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kama sutra sexology image from New Medical Terms

Kama Sutra

Sexology, the formal study of sexuality, is informed by an amalgam of techniques borrowed from biology and medicine and, when deemed deviant in nature, from psychiatry and criminology.  Vātsyāyana, an Indian philosopher believed to have lived in the 2nd century AD, wrote the first known work on human sexuality, the Kama Sutra (top image). Whilst the Kama Sutra is known for its “how to” component, most of it is focused on love, family, virtuous living, psychology of sexual desire, its triggers, its maintenance and its up- and downsides. 

For the next two millennia, sexology entered a period of cryostasis courtesy of prudence, ecclesiastical condemnation of sex in general and Victorian repression. By the late 19th century, the icebergs in the sea of sexual disapprobation began to melt with the 1886 publication of Psychopathia Sexualis by the German-Austrian psychiatrist von Krafft-Ebing* (1840-1902), which established sexology as a scientific discipline, and the 1897 release of Sexual Inversion, by English physician Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), widely known as the father of sexology. 

*His full name was Richard Fridolin Joseph Freiherr Krafft von Festenberg auf Frohnberg, genannt von Ebing

Ellis wrote extensively about homosexuality, challenging the then-extant belief that it was disease. He conceptualized autoeroticism and narcissism*, separated transgender phenomena from homosexuality and recognized it as distinct from transvestism–which he called sexo-aesthetic inversion. Ellis also questioned the taboos on inter-generational (age-disparate) relationships and on masturbation. 

*Both of these concepts were further fleshed out by Freud (1856-1939), whose theory of human sexuality divided it into oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital phases of development which, according to Freudian thought, run from infancy to puberty and onwards. 

sexology masters and Johnson image from New Medical Terms

Sexology experts and the media

Before the Nazis came to power in the 1930s, Germany was the hotbed of sexology. Many of the field’s movers and shakers were Jewish, gay, or Jewish and gay, which didn’t sit well with the National Socialism Party’s Aryan agenda, mandating a massive mavin migration. After the War, sexology set up shop in the USA and was influenced by both the newcomers and by homegrowns, most famously, Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956). In 1947 Kinsey founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University (now the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction) and wrote Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), both of which are popularly known as the Kinsey Reports.  

Kinsey’s work influenced the social and cultural landscape of developed nations and helped set the stage for the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. His baton was picked up by William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who conducted research into the human sexual response and the diagnosis and treatment of sexual disorders and dysfunction, by observation of others and themselves from 1957 until the 1990s. They co-wrote Human Sexual Response (1966) and Human Sexual Inadequacy (1970), which became widely translated bestsellers and are regarded as classics in the field. Their work hinged on measuring the physiologic responses to the different stages of the sexual cycle.

Sexology in the 21st century has seen:

• Codification of paraphilias (the polite way of saying sexual deviancies) in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (latest, 5th edition, 2013)

• Alteration of sexual behaviors due to HIV infection

• Introduction of new tools–e.g., behavioral genetics and neuroimaging for assessing human sexuality