Frigidity pp 222-247 | Cite as

Relocating Marie Bonaparte’s Clitoris

  • Peter Cryle
  • Alison Moore
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


We make no apology for the fact that our chapter on psychoanalytic understandings of frigidity focuses more on the work of Marie Bonaparte than on that of Freud or any other psychoanalyst. Without doubt, Bonaparte was a Freudian thinker, and Freud’s teleological mapping of feminine pleasure between clitoris and vagina helped structure the ideas of Bonaparte and of all other psychoanalytic thinkers who wrote about female sexuality throughout the first half of the twentieth century. However, Bonaparte warrants a concentrated study, not only because her elaboration of Freudian theory about female bodies into a full theory of frigidity went far beyond anything Freud had dared to envisage, but also because she complicates the history of sexuality to an extraordinary degree. The politics of gender and the medicalization of female sexual lack were for her matters of great subjective importance, and her example shows how such ideas were taken up by the first generation of articulate female intellectuals. She engaged with these issues fruitfully, if problematically and even painfully. When we read the description of female ‘frigidity’ sufferers in the accounts of nineteenth-century doctors, it is difficult to speculate credibly about the experience of those patients when confronted with the medical categories applied to them. In the writings of Marie Bonaparte, on the other hand, we have an account not only of how one woman conceived her own pathology in those terms, but also an insight into how, by theorizing that experience, she contributed to the intellectual psychologization of female sexuality.


Female Sexuality Sexual Agency Female Orgasm Interwar Period Freudian Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Peter Cryle and Alison Moore 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Cryle
    • 1
  • Alison Moore
    • 2
  1. 1.University of QueenslandAustralia
  2. 2.Cultural Studies GroupUniversity of Technology SydneyAustralia

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