Richard von Krafft-Ebing

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Richard von Krafft-Ebing

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902) was an Austro-German sexologist and psychiatrist.

Psychopathia Sexualis[edit]

Krafft-Ebing's most famous work is Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), a collection of bizarre sexual case histories and sex-crimes and their analysis from a medical point of view. Psychopathia Sexualis was one of the first books to study, in a "painstaking" manner, such sexual topics as the importance of clitoral orgasm and female sexual pleasure, consideration of the mental states of sexual offenders in judging their actions, and homosexuality. He followed in the footsteps of Heinrich Kaan in seeing sexual aberrant acts as "diseases of the mind" (medical view), rather than as "sins" (religious view) or "crimes" (legal view). His book became an authority on sexual aberrance, and arguably one of the most influential books on human sexuality before Freud's works. Krafft-Ebing was both praised for opening up a new area of much-needed psychological study, and condemned for immorality and justifying perversion.

Krafft-Ebing believed that the purpose of sexual desire was procreation, and that any form of desire that didn't go towards that ultimate goal was a perversion. Rape, for instance, was an aberrant act, but not a perversion, because pregnancy could result. He saw women as basically sexually passive, and recorded no female sadists or fetishists in his case studies. Behaviour that would be classified as masochism in men was categorized in women as "sexual bondage", which, because it did not interfere with procreation, was not a perversion.

After interviewing many homosexuals, both as their private doctors and as a forensic expert, and after reading some works in favour of homosexual rights (male homosexuality was a criminal offence in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time), Krafft-Ebing reached the conclusion, contrary to persistent popular belief, that homosexuals did not suffer from mental illness or perversion.

Krafft-Ebing also stated that masturbation leads to insanity and advised drastic methods to suppress it.

"Sadism" and "masochism"[edit]

In the 1901 revised edition of Psychopathia Sexualis, Krafft-Ebing coined the terms sadism and masochism. He derived these terms from the names of two authors who had written erotic novels about the pleasures of inflicting (Marquis de Sade), or receiving (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch), pain, humiliation, and cruel treatment.

Krafft-Ebing's terms "sadism" and "masochism" have entered common vocabulary. However their definition and meaning in medicine has been criticised, revised, and modified repeatedly since. The term sadomasochism was coined later in an attempt to accommodate the fact that the two phenomena seem to be not as separate as Krafft-Ebing had seen them, but instead, more like two sides of the same medal.

Currently (21st century), from a medical point of view, the average person who engages in BDSM play is not a sadist or masochist, or a sadomasochist, because these terms are now restricted to severe pathologic forms of the paraphilia.

However despite this fact, the BDSM community still largely uses the terms "sadism" and "masochism" to refer to themselves, even when they don't imply a soziopathic sexual disorder but in fact positive and healthy safe, sane and consensual kinky play and erotic fun.

The terms "sadism" and "masochism" have also entered common language, where their meaning has undergone further evolutions which can lead to more confusion. In contemporary common language, any act of cruelty can be thoughtlessly called "sadistic" even when there is no erotic scenario and no sexual pleasure behind it.

Psychopathia Sexualis, the movie[edit]

An American film Psychopathia Sexualis, based on Krafft-Ebing's work, was made in 2006, directed by Bret Wood.

See also[edit]