The History of 'Female Sexual Dysfunction' as a Mental Disorder in the 20th Century

Katherine Angel


Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2010;23(6):536-541. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Purpose of review To provide an overview of conceptualizations of female sexual problems, and 'Female Sexual Dysfunction' in particular, throughout the 20th century, especially in relation to psychiatry and mental illness.
Recent findings In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in both medical and public discourse about 'Female Sexual Dysfunction'. I discuss a variety of literature sources dealing with female sexual problems, where these are understood variously as problems of developmental psychopathology, as technical phenomena to be resolved through education, or as medical problems to be addressed pharmaceutically.
Summary The stigma of mental illness shapes much recent discussion of female sexual problems, as does the legacy of the postwar critique of psychodynamic psychiatry.


In the current debate about 'Female Sexual Dysfunction' (FSD), it is sometimes claimed that female sexual problems have not been scrutinized by the medical profession.[1•,2] This is far from the case, although much discussion in the 20th century has taken place in locations that some feel unsure about designating as 'medical'. In what follows I shall provide an overview of some key aspects of the conceptualization of female sexual problems during the course of the century, particularly in relation to psychiatry. My focus here is primarily the Anglo-American context.


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