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Loss of Innocence: The Shaping of Childhood Sexuality around 1900

Tuesday, 1st December (Week 9)
5.00 pm – Ramphal Building Room R.014
Dr Lutz Sauerteig (Durham)
Loss of Innocence: The Shaping of Childhood Sexuality around 1900
Around 1900 a new interest in the sexuality of children emerged. Whereas sexual activities by children had previously been understood in the context of pathologies, this began to change around 1900 when infant and childhood sexuality was conceptualised as part of a child’s normal development. The work of Sigmund Freud, with his claim of the existence of sexual feeling in children and his psychoanalytical theories surrounding infantile sexuality, has often been perceived to be of critical importance in this transition. In this narrative, Sigmund Freud is generally portrayed to be the person who introduced the notion of sexuality as central to and normal in childhood. However, as my paper intends to demonstrate, Freud’s thinking was part of a more general discussion about sexuality in childhood which began in the second half of the nineteenth century and flourished around 1900. Authors from several other disciplines (including medicine, psychology, sexology, philosophy and education) contributed to this discussion; amongst them were most prominently Max Dessoir, Wilhelm Flie, and Albert Moll. This gives rise to several questions. Why was it that this new interest in childhood sexuality emerged around 1900? What were the scientific and cultural contexts of these debates? How was infant and childhood sexuality conceived at the time? On a meta-level, my paper also intends to address the issue of how today’s concepts of childhood sexuality influence historical research.

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