Nathan Ha – Kurt Freund, Penile Plethysmography, and Late-Twentieth Century Sexology

october, 2012

22oct4:00 pm5:00 pmNathan Ha - Kurt Freund, Penile Plethysmography, and Late-Twentieth Century Sexology

Event Details

Nathan Ha is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at ISG.

Abstract: In the 1960s, Kurt Freund, a Czechoslovakian-Canadian psychiatrist, developed the penile plethysmograph, a device that measured penile tumescence. Freund and other adopters of the device claimed that it reliably indicated sexual arousal, and thus, it could be used to gauge a man’s sexual preferences. Over the ensuing decades, researchers used the device to study, identify, and treat institutionalized homosexuals, pedophiles, and rapists. The history of the plethysmograph remains untold and is valuable in at least three possible ways. First, Freund’s intellectual biography and the institutional history of the Clarke Institute, where he worked, demonstrates how sexologists continually balanced psychoanalytic, behaviorist, and more biologically-oriented approaches against each other as they formulated new understandings of sexual deviance in the latter decades of the twentieth-century. Second, the story of Freund and the plethysmograph will help us to understand how homosexuality transitioned from its status as a psychiatric disorder to a biological essence located in hormones and then later in genes. Third, this history allows us to explore late-twentieth century concerns over masculinity. This research will analyze how Freund’s research participated in and addressed questions about male sexuality raised not only by scientists, legal officials, and the media, but also by feminists and queer commentators during the sexually charged, closing decades of the last century.



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