Sexology

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Sexology

 

a branch of science that deals with sex life.

Sexuality, which affects both the personal and social life of man, has long attracted attention. Ancient myths and tracts on love, including the Kama Sutra, The Perfumed Garden of the Sheikh Netzaoui, Ovid’s Art of Love, and Ibn Hazm’s The Dove’s Neck Ring, not only reflected moral and religious sexual standards but also summarized the period’s knowledge about the biology and psychology of sex. Reproduction, reproductive disorders, and sex hygiene were the subjects of several ancient medical studies, including those by Hippocrates.

The objective study of sex began during the Renaissance with the development of the sciences of human anatomy and physiology. The psychological and social aspects of sexuality were studied only from the moral and pedagogical standpoints. Research on sexuality was conducted on a broader scale both by the social sciences and medicine at the turn of the 19th century. Sociologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries linked the development of sexual relationships not only to different forms of marriage and family structure but also to other social and cultural elements; these sociologists included J. J. Bachofen (Switzerland), J. McLennan (Great Britain), E. Westermarck (Finland), C. Letourneau and A. Espinas (France), L. H. Morgan (USA), and M. Kovalevskii (Russia). The founders of Marxism also paid considerable attention to these matters (see F. Engels, “Proiskhozhdenie sem’i, chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva,” in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, pp. 23–178).

The intensification of the woman’s question led to research on various socioeconomic aspects of sexual relationships in a bourgeois society, including prostitution.

Changes in the methods of upbringing and socialization, including the gradual isolation of children from the company of adults, introduced the question of sex education, unknown to the Middle Ages.

In the late 19th century sexology strove to free itself from the authority of religion and morality. Seeking support in biology, it considered sexual behavior to be a manifestation of universal biological laws. Scientists who studied sexuality during this period included R. Krafft-Ebing (Austria), M. Hirschfeld and A. Moll (Germany), H. Ellis (Great Britain), A. Forel (Switzerland), and V. M. Bekhterev (Russia). They laid the foundation for objective research on human sexuality, described the symptoms and etiology of many psychosexual anomalies, and advocated scientific sex education.

At the turn of the 20th century, attempts were made to establish the biological norms of sexuality. The resulting norms, however, were in most cases tailored to suit the prevailing bourgeois morality. Reproduction was proclaimed the only function of normal sexuality. Whereas previously it had been a moral and religious virtue, sexual restraint now became a medical and hygienic imperative. Women were considered to be lacking in sexual desire. Masturbation was thought to be a disease and a moral vice that would lead to serious consequences, including insanity, whereas psychosexual anomalies were considered to be congenital or a result of moral degeneration.

In the early 20th century, the biological approach to sex was supplemented and in part replaced by psychological theories. S. Freud, who played an important role in the reorientation of sexual attitudes, concentrated on the psychological aspects of personality and the unconscious, extragenital, and subliminal forms of sexuality. In the light of his theory, a sexual anomaly appeared to be a fixation of or a return to an earlier phase of psychosexual development, with psychotherapy the only method of treatment. Although many of the basic tenets of the Freudian theory of the libido, including infantile sexuality, the Oedipus complex, sublimation, and the latent process, were seriously criticized and reexamined by the science of psychoanalysis, they nevertheless were a powerful stimulus in the study of the psychology of sexuality and the factors influencing sexual behavior and tendencies, including child-parent relationships and mental traumas. Freud believed in the biological determination of the psyche and felt that biology in the early 20th century was insufficiently developed to interpret it. Contrary to Freud’s intentions, his theories contributed to the rift between the psychology of sexuality and the study of the physical basis of sexuality. This rift is still felt in western sexology today.

In the I920’s and 1930’s sexology developed in close association with the movement for sexual reform. The first international congress on sexual reform was held in 1921, and the World League for Sexual Reform was created in 1928. The movement for sexual reform was characterized by the heterogeneity of its participants and programs. Progressive demands were made for complete equality between men and women, for freeing the institution of marriage from the authority of the church, and for the right to divorce, to use contraceptives, and to receive sex education. But at the same time, the movement for sexual reform appealed to eugenics for support and tended to place sexual reform ahead of social reform. Many theories of this period were openly speculative and, despite their attempts not to be hypocritical, remained completely within the framework of bourgeois ideology.

In the period between the two world wars scientific sexology developed in several almost unrelated directions. In 1926 the Dutch gynecologist T. Van de Velde wrote the book Ideal Marriage, which for the first time discussed the physiology and technique of marriage and promoted a woman’s right to sexual gratification as an equal marital partner. Ethnologic research conducted by B. Malinowski (Great Britain), M. Mead (USA), and others demonstrated the dependence of the psychosexual orientation and behavior of a group of people on the nature of their culture and methods of socialization. Hirschfeld founded the world’s first institute of sexology in Germany in 1919. (The institute was destroyed by Nazis in 1933.) An interdisciplinary Committee for Research in the Problems of Sex was created in the USA in 1921. With the support of the committee, A. Kinsey and his co-workers were able to question more than 12,000 healthy men and women and produce the first extensive statistical summary of American psychosexual attitudes and behavior patterns, including data on the frequency of sexual intercourse, the dynamics of different forms of intercourse, and age-related sexual variations. Although this research was subjected to serious methodological criticism, it remains unsurpassed in its scope.

Modern sexology, which took shape in the mid-1940’s, is not a unified science but a complex of diverse studies. There is still a great deal that is debatable and unclear in sexology, although the accomplishments have been significant. There are three main trends in sexological research: biomedical, sociohistori-cal, and psychological.

Biomedical trend. There are three primary areas of biomedical research in sexology: the biological bases of sex and sexual dimorphism, the effect of sexual dimorphism and particularly of sex hormones on the male and female psyche and behavior, and clinical studies of the sex act. Genetic and endocrinologic research methods and clinical findings on such intersexual states as hermaphroditism and transsexualism were used in studying the biological bases of sex and sexual dimorphism. It became clear that biological sex is a complex system of components, including those that are genetic, physiological, biochemical, and morphological. An embryo is bipotential, that is. it can develop either as a male or a female. However, in the absence of male sex hormones, differentiation invariably is of the female type. It was found that sex and human psychosexual desires are determined not only by biological sex but also by social and psychological factors, among which early childhood upbringing was thought to be particularly important. The study of the relationship between biological and sociocultural factors influencing sex determination is both theoretically and practically important in the diagnosis and possible correction of psychosexual anomalies.

In studying the effect of sexual dimorphism and particularly of sex hormones on the male and female psyche and behavior it has been established that the human sexual constitution, including excitability and sexual desire, is largely dependent on the level of sex hormones; sex hormones act on the sex-behavior centers in the hypothalamus and external genitalia and increase overall bodily activity by stimulating metabolism.

Clinical sexology has provided detailed and objective physiological information on the sex act, relying no longer on personal accounts. W. Masters and V. Johnson (USA) have conducted a great deal of clinical research. The systemic principle of sexo-logical diagnosis developed by Soviet scientists is of major importance. These developments have led to the emergence of new methods of comprehensive and nonmedicamentous sex therapy whose object is not the individual but the marital couple. Today, sexual compatibility is regarded as part of a more general person-to-person interaction. Progress in the technique of measuring sexual reactions has made it possible to record objectively the dynamics of sexual excitation under the influence of a variety of visual and other stimuli and during sleep. The classification, theory, and treatment of psychosexual deviations have been greatly revised, although the relationship between organic, psychogenic, and sociogenic sexual factors remains debatable.

Sociohistorical trend. The sociohistorical trend in sexology chiefly involves the study of the social functions and the forms of activity specific to each sex and fixed in moral standards and cultural stereotypes. Subjects under study include how a particular historically developed system of sexual roles influences the consciousness, self-consciousness, and sexual behavior of men and women. Extensive information is collected regarding moral attitudes, values, and sexual behavior with due regard to the sex, age, and class and the social, economic, occupational, educational, and regional differences in a population. Intercultural and international variations in sexual symbols, customs, and behavior are researched, as is the historical evolution of standards of sexual morality and behavior in relation to the development of a society and changes in family structure and methods of socialization. The main factors involved in marital compatibility and the selection of a mate are analyzed, as are new forms of family life. The effectiveness of various methods of educating children and adolescents in matters concerning sex are investigated from a social and pedagogical point of view. Eroticism as symbolized in culture and art is studied from a historical, cultural, literary, and artistic standpoint.

A great deal of information has been collected on sexual intercourse: the age at which it is first experienced, the forms it takes, and its frequency. This material is invaluable for physicians and teachers. Acceleration and other modern processes have resulted in the commencement of sex life at an earlier age and a liberalization of sexual standards. However, the scale and moral and psychological consequences of these changes differ from one country to the next, and it is frequently impossible to correlate empirical data. Religious bans and the cheap sensationalism created around sexology by the bourgeois press are serious obstacles to research.

Psychological trend. In addition to reproduction, human sexuality has recreational, communicative, and other functions, which must be clarified before gratification can even be discussed. In the psychological study of sexology the wide variety of sexual feelings and behavior must also be taken into account. Special branches of psychology deal with various aspects of sexuality. Genetic (developmental) psychology studies sexuality at various stages of the life cycle. Closely associated with developmental physiology, it traces the psychosexual development of the individual as he matures biologically and socially. The stages and driving forces of psychosexual identification and its dependence on personality types, family structure, environment, and upbringing are also studied. The psychological patterns of adolescent sexuality are analyzed, as are the characteristics, typical problems, and difficulties faced by adolescents who mature either early or late and the sexual activity of the elderly.

Differential psychology studies male/female and individual variations of sexual behavior and related feelings and sensations. For example, the relationship between the sensory-erotic and spiritual-moral aspects of love is investigated, as are the differences in the intensity and depth of feelings.

Important information has been obtained on female sexual-ty. It was once believed that females engaged in less sexual activity than males because of biological factors. It was found, however, that physiological and psychological sex reactions are similar in both sexes. This approach does not dismiss biological sex differences, but it does emphasize that the sexual inhibitions experienced by many females are not related to constitutional pathology but rather to the conditions of their upbringing and certain psychosexual attitudes.

New areas of study include the sociopsychological investigation of the psychological reasons individuals fall in love, the factors that influence the choice of a marriage partner, and the communicative aspects of sexual love.

To understand the nature of human sexuality, it is important to study it at different stages of biological evolution. Comparative psychology and ethology study the relationship between various types of instinctive sexual behavior and elements of sexual behavior acquired by learning, which in higher animals play an especially important role.

Ethological studies have supported Freud’s findings that sexuality may be manifested in a variety of indirect and converted forms. It has also been determined that even in animals certain forms and rituals of sexual behavior can express and symbolize essentially nonsexual relationships and functions, such as aggression, the need for communication, and hierarchical relationships in a herd. Experiments conducted by H. Harlow (USA) on monkeys demonstrated the presence of five autonomous affective systems in the animals: the mother’s attachment to the offspring, the offspring’s attachment to the mother, relationships between offspring, heterosexual attachments, and paternal feelings. The experiments contributed to the understanding of the relationship between sexual and nonsexual attachments, which cannot, in principle, be resolved at the level of conscious motivation.

The aforementioned aspects of sexological research are independent and are studied by specific disciplines, each with its own conceptual apparatus and techniques. They cannot be ec-lectically fused into a single science of sexology. However, the boundaries between the areas of research are largely arbitrary, and a coordination of efforts and interdisciplinary contacts is urgently needed. The major modern institutes of sexology, including the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research (USA) and Hamburg’s German Association for Sexual Research, as well as scientific societies, for example, in Poland and Czechoslovakia, operate on an interdisciplinary principle and are staffed by psychiatrists, psychoneurologists, neuroendocrinologists, psychologists, sociologists, and so on. Besides the traditional monodis-ciplinary sexological publications that are primarily medical in content, there also exist interdisciplinary journals, for example, the Archives of Sexual Behavior (New York, since 1971) and The Journal of Sex Research (New York, since 1965).

The accumulation of empirical data and the development of a general conceptual apparatus will presumably enable sexology to expand from just a field of research to an independent scientific discipline, at least in its biomedical aspects, including sexual pathology.

REFERENCES

Vasil’chenko, G. S. Opredelenie polovoi konstitutsii muzhchiny. Moscow, 1974.
Ellis, A., and A. Abarbanel. The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior [2nd ed.], vols. 1–2. New York [1963].
Brecher, E. M. The Sex Researchers. London [1972].
Kinsey, A. C., W. B. Pomeroy, and C. E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia-London, 1948.
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia-London, 1953.
Sex and Behavior. Edited by F. A. Beach. New York [1965].
Masters, W. H., and V. E. Johnson. Human Sexual Response. London, 1966.
Human Sexual Behavior. Edited by D. S. Marshall and R. G. Suggs. New York [1971],
Dörner, G. Sexualhormonabhängige Gehirndifferenzierung und Sexualität. Jena, 1972.
Ergebnisse zur Sexualmedizin. Edited by V. Sigusch. Cologne, 1972.
Fisher, S. The Female Orgasm. New York, 1973.
Contemporary Sexual Behavior. Edited by J. Zubin and J. Money. Baltimore, 1973.

I. S. KON