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Zaretsky, E. (1999). An Unpublished Letter from Freud on Female Sexuality: Translated with an Introduction by Eli Zaretsky. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 4(2):99-104.

(1999). Gender and Psychoanalysis, 4(2):99-104

An Unpublished Letter from Freud on Female Sexuality: Translated with an Introduction by Eli Zaretsky

Eli Zaretsky

So much unreality still adheres to our understanding of the history of psychoanalysis, and perhaps especially to Freud's theories of female sexuality, that readers of this journal should find the following letter of interest. In it Freud responds to an inquiry (now lost) from the British psychoanalyst, Douglas Bryan, concerning the relations between Freud's theories of penis envy which were emerging in the early and midtwenties, and Freud's 1905 accounts of the repression of clitoral sexuality in puberty, and of the contribution of the clitoris to female forepleasure in adult life. The letter demonstrates some of Freud's characteristic limitations, but its value does not lie in its contributions to scientific knowledge so much as in the attitudes of humility, complexity, and humanity that it brings to its subject.

The letter has to be understood as the response of an older male teacher to questions from a younger man. Freud not only reiterated his oft-expressed lack of knowledge concerning female sexuality but emphasized that knowledge could only come from the experience (Erfahrung) of women.

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