Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research

By Timothy F. Murphy | Go to book overview
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2 THE VALUE OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION RESEARCH

In the late nineteenth century and in a substantial portion of this century the opinion prevailed among a great many Western psychologists and medical practitioners that homoeroticism was a serious disorder of psychic and/or biological origin. For example, Richard von Krafft-Ebing 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis gave homoeroticism considerably more attention than even his most macabre accounts of corpse mutilation, bestiality, flagellation, and fetishes. 1 Despite the widespread nature of that view at the time, psychological or medical interest in the nature and origins of homoeroticism is nevertheless a cultural artifact novel to the nineteenth century, not a transhistorical opinion. Before that century medicine scarcely noticed homoeroticism let alone considered it fit for investigation. For the greatest part of Western history the origins of homoeroticism held no scientific interest whatsoever. This is not to say that homoeroticism was without moral, religious, and legal significance, only that until the nineteenth century biomedicine did not find homoeroticism interesting or legitimate as the object of inquiry.

Starting in that century characterizations of homoeroticism as a medical disorder quickly joined and sometimes supplanted prevailing social and ethical characterizations of homoeroticism, characterizations that had been couched almost exclusively in the language of morality and religion. Discursively speaking, medical terminology displaced moral characterizations and became constitutive of homoeroticism itself: homosexuality was construed as inherently pathological as a disease in its own right or as a symptom of underlying disease. This historical shift of perspective did not occur in a vacuum. During the rise of scientia sexualis the social authority of medicine was beginning to coalesce into

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