Gender and Coital Disorders in the Medical Texts of Early Imperial China
Yun-Ju Chen(Department of History National Taiwan University)
This essay analyzes how male authors of medical texts from the Han Dynasty through the Tang Dynasty ( 206 BCE-907 CE) interpreted coital disorders caused by improper sexual behavior in the light of gender differences in medical discourses.
The gender differences in medical discourses of coital disorders became apparent during the medieval period (around 220-907 CE). Reasons for improper sexual behaviors harming bodies were documented in medical books from the Han Dynasty. When it came to the medieval period, male coital disorders were gradually regarded to be divergent from female ones in considerable aspects, including pathogenic situations, pathological mechanisms, symptoms, and relevant body fluids—male essence and female blood.
First, regarding the differences between pathogenic situations, from the medieval period, losing essence from sexual indulgence became prevailing pathogenic reason for male coital disorders in medical texts. This prevalence resulted not only from internal development of medical theories but also from external social background, particularly the trend of taking mineral medicine. However, in contrast to above correlation between sexual indulgence and male coital disorders, women were often considered to be suffering from sexual deficiency or having intercourse at specific improper time, such as during pregnancy, menstruating, or in postnatal state. Male authors of medical texts paid attention to female sexual deficiency because of two possible reasons. First, the authors viewed that women had more sexual desires than men did. Second, the authors intended to prevent productive problems brought by long-term sexual deficiency.
Moreover, concerning the gender characteristics of pathogenic mechanisms for female coital disorders, vagina became a channel through which external bad aura intruded into the body. The intrusive aura would hurt abdominal viscera and then cause sterility. Furthermore, the disorder of female blood, including both menstrual blood and postnatal secretions, would not only reflect disorders of whole bodies, but also result in diseases.
sex, sexuality, the arts of the bedchamber, body