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Helen Singer Kaplan

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Helen Singer Kaplan
Kaplan c. 1987
BornFebruary 6, 1929
DiedAugust 17, 1995(1995-08-17) (aged 66)
CitizenshipAustria, United States (1947), Bahamas
EducationSyracuse University (BFA)
Columbia University (MA, PhD)
New York Medical College (MD)
OccupationSex therapist
(div. 1968)
(before 1979)

Helen Singer Kaplan (February 6, 1929 – August 17, 1995) was an Austrian-American sex therapist and the founder of the first clinic in the United States for sexual disorders established at a medical school. The New York Times described Kaplan as someone who was "considered a leader among scientific-oriented sex therapists. She was noted for her efforts to combine some of the insights and techniques of psychoanalysis with behavioral methods."[1] She was also dubbed the "Sex Queen" because of her role as a pioneer in sex therapy during the sexual revolution in 1960s America, and because of her advocacy of the idea that people should enjoy sexual activity as much as possible, as opposed to seeing it as something dirty or harmful. The main purpose of her dissertation is to evaluate the psychosexual dysfunctions because these syndromes are among the most prevalent, worrying and distressing medical complaints of modern times.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Kaplan was born in Vienna, Austria, on February 6, 1929. In 1940, she emigrated to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1947.

She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University in 1951, graduating magna cum laude. She was then educated at Columbia University, where she received a master's degree in psychology in 1952, and then a PhD in psychology in 1955. At New York Medical College, she earned a medical degree in 1959, and later completed a comprehensive course in psychoanalysis there in 1970.


In 1964, she initiated a unique residency program for women MDs with children at New York Medical College; the "mother's program" enabled residents to be free during vacations and emergencies to care for their children.[3] She was a long-time professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic.

Sex research and therapy[edit]

A psychologist and psychiatrist by training, Kaplan viewed human sexual response as a triphasic phenomenon, consisting of separate—but interlocking—phases: desire, arousal, and orgasm.[4] She concluded that "desire" phase disorders are the most difficult to treat, being associated with deep-seated psychological difficulties.[5]

Kaplan wrote extensively on the treatment of sexual dysfunctions, integrating other methods with principles of psychotherapy.[4][6] As did many other experts in her field, Kaplan believed that sexual difficulties typically had superficial origins.[1] She suggested that premature ejaculation occurred if the subject did not have voluntary control over when he ejaculated, and that coitally anorgasmic women should not necessarily be thought of as having a problem.[7]

Kaplan always encouraged people to enjoy having sex as much as possible. However, since the epidemic of AIDS into the United States from 1981 into the 1990s, she added the caveat: "If you aren't extremely careful, it can kill you." Kaplan commented that she "absolutely hate[s] having to say that. [...] I have spent my whole life devising solutions to people's problems, telling them that sex is not dirty or harmful, but a natural function. And now I have to tell them, 'Hey, look out. You could die.'"[2] Two of her disciples are Ruth Westheimer and Hans-Werner Gessmann, a German psychologist and psychotherapist, he introduced 1976 in the Psychotherapeutic Institute Bergerhausen her sexual therapy approaches in conjunction with the humanistic psychodrama and hypnosis in Germany.

Personal life[edit]

Kaplan was married twice. In 1953, she married psychiatrist Harold Kaplan.[8] They had three children, Phillip Kaplan, Peter Kaplan, and Jennifer Kaplan-D'Addio, before divorcing in 1968. (He would later marry actress Nancy Barrett).[9] Her second husband was Toys "R" Us founder Charles Lazarus. She died of cancer at the age of 66.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Saxon, Wolfgang (1995-08-19). "Dr. Helen Kaplan, 66, Dies; Pioneer in Sex Therapy Field". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
  2. ^ a b Hacker, Kathy (1987-11-08). "Warning Women About AIDS for Years". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  3. ^ Medical World News, 1964
  4. ^ a b William H. Masters, Virginia E. Johnson, and Robert C. Kolodny, Human Sexuality, 2nd ed. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston, 1984.
  5. ^ H. Kaplan, Disorders of Sexual Desire. Brunner/Mazel, New York, 1979.
  6. ^ H.S. Kaplan, The Illustrated Manual of Sex Therapy. Quadrangle/New York Times, New York, 1975.
  7. ^ H.S. Kaplan, The New Sex Therapy. Brunner/Mazel, New York, 1974.
  8. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths KAPLAN, HAROLD I. M.D." The New York Times. January 17, 1998.
  9. ^ "The Academy Welcomes Harold I. Kaplan". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2019-03-18.