I’m so susceptible to clit-bate; any new article or opinion piece that claims to have ‘solved the mystery of the female orgasm’ *. It’s 2016, the stock photo from ‘When Harry met Sally’ is still the only image the media uses in articles like this, and I am still coming across headlines that ask “how do women really know if they are having an orgasm?” *. If a tree falls in the woods, shaking with pleasure that brings it to the ground, collapsing in a state of euphoria, but no man is around to record the falling, or put its dick in the tree, then does the tree really fall? Our vaginas seem to hold some ambiguous allure, intoxicating society and academic communities into a state of befuddlement. Vaginas are burlesque performers, teasing seductresses with choreographed routines that combine delicacy with savage sexual assertiveness. Then after the gig the dancer is hungry, so stops by Maccies, gets into her sweat pants, and devours a 2am cheeseburger. Whilst I love the idea of the magical vagina that holds untold power, the ring of Mordor, the Philosophers Stone (guarded by Fluffy, the three headed dog); in reality, they are just vaginas. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful and unique, as are the women they belong to, but all of this hypothesising and fantasising about how they work is sucking the fun out of them. Ahem.
It’s taking progressive scientists to debunk the myths surrounding the female orgasm, because women actually telling the world about their experience is not enough for us to be taken seriously. Nicole Prause has recently published a study * with ground-breaking and controversial results: that not all vaginas and female pleasure is the same. Prause interviewed 88 women about their sex drives and masturbation habits, and asked them to respond to a series of videos, some saucy, some less so. She wanted to find out what control women had over their sexual desire and emotional state, in response to these videos, and how that related to their preferred method of masturbation; clitoral, vaginal or both. The out-cum (too much?) was that women who state clitoral stimulation as their primary means of masturbation have a greater control over their desire, and also a higher sex drive. She also refutes the longstanding assumption, based on Freudian ideas, that clitoral masturbation is an indicator of low emotional intelligence and possible mental illness. In summary:
“Neither depression nor anxiety scores were predicted by women’s source of their most recent orgasm” *
All that sounds incredibly un-sexy right? Seriously though, it seems the psychology community for a long time has thought that playing with your clit makes you more likely to be mentally ill. This is seen as recently as 2008, in Brody and Miguel’s study “Vaginal Orgasm is Associated with Less Use of Immature Psychological Defence Mechanisms” *. Ironically, the arguments in this study show great immaturity. ‘Women need our rock hard cocks to get off, or they are dumb, crazy even, I don’t get it!’- or something to that effect. The patterns of historical research in the field leave me so frustrated, as a self-confessed vagina owner, raging bean flicker, feminist and a cis-gendered woman. Our vaginas are not mystical, nor is the female orgasm mythical, but they are multifaceted pleasure devices carrying the warning label ‘don’t push the red button’. Go on, I dare you.
Since it seems people will only accept the ‘scientific’ standpoint, I’ll offer you the stats: A Cosmopolitan survey * of over 2,300 people (oddly making it the most reliable source on the issue) that found 95% of men orgasm every time they have sex, whereas only 57% of women do, and respondents reported that this was due to a lack of clitoral stimulation. However, “women report clitoral stimulation is embarrassing or uncomfortable to request” (Prause, 2016). Is this sex shaming, or a fear of damaging the male partner’s ego? Their bulging masculinity stick should be enough to do the job, so we aren’t to undermine them.
Prause’s results contradict longstanding assumptions by suggesting that women who play with their clit more actually have stronger emotional intelligence, and are able to change their feelings of sexual desire more easily, and “therefore ability to manage orgasm”* . I don’t want this piece to read as a total tribute to the wonder that is the clitoris (although whichever member of god’s creation team pitched the idea deserves a Nobel Peace Prize). I do want to use these studies to critique our attitudes to female sexuality more generally. Even Prause’s study is highly problematic, if not just for the mere fact that it needs to exist, but she continues a field of research that promotes a hierarchy of female pleasure, and validating the question ‘am I normal’? If most women get off by doing A, then I should be able to too. Testing how effectively women can control their sexual desire suggests that we should be able to, and have to. Whilst this supposedly has benefits, in that women can more actively engage with their emotional states and counter blocks to arousal, surely we should be encouraging an approach to sex where the onus is not on the woman to necessarily ‘vibe herself up’. Perhaps their partners should be fostering a safe, shame free environment where women are able to invest in their own pleasure, whether or not this includes an orgasm, in whichever way works for them. We need to find a balance, where men (and women in same sex relationships) don’t make their partner’s orgasm an ego trip. Bringing a woman to orgasm is not a challenge that you need to complete to ‘win’ at sex, but something that you should want to do for your partner on their terms.
I also think a huge problem comes from our definition of sex, which is incredibly heteronormative; penis-in-vagina or it doesn’t count. This leads to the false dichotomy that Prause eventually concludes with:
“The results from the present study suggest a more complex and nuanced picture of female orgasm that goes beyond the clitoral vs vaginal dichotomy” *.
She continues that we cannot solely distinguish between a ‘clitoral’ and a ‘vaginal’ orgasm, because the two intertwine, anatomically speaking. The clitoris is not simply the one bit sticking out, but is rooted further into the vagina, and is surrounded by sensitive tissue and Periurethral Glands. Combining this with the pleasure that is created internally, we can come to the same conclusion as Prause: “asking women to make a forced choice between clitoral and vaginal orgasm might be similar to asking men to make a forced choice between a ‘penile glans’ or ‘penile shaft’ orgasm’- it’s all a relative combination depending on the individual.” * And I think this is the point- we are not asking women to make a choice at all. Women need to communicate what they want from a sexual interaction, and the only way this is possible if we promote more positive attitudes towards female sexuality, where women are not shamed for their desire, and feel comfortable enough to be direct about it. If we widened our definition of sex to include what is otherwise termed as ‘foreplay’, then women would feel that they had more options, and less pressure to have orgasms, and they would therefore be having more of them.
So, in summary-
Chorus of men: “WHAT DO YOU WOMEN WANT YOU’RE SO HARD TO READ?!”
Women: “Erm, Orgasms would be good please”
Men: “NO SERIOUSLY I DON’T GET IT, COMPLEX CREATURES, WE WILL NEVER KNOW”