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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 June 23; 334(7607): 1326.
PMCID: PMC1895684

Prudence Tunnadine

Founder of the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine

Prue Tunnadine played a key role in founding the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine in 1974, and was an authority on treating sexual problems.

She was born Lesley Prudence Dundas Bellam in a nursing home in Chiswick, head first into a commode, which she thought explained her very singular brain. Her father worked in the rag trade and was an army reservist. When war broke out he was commissioned into the royal tank regiment and the family moved to Sussex, where they had previously spent their holidays.

She was educated at Bedford Park High School for Girls and Chichester High School, where she excelled in everything except needlework, was embarrassed at having to stand on the stage wearing rosettes on prizegiving day, and was talkative and boisterous.

After the war her father was posted to India, and she remained with an aunt and uncle to do her A levels. She then went out to India, via Suez, on the troopship Britannic from Liverpool. She had a wonderful 18 months, visiting hill stations, doing voluntary work as a teacher and in her father's office, and being courted by droves of young men. On her return—on another troopship, via Mombasa and Naples—she applied to Guy's. She went to the interview in cocktail dress, heels, and a fur stole: the few other girl applicants were in school uniform.

She had a good time at medical school, living on coffee and cigarettes, and married a fellow student, David Tunnadine, in 1952. She did her house appointments and senior house officer jobs at Guy's and its satellite hospitals in North Kent. Her husband went into general practice, and she, by now with children, abandoned her idea of a career in gynaecology and did locums and family planning sessions.

The only other part time work available for women doctors in the 1960s was child welfare clinics. But as the pill became more widely available, women patients wanting non-judgmental contraceptive advice, or who wanted to discuss a gynaecological problem, soon learnt that family planning doctors were very approachable, mostly female, and could be consulted without a referral from their general practitioner. Their male partners made the same discovery. Prue soon realised that patients brought their emotional and sexual distress to the family planning clinic as physical symptoms or contraceptive needs, often voicing these concerns during an intimate examination.

Psychoanalysis was then in the intellectual forefront and Michael Balint's ideas were in the air. Prue and some like-minded colleagues turned to Tom Main, a psychoanalyst and follower of Balint, who had been running training seminars on the doctor-patient relationship. Main encouraged Prue and some others to lead the seminars. He then led groups of leaders, and the two developed the tiered training structure that still exists at the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine. They both discouraged the idea that they were gurus and that students should metaphorically sit at their feet.

Prue understood and taught the need to use all the skills of physical doctoring while never forgetting, or allowing her pupils to forget, à la Balint, that doctors should always ask themselves what is happening for the one troubled person in front of them and how they can best reflect it back to give the patient insight into the difficulty. She drew a clear distinction between this body-mind doctoring and other disciplines such as psychotherapy and sex therapy, the skills she used being specific to doctors and other professionals with a licence to examine the body.

The psychosexual clinics started by the Family Planning Association, probably with Prue's involvement, were taken over by the NHS in 1974, when she and others started the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine. She also established a private practice in Harley Street around this time. She had already published her first book, Contraception and Sexual Life (1971).

She was scientific director of the institute from 1990 to 2000 and continued to hone the skills of psychosexual medicine and to teach them. She wrote three further books—Sense and Nonsense about Sex (1981), The Making of Love (1984) and Insights into Troubled Sexuality (1991). In the Making of Love she wrote, “This book is not about sexual performance. It is about people who … have not been able to rejoice in their own sexuality, or who have sought help to do so.”

She was terrified of public speaking but did it well. Her life was one of passion, and her heroes were George Best, Muhammed Ali, Franz Klammer, Nelson Mandela, Billy Beaumont, Gareth Edwards, and Seve Ballesteros. She played golf and bridge, and had a go at boogie-boarding when she was 75.

Two years ago she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She took it well, apart from resenting the stolen time. Divorced in 1978, she leaves three sons and a daughter.

Lesley Prudence Dundas Bellam, consultant in psychosexual medicine (b 1928; q Guy's Hospital 1953), d 15 December 2006.

Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group