The mere fact that American society's perception of female sexuality has changed so much over the past three centuries is proof that this topic is an important one to investigate.
Medical writers paid increasing attention to the theory that nymphomaniacs wereactually frigid and did not experience orgasm, thus their "insatiability."In a future study, I plan to explore nymphomania and the relationship betweentwentieth-century biological and psychological theories, new constructions ofthe nature of women, and the changing realities of women's lives.
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Physicians, however, did not speak with a single voice: they did notagree on the nature of the disease, its extent, its treatment, or even whatconstituted normal female sexuality.
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These atavistic women who evidenced too muchsexual desire, excessive sexual activity, or "inversion" of theirassigned role severely challenged notions of innate female modesty andpassivity.
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One form this took was warnings to other doctors about the femalepatient as "seductress": a nymphomaniac who sought to entice thephysician into a gynaecological exam, demanding that a speculum or a catheterbe inserted as a means of sexual gratification.
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In the overlapping and contradictorydescriptions of nymphomania, in the intertwining of moral and medicalexplanations, these physicians reveal much about the nineteenth-centuryconstruction and understanding of female sexuality and the nature of women.
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Rather, this method of treatment reflected theconfluence of a particular construction of the female, the development of"safe" and anaesthetised surgery, and the desire by gynaecologists toconsolidate their professional position by establishing themselves as theexperts who could diagnosis, treat, and cure these elusive female disorders.
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In particular, I will focus on the shifts and confusions inthe medical profession's conceptualization and treatment of this disease toreveal the tensions in the attitudes toward female sexual desire and the natureof female sexuality at the end of the nineteenth century.
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"Black Bodies, White Bodies:Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art,Medicine and Literature." Critical Inquiry 12(1):204-42.