Rethinking Gendered Perversion and Degeneration in Visions of Sadism and Masochism, 1886-1930

University of Texas Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of the History of Sexuality, 2009, 18 (1), pp. 138 - 157
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A large range of texts from the late nineteenth century through the early twentieth century from authoritative medical and psychiatric writings to popular novels and erotica viewed latent masochism as the natural sexuality of women, regarding its manifestation in mens fantasies as aberrant, effeminate, and degenerate. Another ongoing discussion also elaborated a kind of sadistic or masochistic perversion that followed apparently normative gender roles and yet developed them to a hypernormative extent. This article considers how we might account for this apparent contradiction in late-nineteenth-century texts, looking at how the various images of such desires were related to atavistic explanations of perversion. It then tracks the movement of discourses about sadism, masochism, and gender roles into texts produced in the interwar period, noting how degenerationist motifs were perpetuated in new anxieties about the hypernormative perversions of female masochism and frigidity.
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