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Unnatural bodies : the development of categories of sexual deviancy in medical treatises and popular sexologies on generation, 1675-1725



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This project report analyzes the emergence of categories of sexual deviancy as they appear in selected medical treatises from the eighteenth century. Terms such as homosexual or lesbian were not yet available in medical or public discourse but the early modern writers did use a variety of other references to establish the existence of such categories. For instance, one might label deviants as hermaphrodites, eunuchs, sodomites, or monsters to describe what were perceived as “unnatural” forms of sexual expression which ostensibly posed a threat to the social order largely because they were not procreative, but also because of the fear that they might produce children of the same ilk. Moreover, the sudden explosion in scientific and medical knowledge during the Enlightenment created a need for the organization and classification of such knowledge, as well as a fascination with anomalies and how they might be cured. My argument is that four of these deviant categories—the chronic masturbator, tribades or hermaphrodites, “mollies” (or effeminate male homosexuals), and eunuchs—were considered unnatural because they fell outside normative prescriptions of acceptable sexual conduct that was based primarily on pro-natal and pro-nutpial ideologies. I rely on experts in eighteenth-century scholarship, such as Rictor Norton, Randolph Trumbach, Thomas Laqueur, Robert Darby, Thomas A. King, and George Rousseau, to inform my discussion of writings from this period. Although contemporary scholars in this field have made significant contributions to our knowledge of early modern understandings of sexual deviancy, relatively few of them seem to have investigated how medical treatises on generation provided a scientific basis for the marginalization of specific types of people. By identifying these types under the larger category of generation, I argue that these medical texts and popular sexologies function as vehicles of social control by emphasizing that the only legitimate form of sexual expression was within the context of marriage and that its sole purpose was for reproduction.



Eunuchs, Social control, Unnatural, Hermaphrodites, Gender, Eighteenth-century sexuality, Masturbation, Homosexuality



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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