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Benedek, T. (1968). Discussion. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 16:424-448.

(1968). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 16:424-448


Therese Benedek, M.D.

New discoveries in embryology, physiology, and in the most recent branch of the behavioral sciences—ethology—seem to be lifting the veil from the enigma of female sexuality that has puzzled mankind from time immemorial. Freud in his last paper on the subject (14) frankly stated that psychoanalysis has not solved the "riddle of femininity" since "what constitutes masculinity or femininity is an unknown characteristic which anatomy cannot lay hold of" (p. 114); he added, "The explanation must no doubt come from elsewhere, and cannot come till we have learnt how in general the differentiation of living organisms into two sexes came about" (p. 116). Biology has not advanced far enough to give this ultimate answer, yet strides have been made in the direction of understanding the sexual behavior of both sexes. This new knowledge confronts psychoanalysis with the necessity of investigating its own concepts and by developing them further, to participate in capturing the "essence" of femininity, a task which will probably remain in the domain of psychology.

This is a problem where communication between scientific disciplines is essential for a solution. Such communication can and often does occur by a kind of "osmosis," an infiltration of ideas in such a way that the fertilization of one field by another remains unaccounted for. Yet the recognition of the "give-and-take" that occurs in the integration of scientific concepts is an important part of the clarification of issues which allied disciplines share. Without recognition of common problems and of mutually significant contributions, areas which need clarification might otherwise be disregarded.

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