StudyCorgi Sociology

Evolution of Female Sexuality

Throughout history, views and scientific theories regarding female sexuality have been changeable and controversial. In her article, Carol Groneman examines the history of the phenomenon of nymphomania and the major changes in its perception by society, as well as its diagnosis and treatment by contemporary doctors. The author argues that past speculations concerning female sexuality were biased by traditional beliefs about female natural modesty, rather than based on proper scientific and medical research.

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In her work, Groneman investigated a number of American journals of medical science and referenced dissertations and clinical lectures on sexual disorders dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She also used materials from papers on Feminist Studies focusing on the late eighteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. The author analyzed and compared more than a hundred cases of sexual disorder treatment based on the reports of such doctors as Dr. Horatio Storer, Dr. J. T. Walton, Dr. R. M. Phillips, and others (Groneman 338). The article resonates with the work of Janice M. Irvine, who, like Groneman, claims that the notion of sexuality is structured according to regulations and definitions and examines the origin of concepts that define excessive and acceptable sexuality (203).

Groneman states that a few hundred years ago, nymphomania was considered an organic disease and was compared to such disorders as alcoholism or kleptomania. The extreme sexual need of a woman was not considered a complicated clinical issue, and the entire idea of inappropriate sexuality was considerably different. As Krohne writes in his book, sexual desires with the purpose of recreation and not procreation were considered immoral and unnatural (2). The rules for the behavior of women were even stricter. Groneman explains that “even minor transgressions of feminine modesty could be classified as diseased” (341). As examples, the author cites some real cases of diagnosed nymphomania.

For instance, she mentions the record of a young woman, married to a much older man, who came to the doctor complaining about “lascivious dreams” of having intercourse with other men. However, she would never approach a man in real life or accept his offer. According to the prescription, this woman had to diet, avoid meat and alcohol, and take cold enemas and hip baths to lower the heat in her genitals (Groneman 338). The most common treatment was aimed at reducing the factors that influenced sexual desire. One of the reasons given, used as an explanation for almost all the health problems of the time, was an imbalance of humors. Therefore, hypersexual women were prescribed the procedure of bleeding, sometimes with a fatal outcome. Some ancient records defined nymphomania as an “immoderate burning in genital area” that could drive women insane (Groneman 348). Other doctors believed that the reason for the disorder was menstruation and suggested removing the ovaries as a solution.

Medical scientists started to investigate the problems of sexuality and the impact of the genitals on the nervous system in the second part of the nineteenth century. Phrenologists expressed a significant interest in studying nymphomania. In her research, Smith states that one phrenologist claimed “that he could bring one of his patients to orgasm by massaging her scalp near the site of a previous skull injury” (143). Only much later, clinicians began to approach the disorder on a case by case basis. They believed that what might be considered abnormal sexual behavior for one individual might be totally normal for another. Excessive sexuality as a symptom might originate from numerous factors, such as a tumor or the use of cocaine (Samenow 2), and be influenced by cultural differences, social background, faith, and relationship issues (Joannides 68).

Groneman noticed that in almost all the cases she explored, women were truly ashamed of their feelings and excessive desires—only deemed excessive from the point of view of contemporary moralism and a woman’s social role. Back then, women were to be modest and sexually passive, according to their nature. Accusations of nymphomania were made toward women who slightly varied from the contemporary norms of morality: wearing too much perfume, loving to flirt, or more sexually active than their husbands. These views were promoted by the church as well as by scientific works. Scientifically proven theories provided just another excuse for authorities to “limit the social and economic roles of women” (Groneman 341). In times of industrial capitalism, these theories were used to justify the sexual division of labor. Women were considered to have smaller brains and vulnerable nervous systems, which made them unfit for hard work, education, political activity, and art. Their only role was to be wives and mothers.

Eventually, researchers started to study the phenomenon of nymphomania as a clinical diagnosis with a complex etiology and stopped confusing it with a simple deviation from moral norms. The situation began to change in the late nineteenth century when women started fighting for their rights and equal opportunities. They expressed their desire to study, engage in politics, and have the ability to decide when to get married and have children. With the evolution of a woman’s role in society, moral standards were reconsidered. The types of behavior that used to indicate excessive sexuality were no longer relevant.

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Works Cited

Groneman, Carol. “Nymphomania: The Historical Construction of Female Sexuality.” Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 19, no. 2, 1994, pp. 337-367.

Joannides, Paul. “The Challenging Landscape of Problematic Sexual Behaviors, Including “Sexual Addiction” and “Hypersexuality.” Web.

Irvine, Janice M. “Regulated Passions: The Invention of Inhibited Sexual Desire and Sex Addiction.” Social Text, no. 37, 1993, pp. 203–226.

Krohne, E.C. Sex Therapy Handbook: A Clinical Manual for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sexual Disorders. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.

Samenow, Charles P. “Classifying Problematic Sexual Behaviors—It’s All in the Name”. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, vol. 17, no. 1, 2010.

Smith, Lesley. “Sex on the brain.” Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, vol. 39, 2013, pp. 142–143.

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