The history of ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction’ as a mental disorder in the 20th century

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Purpose of review

To provide an overview of conceptualizations of female sexual problems, and ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction’ in particular, throughout the 20th century, especially in relation to psychiatry and mental illness.

Recent findings

In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in both medical and public discourse about ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction’. I discuss a variety of literature sources dealing with female sexual problems, where these are understood variously as problems of developmental psychopathology, as technical phenomena to be resolved through education, or as medical problems to be addressed pharmaceutically.


The stigma of mental illness shapes much recent discussion of female sexual problems, as does the legacy of the postwar critique of psychodynamic psychiatry.

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