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Researching Sex, Sexuality and Sexology

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Sexology, the interdisciplinary scientific study of sex has been an integral component to the study of humanity. If you are currently researching any topics relating to the areas of sexology, sexuality or sex, consider visiting The New York Public Library's research collections! Whether you find sexology to be deeply fascinating or awfully embarrassing, there is a plethora of resources available to conduct your research.

Sexology had been a major area of academic study for the past two centuries. According to Sexology Uncensored: The Documents of Sexual Science, "In the late 19th century, early pioneers of the new field of sexology examined and classified sexual behaviors, identities, and relations, data long restricted from public access." The academic development of sexology originated in Europe where ideas and ethics of sexual behaviors were often discussed and questioned. Sexology is often tied together with eugenics, the theory that it is possible and desirable to improve future generations through selective breeding.

Notable sexologists include Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), a German medical researcher, who opened the world's first Institute for the study of sexology called Institut fur Sexualwissenschaft (Institute of Sexual Science) in 1919 in Berlin, Germany.

Hirschfeld published the first textbook on sexology: Geschlechtskunde (Sexual Knowledge) which contains 30 years of his research in the field. Hirschfeld was one of the first academics to publish and present research papers on homosexuality, transexual and transgender people in leading scholarly journals and conferences around the world.

Portrait of Abigail Allen. Portrait of the female husband!, Digital ID ps_cps_cd5_076, New York Public LibraryPortrait of Abigail Allen. Portrait of the female husband!

In his research, "Hirschfeld was an early proponent of the view that two genders could in no way enclose the abundance of natural sexuality. He argued that a large minority of people were what he called intermediates, something in between, a kind of a third sex." (See Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love by Edward Ball, pg. 88.)

In 1910, Hirschfeld coined the term transvestism and published a pioneering work on the subject called The Transvestites: An Investigation of the Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress. In this work he interviewed heterosexual women and men about their desire of cross dressing in public and in private.

Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi movement in Germany during World War II, labeled Hirschfeld—"Gay, Jewish and Socialist" and called him the "most dangerous man in Germany." The Institute of Sexual Science was later destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. (See The Transgender Studies Reader edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, pg. 28.) Today, Hirschfeld is widely considered to be the first advocate for homosexual and transgender rights.

Indiana University's Morrison Hall where the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction is housed on Wikimedia CommonsIndiana University's Morrison Hall where the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction is housed on Wikimedia CommonsAnother leading sexologist is Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956), a biologist who founded the Institute of Sex Research at Indiana University in 1947. The institute is now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. In 1950s, Kinsey published two books known as the Kinsey Reports: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female which were the first major national surveys of sexual behavior.

In these reports, Kinsey was the first researcher to give a detailed study of the sexual activities of the U.S. public where he interviewed over 11,000 participants who were white, well-educated and middle-class. There were many limitations and problems with the Kinsey Reports, however, they provided the groundwork for other important studies of human sexology later on. His reports were highly controversial but led to an increase interests in the study of human sexuality.

The best way to run your searches for monographs on research fields in sexology, sex or sexuality is to start with our catalog:

  1. Search in BiblioCommons or classic catalog through NYPL's website
  2. In classic catalog, you can type the keywords of your field like "Sex Nazi Germany" or "Kinsey Psychology" - For BiblioCommons, it is in the top of the page where you can search for keywords.
  3. You can also limit the location, in classic catalog, under the search bar; for BiblioCommons, you can limit the location after you run your keyword search.
  4. A good tip to keep in mind is to browse through the resources and search for the "subject headings" which can lead you to other resources on similar research topics beyond the keyword search. For classic catalog, these are at the bottom of the record; for BiblioCommons, it will be on the right side.
  5. These quick tips can also be applied to other various topics. Some research items may be "off-site" which require you to request the items in advance; read more about access to offsite collections.

Further Resources

Museum of Sex in New York City, Wikimedia CommonsMuseum of Sex in New York City, Wikimedia Commons

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