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Book Forum: Sexuality   |    
The Sexual Century
CAROL C. NADELSON, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2001;158:153-a-154. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.158.1.153-a
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Brookline, Mass.

By Ethel Spector Person, M.D. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1999, 384 pp., $35.00.

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Dr. Person provides a comprehensive and erudite history of the evolution of our current understanding of sexuality. She takes us from the roots of our fascination and misunderstanding, to the beginnings of serious study with the Kinsey survey in the 1940s, to our still incomplete comprehension today.

The book is divided into five parts with multiple related chapters. Dr. Person has been either the single author of each chapter or she has coauthored the original article with her esteemed colleague, Dr. Lionel Ovesey. Only three chapters have other coauthors. The chapters date between 1973 and 1998. Although the publisher could have helped the reader to better follow the intricacies of hypothesis generation, clinical detail, and conclusions by clarifying, in the chapters themselves, where the publication appeared or the talk was given, the sequence creates a complex and fascinating fabric, which Dr. Person elucidates with footnoted commentary.

The first part, Sex and Gender: General Considerations, begins with a review of the advances in our thinking and understanding that have occurred in the past century. Subsequent chapters trace historical psychoanalytic theories and place them in the framework of emerging understanding of female psychology.

In the second part, Dr. Person considers cross-gender disorders, including homosexuality, transsexualism, and transvestitism. From a modern perspective, these concepts diverge sufficiently to puzzle the reader. However, through her material from the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Person leads us through a fascinating exploration of the very recent development of a knowledge base in these areas. She leaves us with a sense of where we must go in the next century.

The third part of the book considers sex, fantasy, and behavior, and some of the content derives from research on nonclinical populations. This is followed by a fourth part focusing on concepts of femininity and masculinity, identity, and erotic transference. These seemingly disparate topics are woven together deftly and within the context of theories of gender development and identity.

In the final part of the book, Dr. Person describes the impact of culture through her relationship with Dr. Harry Benjamin, who delineated the transsexual syndrome and pioneered in treatment efforts. Here Dr. Person gives us an insight into the power of her fascination with the evolution of ideas, regardless of whether they are proven to be correct or incorrect.

This volume provides a stimulating reminder of how recent and profound are the changes that have occurred in our ideas about gender, sex, and sexuality during this century. It captures the historian and delights the clinician.

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