Richard Krafft-Ebing was a pioneer in the field of sexual psychopathology. He wrote the first-ever series of case studies of deviant sexual behavior, Psychopathia Sexualis, and was also a well-respected forensic psychologist.
Krafft-Ebing was born in Mannheim and educated at the University of Heidleberg in Germany. He was appointed professor of psychiatry at the University of Strasbourg at the relatively young age of 32. A year later he was appointed the director of the Feldhof Asylum near Graz, Austria, and from 1892 until his death he was the head of the psychiatry department at the University of Vienna.
Early in his career, Krafft-Ebing focused his work on the study of sexual behavior, a new field at that time. In 1886 he published Psychopathia Sexualis, a collection of 238 case histories of what he called "sexually abnormal people." It was in this book that the terms "sadism" and "masochism" were first used, the former to refer to behavior where sexual pleasure is associated with physical cruelty to the partner; and the latter in respect to the association of sexual pleasure with humiliation or abuse. "Sadism" was coined in honor of the Marquis de Sade, and "masochism" comes from the name of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a well-known novelist of the time who was said to enjoy being humiliated by women.
Psychopathia Sexualis also contains the firstever classification of sexual behaviors, and was the first work to discuss subjects such as fetishism, exhibitionism, homosexuality, pedophilia, and autoerotism. Krafft-Ebing was also one of the first psychologists to advance the belief that sexual orientation is biologically based, as opposed to a matter of choice. The book was a huge success in the academic community and Krafft-Ebing added to and edited it 12 times over the years. The final version was completed in 1906, four years after his death. His ideas also unleashed a flood of interest in the examination of sexual behavior, and soon many studies appeared on the subject throughout Europe, and in Germany in particular. Krafft-Ebing's work was also widely read by the public, many of whom adopted it as a work of popular pornography. Psychopathia Sexualis is still in print and is still used today, though some of Krafft-Ebing's ideas are now disputed.
Though Krafft-Ebing is best known for beginning the study of sexual behavior, his work in psychiatry, criminology, and forensic psychopathology also helped advance psychology as a clinical science. He was also a forensic psychologist who investigated the legal and genetic aspects of criminal behavior and was often consulted by the courts as an expert witness. In addition, he made early discoveries about such neurological conditions as epilepsy, and found a relationship between syphilis and general paralysis. He investigated paranoia and was an early proponent of the use of hypnotism as a form of psychotherapy and a way of treating the mentally ill.
Krafft-Ebing continued to research and teach at the University of Austria until his death. He died in 1902 in Mariagrun, Austria.