Concluding Remarks

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


Medical writers did not have to wait for gender historians and contemporary social scientists to undermine the biological foundation of sex. Before the 1970s, and even before surgical operations allowed changes to a naturally given sex, medical scientists had already interpreted the sexual body as something contingent, a product of organic, social, and psychological factors and, at times, a combination of all of them. Contemporary historians have overlooked the implications of the professionalisation of medicine in the development of knowledge about sexuality: practitioners held different views of the sexual body and had competing interests in treating abnormal sexual behaviours depending on their specialty. If one looks at how different medical disciplines approached the study of abnormal sexual behaviours in the second half of the nineteenth century, we see that medical practitioners looked at various aspects of human sexuality and were aware of a wide range of social, cultural, and psychological influences. When medical writers looked at sexuality, they did not see only a fact of nature; they did not conceive of the human body only as a strictly physiological or biological entity. Instead, they saw physiological, social, and psychological interactions at the centre of medical studies, and medical writers such as Penta and Ellis attempted to combine these elements in their analyses. Despite his publicised insistence on constitutional influences, Lombroso weighed the effect of the environment when analysing sexual perversions. Moreover, even those practitioners who relied heavily on very physical elements to explain same-sex desires did not agree on what ultimately determined sexual perversions; medical writers nominated diverse organic points of origin for same-sex desires, ranging from the ovaries and an enlarged clitoris, to the brain and internal fluids. Adopting such diverse physiological, social, and psychological approaches allowed late nineteenth-century medical writers first to medicalise sexual behaviour, and then to destabilise the biological foundations of sex.


Nineteenth Century Medical Discourse Medical Writer Sexual Body Gender Identity Disorder 
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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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