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THE EARLY SEX RESEARCHERS: VAN DE VELDE

Theodore van de Velde (1873-1937) was a Dutch gynecologist who occupies a unique place in the history of human sexuality and sex research. Based on his own personal experiences and the reports of his patients, his book Ideal Marriage, published in 1926, became an overnight success. This was somewhat unexpected by van de Velde, who evidently anticipated that his vivid descriptions of sexual techniques might bring forth waves of protest. Contrary to his expectations, Ideal Marriage was well-received by the public, was translated into several languages, and has been continually reprinted in the United States as late as 1965. This is an interesting book in that, while van de Velde still held with many traditional Victorian attitudes (the book was intended only for married couples in a permanent relationship), in stark contrast to Victorian inhibitions, he described in explicit detail the sexual response and a variety of sexual activities. Van de Velde was concerned with the fact that people were slowly emerging from the Victorian repressiveness and were beginning to view sexuality as a more normal and healthy human activity but at the same time lacked knowledge about sexual functioning. It was to fill just this void that Ideal Marriage was written Ideal Marriage is essentially a "how-to" book, not unlike many of the so-called marriage manuals of today. For example, convinced that simultaneous orgasms were the most pleasurable, he discussed several techniques for reaching this goal. He also described the use of several coital positions to provide variety to the sexual encounter. There are inaccuracies in his factual data in many places, especially in his chapters on anatomy and physiology. For example, he believed the vagina was lubricated by fluid seeping down out of the uterus. And in the description of specific techniques, his Victorian attitudes were apparent, as in his discussion of oral-genital sexuality as a normal and enjoyable technique as long as it is discontinued before orgasm. On the other hand, he added to our accurate knowledge of sexuality; and many of his suggestions anticipated present-day thinking about sexual relationships. Van de Velde noted that the male nipple is a pleasurable area of the body and is capable of erection just like its female counterpart. He was a strong proponent of the importance of foreplay, especially in helping females achieve a maximum level of arousal. And throughout the book, van de Velde constantly reiterates the concept of the marital couple considered as a unit, not as two separate individuals behaving and responding independent c each other. In this vein, he discussed the joys of both giving and receiving sexual pleasure, an attitude that would become an integral part of sexual treatment programs by Masters and Johnson and others several decades later.

Van de Velde is often ignored in discussions of early so researchers, yet his influence in Western society has been, in many respects, just as great as that of Krafft-Ebing, Ellis, or Freud. His book was widely read and was important in instilling the attitude that sex is a normal, healthy, and important aspect of human behavior. Finally, his emphasis upon communication and upon the couple as a unit has had a great influence on the present generation of therapists who treat sexual dysfunctions.

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