How sexology became a science!

esa-tetra-kama-sutra
(Photo credit: Satyrika)


SEX, something that consumes everyone's existence at a given point in life. It is the key to our existence, and a means to our survival. Sex is as basic as food and water itself. Its safe to say that we as a species are curious about anything related to sex. But why was sexology such a late bloomer in science. Lets find out.

Have you heard about Vatsyayana? It wont be surprising if you have never heard that name before. So, let me ask you this, have you heard about the Kama Sutra? Yes, very likely you have heard about the book of love making from the exotic land of India. And the man who authored this oldest known manual on sexual practices- well, yes- Vatsyayana.

While we silently thank the Kama Sutra every single time we stumble upon an inevitable bump of lacklustre in our bedrooms, we so often just ignore the great mind that wrote it in the first place. So here is to Vatsyayana, the humble guru, the forgotten sage, who explored the mysterious realms of eroticism and put in plain and simple text so that generations and society could benefit from it.

So why did Vatsyayana write the book in the first place? Story goes that Vatsyayana was compelled to write the manuscript on sex because of a freak love making incident that involved a royalty (King Satakarni) who struck his queen in an act of passion, which lead to her inevitable death. Now to warn people about the dangers and educate them on the behaviour that is expected, out of ones sexual partner, Vatsyayana wrote the Kamasutra. Now that really gets you thinking about ancient India and how 'kinky' was very much the norm then! Your bed buddy dying on you because of some freak accident in the bed room was just run of the mill. (Way to go Kinky Ancient India!) 

So, educating people on sex was Vatsyayana’s motive, and if you do get the opportunity to read the Kama Sutra, you will be pleasantly surprised. Apart from the very hyped and over rated encyclopaedia of sexual positions, the Kama Sutra also has a lot of tips and lessons of how to carry on a proper marriage, which includes trifle things like cleanliness, coping with loneliness and how to punish a cheating husband. But this text, this holy grail, if you like, for the fully functional sexual adult, was only for the benefit of the eastern world, until the late nineteenth century. The first popular translation of the Kama Sutra that took the western world by storm was the one from Sir Richard Francis Burton. Well until then, its safe to assume that the missionary position ruled the world (except for the east of course).

The conservationist society that the western world was back then, the translation from Sir Burton came under
Sir Richard Francis Burton
fire, from the government. But whatever is controversial will spread and so it did. But this article is not so much about the Kama Sutra and sex but about the people who brought sex to the academia and made it a legitimate (non smirking, and non-oohing ahhaing ) serious topic of conversation and also the topic of study.

Similar to the Kama Sutra, manuscripts written by Philaenis (believed to have existed between 3rd-1st century BC), a courtesan living in Greece, carry detailed accounts of her courtship is believed to have heavily influenced the Ars Amatoria written by the famous Roman poet Ovid. While it is ok to credit the Kama Sutra or the Ars Amatoria, as the oldest self-help books to sexual practices, satisfaction and contentment, they are not necessarily, the emergence of a scientific approach and methodology to sex and sexual practices.  

The influence of science on sex and sexual practices was seen much, much later. In fact, the first study and wide scale research done on sex was published in 1837, which involved an in-depth study on 3,558 prostitutes in Paris. Alexander Jean Baptiste Parent-Duchatelet’s work, published posthumously was a compilation of eight years of ardent research, which today, is regarded as the first sex survey that carried sociological weightage.  
After that there were a few men that braved the road between carnal pleasures and science and looked at the whole act with a keen scientific eye. It is these brave men who brought sex to the academic forefront. 

One of those men was Havelock Ellis, the founding father of Sexology, the man who challenged taboos that Victorian society associated with human sexuality. Being sexually vocal, explicit and bold, is considered a little off-putting even in today’s time and age; imagine being someone who just released a book about masturbation and homosexuality (a term he coined). Ellis is known to have uncovered a lot of sexual phenomena, which we consider quite normal today. It is interesting, however, that despite being termed a 'pioneer in sexology', his personal life, was quite unusual. He was a virgin till 32 and was in an open marriage with a lesbian. Now that’s interesting!

Magnus Hirschfeld is also considered one of the pioneers of Sexology, and is regarded as the first to openly speak about homosexual and transgender rights (transvestite was the term coined by him), and is even called the “Einstein of Sex”. The works of Richard von Krafft-Ebing- in the Psychopathia Sexualis, is also regarded as the foundation of sexology itself. These men pumped in the much needed fuel that propelled the field of Sexology, as we know it today.

Alfred Kinsey
While Ellis, Magnus and Richard may have turned on the heat, in black and white- tight collared west, temperatures of scientific inquiry into everything sexual plummeted down to sub-zero after the Second World War. Taboos got reinstated, even more firmly than before the War, and all the ground breaking progress achieved just decades ago, was facing serious treat. It was not until Alfred Kinsey, a humble America biology Professor, that sex and sexology, got a new wave of academic interest.

Kinsey’s academic interest was gall wasps, but like all unsuspecting biology teachers, he was made to take a class on Sex-Ed at the University of Indiana, the one class that would change his career interest. Soon enough he realised how little was published in the scientific community about normal sexual behaviour and practices. The course soon became one of the most popular courses at the University and Kinsey became a Science Rockstar. Alfred Kinsey is credited to bring the scientific inquiry (and interest) back into sex. Kinsey is credited to bust notions like – women don’t masturbate, and answering questions like how many times is normal to masturbate? He is also known for inventing the Kinsey scale – that measures homosexual tendencies of an individual (used even today).

Speaking about sex, carries its own set of awkwardness. It is hard to imagine how these brave men managed to stand on top of their roofs and ask simple questions like – why do we have urges like we do, and what is normal- something that we still can’t get a hang of even today; but whatever we do know today, its thanks to men who were not afraid to ask.
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