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Nymphomania & All It's Vices

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Veronica Poe
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« Reply #15 on: November 13, 2007, 12:46:52 am »

Nymphomaniacs, lesbians, and prostitutes

By the late nineteenth century, physicians tended to group all sexualised women together: nymphomaniacs, lesbians, and prostitutes. The descriptions of lesbians sound remarkably like those of nymphomaniacs. Two physicians in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease described cases of inversion (homosexuality) by pointing to the patients' morbid excitability of sexual desire and weak, irritable nerves. They said of one thirty-five-year-old (lesbian) woman that she "grew quite passionate, threw things about and used improper language" (Shaw and Ferris, 1883, 189). According to the gynaecologist Carlton Frederick, "All sorts of degenerate practices are followed by some [nymphomaniacs]. One of the most frequent is tribadism - the so-called 'Lesbian Love,' which consists in various degenerate acts between two women in order to stimulate the sexual orgasm" (1907,810). Literature describing "lesbic love" should be kept from "young girls and neuropathic women," the British psychiatrist Daniel Hack Tuke argued, because the sensations aroused would "enslave" them and "nymphomania itself" would be established (Tuke 1892,865; Thoinot 1911,465-68; Chauncey 1982-83).

Nymphomaniacs were driven to prostitution to satisfy their desires; prostitutes were often lesbians According to the New York gynaecologist Bernard Talmey, "It is known that Lesbianism is very prevalent among the prostitutes of Paris. ...One-fourth of all the prostitutes in Paris serve as tribadists for the rich women who patronise public houses" ([1904] 1912, 150-51).

Just as physicians assumed that an enlarged clitoris was the sign of nymphomaniacs and prostitutes, they drew attention to hypertrophy of the lesbian's clitoris, which was used, many believed, like a **** in the "imitation of coitus." This construction vividly illustrates the physicians' inability to conceive of the sexual act in any way other than a male, heterosexual model. Indeed, it was the presumed "inversion" of gender role by the "masculine" partner in a lesbian couple that most troubled the Victorians

The late nineteenth-century medical model of biologically based gender roles meant that women who stepped outside the norm were assumed to be diseased. These atavistic women who evidenced too much sexual desire, excessive sexual activity, or "inversion" of their assigned role severely challenged notions of innate female modesty and passivity. The Victorians believed that sexual restraint and adherence to highly differentiated gender roles were both evidence of and necessary for the continuation of the advanced level of civilization they had achieved. Lesbians, nymphomaniacs, and prostitutes - and by extension, suffragists, feminists, and the modern woman - were considered not only diseased, but dangerous as well (Lombroso and Ferrero 1897, 246; Thoinot 1911,469-70; Chauncey 1982-83).

Physicians were particularly upset by the sexual response of very young girls or old women. Too young or too old to reproduce, little girls' and post-menopausal women's sexual desires were considered by some doctors as signs of disease. In a case in 1894, Dr. A. J. Block decided that a thorough physical examination of a nine-year-old girl brought to him by her mother was needed to determine the degree of her perversion (diagnosed as **** tending toward nymphomania). He touched the **** and labia minora and got no response. "As soon as I reached the clitoris," he reported, "the legs were thrown widely open, the face became pale, the breathing short and rapid, the body twitched from excitement, slight groans came from the patient" (Block 1894, 3). Block stated emphatically that the child's violent response proved that the clitoris alone was responsible for her "disease." He performed a clitoridectomy (Block 1894).
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Veronica Poe
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« Reply #16 on: November 13, 2007, 12:47:34 am »

The autobiography of a nymphomaniac

Desperate women patients, embodying the cultural notion of what was appropriate for them to feel sexually, were described in the medical reports as begging doctors to operate on them or on their daughters because excessive sexuality had become unbearable. Unfortunately, these cases are told only from the physician's point of view. I have found only one case in the words of a woman who calls herself a nymphomaniac, and it, too, was mediated through the neurosurgeon, Charles K. Mills's presentation in 1885. The twenty-nine-year-old woman in "A Case of Nymphomania. ..The Patient's History as Told by Herself" incorporated many of the prevailing Victorian notions about nymphomania. She began her story by saying, "1 inherited from my mother a morbid disposition" (Mills 1885, 535). She recounted her attempts to exercise her will against the overpowering nature of the desire: "When I felt tempted, I would kneel and honestly pray to be kept from doing wrong, and then get up and do it [masturbate]; not because I wanted to, but because my life could not go on until the excitement was quieted" (Mills 1885,537). She struggled with the feelings, "At times I felt tempted to seek the company of men to gratify my passion, but was too modest" (Mills 1885, 535). She is "treated" by having her clitoris removed, "but it grew again. ...I tormented doctors to operate again" (Mills 1885,535). They did. "Since removal of the ovaries I have been able to control the desire when awake, but at times in my sleep I can feel something like an orgasm taking place" (Mills 1885,536).

Yet she was also aware of how her limited options had shaped her life. "I had not been educated as I wanted. I had earned my living by labour that occupied my hands, while my mind ambitiously dreamed of work that I would have to climb to. [In seven months in the hospital] I was not once troubled with the nymphomania [because she was studying nursing]; but when I had to give it up and go away, crushed with disappointment, with weakness and poverty. ..when I had to again spend my days in work that held no interest for me, the old morbid depression came back and with it the disease" (Mills 1885, 536). In general, however, the autobiography was permeated by her belief that her feelings of sexual desire were a sign of her disease. "[Even] while I was praying my body was so contorted with the disease that I could not get away from it even while seeking God's help" (Mills 1885,537).
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Veronica Poe
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« Reply #17 on: November 13, 2007, 12:48:22 am »


By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, discussions about nymphomania reflected increasing concern over the "New Woman's" greater independence and potential opportunity for sexual experience. Commentators feared the "proletarianization of sexuality" - that is, that middle- and upper-class women who left the safe confines of home to work or attend school would become like working-class women, who were perceived as inordinately lustful and as sexual opportunists.

The ideal of marriage itself would be transformed in the early twentieth century. Greater emphasis on female sexual pleasure as a measure of a successful marriage and a growing acceptance of the separation between reproduction and sexuality would lead to heightened concern about the nature of female sexuality. While Krafft-Ebing had argued in the 1880s that the "normal, untainted wife knows how to control herself" against the urges of unrequited love when a husband does not satisfy her, early twentieth century sexologists were not so sure (Krafft-Ebing [1886] 1965,84). The ideology of companionate marriage with its assumption of mutual sexual satisfaction contained potential risks. Too much sexual desire by the wife - "semi-nymphomania " according to one physician - obviously threatened the husband in ways in which the older notion of female passivity had not (Magian 1922, 76; Freedman 1982, 210; Seidman 1991, 85).

Furthermore, some authors began to focus on the potential ..masculinization" of women who stepped outside the boundaries of family and home. Career women, feminists, educated women who did not marry - a growing number at the turn of the century - were taking on male roles and potentially acquiring the "masculine" trait of aggressive sexual behavior. This concern about women's masculinization coincided with the development of new psychoanalytic theories that reasserted the essential passivity of female sexuality and underscored the notion that a mature, fulfilling sexual experience for a woman could only be achieved through vaginal orgasm in heterosexual intercourse (Freud [1905] 1962, 86-93). Eventually, those women who did not experience vaginal orgasm but maintained their sexual focus and excitement in the clitoris would be diagnosed by psychoanalysts as "frigid."

These new psychodynamic theories opened the way for an understanding of nymphomania as a symptom of a disordered psyche rather than as a biological disease. But they also allowed for a new interpretation of appropriate female sexuality, one in which the threat of a woman's being labelled "not a real woman" could be used to control women's sexual behavior, to shape it in the image of male pleasure, that is, vaginal orgasm.

This shift from a physiological to a psychological explanation of nymphomania during the twentieth century, with all its ramifications, remains to be explored. In the early part of the twentieth century, the pervasive belief that female reproductive organs could cause insanity through reflex action between the brain and pelvis began to be replaced by newer physiological models based on endocrinological discoveries. In addition, late nineteenth-century pessimistic psychological theories rooted in deterministic notions of degeneration and heredity would be superseded by more hopeful psychodynamic explanations. Biological models of nymphomania were not totally discarded, but psychological explanations that pointed to nymphomania as a personality disorder took precedence. New causes of nymphomania - such as an inadequate sense of self, repressed homosexuality, or incomplete psychosexual development - were introduced and psychotherapy recommended as the treatment.

Concerns about sexual desire itself were transformed in the twentieth century from a major focus on hypersexuality to a concentration on the syndrome called "ISD," inhibited sexual desire. Medical writers paid increasing attention to the theory that nymphomaniacs were actually frigid and did not experience orgasm, thus their "insatiability." In a future study, I plan to explore nymphomania and the relationship between twentieth-century biological and psychological theories, new constructions of the nature of women, and the changing realities of women's lives.

The medical diagnosis of nymphomania in the nineteenth century, constructed within a social and cultural context as well as within a scientific one, reflected and reproduced prevailing attitudes about appropriate behavior. Physicians, however, did not speak with a single voice: they did not agree on the nature of the disease, its extent, its treatment, or even what constituted normal female sexuality. In the overlapping and contradictory descriptions of nymphomania, in the intertwining of moral and medical explanations, these physicians reveal much about the nineteenth-century construction and understanding of female sexuality and the nature of women.

Department of History John Jay College, City University of New York
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Veronica Poe
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« Reply #18 on: November 13, 2007, 12:51:28 am »


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Veronica Poe
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« Reply #19 on: November 13, 2007, 12:52:45 am »

The point is (if you read the articles) that nymphomania is a myth created by doctors of the Victorian times because they didn't understand female sexuality. We are brainwashed today into thinking that it's an actual conditon. It isn't, just another creation. I thought that was interesting, anyway.


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