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  • A Deviant Sexual Type Well before 1870
  • Emma Heaney (bio)
Heinrich Kaan's "Psychopathia Sexualis" (1844): A Classic Text in the History of Sexuality
Benjamin Kahan, ed.; Melissa Haynes, trans.
Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2016. vii + 193 pp.

Most students and teachers of sexuality studies take Michel Foucault's declaration that the homosexual as a distinct social type emerged in the 1870s as a start date for the emergence of sexual deviancy more broadly. But Foucault himself knew something that English-language readers can now also know thanks to Melissa Haynes's readable translation of Heinrich Kaan's Psychopathia Sexualis. Sexuality actually began to be systematized by 1844 with the publication of Kaan's book, the little-known precursor to Richard Von Krafft-Ebing's widely read 1886 medicolegal manual of the same title. Before homosexuality was identified as the definitional form of deviant sexuality, Kaan identified onanism, or masturbation, as the aberration of the sexual drive that was the gateway to all other deviations and that therefore urgently needed to be stamped out.

Kaan introduces his project in Psychopathia Sexualis as a "duty" to address a "difficult topic" that was thrust on him by the many patients who brought their struggles with sexual deviancy to his medical practice (31). The first half of part 1 outlines the reproductive function of plants and animals, relying heavily on citation of previous work by botanists and zoologists. Kaan pays particular attention to the sexual structures of both plants and animals, the role of these structures in reproduction, and the sexed structures (either male, female, or some blend of the two) of all life from the simplest plant to the highest order of mammals. The second half of part 1 turns to human anatomy, which reflects the "pinnacle of refinement in sexual differentiation," and traces the development of human sexuality from childhood to adulthood (52).

It is this "refinement" and sexual restraint that is violated when a person suffers from psychopathia sexualis, the umbrella term for the disease of excessive sexual drive. Kaan singles out onanism as the most medically significant form of psychopathia sexualis because it is the most common and therefore the most available for scientific study and also because it is the root of more advanced [End Page 566] forms of sexual deviancy, including bestiality, pederasty, lesbianism (which is interestingly defined as sexual rubbing enacted by two women or by two men), necrophilia, and the violation of statues.

Kaan devotes part 2 to outlining the causes, symptoms, preventative measures, and cures for psychopathia sexualis. The causes include hereditary and acquired elements, from "lustful parents" to "too much sleep in soft bed covering" (84–85). The symptoms might include "sudden flush alternating with pallor" or, for boys, "traces of semen in the linens" (96–97). Prevention requires such measures as avoiding tight clothes and guarding children against friends who have had sexual experiences. The cures can include "ecclesiastical music," a range of homeopathic medicines, and Kaan's most highly recommended cure, cold water, applied in poultices or administered by dousing the whole body.

Benjamin Kahan's excellent introduction immediately focuses the reader's attention on the historical consequence of Kaan's book: this is the first instance in which a doctor taxonomizes sexual behaviors into types, laying the groundwork for the more elaborate taxonomies of sexuality that follow in the later nineteenth century. Kahan then outlines the intellectual foundation of the book, including studies of syphilis and anti-onanist tracts that surrounded Kaan as he wrote the book in early nineteenth-century Vienna, the center of the development of psychiatry. As Kahan notes, this new translation and critical edition of Kaan's text comes at a particularly good time, both because there has been such good work on sexology (Kahan provides a wonderful overview of the field) and because Kaan's text has been ignored in these accounts.

Of particular interest to readers of GLQ will be Kaan's declaration of biological bases for racial and sexed characteristics. For instance, Kaan claims that although excessive sexuality and onanism are present among all populations, they are more common among "Ethiopian" and "Mongoloid" races (77). Here Kaan toggles between an understanding...


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