Clitoral Revelations #1
Shaming & not naming: A culture historic view on the clitoris
“Myths on female sexuality are widely spread and penetrated by a lot of disinformation, romanticisms and is often used as a tool to reinforce power. These preconceptions contribute strongly to how we shape our ideas of what is a man, what is a woman, what is “normal” and accepted and what isn’t.”
“A women has to bleed on the first time having sex”
”Eroticism is destroyed when you know or talk too much about sex“
“Women who have a pronounced sexuality are sluts or nymphomaniacs”
Such myths tell a tale of an optimal image of the female body that often lead women to perceive their bodies, actions and desires as deficient or wrong. But to find our personal truths we need to dig a bit deeper to remove some dusty layers of belief systems and practices that accumulated amongst the centuries in our subconscious and define new meanings.
The sexpositive movement, including the team of Freudenflussnetwork.e.V (Berlin)opposes this long tradition of myth-creation and shaming of female sexuality and- on the contrary -promote self knowledge and positive sex education with lot`s of humour. I met them in march on Tazlab/Berlin- an annual platform to discuss political issues.
Small cultural historic view on the clitoris
Polly, photographer and activist points out the clitoris on a biological image of the female sexual organs from the 70s- looks very detailed, very complete- a holistic image of the female sexual organs that is hardly found in biology books and even in medical education books today.
As societal and political ideas and ideologies shaped notions of female sexuality, repression of female pleasure through medical authority has a long history. Typically male doctors refer to themselves as the „discoverers of female genitalia“ for example the Bartholin’s gland (glands that secrete mucus to provide vaginal lubrication) named by and after danish anatomist Bartholin and the G-spot (named by german gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg). Until the 17th century the idea dominated that the vagina is an „inner penis“ – an idea that implies female sexuality only has a right to exist with it`s „counterpart“ – the male sexuality. Sex is here equated with penetration- an autonomous female sexuality isn`t provided by this concept. It reminds of the ancient christian creation myth -Eve that was moulded from Adam’s rib back in Eden‘s paradise.
Through the autopsy of human bodies the clitoris- as an important pleasure giving organ- celebrated a renaissance and revaluation. The female orgasm was (in medical circles) suddenly considered important for reproduction and justified the amount of research that was done on the topic. Later in the 19th century a change of discourse suggested that „the female orgasm is not important for reproduction“ which buried the clit again in oblivion. The broader message deriving from that discourse: Only a sexuality that serves reproduction is valid and healthy. In 19th century Freud exaggerated again the importance of penetration and with it heterosexual love only claiming that the only „valid female orgasm is the vaginal orgasm“. The validity of clitoral orgasm was diminished to a sign of an immature sexuality. Subtext: „if you feel pleasure through anything else than penetration you are sick, wrong or anormal“. A characterisation that still shapes the sexuality and pleasure opposing society we live in. The two waves of feminism contributed to a more positive access to female sexuality, but as we`ll see also split the feminist movement.
The sexpositive movement
Sexpositive feminism is one model within the many feminisms that exist today. The movement originated within the women’s movement in the 1970s in the USA based on a deep analysis of violence against women and other sexual minorities in society. Among other topics the analysis revealed, that pornography contributes to violent behaviour and should,as a consequence, be banned. From this point feminists had either the choice to follow this path or to create alternatives to the mostly heteronormative, violent, male-pleasure-oriented mainstream pornography. The sexpositive wing formed and decided on promoting the latter option as many feminists claim „censorship has never been a good idea“.This intense debate between these two wings resulted in the „feminist sex wars“ in the early 80s.
Sex-positivity is defined by the key-idea that every person has a right to sexuality, which is considered part of the broader female liberation, as well it is or can be an essential source of strength for women. Second: Consensual sex doesn`t require regulation nor intrusion from the outside, neither family, nor government, nor society. Thirdly: A sexual identity is widely constructed and because of this the belief that there is actually a right and wrong way to live and practice sexuality should be eliminated- because it is too limiting! Sexuality is in constant flux, progression and may change throughout a lifetime. From the initial point of the discussion around pornography, the sexpositive movement organically enlarged it`s topics until today. A very exciting field, that reflects a lot of today`s societies shaming culture is language use which is not less a delicate and political issue.