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Devereux, G. (1950). The Psychology of Feminine Genital Bleeding—An Analysis of Mohave Indian Puberty and Menstrual Rites. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 31:237-257.

(1950). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 31:237-257

The Psychology of Feminine Genital Bleeding—An Analysis of Mohave Indian Puberty and Menstrual Rites

George Devereux, Ph.D.


Probably no phase of the life-cycle has been so carefully studied from the viewpoint of ritual, and of social reactions to the individual, or so completely neglected from the subjective point of view, as female puberty and the problem of menstruation. In fairness to anthropological field-workers it is necessary to add, however, that many, though not all, of these gaps in our knowledge are due not so much to a lack of rapport between informant and field-worker, as to the primitive women's own inhibitions. Even the notoriously outspoken and uninhibited Mohave are no exception to this rule, since they repeatedly stated that discussions about the reproductive process proper—as distinct from sexual relations of all kinds (22) —were distasteful to them.

It was found, however, that by combining subjective data with ritual information, it was possible to undertake a fairly detailed analysis of the psychological components of female puberty and menstruation in Mohave society, which may, perhaps, increase our somewhat scanty knowledge of the subjective meaning of this physiological process.

The central theme and overall frame of reference of the interpretations about to be offered will not be merely the menstrual cycle, but female genital bleeding in general. It is hoped that by approaching the subject in this manner, our interpretations may yield new insights into the entire problem of castration anxiety in the female.

Indeed, since in menstruation there is no real piercing of, or aggression against, the female genitals, its analysis is more likely to reveal phantasies of aggression, which, as psycho-analysis has shown, play a far more decisive role in the causation of female castration anxiety than do 'genuine' acts of 'violence, ' such as defloration or childbirth.

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