British writer and physician whose studies of human sexual behaviour had considerable influence on contemporary views of sex and helped to bring about more open discussion of sexual problems and sex education.
At sixteen Ellis sailed to Australia on his father's ship but after four years of teaching returned to study medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, London. After qualifying in 1889 he took up a literary career. He was associated with George Bernard Shaw and Arthur Symons (1865–1945) in the Fellowship of the New Life and became editor of the Mermaid Series of Old Dramatists and the Contemporary Science Series, which included his own first book The Criminal (1890). His major work was a study of human sexual impulses, published in seven volumes (Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 1897–1928). After the first volume was published, Ellis was taken to court on the grounds of obscenity and subjected to much abuse. He continued his study, publishing the remaining volumes in the USA, but until 1953 they were available only to doctors.