Sexology, Hormones and Medical Experiments in Southern Europe, c. 1926-1950.


Chiara Beccalossi

In 1926, Nicola Pende, one of the most important Italian fascist scientists, founded the Institute of Biotypology, a eugenics organisation. This Institute originally aimed to screen the entire Italian population and to study its ethnic composition and state of health. However, it soon came to serve other purposes, including a modern management of sexuality. It promoted sex education and offered advice relating to marriage.

It also evaluated the racial unions that would produce ‘fit’ offspring in the long term and treated infertility and impotence with hormone therapies. It attempted to cure ‘sexual deviancies’ such as homosexuality through opotherapy (the treatment of disease with extracts made from animal endocrine organs), phototherapy (the stimulation and inhibition of internal gland secretions through x-rays), treatments requiring climate and dietary changes, and psychotherapy. In the ‘Latin world’, similar institutes were founded in the interwar period, such as the Argentinian Institute of Biotypology, the National Institute for Identification in Brazil, and the Institute of Experimental Endocrinology in Spain.

This paper explores the practices of medical doctors from Southern Europe, in particular from Italy, who employed hormone treatments to normalise ‘sexual deviants’ such as homosexuals in the interwar period. It shows how in Southern Europe hormones became central to understanding and modifying sexual behaviour and how sexology, eugenics and endocrinology were intertwined.

Chiara Beccalossi

Dr Chiara Beccalossi is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln. Her research interests include a broad range of topics across the history of sexuality, the history of medicine and the history of human sciences in Europe, in particular Italy. Chiara’s first book, Female Sexual Inversion: Same-Sex Desires in Italian and British Sexology, c. 1870–1920 (2012), explored how same-sex desires were pathologised in Italy and Britain. She has also co-edited Italian Sexualities Uncovered, 1789-1914 (2015) with Valeria P. Babini and Lucy Riall, A Cultural History in the Age of Empire (2011) with Ivan Crozier, and has published numerous articles in the field of history of sexuality and medicine. In 2013 Chiara was a visiting fellow at Dartmouth College in the US. She has recently won a five year Wellcome Trust grant to work on new project entitled: ‘Sexology, Hormones and Medical Experiments in the Latin Atlantic World: Local Power and International Networks, 1918-1985’.

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