Psychopathia Sexualis

Psychopathia Sexualis leads here. For other uses, see Psychopathia Sexualis (disambiguation)
Richard, Baron von Krafft-Ebing
Born 14 August 1840 (1840-08-14)
Mannheim, Baden, Germany
Died 22 December 1902 (1902-12-23) (aged 62)
Graz, Austria-Hungary
Nationality Austro-German
Fields Psychiatry
Alma mater University of Heidelberg
Known for Psychopathia Sexualis

Richard Freiherr[1] von Krafft-Ebing (14 August 1840 – 22 December 1902) was an Austro–German psychiatrist and author of the foundational work Psychopathia Sexualis.

Krafft-Ebing, born in Mannheim, Germany, studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg, where he specialized in psychiatry. He later practiced in psychiatric asylums. After leaving his work in asylums, he pursued a career in psychiatry, forensics, and hypnosis.

Principal work

Krafft-Ebing's principal work is Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study), which was first published in 1886 and expanded in subsequent editions. The last edition from the hand of the author (the twelfth) contained a total of 238 case histories of human sexual behaviour.

This book popularized the terms sadism (derived from the brutal sexual practices depicted in the novels of Marquis de Sade) and masochism (derived from the name of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch), although these terms apparently were in use prior to its publication.[2]

Psychopathia Sexualis is a forensic reference book for psychiatrists, physicians, and judges. Written in an academic style, its introduction noted that, to discourage lay readers, the author had deliberately chosen a scientific term for the title of the book and that he had written parts of it in Latin for the same purpose.

Psychopathia Sexualis was one of the first books about sexual practices that studied homosexuality/bisexuality. It proposed consideration of the mental state of sex criminals in legal judgements of their crimes. During its time, it became the leading medico–legal textual authority on sexual pathology.

The first edition of Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) presented four categories of what Krafft-Ebing called "cerebral neuroses":

  • paradoxia — sexual desire at the wrong time of life
  • anesthesia — insufficient sexual desire
  • hyperesthesia — excessive sexual desire
  • paraesthesia — misdirected sexual desire (e.g., homosexuality/bisexuality, sexual fetishism, sadism, masochism, and pedophilia)

Krafft-Ebing considered procreation the purpose of sexual desire and that any form of recreational sex was a perversion of the sex drive. Hence, he concluded that homosexuals suffered a degree of sexual perversion because homosexual practices could not result in procreation. In some cases, homosexual libido was classified as a moral vice induced by the early practice of masturbation.[3] Krafft-Ebing proposed a theory of homosexuality as biologically anomalous and originating in the embryonic and fetal stages of gestation, which evolved into a "sexual inversion" of the brain. In 1901, in an article in the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen (Yearbook of Sexual Intermediate Stages), he changed the biological term from anomaly to differentiation.

Krafft-Ebing perceived women as sexually passive, and thus he recorded no sexual case studies of sadistic or fetishistic women.

Krafft-Ebing’s conclusions about homosexuality are now largely forgotten, partly because Sigmund Freud’s theories were more interesting to physicians (who considered homosexuality to be a psychological problem) and partly because he incurred the enmity of the Austrian Catholic Church when he psychologically associated martyrdom (a desire for sanctity) with hysteria and masochism. Moreover, in a footnote added to the 1915 edition of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Sigmund Freud urged that homosexuals not be segregated from mainstream society.[4]


  • Die Melancholie: Eine klinische Studie (1874) OCLC 180728044
  • Grundzüge der Kriminalpsychologie für Juristen (second edition, 1882) OCLC 27460358
  • Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (first edition, 1886)
  • Die progressive allgemeine Paralyse (1894) OCLC 65980497
  • Nervosität und neurasthenische Zustände (1895) OCLC 9633149


  • Dr. Domino Falls translated and edited the case histories in Psychopathia Sexualis:The Case Histories (1997) ISBN 978-0-9820464-7-0.

Charles Gilbert Chaddock translated four of Krafft-Ebing's books into English:

  • An Experimental Study in the Domain of Hypnotism (New York and London, 1889)
  • Psychosis Menstrualis (1902)
  • Psychopathia Sexualis (twelfth edition, 1903)
  • Text Book of Insanity (1905)

See also

Sexuality portal
Biography portal
Austria portal
Germany portal




  • Heinrich Ammerer: Am Anfang war die Perversion. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychiater und Pionier der modernen Sexualkunde. Styria premium 2011 in der Verlagsgruppe Styria GmbH & Co KG, Wien-Graz-Klagenfurt, ISBN 978-3-222-13321-3.
  • Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), reprinted by Bloat Books, 1999. ISBN 0-9650324-1-8
  • Oosterhuis, Harry. Stepchildren of Nature (2000), University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-63059-5
  • Mackenzie. Transgender Nation (1994), Bowling Green State University Popular Press. ISBN 0-87972-596-6
  • Jörg Hutter. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, in Homosexualität. Handbuch der Theorie- und Forschungsgeschichte (Editor Rüdiger Lautmann), Campus Verlag, Frankfurt and New York 1993. Pages 48–54. ISBN 3-593-34747-4
  • Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing, Eine Studienreise durch Südeuropa 1869/70, Leykam Buchverlag, Graz (A) 2000, ISBN 3-7011-7426-1
  • Peter Weibel (ED.) Phantom of Desire, Visions of Masochism, Essays and Texts, Neue Galerie Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum (English supplement), Graz (A) 2003, Pages 36–38. ISBN 3-936298-24-6
  • Savoia, Paolo. Sexual Science and Self-Narrative: epistemology and narrative technologies of the self between Krafft-Ebing and Freud, History of the Human Sciences, 23 (5), 2010

External links

  • An early English translation available at

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