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Kurt Freund vs. transgender people

Kurt Freund was the head of the gender program at Toronto’s notorious¬†Clarke Institute.

Born in Czechoslovakia in 1914, Freund conducted much of his pioneering research into sexual arousal while based in Prague from 1945 to 1968, after which he fled the country following the failed revolt against communist rule.

Freund’s most influential achievement was the development in the 1950s of phallometric testing, especially the¬†penile plethysmograph. Freund developed the device in Czechoslovakia to prevent draft dodgers from claiming they were gay just to avoid military duty. The method is now primarily used to assess sexual arousal among pedophiles and other male sex offenders.

In¬†The Man Who Would Be Queen, psychologist¬†J. Michael Bailey¬†of¬†Northwestern University¬†cites Freund’s research to refute the existence of bisexuality in males:

Kurt Freund , who invented penile plethysmography, related that he was never able to find a subset of men who appeared bisexual in the lab. Although their data are less scientific, gay men share Freund ‘s skepticism. They have a saying: “You’re either, gay, straight, or lying.” (95-96)

Bailey notes that Freund’s protege¬†Ray Blanchard¬†met Freund at the Ontario Correctional Institute, a detention facility for sex offenders. There, the two made plans to use their sex offender assessment methodologies to assess gender-variant children and adults:

During that time, the eminent sex researcher, Kurt Freund, consulted at the hospital. Someone suggested that they meet, and during their first conversation, they made plans to collaborate. In 1980 Blanchard took a job at the Clarke, where he has remained, recently taking Freund ‘s position after his death. (157)

Freund was replaced by his protege¬†Ray Blanchard¬†following Freund’s suicide in 1996. Under the guidance of Blanchard and¬†Ken Zucker, the practice of treating gender-variant children and adults like sex offenders continues at the Clarke Institute to this day. Michael Kuban, manager of the renamed Kurt Freund Phallometric Laboratory at the Clarke Institute, notes:

On a daily basis we saw a variety of medical and legal patients presenting to the clinic due to their problems. Most had committed criminal offenses against children or women, but others were identified as having a sexual disorder — transvestism, masochism, fetishism, exhibitionism, or similar such concern.

See the discussion of¬†plethysmography¬†on this site for more on Freund’s legacy and its damaging effects on gender-variant people.


Kurt Freund Dies at 82; Studied Deviant Sexual Arousal


OCT. 27, 1996

Dr. Freund had advanced lung cancer and committed suicide, said his daughter, Helen Freund Mathon of Toronto.

While a device to measure men’s sexual response ”sounds so very obscure,” said Dr. Gene G. Abel, a psychiatrist at the Behavioral Medicine Institute in Atlanta, it was a critical step for the field.

”From this very small beginning,” Dr. Abel said, ”the field started to develop a scientific focus, which was around Freund and his colleagues in Czechoslovakia.”

Dr. Freund’s phallometric device is roughly analogous to a lie detector because it can reveal things about a man’s sexual inclinations that he might not willingly reveal. These kinds of tests are often used in sex-crime cases, sometimes as evidence of sexual proclivities but more often to give guidance in determining a man’s sentence or clinical treatment.

”The basic problem is that a huge number of people you see are not going to tell you the truth,” said Dr. Ray Blanchard, head of the Clinical Sexology Program at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto, where Dr. Freund worked from 1969 until 1995, when he retired. ”If someone is charged with approaching a child, they don’t have much motivation to say, ‘Yes, I did it, and, moreover, I’m more attracted to children than to adults.’ ”

In the test, the penis is put into a tube, which is sealed, and the man is shown slides or movies of adult men and women as well as boys and girls. The displacement of air from the tube indicates increases in penile volume, which are recorded so the researcher can see which images elicited the greatest responses.

Many such testing methods are in use today, said Dr. John Bancroft, director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, but Dr. Freund was the first to develop the approach. Dr. Bancroft developed another method soon afterward.

Dr. Freund was convinced that sexual orientation was stable after some point in development, said Dr. Kenneth J. Zucker, head of the Child and Adolescent Gender Identity Clinic at the Clarke Institute. That and the work of others ”played into the equation” that led the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to take homosexuality off the list of psychiatric disorders, Dr. Zucker said.

Dr. Freund also saw child molesters as having an outlook that would be hard to change. ”That has helped influence the current wave of treatment programs, which generally focus on relapse prevention, recognizing that one’s underlying sexual preference for children may not change,” Dr. Zucker said. The treatments are geared toward teaching men to control their behavior despite their sexual preferences.

Kurt Freund was born on Jan. 17, 1914, in Chrudim in what is now the Czech Republic. He earned an M.D. at Charles University in Prague and a D.Sc. degree there in 1962.

Dr. Freund lost most of his relatives in the Holocaust. After the war, he continued as a psychiatrist and researcher in Prague, at Vinohrady Hospital, Charles University and the Psychiatric Research Institute of Prague. He developed his phallometric test in Czechoslovakia, where researchers were beginning to consider sexual response a topic for serious study.

Under the Communists, homosexuality was illegal, and Dr. Freund was called upon to treat homosexuals who had been arrested. He became one of the first psychiatrists to conclude that homosexuality was not a pathological condition that required treatment, Dr. Blanchard said, and he worked for the repeal of the anti-homosexual laws in Czechoslovakia.

After the failure of the Czechoslovak revolt in 1968, Dr. Freund fled the country, going first to Germany and then to Canada, to the Clarke Institute.

Dr. Stephen B. Levine, a professor of psychiatry at the Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, said Dr. Freund was impatient with subjectivity in psychiatric research and always kept the victims of sexual deviancy in mind.

”He was always mindful of the victimization of children,” Dr. Levine said. ”He was highly mindful that there was some sort of abnormality in a man who victimized children, and he wanted to study this in the hope of defining the subtypes of child molesters to help devise a means of prevention, as well as to help the men, who often lead tortured lives.”

Besides his daughter, Dr. Freund is survived by his wife of 50 years, Anna; a son, Peter, of Munich, Germany, and three grandchildren.


Freeman, Karen (October 27, 1996). Kurt Freund Dies at 82; Studied Deviant Sexual Arousal. New York Times

Kurt Freund obituary. Associated Press, 29 October 1996.

Kuban, Michael. Featured mentor: Kurt Freund. Sexual Science, Volume 45, Issue 2 (Summer 2004)