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The most cruel experiment in the history of Psychology: David Reimer

The most cruel experiment in the history of Psychology: David Reimer

April 27, 2024

The case of David Reimer : one of the most scandalous cases in the history of Psychology.

Who was David Reimer? In today's article we are going to remember one of the most terrible cases in the history of Psychology. In a brief discussion with several professionals, to the question of which was the most ruthless psychological experiment they have known, most brought up the case of David Reimer.

David Reimer: a marked childhood

David Reimer was born in 1965 in Winnipeg, Canada, being a monozygotic twin brother of another baby named Brian. In the northern United States and Canada, circumcision is usual, and the parents of David and Brian decided, on the recommendation of their doctor, to submit the sprouts to the operation.


So far all normal, but in the course of the operation of David Reimer the surgeon in charge could not be present and had to practice circumcision the assistant. In an inexplicable way, there was a failure with the electric cauterizer, which caused David's penis to be totally burned . Subsequently, the penis went into necrosis, and a few days later, it was detached from the body.

Possible solution: transect David Reimer

The development of genital reconstruction surgery was at a very early stage, which augured few options for little David. However, David's parents warned of the existence of a Baltimore doctor whose theory advocated the non-existence of an innate sexuality , and that therefore it was possible to change a child's sexuality through development. John Money was a reputable sexologist whose ideas about the superiority of environmental influence over biological influence had earned him some recognition within the environmentalist circles of the study of Psychology. Money was convinced that education determined the behavior of the subjects.


When David's parents decided to ask Money for advice, he saw a good chance in the case, since he would have a subject to analyze and experiment, David, and another control subject, Brian, with whom to compare the differences that arose according to the education received, because it is clear that on a genetic level David and Brian were practically symmetrical.

Money advised the Reimer family that David should undergo an operation to rebuild an artificial vagina , and once the operation was finished, David had to receive an education according to his new genre: that is, the education that a girl would receive. From now on, David was called Brenda. Thus, the precepts that the parents had to fulfill were simple: it was enough to treat Brenda in the same way as if she were a girl, and not to mention under any circumstances the subject of her artificial sexuality.


The evidence doubts the doctor's theory

So, the family began to carry out the plan. However, Brenda hated girl toys such as dolls, and she used to rip dresses off . The parents' fear that Brenda would one day realize her true sexuality was on the rise, but the problems were only beginning. When Brenda continued to grow, the hormonal effects began to show, despite her treatment with estrogen. Thus, she began to develop an unfeminine musculature and stature. As his brother Brian commented, the only feature that differentiated Brenda from him was her long hair, and starting from the unconsciousness of the children, one can imagine the cruelty with which Brenda must be treated during her schooling.

Frequently, the brothers went to John Money's office in order to evaluate the development of the children. Both brothers reported that Dr. Money's therapy had disturbing consequences for them. In his biography, David Reimer narrates how the doctor showed them sexual photographs, which were, according to Money, necessary to redirect their sexuality. One of the most shocking scenes of therapies with Money, according to David, is that the doctor forced them to take off their clothes against the will of the little ones , and forced Brenda to get on all fours while her brother Brian performed pseudosexual movements and touches against the back of her sister, in a scene they called "sexual rehearsal". Brian could never get over those years. However, the doctor always denied these practices.

Suffering in adolescence

Brenda was growing and her life was progressively deteriorating . He refused to undergo further operations and his suicide attempts began to be serious.Gradually, Dr. Money was moving away from the family, and it was at that moment when Brenda's father decided to explain the truth of his story. After hearing the story, Brenda again changed sex, being again a man at the official level. David married years later, but in a short time his story came to light, losing his job and his wife. A few years later, his brother Brian committed suicide, it was reported, because of the deep guilt he felt for having gotten well from the circumcision operation, and for the years of frustration at seeing his brother's suffering.

The investigation of Money was exalted at the time, because according to its followers, the case of Brenda Reimer was the empirical demonstration that the socio-cultural determinants determined the subject's sexuality . It was a partial triumph of the environmentalist branch of psychology, as it was confirmed that certain behaviors of Brenda were effectively modulated by the education received, and the genes could hardly counteract this learned conditioning, although some attitudes and later statements by David qualified this issue .

A tragic history

In spite of the advances that the investigation supposed, the human consequences of the same one were catastrophic. David Reimer had an unhappy and unhappy life. His life was given to a researcher who altered his will in pursuit of selfish revenues. If something can be made clear from the story, it is that Determinisms must always be questionable . We are the result of a combination of combinations, circumstances and coincidences that end up shaping our way of being, and this way of being must never be a scenario where outsiders can manipulate for the sake of a science that, in this case, despised life human

David Reimer, finally, ended his life on May 4, 2004 , when I was only 38 years old.

Documentary about the life of David Reimer


The Story of David Reimer: A Transgender Experiment (April 2024).


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