RICHARD VON KRAFFT-EBING, German psychologist, born (d. 1902). His book Psychopathia Sexualis (“Psychopathy of Sex”) became his best-known work. He wrote the book, intended as a forensic reference for doctors and judges, in high academic tone and in the introduction noted that he had “deliberately chosen a scientific term for the name of the book to discourage lay readers”. In the first edition in 1886, Krafft-Ebing divided sexual deviance into four categories: paradoxia, sexual desire at the wrong time of life, i.e. childhood or old age; anesthesia, insufficient desire; hyperesthesia, excessive desire; paraesthesia, sexual desire for the wrong goal or object. This included homosexuality (or “contrary sexual desire”), sexual fetishism, sadism, masochism, pederasty and so on.
Krafft-Ebing believed that the purpose of sexual desire was procreation, and 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, since pregnancy could result. Krafft-Ebing saw women as basically sexually passive and recorded no female sadists or fetishists in his case studies. Behavior that would be classified as masochism in men was categorized as “sexual bondage” in women, which was not a perversion, again because such behavior did not interfere with procreation.
After interviewing many homosexuals, both as his private patients and as a forensic expert, and reading some works in favor of gay rights (male homosexuality had become a criminal offence in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire by that time; unlike lesbianism, but discrimination against lesbians functioned equally), Krafft-Ebing reached the conclusion that both male and female homosexuals did not suffer from mental illness or perversion (as persistent popular belief held), and became interested in the study of the subject.
Krafft-Ebing elaborated an evolutionist theory considering homosexuality as an anomalous process developed during the gestation of the embryo and fetus, evolving into a sexual inversion of the brain. Some years later, in 1901, he corrected himself in an article published in the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, changing the term anomaly to differentiation.
But his final conclusions remained forgotten for years, partly because Sigmund Freud’s theories captivated the attention of those that considered homosexuality a psychological problem (the majority at the time), and partly because Krafft-Ebing had incurred some enmity from the Austrian Catholic church by associating the desire for sanctity and martyrdom with hysteria and masochism (besides denying the perversity of homosexuals).
Some years later Krafft-Ebing’s theory led other specialists on mental studies to reach the same conclusion and to the study of transgenderism (or transsexuality) as another differentiation correctable by means of surgery (rather than by psychiatry or psychology). Reputable contemporary psychiatrists no longer consider homosexuality as pathological (as Krafft-Ebing did in his first studies): partly due to new conceptions, and partly due to Krafft-Ebing’s own self-correction.