Kurt Freund

Kurt Freund (17 January, 1914 - 23 October, 1996) was a sexologist famous for his studies of male sexual orientation and male sex offenders using penile plethysmography (PPG).


Freund was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Chrudim, then part of Austrian Bohemia, later Czechoslovakia, now in the Czech Republic. He married Anna Hloun, a non-Jewish Czech pianist and music teacher, on January 13, 1942. In 1943, they divorced in order to protect Anna and their newborn daughter Helen from anti-Jewish and anti-miscegenation legislation implemented by the Nazis. They remarried after the war in 1945, and Anna gave birth to a son, Peter, in 1948. Many of Freund's relatives died during the Holocaust, including his parents Heinrich and Hella, and his brother Hans.


Freund received his M.D. at Charles University of Prague, and later a D.Sc. degree there in 1962. He carried out post-doctoral research and later both research and clinical work at Charles University's Sexological Institute, the oldest university-based research center on human sexuality. (Magnus Hirschfeld founded an earlier research institute in Germany, but it was shut down by the Nazi government and most of its archives destroyed.)

Contributions to sexology

Freund did not invent the penile plethysmograph, but developed, refined, and popularized existing technology as part of a broad program of research on male sexual desire and arousal. The plethysmograph is basically a pressure gauge that is placed around a man's penis and measures changes in blood flow and tumescence as a proxy for arousal. The device remains controversial, and indeed Freund published articles acknowledging its limitations. Among other concerns, sexual offenders could sometimes suppress arousal through concentration or surreptitiously causing themselves pain, similar to methods for producing false results on a polygraph (lie detector). However, Freund still felt that the plethysmograph remained the best measure of arousal (there was no evidence that subjects could consistently fake arousal, though they could sometimes suppress it.) Other researchers and activists dispute PPG as the best measure of orientation, pointing out that neither identity nor behavior are perfectly correlated with measured or self-reported arousal. Freund acknowledged this, and in fact demonstrated it in his studies, but maintained that orientation per se was best defined as the object of arousal.

Freund was initially commissioned to use penile plethysmography to detect recruits attempting to evade military service by falsely claiming to be homosexual. (The Czechoslovakian military barred homosexuals from serving.) His larger research program, however, focused on detection and diagnosis of sex offenders, particularly preference pedophiles, with a view to more appropriate treatment guidelines. His empirical data also showed some of the first evidence that sexual orientation conversion therapy was generally futile. He demonstrated that even homosexually oriented men who appeared to have given up sexual relations with other men and established heterosexual marriages were still aroused by images of men rather than women. He also challenged contemporary psychoanalytic theories of homosexuality that suggested it was due to a fear or aversion to women; instead, his objective measures showed that homosexual men simply lacked erotic interest in females. Based on these studies, he advocated the decriminalization of homosexuality in Czechoslovakia (which took place in 1961) and the end of conversion therapy. These opinions also put him out of favor with the psychoanalytically dominated psychiatric establishment in Toronto, as he continued to argue that homosexuals needed understanding and acceptance rather than treatment.

Freund fled to Canada in 1968, in the wake of the Prague Spring. Freund then began plethysmography studies of male sexual orientation at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry (currently The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) in Toronto, where much of the research and published data using PPG in Western countries originated. The Kurt Freund Phallometric Laboratory at that institute is named after him. Controversy persists over abuses of devices to measure sexual orientation. In particular, the "fruit machine", a slang term for another device developed in Canada, was used in the 1950s and 1960s as part of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police campaign involving the identification and dismissal of homosexual persons employed by the government (comparable to the persecution of homosexuals during the McCarthy era in the United States).


Freund committed suicide by an overdose of sedatives after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 82. He was survived by his wife Anna, his son Peter, a mathematician, his daughter Helen, a nurse, and several grandchildren. His ashes were scattered on the lawn across from his office at the Clarke Institute in Toronto, and on the grounds of the Prague Psychiatric Center at Bohnice, where he had worked for many years in Czechoslovakia.

A knowledgeable biography of Kurt Freund by his daughter and a former research assistant may be found here.


Selected Publications

Students & Interlocutors

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

This article is based on "Kurt Freund" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kurt+Freund&action=history