Heinrich Kaan's "Psychopathia Sexualis" (1844)
A Classic Text in the History of Sexuality
"With Heinrich Kaan's book we have then what could be called the date of birth, or in any case the date of the emergence, of sexuality and sexual aberrations in the psychiatric field."⎯Michel Foucault, Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974–1975
Heinrich Kaan’s fascinating work—part medical treatise, part sexual taxonomy, part activist statement, and part anti-onanist tract—takes us back to the origins of sexology. He links the sexual instinct to the imagination for the first time, creating what Foucault called “a unified field of sexual abnormality.” Kaan’s taxonomy consists of six sexual aberrations: masturbation, pederasty, lesbian love, necrophilia, bestiality, and the violation of statues. Kaan not only inaugurated the field of sexology, but played a significant role in the regimes of knowledge production and discipline about psychiatric and sexual subjects.
As Benjamin Kahan argues in his Introduction, Kaan’s text crucially enables us to see how homosexuality replaced masturbation as the central concern of Euro-American sexual regulation. Kaan’s work (translated into English for the first time here) opens a new window onto the history of sexuality and the history of sexology and reconfigures our understanding of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s book of the same name, published some forty years later.
Benjamin Kahan is Assistant Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University. He is the author of Celibacies: American Modernism and Sexual Life.