Richard von Krafft-Ebing

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (August 14 1840 – December 22 1902) was an Austro-German psychiatrist who wrote Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), a famous study of sexual perversity, and remains well-known for his coinage of the term masochism using the name of a contemporary writer, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose partially autobiographical novel Venus in Furs tells of the protagonist's desire to be whipped and enslaved by a beautiful woman.

Baron von Krafft-Ebing was born in Mannheim, Baden, Germany, educated in Prague, Austria-Hungary (now in the Czech Republic), and studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg.

After Krafft-Ebing graduated in medicine and finished his specialisation in psychiatry, he worked in several asylums, but he soon felt that the way those institutions worked disappointed him and he thus decided to become an educator. He became a professor at Strasbourg, Graz and Vienna, and also a forensic expert at the Austrian capital. He was a popularizer of psychiatry, giving public lectures on the subject as well as theatrical demonstrations of the power of hypnotism.

Psychopathia Sexualis

Krafft-Ebing wrote and published several articles on psychiatry, but his book Psychopathia Sexualis ("Psychopathy of Sex"), became his best-known work. He wrote the book, intended as a forensic reference for doctors and judges, in high academic tone and in the introduction noted that he had "deliberately chosen a scientific term for the name of the book to discourage lay readers". He also wrote "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.

In the first edition of PS in 1886, Krafft-Ebing divided "cerebral neuroses" into four categories:

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.

His brief studies of female bodied individuals included the case of Count-Sandor, A female to male transsexual. He theororized that Sandor's somewhat masculine appearance might support a genetic cause for transsexuality. Ebbing included the following information in his study of Sandor: "She was 153 centimeters tall, of delicate build, thin but remarkably muscular on the breast and thighs. Her gait in female attire was awkward...The hips did not correspond in any way with those of a female, waist wanting, the skull slightly oxcephalic, and in all measurements below average...Circumference of the head 52 centimeters...Pelvis generally narrowed (dwarf pelvis), and of decidedly masculine type...labia majora having a cock's-comb like form and projecting under the labia majora...On account of narrowness of pelvis, the direction of the thighs not convergent, as in a woman, but straight" (Mackenzie 36).

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.

Trivia about Psychopathia Sexualis


Baron von Krafft-Ebing wrote numerous books, including:
Four of his books appear in English translations by Craddock:


See also

External links

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