*I say “female” pleasure because in English, we don’t have easy language to show that gender is fluid and exists on a spectrum. Here I am talking about people who have vulvas or were raised as people with vulvas. Male pleasure hasn’t been really given the time of day, either — click here to read my article about that.
In 1901, the version of Gray’s Anatomy (the medical textbook) included an illustration of the clitoris.
In 1947, it was taken out. The male doctor in charge of the section removed it.
Doctors that treated my grandmother and my mother would have learned absolutely nothing about the clitoris, because it was not even recognized on a diagram.
Sigmund Freud, the man we revere as the father of psychoanalysis, once wrote, “Elimination of clitoral sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of femininity, since it is immature and masculine in its nature.”
In 1905, he claimed that clitoral orgasms are adolescent, and mature women should only have vaginal orgasms.
Vaginal orgasms are great, and everyone should be able to have them, but to eliminate clitoral sexuality because it’s “immature”?
Here is a diagram of the clitoris:
See that tiny little glans at the top? That’s the only part of the clitoris we can see — but the clitoris itself is huge.
So, why has it been erased?
Well, because it’s built solely and exclusively for pleasure.
Someone more theologically versed than me could write an epic paper (and probably has) about how the Christian story of Eve tempting Adam into sin has been the entire basis for how we view female pleasure as dangerous today.
In 1486, there was a treatise published for the persecution of witches called the Malleus Maleficarum (aka the Hammer of Witches). It was a bestseller, second only to the Bible. It called the aroused clitoris the “devil’s teat,” and claimed that it was evidence of witchcraft.
A few weeks ago, when my posts about putting my menstrual blood on my face went viral, I received quite a few comments threatening me because I must be worshipping Satan.
One literally said, “Burn her at the stake.”
It might seem funny, but it’s not to me, because a few generations ago I would have been murdered.
My generation is the only generation that’s grown up with there being scientific dialogue about our pleasure, and most of us still don’t learn anything.
In the late 1800s, women were forcibly institutionalized or brought to the doctors because they had “hysteria.”
Hysteria was a made-up medical condition whose symptoms included anxiety, sexual desire, not wanting to have sex, and the “tendency to cause trouble.”
One treatment for hysteria was for women to be masturbated by doctors until they had an orgasm. And it wasn’t called an orgasm, it was called a “hysterical paroxysm.”
There was no good reason for women to want their clitoris touched, unless they had hysteria.
A man estimated in 1913 that 75% of women had hysteria.
Women desiring pleasure = sick.
The vibrator was the 5th home electronic ever invented, and it was invented because (male) doctors were tired of masturbating women. The vibrator was advertised in magazines, until it was realized that women were buying them for pleasure.
So then, the ads disappeared from magazines (until vibrators made a comeback in the 80s).
Sex workers are essentially erased from our society. The thought of a woman using sex to make money makes her illegal, disgusting, and undeserving of rights.
I have a lot of colleagues who are sex coaches/sex workers/bodyworkers/sexually liberated people. Their social media accounts are banned. Their podcasts are not approved. Their families won’t speak to them. Their voices are taken away.
One of my friends had 75 of her Instagram posts removed recently. Which ones did they remove? Only every single post that talked about pleasure.
(She got them back, when enough people complained. But still).
It is going on three weeks that I’ve been unable to post on Instagram. My posts upload, and then automatically disappear. They’ve also frozen my followers (unless the same amount of people are magically following and unfollowing me every day).
This is because I touched my own menstrual blood, and touched it to my face. And then I talked about it online.
Last night, in a run-down building in South Los Angeles, I sat in a circle with other vulva-owning people while we learned the anatomy of our bodies.
We learned that parts of our vulvas have been named after the men who decided they discovered them, and laid claim to this area of our bodies (Skene’s glands, where we squirt from; Bartholin’s glands, which lubricate the vagina).
One by one, those of us that wanted to were invited to undress from the waist down, spread our legs in front of the circle, and tell the story of our vulva.
We talked about period pain, about our experiences with sex, about our scars, about how we felt about our vulvas, shaving, and whatever else our pussies wanted to say.
Everyone else listened, eyes bright, loving, and accepting. At the end, we clapped.
We were then invited to look at our own cervixes using speculums (which you can easily do at home, you do not need a doctor). For some people, it was the first time they’d ever seen their cervix.
We were told what was normal and what wasn’t. We saw each other’s cervixes.
I got home and said to my boyfriend, “Want to see my cervix?!”
He laughed and said, “Gone are the days of me having a normal life.”
But how beautiful, right? To be able to show your partner your cervix. To say, this is the thing you touch with your penis. This is how beautiful it is. This is what it looks like.
How necessary, to be able to check out your own cervix to see what “normal” looks like for you throughout the month, so you can immediately know if something is off.
We deserve to be taught everything about our bodies. Right now this information is coming from sex coaches, midwives, sex workers, bodyworkers. It is not coming from our schools, our textbooks, our parents, or our doctors.
We deserve to be taught about the clitoris, about the cervix, about male multiple orgasms.
Our pleasure is important. Our pleasure should not be hidden. It should be talked about, loudly. It should not be banned.
Pleasure is healing.
Pleasure is the antithesis of capitalism.
Which is fine, because capitalism is not where we’re headed, anyway.
Also by Demetra Nyx: “how to live when the world is dying” (a book of poems)
**And special thanks to Pam Samuelson, for inspiring much of the information in this story