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Historical Perspectives of Sexual Dysfunctions

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  • 0:10 Sexual Dysfunction
  • 1:12 Historical Views
  • 3:27 Classification and…
  • 5:20 Summary
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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When otherwise healthy adults can't enjoy sex, they are suffering from a sexual dysfunction. Throughout history, there have been many different views of the types and causes of sexual dysfunction. In this lesson, we'll explore historical perspectives of sexual problems.

Sexual Dysfunction

Nora has a problem. She loves her boyfriend Jake very much, but every time they try to have sex, she experiences pain. As a result, she stopped trying to be intimate with him. Carl and his wife Susan have always had a happy, healthy love life, but recently, Carl is unable to get an erection. He feels stressed and embarrassed about the problem. Anya, meanwhile, doesn't feel desire at all. Even when she sees a really attractive person, she's just not interested in sex.

Nora, Carl and Anya are all experiencing different types of sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction is a condition that prevents someone from enjoying normal sexual activities. There are many types of sexual dysfunction, including disorders that involve not feeling desire, disorders that involve feeling desire but not being able to follow through on it and disorders that involve experiencing pain during sexual intercourse.

Sexual dysfunction has been viewed differently throughout history and across different cultural lenses. Let's take a quick walk through history to see how views about sexual dysfunction have changed and continue to evolve.

Historical Views

Ideas about sex have changed throughout the past few centuries, and as you can imagine, so have ideas about sexual dysfunction. Take Anya, for example: She doesn't feel desire. In centuries past, this might have been considered normal for a woman. Many people used to believe that women weren't supposed to feel desire; that was a masculine trait.

However, during the 19th century, people recognized that women should feel some level of desire. The clinical term for women who didn't experience desire was frigid. Sigmund Freud and his followers believed that frigidity in people like Anya was a result of repressed desires.

Unlike Anya, Carl's problem of erectile dysfunction was likely to be viewed as a medical issue as far back as the Middle Ages. But as history progressed, impotence was seen more and more to be a result of psychological problems. Freud would have seen Carl's problems as being due to an unresolved Oedipal complex. That is, Carl never outgrew the phase of life when he was in love with his mother, and therefore, can't 'get it up' for other women.

For much of history, including most of the 20th century, sexual dysfunction was simply relegated to frigidity and impotence. But in 1970, William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson published a book on sexual dysfunction that further defined both cases and causes of dysfunction. They promoted treating couples together, not simply individuals, which was a departure from the norm.

As medical technology has advanced, scientists have started to understand the complex interactions of physical and psychological issues surrounding sexual dysfunction. Remember Nora? She experiences pain whenever she and her boyfriend have sex. There's an underlying physical issue involved in Nora's pain, but she also feels depressed about it, which can cause even less stimulation and even more pain.

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