Macquarie University
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Conceptions of nymphomania in British medicine 1790-1900

posted on 2022-03-28, 21:28 authored by Clair Scrine
In nineteenth-century British medical discourse, nymphomania was understood as a disorder of excessive or insatiable erotic desire. It did not refer, as many assume, to a woman's frequent sexual intercourse. This thesis traces how excessive erotic desire in women constituted a somatic disorder in the eyes of physicians. It explores the central role accorded both the clitoris and beliefs about the female body in physicians' understanding of this disorder. Generations of physicians subscribed to the view that the clitoris was inherently dysfunctional, and that woman was innately prone to disorder. This examination seeks to understand why this was so. For physicians in the nineteenth century, nymphomania raised a number of contradictions. The incongruity they confronted arose from a clash between the legacy of medical thinking about woman they inherited, and social preoccupations of their age. Women were considered weak, irrational, lacking control and prone to immoderate erotic desire. Yet at the same time, they were expected to repress their natural urges, and strictly control their behaviour. Examining the way nymphomania was conceived offers insight into the complexities surrounding women's sexuality that so pervaded the nineteenth century. At the same time, it also shows how nineteenth century medical discourse not only supported dominant expectations about woman, but fundamentally challenged such ideals.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Female excess: early medical conceptions of women's erotic desire -- Defining excess in the age of restraint: the modern conception of nymphomania -- Women and nineteenth century medical discourse: conceiving the disordered sex -- Dangerous desires: controlling women's sexual excess -- The urge to cut: treating nymphomania -- Challenging the science of women: rethinking nymphomania -- Sex in mind, sex in body: nymphomania at the end of the Nineteenth century -- Conclusion.


Bibliography: p. 305-333

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Humanities, Dept. of Modern History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Mary Spongberg


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Clair Scrine 2003.




Great Britain


vii, 333 p

Former Identifiers

mq:9041 1389673