Sexology: A European science

Cover of La fisiologia del piacere (1880) by Paolo Mantegazza.

The word sexology is attested in English from the 1860s but took on its modern meaning as the science of sexuality only in the 1900s, initially in German (Sexualwissenschaft) and Dutch (seksuologie), and later in French, Spanish (sexología), and Italian (sessuologia). This interdisciplinary science drew on numerous medical specializations, the humanities and social sciences, and activist movements. It seeks to understand human sexuality and its development by distinguishing the “normal” from the pathological, and also deals with questions linked to reproduction and sexual health. A number of phases can be distinguished. The last third of the nineteenth century was that of “sexual psychopathology.” In the wake of sexual reform and eugenics, sexology underwent a new turning point during the interwar period. The discipline reinvented itself under American influence after the Second World War and entered into a handful of universities.