Scholars in gender and sexuality studies have largely ignored or dismissed attempts to explain the causes of sexual deviation for a variety of reasons. In this podcast, Fellow Benjamin Kahan discusses how his work, exploring “the historical etiology of sexuality,” moves past those scholars’ dismissal of early sexuality theories in hopes of producing a fuller understanding of how contemporary attitudes and notions about sexuality developed. By considering lost models of sexuality and sexual aberration—dating back to the 1840s—Kahan describes the emergence of ideas that can be found in the work of researchers such as Havelock Ellis as well as in the writings of authors like Djuna Barnes and Virginia Woolf.
Benjamin Kahan is an assistant professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University. He is the author of Celibacies: American Modernism and Sexual Life (2013) and the editor of Heinrich Kaan’s “Psychopathia Sexualis” (1844): A Classic Text in the History of Sexuality (2016). This year, as a Fellow at the Center, his project is Sexual Etiologies and the Great Paradigm Shift.