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Definition.—Impotence is defined as physical incapacity of accomplish-
ing the sexual act, and is applied to the male more than to the female, as the
latter is a passive agent in the act of copulation. While sterility means
inability for procreation of children, and is referable more to the female than
to the male.

It should be remembered that an impotent individual need not neces-
sarily be sterile, nor a sterile individual impotent, though both conditions
may sometimes be combined in the same individual.


Impotence and sterility in either man or woman may form the basis of
medico-legal investigation both in civil and criminal cases1. The civil court
may call on the medical jurist to determine this point in suits of adoptonT
contested paternity, nullity of marriage^and ^divorce, The criminal court
may have to decide this question with the aid of the medical jurist in accusa-
tions of alleged adultery,jraj>e and unnatural offences, in which the accused
pleads impotence as an excuse in defence, and in cases where an injured
individual asserts that he has become impotent from wounds or injuries
received by him, especially if they happen to have been inflicted on the
head, neck or loins.

When asked by the court to examine a particular male as to whether he
is capable of sexual intercourse, the medical jurist must give an opinion in
the negative form, and must answer that from the examination he finds
nothing to suggest that the male examined is not capable of sexual inter-
course if he happens to be a healthy, normal individual. Casper1 states
that " the possession of virility and procreative power neither requires to be,
nor can be, proved to exist by any physician, but is rather, like every other
normal function, to be supposed to exist within the usual limits of age ". It
is, therefore, necessary for the medical jurist to ascertain by an examination
of the individual in a case of disputed potency, if there is any abnormal
condition which is likely to interfere with the normal function of copulation.

Under section 3 of the Bombay Hindu Divorce Act, 1947 (Bombay Act
No. XXII of 1947) a husbafid or wife may sue for divorce on the ground
that the defendant was impotent at the time of the marriage and continues
to be so at the time of the institution of the suit, and is, therefore, incapable
of fulfilling the rights of consummation of marriage. But this incapacity
must be permanent and incurable by an operation, even if the individual is
Billing to submit to it. The acquirement of impotence subsequent to
marriage, or sterility alone, is not a sufficient ground to grant a decree of

The causes of impotence and sterility in the male are—
1-   Age.                                            4.   General Diseases.

2.   Malformations.                             5.   Psychical Influences.

3.   Local Diseases.

1. Age.—Impotence is generally observed at the extremes of age. Boys
are considered to be sexually potent at the age of puberty which usually
occurs at the fifteenth^ or sixteenth year. Sexual intercourse is, however,
possible at about the thirteenth or fourteenth year, as the power of coitus

1.   Forens. Med., Eng. TransL, Ed Kt Vol. HE, p. 241.