New Site. New Blog. Same subject matter…

I thought I’d cleverly launch my new site by guest blogging somewhere else. I’ve helped hijack The Lay Scientist which is run by my good friend Martin Robbins who is too busy being lofty and writing for the Guardian. I’ve cross-posted the article below – but this is by way of an explanation for why it sounds like I’ve never written about vaginas before….

Waiting for clitoromania

I’m very excited to be guest blogging at The Lay Scientist and have to say its a bit like being in someone else’s flat without them being there. I obviously don’t do that too often and am just managing to keep myself out of Martin’s knicker drawer.

I thought I might start as I mean to go on, by writing about vaginal orgasms. Call me an attention seeker.

I was sent a study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine by the fabulous and recommended Dr Petra Boynton and have to say that, however angry it made me, I will be forever in debt to Prof Stuart Brody for introducing the word ‘clitoromania’ into my life.

Needless to say, the study is more than a little Freudian. Feminists have frequently had a problem with Freud, mostly on the basis that he was talking bollocks (heh), but also because he was often hugely simplistic and lacking in evidence. Somewhat like our new friend Prof Brody.

Dr Petra makes some excellent points about the flaws in the methodology of this study, notably that it was a questionnaire which was asking the female participants to estimate and recall such things as partners’ penis length, duration of penetrative sex and what they had been taught about female orgasms. Questionnaires asking for estimation and recall may return interesting information on attitudes but does not lead to very credible factual information. For example, you may be likely to say that your lovely partner has a larger than average cock because you’re a nice person not because its true.

But I can’t shrug off the feeling that Prof Brody has an agenda here, most notably because of his reference to women’s studies courses (codeword for hairy-armed, feminist, lesbians):

Many North American university courses, including women’s studies courses, promulgate texts that falsely claim that vaginal orgasm does not exist, is very rare, or is essentially the same as clitoral orgasm.

Really? Do they really? Really, do they? There is no evidence offered to support this statement or indeed most of the statements made in the discussion of this paper which specifically do not follow from the evidence reported by the survey.

There is an illustrious history of ‘scientific’ fascination in female sexuality and genitalia; from hysteria (meaning literally disturbances of the uterus, hence hysterectomy) to the widespread myth (for I’m afraid it is a myth) of the vagina dentata. The problem is how bad science, and bad science reporting, can be irritating but also damaging – to health, sexual satisfaction, and relationships.

This study generated the headlines “Women’s ultimate fantasy: Size not foreplay“, “Wait. Size Matters, After all?”, “The elusive orgasm” and “Oui, la taille du sexe, ça compte’ (roughly translates ‘Yes, the size of the sex counts’, but check out the less than supportive accompanying picture).

So there’s pressure to orgasm, to have multiple orgasms, to not take too long and now according to this study, have the right sort of orgasm. Listen Stuart Brody – back off.

It is a concentration on “doing sex right” which leads to the medicalisation of male and female sexual ‘dysfunction’. I don’t deny that sometimes drugs and treatments for sexual dysfunction are necessary and beneficial to individuals but often, and certainly historically, we are being told that there is a right and wrong way to have sex and if you’re not doing it right then you have to be corrected.

Humans, together with other animals notably the bonobo (great article, doesn’t link to animal porn. Honest), have sex for pleasure not simply procreation. By sex, I don’t share Brody’s fixation on heterosexual penetrative sex (believe me it is a fixation, see here, here, here) I would include oral sex, same-sex sex and all number of sexual practices which I’m not going to list here because you all have access to the internet.

Focusing on heterosexual penetrative sex is therefore frankly boring, unrealistic and makes us less adventurous than our ape cousins.

Instead let me recommend this study to you, which is also survey-based but is explicitly collecting data on attitudes, on the health impacts of women having positive attitudes towards their genitals. Debby Herbenick the lead researcher draws attention to how our culture portrays women’s genitals as dirty and in need of cleaning and grooming and how this impacts on sexual health and satisfaction.

Although the point of science is to check for biases and strive as far as is possible for objectivity, it still takes place – and importantly is reported – within a cultural context. A cultural context which is full of inequality, prejudice and discrimination.

This is why when you read the headline “scientists say size does matter” followed by a story of a flawed study that certainly doesn’t prove penis size increases the prevalence of vaginal orgasms; stop and think – I wonder why? When you do, you would have taken your first step on the path to feminism 😉

Naomi Mc blogs as Vagina Dentata. She was dragged by our over-centralised economy to London from Scotland and finds it to be “not that bad”. She’s a human rights activist and hearts epidemiology.

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