- Nymphomania and Autogynephilia:
- The Invention of Mental Illnesses
- When thinking about the impact of Blanchard's
invention of the word "autogynephilia" for what
was previously called "transvestic fetishism", it is
useful to compare it with the earlier invention of the word "nymphomania",
- In both cases, invented words defined sexual paraphilia (i.e.,
a "mental illness"), and the words were then used to
stigmatize natural behaviors and to declare many women mentally
ill and in needing of psychiatric treatment.
- Thus we can learn a lot about the current problems with the
word "autogynephilia" by studying the story of the
rise and fall of the mental illness called nymphomania. That
was a very analogous situation, as you'll sense when reading
the Straight Dope essay (see below) on that subject.
- There are clear parallels between the social invention of
these two "mental illnesses". They both were invented
to explain and stigmatize behaviors that were found to be frightening
and inexplicable to the people of the day. They both led to enless,
almost cult-like scientific speculations by scientists who had
never met any such people, but who nevertheless had deep-seated
inner demons that drew them into the cult-like discussions.
- They are also similar in the way that some people came forward
and admitted being afflicted, some doing so for the public notoriety
involved - and also for the way that many women were publicly
outed without remorse and defamed for "obviously being nymphomaniacs"
(or autogynephiles as the case may be).
- The search for and public identification of suspected nyphomaniacs
(and autogynephiles) took the form of an ongoing witchhunt. This
had a way of suppressing any visible signs of such people, thus
suppressing signs of the behaviors that frightened people of
- There is also a more practical motivation for defining new
mental illnesses: Just as the psychiatrists did in past decades,
clinics such as the Clarke Institute (now the Center for Addiction
and Mental Health) push hard to define as many sex perversions
and addictions as possible, in order to insure funding from an
ongoing patient stream.
- Finally, consider the way that the Straight Dope essay about
- "...it seems stupid to characterize as an
illness what a lot of people would consider an accomplishment."
- Cecil Adams
- Those same words apply to many women whom Bailey, Blanchard
and Lawrence now stigmatize and publicly "out", claiming
that their science deems them to be "autogynephiles".
Those outings are remarkably like the outings as "nymphomaniacs"
years ago of any women known to actually enjoy sex.
- Doesn't it seem equally bizarre to call a woman who has successfully
completed a transsexual transition "a mentally ill sexual
paraphilic"? Especially when many of those women are doing
perfectly fine in their new lives? Heck, in many cases those
women are living more successful lives than Bailey, Blanchard
or Lawrence are! The BBL witchhunts seem especially stupid when
many people in our society now see a successful gender crossing
as an amazing personal accomplishment!
- Lynn Conway
from Cecil Adams cool essay in The Straight Dope:
- Is nymphomania a recognized medical condition,
and, if so, what is its definition?
- "...The nymphomaniac of legend was probably best defined
by sex research pioneer Alfred Kinsey: "someone who has
more sex than you do."
- Although wacky theories about female sexuality have circulated
since ancient times, as a medical diagnosis nymphomania is only
a couple centuries old. According to Carol Groneman, author of
Nymphomania : A History (2000), the concept of nymphomania was
first laid out by the French physician Bienville in his 1771
treatise, Nymphomania , or a Dissertation Concerning the Furor
Uterinus.? Among the behaviors Bienvillle cited as conducive
to or symptomatic of nymphomania : dwelling on impure thoughts,
reading novels, and eating too much chocolate. Oh, and indulging
in "secret pollutions" (masturbation).
- Scientific thought on the subject didn't advance much for
the next 175 years....
- ...Kinsey introduced an element of realism to the subject
with the publication of his landmark studies of male and female
sexuality, in 1948 and 1953 respectively. Although his work has
since been criticized on methodological grounds, Kinsey made
a serious attempt to ascertain the frequency of "sexual
outlet" in both sexes using surveys and other research tools.
Among his conclusions: terms like nymphomania , hypersexuality,
and so on had no scientific basis. Rates of sexual activity varied
widely among individuals and there was no readily distinguishable
point past which the frequency (or infrequency) of sex became
- ...By the 1970s, most sex researchers were willing to concede
that some women enjoyed frequent sex with multiple partners and
that there was nothing inherently abnormal about this. But a
few still felt justified in attaching the term nymphomania to
joyless, compulsive sex.
- Evolving views of nymphomania were reflected in the successive
editions of the American Psychiatric Association's official guide
to madness, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Nymphomania was listed as a "sexual deviation" in the
first DSM, published in 1951; by DSM-III (1980) it had become
a "psychosexual disorder," albeit a vaguely defined
one. Sensing the winds of change, or maybe just having watched
a few talk shows, the editors of DSM-III-R (revised third edition,
1987) dropped nymphomania and its equally quaint male counterpart,
Don Juanism, and replaced them with "distress about a pattern
of repeated sexual conquests or other forms of nonparaphilic
[nondeviant] sexual addiction." In DSM-IV (1994) even sexual
addiction was abandoned, perhaps because the non-gender-specific
nature of the term laid bare the speciousness of the whole project:
If men as well as women can be sex addicts, and if many male
victims (Bill Clinton, Joe Namath) are successful, admired, and
largely unrepentant, it seems stupid to characterize as an illness
what a lot of people would consider an accomplishment."