Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Sex researcher John Money dies


John Money, Ph.D.
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Pioneering sex researcher John Money, Ph.D., whose work was both praised and criticized by the transgender and intersex community, died July 7 in Towson, Maryland, due to complications related to Parkinson's disease. He was one day shy of his 85th birthday.

"Dr. Money's work will be followed and reinterpreted with vigor and interest over the next decades as it was throughout his remarkable academic career," said Kinsey Institute director Julia Heiman, Ph.D.

Dr. Money was born July 8, 1921, to a strictly religious family in Morrinsville, New Zealand. He studied psychology at Victoria University of Wellington and at the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1952 with a thesis on "Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into the Nature of a Human Paradox." He was hired as the first-ever pediatric endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins University, where he was a professor of medical psychology and pediatrics for 50 years.

In 1965, Dr. Money co-founded the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic, funded in part by female-to-male philanthropist Reed Erickson, which performed the first sex reassignment surgeries in the United States. Dr. Money was among the first to testify in court that sex reassignment was appropriate therapy for individuals with gender identity disorder. Dr. Money believed that gender identity was fluid during the first few years of life, and was determined by environment and upbringing as well as biology.

Dr. Money was among the first to promote genital surgery to make intersex infants look more "normal." His most controversial case involved a twin boy whose penis was injured during a botched circumcision. Dr. Money urged the parents to have the child castrated and to raise him as a girl. He wrote several medical journal articles and a book, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl (with Anke Ehrhardt, 1972), touting the success of the experiment.

But the child, later revealed to be David Reimer, refused further surgery and hormone therapy as a teenager and re-adopted a male identity. To spare other children from similar treatment, Reimer spoke out publicly about his experiences in 1997; he committed suicide in 2004.

The burgeoning intersex movement, including the Intersex Society of North America (founded in 1993), strongly criticized Dr. Money's theories, urging that intersex infants should be raised as boys or girls, but should not be subject to genital surgery before they were old enough to make their own decisions about their preferred gender identity. Dr. Money claimed that critics who insisted that gender was based in biology were anti-feminists who believed "masculinity and femininity are built into the genes, so women should get back to the mattress and the kitchen."

Dr. Money also theorized about the origins of sexual orientation, which he believed was attributable to a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors. In the early 1970s, he aided efforts to have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders, and he conducted some of the first research suggesting that gay-bashers were motivated by their own repressed homosexuality.

In 1985, he testified before Attorney General Edwin Meese's commission that pornography was not detrimental to minors. Even more controversially, he believed childhood sexual play was a necessary aspect of development, claimed that pedophilia was not always harmful to children, and urged that adolescents should receive explicit instruction about masturbation.

Dr. Money was married briefly in the 1950s, but soon divorced; he had no children and lived alone most of his life. An acknowledged bisexual, he had several discreet affairs with both men and women. In the 1970s, he championed open marriage and nudism.

Dr. Money is survived by his extended family in New Zealand. Donations in his memory may be made to the John Money Sexology Scholars Library Fund at The Kinsey Institute, which he established in 2002 to ensure that sex researchers' archives are preserved for future scholars.

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