Havelock Ellis and Sex Psychology

  • Chiara Beccalossi
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


In 1897 Henry Havelock Ellis published Sexual Inversion, the first English monograph on homosexuality. It took him five years to collect all the data and case-studies; it also took two years of collaboration with a man of letters, John Addington Symonds, and help from various American and Continental medical writers, as well as his personal friends.1 Ellis’s aim in publishing his study of same-sex behaviour was to demonstrate that same-sex desires were just a ‘natural’ expression of the sexual instinct: he proposed that homosexuality was a common biological manifestation in human beings and animals alike. He also used examples from both anthropological and historical studies to show that homosexuality was present across a wide range of different cultures. Sexual Inversion’s radical proposition rested on the broader implications of the book: if sexual inversion was neither a sin nor a sickness, it followed that the difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality was simply in the choice of object of desire. Its argument that homosexuality should be treated as a natural phenomenon, subject to no religious or legal constraints, meant that Sexual Inversion was pitted against the morality of its time. It fostered sexual tolerance, proposing that individuals had a right to follow their sexual inclinations and desires.


Medical Writer Italian Research Sexual Autonomy Sexual Inversion Modern Ethic 
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  1. 17.
    J. A. Symonds, A Problem in Modern Ethics (1896), 10–74.Google Scholar
  2. 152.
    H. Ellis, The Erotic Rights of Women and the Objects of Marriage (1918).Google Scholar
  3. 153.
    R. M. MacIver and C. H. Page, Society (1964) [1950], 243; K. Davis, Human Society (1969) [ 1948 ], 187.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Chiara Beccalossi 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chiara Beccalossi
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for the History of European DiscoursesUniversity of QueenslandAustralia

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