Psychopathia Sexualis  

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"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

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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 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.


Full text

Psychopathia Sexualis (Rebman translation, full text)

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