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Starr, K.E. Aron, L. (2011). Women on the Couch: Genital Stimulation and the Birth of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Dial., 21(4):373-392.

(2011). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 21(4):373-392

Women on the Couch: Genital Stimulation and the Birth of Psychoanalysis

Karen E. Starr, Psy.D. and Lewis Aron, Ph.D.

Following Freud's emphasis on his rejection of hypnosis as leading up to the development of psychoanalysis, there has been little mention in the psychoanalytic literature of the larger context of the somatic medical treatment of hysteria within which Freud treated his hysterical patients, and which Freud himself practiced. We contend that Freud's emphasis obscured his association with massage, electrotherapy, and the procedure of genital stimulation practiced by his medical colleagues in the treatment of hysteria. We show that the history of genital stimulation—including its obfuscation, desexualization, medicalization, and co-option from traditional women healers by an exclusively male medical establishment—provides us with the background for a more sophisticated understanding of the context in which Freud developed his theories. Specifically, we examine the contribution of this understanding to Freud's theoretical emphases on autonomy and individuality, abstinence and the renunciation of gratification, penis envy, clitoral versus vaginal orgasm, mature genital sexuality, and the “repudiation of femininity” as the “bedrock” of psychoanalysis. We demonstrate that Freud's position as a Jew in an anti-Semitic milieu fueled his efforts to distance his psychoanalytic method from the more prurient practices of his day, including one his society associated with Jewish doctors and patients.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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