Maturitas. 2009 Jun 20;63(2):107-11.
The historical response to female sexuality.
Studd J, Schwenkhagen A.
London PMS & Menopause Clinic, 46 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8SD, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org
In the past, medical attitudes to female sexuality were grotesque, reflecting the anxiety and hypocrisy of the times. In the medieval world, the population feared hunger, the devil, and women, being particularly outraged and threatened by normal female sexuality. The 19th century attitude was no better as academics confirmed the lower intellectual status of women, particularly if they ventured into education. The medical contribution to this prejudice was shocking, with gynaecologists and psychiatrists leading the way designing operations for the cure of the apparently serious contemporary disorders of masturbation and nymphomania. The gynaecologist, Isaac Baker Brown (1811-1873), and the distinguished endocrinologist, Charles Brown-Séquard (1817-1894) advocated clitoridectomy to prevent the progression to masturbatory melancholia, paralysis, blindness and even death. Even after the public disgrace of Baker Brown in 1866-1867, the operation remained respectable and widely used in other parts of Europe. This medical contempt for normal female sexual development was reflected in public and literary attitudes. There is virtually no novel or opera in the last half of the 19th century where the heroine with “a past” survives to the end. The wheel has turned full circle and in the last 50 years new research into the sociology, psychology and physiology of sexuality has provided a greater understanding of decreased libido and inadequate sexual response in the form of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). This is now regarded as a disorder worthy of treatment.