What Last Week Tonight's Sex Ed Got Wrong

First the BBC. Now John Oliver. We Midwesterners don't mind schoolin' the Brits about lady junk if we have to. Here's the deal. Barnaby Aaron, one of the co-directors of Science, Sex and the Ladies, happened to see some problematic choices in an otherwise top-notch piece of work about Sex Ed on Last Week Tonight. It happened in the segment where they decided to create their own funny but more accurate sex ed video. Unfortunately there was some not-so-accurate parts that both reflected and reinforced a rampant, deeply ingrained, largely ignored culture ignorance about female orgasm and female anatomy. I'm not just shitting you here. There really is a large, deeply ingrained problem with how female orgasm exists in our discussions, our science, our media, and yes, our structured education. In fact, it's so fully a part of our culture that it's kinda invisible, and that's why even progressive, smart, thoughtful people like John Oliver and his staff didn't seem to notice these problems.

However, we here at AnC can't help but see problems like that. We made a crazy-ass documentary about it (and that bitch took us 10 years to finish), and I've been writing about the subject on this blog for over 6 years. So, when these particular errors were caught, Barnaby got worked up enough to write me the basis for this post, and Charles, another co-director (don't worry, there's only 3 of us) of Science, Sex and the Ladies, starting taking screen shots and making gifs. This is what came of it. Please enjoy.

Something Barnaby Noticed...
On Sunday "Last Week Tonight” did a story on the poor and inconsistent sex education that is taught in this country. Like most things I’ve seen on this show it was very funny, insightful and well researched. However, at the end of the piece they presented their own mock/serious attempt at some basic sex education and this is where they presented some misleading information. Tell me - what's wrong with this picture?

Vulva or Vagina?
There is one of two possible problematic situations happening in that diagram.

1. It is a picture of a vulva with an arrow pointing to the the vaginal opening and labeling that as "vagina." Problem is, the arrow doesn't really point at the vaginal opening - it's closer to the pee hole, maybe. Plus, later it's mixed in with a group of other images that are labeled as whole things rather than labeling parts within the things, as you can see below. So I actually don't think it was meant to be taken as just pointing out the vag-hole.  I tend to think it's the 2nd situation.

2. That is a picture of a vulva, but it's being called a "vagina." You might say, “well, same thing, what is the big deal?” Barnaby would like you to know he used to think that way too - "I used to have this attitude. I remember when we first started discussing these issues I would say the word vagina when I meant vulva and Trisha would point out that they were two different things, that the vagina was just the tube that cylindrical things went in and babies came out of. I would roll my eyes and say, 'Yeah, same thing, you know what I mean,' and move on. But over time I realized it is a big mistake to equate the vagina with the vulva even if there is no malicious intent behind it." He has evolved, and others can too.

There are a few inherent problems with describing the vulva as a 'vagina.' If the vulva is called the vagina, but the vagina and vaginal opening are also called the vagina, it's confusing, and leaves little room for understanding the other parts of the vulva - which are pretty good parts. The clitoral glans, the clitoral hood, the labia, and the pee hole: if it’s all just “the vagina” these features get left out. Yes people refer to it as the 'vagina' all the time, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Furthermore, we tend to refer to boys' junk as their penis and girls' junk as their vagina. This creates a false equivalence between the two. If we're talking about sexual pleasure, then we should be saying penis and clitoris because guess what? Contrary to popular belief, clit and penis rubbing creates orgasm, but vaginal rubbing does not...seriously it really doesn't. If we're comparing the male and female genitals as a whole, though, we should be saying 'penis' and 'vulva' because the vagina is only 1/3 of the package.

There's a good way of thinking about this that we discuss in the movie. It's from a 1970's article called "Organs and Orgasms" by Alix Kates Shulman. She's describing how to talk to kids about their genitals. She says says girls have 3 parts to a boy's 1. Boys have a penis for sexual reproduction, urination and sexual pleasure. Girls have a vagina for sexual reproduction, a urethral opening for urination and a clitoris (clitoral glans) for sexual pleasure...and that's all located on the vulva. So, yes to penis and vulva. No to penis and vagina - I mean, why leave out the pleasure and peeing part for the ladies, right?

Pin The Clit On The Vulva

I'm glad they talked about the clit. I'll give them credit for that, because it really is largely left out of standard sex ed. But, is that arrow really pointing to the clitoris??? It looks like they labeled the very top of the outer lips as the clit, like where all the pubes start. It also seems to have 3 levels of lips. It's kind of just a bad drawing.

Maybe I'm looking at this all wrong, but it seems like the clit is drawn in there but the arrow they drew is not pointing to it. Given that the clitoris is the organ of female sexual pleasure, I feel like it should at least be placed correctly in a sex ed drawing. It's pretty important. Here's a little better yet still quite simple drawing.

Doesn't The Clit Get To Have Any Fun?
Relating the penis to males in the same way the vagina is related to females reinforces the assumption that the penis and the vagina are for sex and therefore create orgasms. However, the clit is the one that creates orgasm. The clit, however, gets left out - not just in most sexual acts all over the world, but also in the fun little example of sex combinations showing that people can get their sex on in any way that feels good. The possibilities include a penis, testicles, a hand, a mouth, a butt, and...a vagina.

The clit gets left out in the cold, which is a shame because the clitoris might really like to rub up against a good taunt butt cheek. *edit: taut - not taunt, actually....*

Even if I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they meant 'vulva' when they wrote 'vagina' (so technically they meant to include the clit), why do dudes get to have their sensitive parts discerned - the penis for orgasms and the balls for a variety of good feels. Couldn't the women get their genitals discerned too? The clitoris for orgasm and the vagina for a variety of good feels?

A Second Try, Maybe?
I know that this is a comedy show, but the actually quite bold oversights I just described, hidden in plain sight within a piece created to humorously correct common problems within standard sex ed, is actually quite indicative of a culture that thinks very little about the clitoris and how women actually orgasm. Using correct language has to be the first step. By implying penis=vagina and vagina=vulva we perpetuate the idea that the vagina is the main organ for female sexual pleasure. This lazy and unintentional mistake might not be malicious, but its effects are fundamental in our misunderstanding of female orgasm and anatomy.

We know you didn't mean any harm, Last Week Tonight, so if you're up for the challenge, we'd love to see a little adjustment to your proposed sex ed that includes all the love and warmness we know you all have for the clit and the lady-gasm!


  1. several of the graphics aren't displaying; I just see a broken-picture icon.
    I"ve been thinking about the caveman/cavewoman sequence; if that were a two minute movie, that would say it all; and it gets around the Sigmund Freud issue.
    and lastly
    When you mention vaginal orgasms you usually repeat the information that nobody has ever observed one rigorously; similarly, when you mention Freud you could accompany whatever misinformation is being debunked with the information that Sigmund Freud was shooting up one gram per day of pharmaceutical grade cocaine, by injection.
    I wrote an essay about the cavepersons thing, let me know if you want to get a link to it.

    1. I'm sorry the pics don't work for you. They are working on all our phones and laptops, so we're not sure what the problem is, but we're looking into it. Also, I'd love a link to your essay about the caveperson scene. Thanks!

    2. If I put that link to a Googledoc here, that would be public; and it is publicly shared ... but ... aah, what the hell
      I was thinking about how take-off-the-gloves SSL is, and I got all courageous; more like, Popeye with a can of spinach

    3. Okay - Sorry I haven't gotten back to this for a while. I've had to focus on other things here the past weeks, but I thoroughly enjoyed your writing. I'm still considering parts of it, but firstly, I like the idea of the FrogOJT initiative, and I feel like I definitely want to see How To Make A Whopper At Burger King. Also, if you do decide to make your caveman short, by golly, I'll get behind that!