Sex Glands, Rejuvenation, and Eugenics between the Wars

in Impotence

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780226500768
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226500935 | DOI:
Sex Glands, Rejuvenation, and Eugenics between the Wars

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In The Conquest of Old Age (1931) the German surgeon Peter Schmidt listed a few of the many amazing cases of sexual rejuvenation that resulted when men underwent the so-called Steinach operation, the cutting of the vas deferens. Schmidt was only one of a number of early twentieth-century doctors who turned to such radical new ways to restore manhood. Such undertakings represented both the old quest to overcome impotence and the first halting steps of the new science of endocrinology. Aside from having a placebo effect, none of these therapies could actually have been effective, but that is not terribly important. Far more interesting were the ways in which the cultural preoccupations of the age framed the discussions of the sex glands. The investigation of the internal secretions appeared to reconfigure understandings of the causes of impotence, yet doctors turned to them to shore up traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. The search for cures for male sexual dysfunctions was similarly implicated in contemporary eugenics concerns for “race improvement.”

Keywords: sex glands; sexual rejuvenation; eugenics; impotence; sexual dysfunctions; masculinity; femininity; manhood; Steinach operation; vas deferens

Chapter.  11146 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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