4.18.2015

Defending the Harder Parts of Science, Sex and the Ladies



I've been thinking a lot about reactions to Science, Sex and the Ladies. There are, from time to time, some very loud and adamant people that just don't like that I say, in my movie and in this blog, that it is a reasonable possibility that orgasms caused by stimulation inside the vagina actually aren't a thing. There are plenty of others who are intrigued and excited that I'm saying this, and I feel there are also a lot of people that just feel kinda uncomfortable with what I'm saying, maybe preferring to just stay out of any real debate on the issue. My point of view is not a normal one in the current talking/advising/researching about female orgasm world. It steps clearly out of an anything-anyone-feels-and-says-is-okay-cause-sex-is-so-diverse-and-personal vibe that I see as pretty prominent in our current progressive sexual culture. The SSL ideas sit strangely at a place that feels too radical for the overall sexual culture and too restricting for the progressive sexual culture. They commit the ultimate feminist sin and question the validity of some claims women make about their own bodies, and they poke at a hornet's nest by continuing a debate that a lot of people want to ignore and gloss over.

At the same time, the SSL movie and this blog also support all kinds of fairly comfortable and familiar things that are easy for anyone, especially progressive feminist and sex activists, to get behind; things about better sexual education, masturbation advocacy, and reducing rape culture. So, I think it might be hard for people to dissect their feelings about it because it's a lot, and it's a mix of the familiar and foreign, the harshly controversial and the obviously progressive, and it's about a topic that is deeply personal and deeply a part of a person's being. So, I know that in a lot of ways, I'm fighting an uphill battle that people don't really feel like fighting, and I know that things I say can be prickly and feel harsh, but I believe that these things need to be said.

I believe that women are terribly disadvantaged in the sexual culture, and there is barely any acknowledgement of the incredible scope and depth and reach of this inequality. However, I think women do feel that disadvantage deep in their bones and react to it, both publicly and privately, without really understanding where it is coming from. I see so many women express the disappointment, and hurt, and anger that comes from this in all kinds of diverse ways, but I also see that there is barely a vocabulary for this and certainly not any kind of united front for change. It is all-encompassing and invisible at the same time. When it is recognized to some degree, it is approached more as personal problems than deep cultural wrongs, and thus it doesn't seem that important. It is important though, and if we as a culture don't start scrutinizing our deeply held beliefs and assumptions about female sexuality, then there will be no change. To me, this starts with the female orgasm, and the incredible non-truths about it that permeate our media, our personal relationships, and our scientific inquiries. The non-truths are so deep that they feel like truths, and that's what makes any activism on this issue so hard but also so important - because change won't just happen on it's own. Our sexual culture and our sexual assumptions needs to be shoved into reality, and getting shoved can hurt.

So that said, let me just speak on the 2 main things people seem to be most bothered by in relation to the activism in the SSL movie and the blog.

No One Cares About Clit vs. Vag Orgasms Anymore! 
For those who think making a distinction between vaginal and clitoral orgasms is silly given that the modern, progressive view in the talking/advising/researching-about-female-orgasm-world is that all orgasms are clitoral, no matter if they come from direct stimulation on the clitoral glans or through penetration only: To that I say, I get that you are coming from a place of let's-just-all-get-along, but the truth is we still need to talk about this because only the specific words in this argument have changed over the years. The base of it is still the same as it has always been. It still assumes that there is an orgasm that comes from stimulation of the vagina, and that needs to be challenged.

There are orgasms that happen from some type of direct or indirect stimulation of the outer clitoral/vulva areas. They are uncontroversial, scientifically documented, and seemingly all healthy female bodies are capable of them. Then there is orgasms that happen from some type of stimulation on the inside of the vagina. It doesn't matter if people tell us they think the stimulation point for orgasm involves the g-spot or some aspect of the vaginal wall or some pressing/crushing/indirect stimulation of the inner legs of the clitoris through the vaginal walls (as is the hip modern way to view it). In the end, these orgasms all happen without any stimulation of the outer clitoral vulva area. The seemingly "progressive" idea that they might be caused by some type of inner clitoral leg stimulation doesn't change that, and honestly doesn't really have any more evidence to support it than the idea that they happen because of a distinct g-spot or through sensitive tissue on the anterior wall of the vagina. It's all just conjecture - speculating about the cause of an orgasm that has not, even with all the studies that speculate about it, yet been physically identified. This hypothetical, yet widely believed-in, type of orgasm is controversial, undocumented, and most women do not even claim to have ever had one.

I don't think there is anything silly or unnecessary about trying to clear up confusing, misleading information about how women can realistically achieve orgasm. Simply saying that "it's all clitoral" unfortunately doesn't make it all clear, and I think as a society we can and should begin trying to make this more clear.

I'm an Asshole That Calls Women Liars!
The other huge no-no I commit is that I dare to say that orgasm caused only by stimulation of the vagina might not exist even though I know good and well there are some women who say they experience this. Here's the thing. In a study, asking people what they did is very different than witnessing it. Just because a woman says on a survey that she has orgasms through vaginal stimulation alone or just because a friend earnestly says the same thing, doesn't mean that it's true. It seems very un-feminist and arrogant to say that, I know. I leave you to decide how much you hate me for this, but I can assure you my intentions are not to shame women or discount women's experiences of their own bodies. However, my intention is definitely to point out that there are HUGE problems with accepting women (or anyone) at their word about an experience this fraught with expectation, ignorance, and misconception, when it is absolutely possible to physically check when this experience occurs. It's not like we have to live in the dark. There is a physical reaction that is accepted as orgasm in both men and women, and we can check whether it happens or not. It has been done many times and can be done again. Yet it's not happening. If there is a woman out there who has experienced this, we haven't proved it yet. I have no doubt women certainly have the experiences they say they have, but just because they use the word "orgasm" doesn't mean that they physically had the rhythmic release of muscle tension and blood congestion that is uncontroversially known to be an orgasm.

You see what I'm saying? There's this idea the female orgasm is some complicated, wildly varied thing when it actually isn't any more complicated than the male orgasm

My reason for questioning survey results about women's ability to vaginally orgasm goes beyond the fact that science has not actually yet been able to validate those responses. There is also the matter of our culture's unwillingness to define orgasm for women. Even in peer reviewed journal articles, researchers often claim that the female orgasm has not been defined, and there are lots of ways to experience it. I take strong issue with that (and I go into that in a debate HERE), but point is, how can we expect women to answer whether or not they have experienced something when that something is not really defined? Is one woman answering what she perceives as a completely different question from another women? On top of that, can we just take a minute to consider how growing up and living in a sexual culture where the most common, expected, most depicted type of sexual interaction is one that does not cause orgasm in at least 70% of women (although I would guess that number is much more if not all). Mix that with the mushiness of the word "orgasm" and the cultural obsession with intercourse as the most common and accepted way to experience sexual interactions, and what does that lead to? Might women feel a strong and often unconscious pressure to orgasm from intercourse; a pressure that changes and molds them in a variety of ways, some of which  might lead them to say they experience something or even truly feel they experience something that they actually don't? Further more, let's consider how female orgasm is modeled. In porn the male orgasms are largely real, and the female orgasms, even the very realistic ones, are largely fake, but not always thought of as faked. Porn is the easiest and safest way to experience what sex is and should be like without having to partake in it. Could it be possible, even slightly, that this situation might model for women a sexual experience, somewhat unconsciously, in which displaying orgasmic movements and vocalizations at particular moments in a sexual situation is the orgasm? I know that sounds strange, but just roll that around in your head for a while. I'm not saying that women are intentionally faking orgasm. I'm not saying that there is no pleasure in the situation I just described, but I am saying that it is not an orgasm. That way of experiencing sex for a woman is regularly modeled and idolized in our culture, and it might be how some women actually experience "orgasm."

I think when one steps back and looks at what is happening in our sexual culture, how complicated and messy our relationships are to the female orgasm, how strong the pressures related to ladygasms are in our culture, how much misinformation is out there, how bad our models for ladygasm are, and how ridiculously undefined the word "orgasm" is for women, does it really seem that crazy to wonder if we are not getting completely accurate answers from women when we ask about orgasm? It's at least worth gently considering, can we agree on that?

What If, Though?
Let me end with this. If my crazy ol' mean sounding assertion is true - that women don't orgasm from vaginal stimulation, then what would that mean for female sexuality? Seriously, at least take a moment to even slightly consider what that could mean. The investigation of the implications of that possibility is actually what Science, Sex and the Ladies is all about. Like I said above,  I don't think the implication of that is a small thing at all. I think that the deep, wide, largely invisible disadvantage this creates for women in our sexual culture colors all (I mean all - men and women, gay, straight, and trans) of our understandings, expectations, and experiences around sex in varying degrees and styles. I think this predicament is further twisted because men's sexuality grows up so differently. For men the most culturally normal, most commonly depicted, mostly highly prized way of orgasming matches what their bodies are actually capable of. This creates a vast difference between how men and women experience the sexual culture, but the vastness of that difference is rarely understood or recognized. It's part of the invisibility of this problem, but I think the possibilities of how this difference can unnecessarily complicate lives, sexuality, and relationships is staggering.

I know it's uncomfortable, but I really believe we need to do some shoving. This ain't gonna work itself out.

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