latin is left untranslated) rather than in German.

It is hoped that this attempt to present to physician and jurist facts from an important sphere of life will receive kindly acceptance and fill an actual hiatus in literature; for, with the exception of certain single descriptions and cases, the literature presents only the writings of Moreau and Tarnowsky, which cover but a portion of the field. (The works of Moll and von Schrenck-Notzing have since appeared.—TRANS.)

--Preface to the first edition

Related e



Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (Sexual Psychopathy: a Clinical-Forensic Study, 1886) is a book by Richard von Krafft-Ebing. It is a forensic psychiatry reference book for physicians and judges. Written in high academic style, the introduction noted he had "deliberately chosen a scientific term for the name of the book, to discourage lay readers", likewise did he write "sections of the book in Latin for the same purpose." Despite this, the book was highly popular with lay readers and it went through many printings and translations.

Psychopathia Sexualis was one of the first books about sexual practices that studied homosexuality; the clitoral orgasm and jouissance, the sexual pleasure of the woman; and proposed consideration of the mental state of sexual criminals in the legal judgement of their actions.

Ebing's book was a compendium of cases from other sources such as Albert Moll, Alfred Binet, Cesare Lombroso, Albert Eulenburg, Auguste Ambroise Tardieu, Valentin Magnan, Paolo Mantegazza, Leo Taxil, Benjamin Tarnowsky, William Alexander Hammond, Paul Garnier and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing.

As such, it was the medico–legal textual authority on psychosexual diversity, and the most influential human sexuality book until Sigmund Freud published his works. It was heavily influenced by the theories of heredity which were also employed in naturalist literature and owes a debt to Schopenhauer.



Part of the fascination of Psychopathia Sexualis is that it was written before Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. It lists 238 case reports of lust murder, necrophilia, pederasty, bestiality, transvestism, rape, mutilation, sadomasochism, exhibitionism and other psychosexual proclivities. Written as a professional textbook detailing sexual perversions and deviancies. It is generally held to be the first book on sexual perversions, but was in fact preceded by Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom (1784), an "Anthropologia Sexualis" of 600 perversions. The difference between these two works was that Ebing's book was a compendium of cases from other sources such as Albert Moll, Alfred Binet, Lombroso, Albert Eulenburg, Tardieu, Magnan, Mantegazza, Leo Taxil, Tarnowsky, Hammond, Paul Garnier and Schrenck-Notzing; and that Sade's work was entirely drawn from his imagination and personal experiences.


Krafft-Ebing wrote and published several articles on psychiatry, but his book Psychopathia Sexualis, full title Psychopathia Sexualis, with especial reference to the antipathic sexual instinct, a medico-forensic study ("Psychopathy of Sex"), became his best known work.

In the first edition of Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886, Krafft-Ebing divided sexual deviance into four categories:

  • paradoxia, sexual desire at the wrong time of life, i.e. childhood or old age
  • anesthesia, insufficient desire
  • hyperesthesia, excessive desire
  • paraesthesia, sexual desire for the wrong goal or object. This included homosexuality (or "contrary sexual desire"), sexual fetishism, sadism, masochism, pederasty and so on.

Krafft-Ebing believed that the purpose of sexual desire was procreation, and any form of desire that didn't go towards that ultimate goal was a perversion. Rape, for instance, was an aberrant act, but not a perversion, since pregnancy could result.

Krafft-Ebing saw women as basically sexually passive, and recorded no female sadists or fetishists in his case studies. Behaviour that would be classified as masochism in men was categorized as "sexual bondage" in women, which was not a perversion, again because such behaviour did not interfere with procreation.

After interviewing many homosexuals, both as his private patients and as a forensic expert, and reading some works in favour of gay rights (male homosexuality had become a criminal offence in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire by that time; unlike lesbianism, but discrimination against lesbians functioned equally), Krafft-Ebing reached the conclusion that both male and female homosexuals did not suffer from mental illness or perversion (as persistent popular belief held), and became interested in the study of the subject.

Krafft-Ebing elaborated an evolutionist theory considering homosexuality as an anomalous process developed during the gestation of the embryo and fetus, evolving into a sexual inversion of the brain. Some years later, in 1901, he corrected himself in an article published in the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, changing the term anomaly to differentiation. But his final conclusions remained forgotten for years, partly because Sigmund Freud's theories captivated the attention of those that considered homosexuality a psychological problem (the majority at the time), and partly because Krafft-Ebing had incurred some enmity from the Austrian Catholic church by associating the desire for sanctity and martyrdom with hysteria and masochism (besides denying the perversity of homosexuals).

Some years later Krafft-Ebing's theory led other specialists on mental studies to reach the same conclusion and to the study of transgenderism (or transsexuality) as another differentiation correctable by means of surgery (rather than by psychiatry or psychology).

Note that most contemporary psychiatrists no longer consider homosexual practices as pathological (as Krafft-Ebing did in his first studies): partly due to new conceptions, and partly due to Krafft-Ebing's own self-correction.


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