Female Sexual Inversion: Same-Sex Desires in Italian and by Chiara Beccalossi

By Chiara Beccalossi

An exam of how woman same-sex wishes have been represented in a variety of Italian and British scientific writings, 1870-1920. It indicates how the psychiatric classification of sexual inversion was once situated along different scientific rules of same-sex wants, corresponding to the virago, tribade-prostitute, fiamma and gynaecological factors.

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Extra resources for Female Sexual Inversion: Same-Sex Desires in Italian and British Sexology, c. 1870–1920

Sample text

In the 1887 parliamentary discussion that had led to the decriminalisation of male same-sex practices, the minister for justice, Giuseppe Zanardelli, explained that in dealing with ‘acts against nature’, ignorance of the ‘vice’ was more useful than its advertisement through the law.

6 Observers were certainly struck by the evident difference in Italian and British sexual customs, but this was not the only reason why British intellectuals of the Victorian period turned to Italy. In the late nineteenth century, Italy was the favourite destination of British men looking for sexual intercourse with other men. 7 On the whole, however, the British were particularly taken by the southern parts of Italy. 8 This sexual tourism was silently accepted by the local population because it entailed financial advantages, both for the male prostitutes and the community as a whole.

Raffalovich denounced the hypocrisy of British physicians when handling sexual matters, pointing out that their scientific community lagged behind the Italian in its investigation into human sexual instinct. 3 Raffalovich explained that the British ‘caste-mentality’ did not exist in the Mediterranean because social hierarchies were much less rigid than in Britain, where the middle classes had to maintain a level of (sexual) respectability. Therefore, it was easier for Italian physicians to debate the topic openly, than it was for their British colleagues.

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