My mother emailed me a link to an article this week, together with the note:
Maybe you already knew this, I know you collect a lot of esoteric info.
The article was a Daily Kos piece titled, The Strange History of Corn Flakes. I knew even without clicking that it would tell the story of the Kellogg brothers and Dr. John Kellogg’s obsessive quest to stop the world from masturbating.
By getting us all to eat corn flakes instead.
(When Mom talks about my interest in ‘esoteric info,’ she generally means ‘stories about masturbation and your other weird/pervy obsessions.’)
To be fair, my mother is correct: I do enjoy gathering such info. And while I think of my interest more as “ways human beings throughout history have dealt with the sexual (and sexual-adjacent) aspects of their lives” than as purely “weird-a$$ sex sh!t”–it is the latter association, I suspect, that makes me the go-to person for friends forwarding links such as this, this, and even this. Three unrelated people all flagged this story for my attention.
There’s a lot of fun to be had in receiving such stories. I have long-running gags with friends on social media about the sexXy-pervy ranging from cryptozoological erotica to pubic hair grooming (although neither of these quite compares with the Annual Dissing of the Pumpkin Spice each fall). Beneath the laughter, however, there is real purpose to all my collecting. Which is simply this:
Bodies are funny and weird and human and divine. Sex is funny and weird and human and precious. Skip the funny and you miss the divine. Misinterpret the funny and you denigrate the precious.
This morning’s addition to my Esoterica-cum-Masturbation Narratives was a story from Salon.com:
There may be two kinds of female orgasm after all.
A pair of French gynecologists believe they’ve cracked one of sex’s most enduring riddles.
Good Gravy. Where to begin…
The article itself begins the words: “elusive female orgasm.” (So already I’m feeling optimistic, as you can imagine. Cuz grand scientific safaris questing after The Big O always turn out well.) It continues:
In a bid to settle the dispute once and for all, a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine claims to have solved this age-old scientific mystery, revealing that there are indeed two types of female orgasms…well, kind of.
To be fair, the journal published this research as a “pilot echographic study” (emphasis mine)–so its authors, O. Buisson and E.A. Jannini, are very far from claiming any absolute resolution. As for the “well, kind of”–there, I’m giving the point to Salon.com because even the study abstract itself^ does seem, well, kinda confused on numbers, seeing how it starts with the sentence “Women describe at least two types of orgasms” and ends with the claim that it is “a common assumption that there is only one type of female orgasm.” (Please pick a starting orgasm count, O. Buisson and E.A. Jannini!)
For those of you who do not already have your own mental Cabinet of Curiosities when it comes to sexological research, the article’s author, Jodie Gummow, does a nice review of the Clitoral-vs-Vaginal debates from Freud through Kinsey, and Koedt, to Masters and Johnson. (TL;DR the two-orgasm theory has always said far more about male sexual dominance than about female sexual anatomy. It’s Freud’s theory, fer crying out loud.)
Lemme give you the TL;DR on the pilot study too: turns out that “clitoral involvement” varies, depending on whether one uses “clitoral or vaginal sexual stimulation,” and mirabile dictu the person experiencing said-sexual stimulation will trip the light fantastic in a similarly variable way.
(Everybody’s clear on the relevant anatomy, yes? How the little-man-in-the-boat version taught in school–or was, at least, when I was taking 9th gr. bio–is just the small surface scout of what is actually a vast organ, living out its weird, wild, wonderful existence in a mostly subterranean setting. It’s the dark pink thing in this picture.)
I’ll admit to having some trouble, reading Gummow’s article, determining what her take on the whole thing is beyond just “here’s this thing to write about–so I wrote about it.” I do share her strong skepticism as to the method by which the three study participants were asked to achieve vaginal stimulation: i.e., self-penetration with wet tampons. (Uh…I think I’ll stick to just the one kind, thanks, if that’s my only orgasmic alternative.)
If everyone’s final conclusion (and it certainly seems to be both Gummow’s and mine) is that all this classification is largely irrelevant–that “what gets you off…is what gets you off”–then why does this discussion even matter?
Because it is all still couched in the language of deficiency. Of aberration. Such as:
- “only a third of women are actually able to have an orgasm through sexual intercourse”
- “those who suffered from an inability to orgasm through intercourse” [all emphasis added].
Why not “nearly a third of women are also able to experience orgasm through intercourse”? Why does the experience of close to 70% of cis women (and other people with vaginas) get classified as inability? As suffering?
Because control. Because power.*
I keep thinking back to a woman featured in Orgasm Inc., a documentary on the physically and financially costly efforts some women undertake in their efforts to achieve the “right” kind of sexual pleasure, and the pain in her voice as she explained how she was only able to orgasm after direct clitoral stimulation. She came to near-tears, describing how she wished she could give her husband the alternative.
Yknow, that hands-free, coitus-only, no-extra-effort-required, Freud-called-it-evidence-of-sexual-maturity, real kind of female orgasm.
The kind that men deserve to expect women to have.
Beyond vibrator jokes and Freud-directed side-eye, discussions of orgasms matter. How we think about orgasms structures our experiences of sexual pleasure fully as much as–if not more than–any relevant anatomy. How we talk about orgasms determines what sense we make of our own embodied jouissance, or lack thereof. (Didja hear about the medieval Bishop of Louvain who died because he wouldn’t just rub one out?)
Beyond the humor–and I fully expect a friend to forward me Gummow’s article, should someone read up to the “self-stimulating with a wet tampon” discussion–I collect these stories because how we talk about bodies…
and human ecstasies…
shapes how we each live our own ecstatic possibilities.
Our own weird, wild, pervy, magical possibilities.
* * * * * * *
(Of course, perhaps I’m just certifiable.)
^The article itself is behind a pay-wall, and regardless, I’m more interested in the implications of the dissemination than in the research itself. If analysis and debunking of scientific research into gender issues is your thing, might I recommend you follow Echidne of the Snakes’s blog? That’s her bailiwick, and she’s fabulous at it–especially on such million dollar questions as “male brains vs. female brains? O RLY” and “what’s the deal with evo psych, anyway?!”