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Rethinking Sexology

The Cross-Disciplinary Invention of Sexuality: Sexual Science Beyond the Medical, 1890-1940

This interdisciplinary project at the University of Exeter seeks to rethink the history of sexual science, the mainly Western attempt to understand sex scientifically that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. It critiques the assumption that 'sexology' existed as a primarily medical field of knowledge. The research reconsiders how modern understandings of sexuality were constructed by scholars from across the human, social and medical sciences who began to work together to understand the biological, psychological and cultural dimensions of sexual behaviour.

Fascinated by historical and cultural variation, and driven by social and political debates, for example, about racial difference, the nature of civilization, the dangers of degeneration, or the problems of ‘Victorian repression’, sexual scientists examined sexual practices across history and around the world to make sense of their own society.

The questions they posed contributed significantly to the creation of categories through which we still understand sexuality today: what was normal or abnormal? What was pathological or healthy? What was the role of nature and nurture?

These novel historical perspectives provide insights into the challenges and potential of collaboration across research fields, issues that are central to the future of the Medical Humanities. Through engaging non-academic communities it draws on research findings to create new tools for working towards a fuller understanding of sexual health, sexuality and human behaviour today

Rethinking Sexology is funded by a Wellcome-Trust Joint Investigator Award. It is jointly directed by Professor Kate Fisher and Dr Jana Funke and is a Sexual Knowledge unit project.

See more on the project website and follow the project on Twitter.