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Fischer, R.M. (2003). The Sexual Century. By Ethel Person, M.D. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999, p. 387.. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 5(1):109-112.

(2003). Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 5(1):109-112

The Sexual Century. By Ethel Person, M.D. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999, p. 387.

Review by:
Ruth M. S. Fischer, M.D.

The Sexual Century is a compilation of Dr. Person's writings on the topic of sexuality. There have been radical modifications in sexual mores over the past century that are reflected in changes in psychoanalytic thinking. Over the past 25 years, Dr. Person has been an active participant in and recorder of these events. Her interest was sparked early on in her career when, as a young psychiatrist, she had the opportunity to interview transsexuals in the process of their sexual transformation. As a result of this early research and, no doubt, as a result of her psychoanalytic training, her thoughts turned to the importance of sexuality as an organizer of personality, as well as to the ways in which personality organizes sexuality. This led to an interest in unconscious fantasy, male-female differences, and the influence of values on theory and thoughts about power. One can see the germ of each of these ideas in her early papers and then watch as they develop in subsequent work. Following the evolution of these ideas makes reading this book an interesting adventure. She is also an astute clinician, theoretician and social observer. Valuable observations and insights are rendered in a clear, readily comprehensible manner. Clinical examples are cogent. She directs our attention to the interaction of the unconscious and the inter-personal with the historic and cultural forces.

The book begins with a historical review noting that what has changed is how we think about sex. This is attributed to scientific advances such as the “pill,” the introduction of sexology as a field of knowledge in the late 19th century and Freud's emphasis on sex as having a special place in psychic development. Political and cultural changes also had a role to play. They both allowed for and were promoted by the contribution of the feminists, the gay rights movement and the underlying culture dedicated to individual freedom. As sexual repression diminished, there was a greater acceptance of a wider range of sexual behavior.

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