Wilhelm Stekel

Updated: SEPTEMBER 9, 2015

Wilhelm Stekel was an Austrian physician and psychologist. His special interest in sexual deviations led him to coin the term paraphilia, used to describe specific sexual deviances or fetishes. This term replaced “perversion” in clinical circles.

His book “Sexual Aberrations” was considered ground-breaking in its detailing of various paraphilias. He had a particular interest in acrotomophilia, or amputee fetishism.

In 1940, Wilhelm Stekel, a diabetic, committed suicide at the age of 72 to avoid the amputation of his gangrenous foot.

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Wilhelm Stekel trained under Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who explored sexual deviations in his work “Psychopathia Sexualis.” He was also a friend and follower of Sigmund Freud, although the pair fell out when Freud reportedly told fellow psychoanalyst Ernest Jones about Stekel’s own paraphilia, a secret which Jones never revealed. Despite their fractured friendship, Stekel was thought to have a major influence on Freud’s work, and vice-versa, especially in the study of dreams and their symbolism.

Stekel’s research on paraphilias is his most significant accomplishment for people with an interest in sexuality. He was the first academic to draw the distinction between “normal fetishes” and “extreme interests.” He believed fetishes were only problematic when an object that is fetishized becomes more important than a person. For example, Stekel thought it was perfectly fine for a person with a shoe fetish to desire people wearing beautiful shoes, not the shoes themselves. Stekel also felt a person’s choice of occupation may be guided by normal fetishes. For example, someone may choose to be a doctor because they are a voyeur.

Stekel also explored other aspects of sexuality, including sexual dysfunction. One of his early works, “Auto-erotism: A Psychiatric Study of Onanism and Neurosis” was influential in the study of masturbation.


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