The Ideal Woman

Sexology, Sex Reform, and Engineering Marriage in Weimar Germany

  • Cassie Lee Epes Eastern Connecticut State University
Keywords: history of sexuality, sexology, gender history, Weimar Germany


The end of the first World War marked a period of profound change for the German nation, giving birth to Germany’s first democracy, the Weimar Republic. The Weimar Republic ushered in one of the most creative and uninhibited periods of the twentieth century. This period witnessed advancements in the field of sexology and unprecedented change for German women as they flooded the workforce and gained full suffrage. As an increasing number of single women became financially independent and disillusioned with the prewar construction of the family unit, German men found themselves rendered impotent. Already humiliated by the loss of the war, men desperately clung to the prewar, Wilhelmine ideal of the quintessential real man by turning their attention to the sexual behavior of women and fostering a culture of systematically engineered marriages through sex reform. This article draws upon the works of several prominent sexologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most notably Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde, as well as a variety of articles published in German magazines during the 1920s. By comparing these works, spanning from the end of the Wilhelmine era to the 1930s, it becomes clear that the Great War fundamentally altered the way that women conceptualized female identity, sex, and the family.