Medical History


Loss of Innocence: Albert Moll, Sigmund Freud and the Invention of Childhood Sexuality Around 1900

Lutz D.H. Sauerteiga1 c1

a1 Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease, Wolfson Research Institute, Queen’s Campus, Durham University, Stockton-on-Tees TS17 6BH, UK


This paper analyses how, prior to the work of Sigmund Freud, an understanding of infant and childhood sexuality emerged during the nineteenth century. Key contributors to the debate were Albert Moll, Max Dessoir and others, as fin-de-siècle artists and writers celebrated a sexualised image of the child. By the beginning of the twentieth century, most paediatricians, sexologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and pedagogues agreed that sexuality formed part of a child’s ‘normal’ development. This paper argues that the main disagreements in discourses about childhood sexuality related to different interpretations of children’s sexual experiences. On the one hand stood an explanation that argued for a homology between children’s and adults’ sexual experiences, on the other hand was an understanding that suggested that adults and children had distinct and different experiences. Whereas the homological interpretation was favoured by the majority of commentators, including Moll, Freud, and to some extent also by C.G. Jung, the heterological interpretation was supported by a minority, including childhood psychologist Charlotte Bühler.

Key Words:

  • Childhood Sexuality;
  • Child–Woman;
  • Psychology;
  • Psychoanalysis;
  • Sexology;
  • Charlotte Bühler;
  • Max Dessoir;
  • Havelock Ellis;
  • Wilhelm Fließ;
  • Sigmund Freud;
  • Carl Gustav Jung;
  • Karl Kraus;
  • Sámuel Lindner;
  • Albert Moll;
  • Egon Schiele;
  • Wilhelm Stekel;
  • William Stern;
  • Fritz Wittels


c1 Email address for correspondence:


I am very grateful to Rosemary Elliot, Hans-Georg Hofer, James Kennaway, to our research associate, Sebastian Pranghofer, and to the two anonymous reviewers whose comments and critique helped me to sharpen my argument. I am also indebted to questions and comments from participants in research seminars at the universities of Warwick, Leeds and Oxford, UCL and the Institute for Historical Research, London, where I had the opportunity to present and discuss different versions of this paper. Great thanks go to the Wellcome Trust for its continuous support of my research and to Mike Laycock for his editorial assistance. Any flaws are my own responsibility.

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