John Money, 1921-2006

By Melby, Todd | Contemporary Sexuality, January 2007 | Go to article overview

John Money, 1921-2006

Melby, Todd, Contemporary Sexuality

Gender, controversy and groundbreaking work

John Money, a towering figure in the world of sexology, died in 2006. He was 84.

Money, PhD, a professor for decades at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is credited with defining several major concepts in the field, including gender, lovemaps and paraphilias.

A native of New Zealand who came to the U.S. after World War II, Money earned his doctoral degree from Harvard University in 1952. He was the author of more than 40 books and author or co-author of hundreds of academic papers.

"John challenged people's thinking," said Sandra Cole, PhD, University of Michigan Medical School professor. "He had different ways of looking at the human condition."

Those ideas were not without controversy. In the last years of his life, Money was the object of scorn for his role in the infamous John/Joan twins case.

Gender, gender identity and gender roles

Prior to the 1950s, gender was a linguistic term, not a sociological or scientific one. In his Harvard doctoral dissertation, "Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into the Nature of a Human Paradox," Money began discussing the concept of gender roles. By 1955, he had expanded it to include gender identity/roles.

"We have huge fields of studies developed around gender, yet we forget that before John Money those fields didn't exist," said Greg Lehne, PhD, a John Hopkins University professor.

In 1964, Money and Anke Ehrhardt, PhD, published Man & Woman, Boy & Girl, a book that fully describes his ideas about gender, gender identity and gender roles. "Gender role signifies all the ways, nongenital as well as genital, in which masculinity and feminity are privately experienced and publicly manifested, irrespective of genital disability," Money wrote in 1987.

Added Money: "This book was different from any sexological writings that preceded it, insofar as its guiding concept was not simply the determinant of sexual or reproductive behavior, but of differentiation as masculine or feminine, or maybe androgynous."

June Reinisch, PhD, director emerita at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, said Money's gender concepts are as important as Sigmund Freud's identification of the ego, id and super-ego.

"It's that big," Reinisch said. "His thinking was revolutionary. He really invented the concept of gender identity and gender roles."

Money, the personality

Both Lehne and Reinisch point to Money's curiosity and wide-ranging interests - aboriginal sculpture, painting, anthropology, dyslexia as keys to his impact on sexuality. He noticed similarities in diverse subject areas. Lehne compared him to 19th century scholars known for writing beyond narrow, specialized disciplines. Reinisch called him a "full-out genius."

Added Julia Heiman, PhD, current Kinsey Institute director, "Money's work will be followed and reinterpreted with vigor and interest over the next decades as was throughout his remarkable academic career."

Except for vacations, Money labored long hours every day of the week. A brief marriage ended in divorce. He had no children.

"He literally worked 16 hours a day," Reinisch said. "That was his life."

In writing Man & Woman, Boy & Girl, Money's strong work ethic was on display, if one happened to stroll past his Baltimore home in the still hours of the night. "I recall summer evenings that year," he later wrote, "Sitting in the yard of my historic rowhouse in the Johns Hopkins neighborhood, fighting with words, paragraphs and concepts until 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., never having enough uninterrupted time, but finally winning!"

As an author, Money didn't budge on choosing words or book titles. Reinisch remembers trying to coax him into writing a mainstream sexuality book - he wouldn't. Vern Bullough, who edited Venuses Penuses, a collection of essays and other writings, attempted to get him to change the title of that 1986 collection. …

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