Today we have a clear concept of sexual medicine and how to define this medical discipline. But historically the unification of sexuality and medicine was not a given condition. Medicine was mainly focused on human reproduction and how to prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Hardly any other aspect would have met the interest of medical doctors for centuries. Perhaps the first true medicalization of sexuality, i.e. the fusion of medicine and sexuality, was the dreadful anti-masturbation campaign led by doctors, beginning with Tissot, since the middle of the 18th century. Therefore, we have chosen this period as the starting point for this article and only included the respective development before that time in some aspects.
We would like to point out that his article can only highlight developments and milestones of sexual medicine and is not intended to be encyclopaedic. The historical primary literature has not been refereenced extensively, but the reader is referred to sellected secondary literature sources that will provide detailed information on each respective topic. Moreoover, the focus is on the medical perspective rather than on the interdisciplinary aspect that defines the discipline of sexology.
Sexuality: Before the 18th century only the adjective sexual (Latin: sexualis) was used in the sense of “belonging to the sex or gender”. To our knowledge the noun sexuality appeared after 1800 in the field of botanics and was first adopted in the title of a German monography by August Henschel “Von der Sexualität der Pflanzen (On the sexuality of plants)” in 1820. After its transfer to human sexuality the term was primarily reserved for the aspect of reproduction and not for sexual desire and emotionality. Even Paolo Mantegazza was still talking of love (amore) when he was referring to the sexual relation of two individuals. He never used the terms sexual or sexuality. However this changed in the late 19th century and culminated in the 2nd half of the 20th century by even reducing the term to the abridged version sex.
Sexology (“Sexualwissenschaft”): According to Sigusch the term sexology appeared first in a book entitled “Sexology as the philosophy of life: implying social organization and government” written by Elizabeth Osgood Goodrich Willard and published in Chicago, Illinois, in 1867. It is a parafeministic monography with religious fundamentalistic tendency reflecting the human female and male interaction. In a lecture on “The woman´s question” from 1885 and published in 1888 the English mathematician, statistician and eugenicist Karl Pearson asked for a “real science of sexualogy”.
In the German literature the equivalent term Sexualwissenschaft was popularized by the dermatologist Iwan Bloch from Berlin in his famous book “Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit (The sexual life in our time)” officially published in 1907, but actually already on the market in fall 1906. A clear definition of the interdisciplinary approach of sexology is stated in this work. However, Sigmund Freud had used the same term earlier in 1898 in an essay dealing with the importance of sexual events for the development of neurosis, but without earning the same or even any public recognition. So did the writer Karl Vanselow in 1904 and the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in 1906. “Sexualwissenschaft” was initially translated literally as “Sexual Science” but was rapidly transformed more adequately in “Sexology”. The subsequent development of sexology after 1907 and reference of later authors to the text of Bloch underline the importance of his book. Another founding milestone not only in terms of terminology is the journal “Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft (Journal for Sexual Science)” founded in January 1908. Neither the introducing article “Über Sexualwissenschaft (On Sexual Science)” written by the journal´s editor Magnus Hirschfeld, nor another contribution in the journal´s first issue “Bemerkungen zur Nomenklatur der Sexualwissenschaft (Remarks on the Nomenclature of Sexual Science)” mentioned the term sexual medicine.
Sexual Medicine: However, the above mentioned first issue of the journal “Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft” does contain an article entitled “Forensische Sexualmedizin (Forensic Sexual Medicine)” written by the lawyer Joh. Werthauer from Berlin. The article is only reviewing legal cases that include some kind of sexual act or misconduct. Therefore, the modern definition of sexual medicine is in no way indicated in this publication. Although aspects of sexuality in medicine were addressed by many physicians and sexologists in the following decades the term sexual medicine was not established before the 1970´s. It is quite difficult to identify the exact time or even person who deserves the credit for introducing the term in its modern definition. One interesting question in this context might be the shift from the understanding of “Clinical Sexology” towards “Sexual Medicine”. In 1972 Volkmar Sigusch from Germany published a book “Ergebnisse zur Sexualmedizin (Results for Sexual Medicine)” in which he defines this new academic speciality but also complains about the fact that medical faculties and the majority of the medical community are still unwilling to accept the developing discipline of sexual medicine. Since April 1972 the German journal “Sexualmedizin” and one year later the “British Journal of Sexual Medicine” were the first periodicals literally dedicated to the new discipline and several monographies and textbooks including the term sexual medicine in their title were published in the 2nd half of the 1970´s.
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