|for the record, I wouldn't define this as orgasm|
The Statements to be Debated
Masters and Johnson made major contributions to knowledge about sex. However, the idea that the scientific understanding of the clitoris, orgasm, and female sexual response crystallized 5 decades ago thanks to a non-refereed publication based on a few experiments with tiny, unrepresentative samples in artificial, ecologically non-valid circumstances is preposterous on the face of it. As a psychologist, I do believe I would be laughed out of the room if I proposed such a basis for some description of a pan-human bit of psychology. Here is a short list of the limitations and flaws of M&J 1966.
- Tiny sample sizes that offer no statistical power to generalize
- Use of sex workers as participants, which can hardly be called representative of women in general
- Sex in a laboratory setting probably is not representative of other settings
- No replications
- Participants were “WEIRD” in the Henrichian sense: of a Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic society. Trisha believes the study of one culture, ours, proves things about the human species.
Sometimes producing findings that directly contradict M&J, such as Robert King et al. 2011:Fundamentally, these data would seem to contradict the Masters and Johnson (1965) view that masturbatory orgasms are the same as those achieved through intercourse, especially in terms of pleasure and sensation.
V. Infibulated women in the SudanWomen in a non-western culture without all that Freud baggage and social expectation still have VIO’s. Hanny Lightfoot-Klein (1989) described the culture as such that women must hide all sexual interest and response in order to appear chaste and modest. They must hide orgasms, or, if they can’t hide them, deny that the outburst was caused by the sex acts. Nonetheless, 90% of the 300 women interviewed said they had orgasms, some even saying “always”. We know, too, that none of these were “clitoral” orgasms, because none of these women have a clitoral glans or labia. They all have a “full pharaonic” type infibulation that involves removal of virtually all external genitalia. I am beyond astonished that women who have been so tragically mutilated can ever enjoy sex at all (many of them do not). Lightfoot-Klein is not the only report of this phenomenon, in the paper she also cited Money et al. (1955) and Verkauf (1975).
Let me explain a bit. In the study, the author interviews over 800 women and 300 men, and found that 90% of the women claimed to have orgasms with their husband anywhere from rarely to always. It doesn’t break down the percentages of the always or the sometimes or the rarelys, but it doesn’t matter too much. At the time this was written, the standard thought was that women with FGM could not possibly orgasm, and this article’s author, I think, really wanted to point out that this is simply not true. Since then, there have been plenty more studies suggesting that women with FGM can orgasm (4,5,12). This seemingly improbable ability is likely in no small part to what surgeons who do reconstructive surgery for FGM have begun observing.There is often some parts of the clitoral glans left after FMG.
In fact, in the type of FGM that is practiced among the culture in this study, type III (also called infibulation), there was an unexpected reality that came to light when reconstructive surgery became more common (4,5,12). Nour et al found an intact clitoris in 48% of 40 infibulated/type III women undergoing corrective surgery. Type III FMG is pretty terrible. At its worst, the clitoral glans inner labia are completely cut off, then the labia majora is sewn together leaving only a pinhole sized opening for, you know, urination, menstruation, childbirth, and intercourse (knifes are often used on the wedding night). As I discussed, it used to be assumed that the clitoris was always cut in this type III, but as surgeons have shown us more recently, this isn't always the case. In fact, after direct observation, this definition has been disputed enough that the World Health Organization changed the definition of Type III FMGs (the type from the ) from saying that the clitoris is always cut to defining it as one in which the skin is sewn together “with or without excision of the clitoris.” (14) Given that this article mentions that these surgeries, especially in the outlying areas, are done by untrained midwives, it doesn't seem that strange that there would be a variety in the types of cutting that is done. The statement from some women in the article that their scar tissue was erotically sensitive would also indeed point to some having a clitoris or part of a clitoris behind the scar tissue.
VI. Women with spinal cord injuries experience orgasmsThe clitoris and vulva are innervated by the pudenda spinal nerve. However, in women who have no sensation in the pelvic region due to spinal cord injury, sexual response including orgasm have been documented in several papers. Komisaruk et al’s (2004) replication included fMRI brain imaging showing activation consistent with orgasm. They postulate this is possible due to the vagus nerve, a cranial, not spinal, nerve with projections in the pelvis. Several studies including that one also used as stimuli penetrative vaginal-cervical stimulation, not clitoral.See Sipski et al 1995a and b; Whipple et al 1996; and Komisaruk et al 2004.
Also, the approaches in these 2 articles were different. Sipski’s work compared SCI and non SCI women, finding that when left to their own devices to stimulate themselves to orgasm, all of the non-SCI and about 50% of the SCI women verbally reported orgasm within 75 minutes (although many as quickly as under 10 minutes). All but 3 of the women chose the clitoris as part of their preferred stimulation (the other 3 reported their stimulation as vaginal area. None reported vaginal penetration). Physiologic data including blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration were recorded and reported. Pelvic muscle contractions were recorded, but not reported - and it doesn't say why.
The dildo problem[The sex shop called] Sh™ have an extensive lesbian clientele who have no motivation to pander to male egos, expectations or even existence in sexual terms. Thus they provide an interesting test of what women actually want, away from ideological constraint, voting with their wallets. A typical, although by no means universal, lesbian desire, as represented by products bought, is for penetration. For example the Fun Factory Strap-on™ provides internal stimulation for both (female) partners. If it were true that penetration in sex is something done only to pander to male egos then the existence of such toys requires explanation.
VIII. On sensitivity and innervationIt is argued that the vagina has little or no sensitivity, and therefore it is unlikely to be instrumental in orgasm, particularly compared to the highly sensitive clitoris. It is a fact that the vagina is not especially sensitive compared to other body parts. However, there are three reasons I think this argument is inadequate...
I further submit that M&J is not considered the “gold standard” among psychologists, psychiatrists and other researchers. Seminal, perhaps. But the reigning and authoritative model? Not hardly. One of the problems M&J stipulated themselves: the relationship between physiologic, psychological, and sociological factors is qualitatively and quantitatively “totally variable” from one woman to the next (p. 127). M&J focus on the physiologic, calling it an admittedly limited jumping off point that has a degree of objectivity, even if it does not capture the nature of the phenomenon.
Kaplan (1977) wrote that M&J did not even mention sexual desire! How can a coherent account of human sexual response neglect to consider sexual desire? As if sexuality and sexual experience is about quantified muscle contractions and blood flow.
Research has expanded in other directions as well. MRI and sonography have provided better understanding of the biomechanics of sex than M&J ever had. They wrote that the sole purpose of the clitoris was to create or elevate sexual tension by stimulation of the glans. This is almost certainly not correct. Research is on-going, but more recent studies suggest the erectile tissue of the clitoral complex helps tent the vagina for intercourse. During intercourse, the penis tends to compress the clitoral body and jam the anterior vagina against the root of the clitoris, causing a pumping action on the Kobelt plexus (Buisson et al, 2010).
Evolutionary psychologists have also investigated possible psychological mechanisms involved in sexual response—Men’s masculinity and attractiveness predict their female partners’ reported orgasm frequency and timing. [Link]
Are There Different Types of Female Orgasm? [Link]
Genetic influences on variation in female orgasmic function: a twin study [Link]
M&J took pains, several times, to spell out the importance of non-physical factors and influences: the psychosocial. To wit,A detailed psychosocial study of the research population cannot be presented within the framework of this text. Yet neither this book nor this chapter can be considered complete without emphasizing an acute awareness of the vital, certainly the primary influence, exerted by psychosocial factors upon human sexuality, particularly that of orgasmic attainment of the female. . . .physiologic detail is of value only when considered in relation to [behavioral theory and sociologic concept].M&J are saying that the physical signs are correlative indicators of orgasm, not that they literally are orgasm themselves. If you believe M&J is the “gold standard” (I would not recommend it), you should accept their contention that physiology is not the definition of orgasm.
Asserting that it is of critical importance to one’s sexual experience the fact of whether the key sensors are in the vaginal tissue, or a couple centimeters away in the clitoral body that can often be smashed against it during penetrative intercourse, strikes me as pedantic and a little silly.
3. Carmichael MS. Relationships among cardiovascular, muscular, and oxytocin responses during human sexual activity. Arch Sex Behav. 1994 Feb;23(1):59-79.
4. Catania L. Pleasure and orgasm in women with Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). J Sex Med. 2007 Nov;4(6):1666-78.
5. Fazari AB et al. Reconstructive surgery for female genital mutilation starts sexual functioning in Sudanese woman: a case report. J Sex Med. 2013 Nov;10(11):2861-5
12. Nour et al. Defibulation to Treat Female Genital Cutting: Effect on Symptoms and Sexual Function. Obstet Gynecol 2006;108:55–60
14. World Health Organizations. Classifications of female genital mutilation.
http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/overview/en/ Accessed January, 14 2014.