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Sexual Science

Tutor: James Poskett

In this seminar we examine the scientific origins of ‘gender’ as a concept. Historians have long acknowledged the ways in which the sciences, particularly the biological sciences, are gendered. However, scholars have paid less attention to the history of the concept of ‘gender’ itself. Perhaps surprisingly, the modern use of the term ‘gender’ has its origins in twentieth-century sexual science. With this in mind we examine the work of sexologists such as John Money and Robert Stoller who popularised the notion of ‘gender’. We also reflect on what this means, both methodologically and politically, for gender historians and feminist scholars.

Seminar Questions:

• What role did the sciences play in shaping the concept of ‘gender’?

• When and why did sexology emerge as a scientific discipline?

• What motivated Robert Stoller’s use of the term ‘gender identity’?

• Are the origins of the term ‘gender identity’ in conflict with feminist politics?


Meyerowitz, Joanne, How Sex Changed (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), chapter three, ‘From Sex to Gender’.

Forrester, John, Thinking in Cases (London: Polity Press, 2017), chapter six, ‘Inventing Gender Identity’.

Stoller, Robert, Sex and Gender: The Development of Masculinity and Femininity (London: Karnac Books, 1968, 1984 reprint), pp. i-xii, pp. 1-85, and pp. 262-273 particularly, ‘Preface’, ‘A Biological Force in Gender Identity?’ and ‘Conclusion’.

Further readings:

Bauer, Heike (ed.), Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters across the Modern World (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015)

Bauer, Heike, ‘Theorizing Female Inversion: Sexology, Discipline, and Gender at the Fin de Siècle’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 18 (2008)

Bland, Lucy, and Laura Doan (eds), Sexology in Culture: Labelling Bodies and Desires (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998)

Crozier, Ivan, ‘Pillow Talk: Credibility, Trust and the Sexological Case History’, History of Science, 46 (2008)

Downing, Lisa, Iain Morland, and Nikki Sullivan (eds), Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2014)

Drucker, Donna, The Classification of Sex: Alfred Kinsey and the Organization of Knowledge (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014)

Fuechtner, Veronika, Douglas E. Haynes, and Ryan M. Jones (eds), A Global History of Sexual Science, 1880–1960 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2017)

Goldie, Terry, The Man Who Invented Gender: Engaging the Ideas of John Money (Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2014)

Hausman, Bernice, Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995)

Irvine, Janice M, Disorders of Desire: Sexuality and Gender in Modern American Sexology (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2005)

Meyerowitz, Joanne, ‘A History of ‘Gender’, The American Historical Review, 113 (2008).

Porter, Roy, and Mikulas Teich (eds), Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Toulalan, Sarah, and Kate Fisher (eds), The Routledge History of Sex and the Body: 1500 to the Present (London: Routledge, 2013)