Aberration, Sexual (EoH)

From William A. Percy
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The notion of sexual aberration had some currency in the literature of psychiatry during the first half of the twentieth century. Although the expression encompassed a whole range of behaviors regarded as abnormalities, it is probably safe to say that it was used more with reference to homosexuality than for any other "disorder." In due course it yielded to deviation, and then to deviance-somewhat less negative concepts. The term derives from the Latin abenare, "to go astray, wander off." It is significant that the first recorded English use of the verb "aberr" (now obsolete), by John Bellenden in 1536, refers to religious heresy. For nineteenth-century alienists and moralists, theword aberration took op strong connotations of mental instability or madness. Thus, in its application to sexual nonconformity, the concept linked up with the notion of "moral insanity," that is to say, the nonclinical manifestation of desire for variant experience. The notion of departure from a presumed statistical norm, and the prefix ab-, connect with the concept of abnormal. The proliferation of such terms in the writings of psychiatrists, physicians, moralists, and journalists in the first half of the twentieth century reveals a profound ambivalence with regard to human variation, in which prescriptive condemnation struggles with, and often overcomes, descriptive neutrality.

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