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Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing with his wife Marie Luise

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing[1] (August 14 1840 – December 22 1902) was an Austro-German psychiatrist who wrote Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), a famous study of sexual perversity, and remains well-known for his coinage of the term sadism (after the Marquis de Sade). He also coined the term masochism using the name of a contemporary writer, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose partially autobiographical novel Venus in Furs tells of the protagonist's desire to be whipped and enslaved by a beautiful woman.

Krafft-Ebing was born in Mannheim, Baden, Germany, educated in Prague, Austria-Hungary (now in the Czech Republic), and studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg.

After Krafft-Ebing graduated in medicine and finished his specialisation in psychiatry, he worked in several asylums, but he soon felt that the way those institutions worked deceived him and decided to become an educator. He became a professor at Strasbourg, Graz and Vienna, and also a forensic expert at the Austrian capital. He was a popularizer of psychiatry, giving public lectures on the subject as well as theatrical demonstrations of the power of hypnotism.

Psychopathia Sexualis[]

Krafft-Ebing wrote and published several articles on psychiatry, but 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 "delibrately chosen a scientific term for the name of the book to discourage lay readers". He also wrote "sections of the book in Latin for the same purpose". Despite this, the book was highly popular with lay readers and it went through many printings and translations.

In the first edition of PS 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. Behaviour that would be classified as masochism in men was categorized as "sexual bondage" in women, which was not a perversion, again because such behaviour did not interfere with procreation.

After interviewing many homosexuals, both as his private patients and as a forensic expert, and reading some works in favour 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).

Note that most contemporary psychiatrists no longer consider homosexual practices 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.

Trivia about Psychopathia Sexualis[]

  • The book reached 12 editions in his lifetime.
  • Parts were written in Latin, in its 2nd printing, due to demand for the book by lay-people for (presumably) less than academic purposes. Some publishers translated those passages back into other languages.
  • This was one of the first books to study, in a "painstaking" manner, sexual topics such as the importance of clitoral orgasm and female sexual pleasure, consideration of the mental states of sexual offenders in judging their actions, and the first scientific discussion of homosexuality.
  • It was for decades an authority on sexual aberrance, and arguably one of the most influential books on human sexuality prior to Freud.
  • The author was praised and condemned for the book - praised for opening up a new area of much-needed psychological study, condemned for immorality and justifying perversion.


  1. Note regarding personal names: Freiherr is a title, translated as Baron, not a first or middle name. The female forms are Freifrau and Freiin.



Baron von Kraft-Ebbing wrote numerous books, including:
  • Die Melancholie: Eine klinische Studie, (1874);
  • Grundzüge der Kriminalpsychologie für Juristen, (Second edition) (1882);
  • Die progressive allgemeine Paralyse, (1894);
  • Nervosität und neurasthenische Zustände. (1895).
Four of his books appear in English translations by Craddock:
  • An Experimental Study in the Domain of Hypnotism, (New York and London, 1889);
  • Psychosis Menstrualis, (1902);
  • Psychopathia Sexualis, (Twelfth edition, 1903);
  • Text Book of Insanity, (1905).

See also[]

External links[]

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