Female sexual dysfunction

Medicalising desire

Authored by: Annemarie Jutel , Barbara Mintzes

Routledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138225473
eBook ISBN: 9781315399584
Adobe ISBN:


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Female biological function has long figured as the focus of medicine. The womb has been held responsible for many maladies, from convulsive distempers to hysteria and psychopathy. Sydenham (1850: 56), the great classifier of disease, considered hysteria to be, next to fever, the ‘commonest’ disease of his day. Victorian society was fixated on how menstruation fragilised a particular class of society woman and restricted her engagement in physical activity and social leadership (Vertinsky 1994). George J. Engelmann (1900: 9–10), president of the American Gynecological Association, explained the tyranny of female physiology in his 1900 address to the association:

Many a young life is battered and forever crippled in the breakers of puberty if it crosses these unharmed and is not dashed to pieces on the rock of childbirth, it may still ground on the ever-recurring shallows of menstruation, and, lastly, upon the final bar of the menopause ere protection is found in the unruffled waters of the harbor beyond the reach of the sexual storms.

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