The gorgeous art piece pictured above is appropriately named "Glitoris." It's a powerful and imposing figure that we have been moving around campus. It is, you guessed it, a replica of the internal structure of the clitoris. This sculpture was inspired by Sophia Wallace's "cliteracy art" project and was re-created by one of our art students to raise awareness and educate people on the sexual pleasure of women (and people of other genders who have a clitoris).
Even as a feminist in college, and as someone who has been very open about topics related to sex for most of my life, I don't think I heard someone else say the word "clit/clitoris," out loud, until I was in my early 20s.
Even today, this word, this body part, is treated like a slur, a secret, a subjugated knowledge.
How people (do not) talk about the clitoris is precisely why our campus Women's Center chose to do programming--events, speakers, tabling, awareness, outreach, postering, and hosting a (now infamous) "Find the Clit: Sex Ed Scavenger Hunt."
Women genuinely enjoying sex incites astronomical levels of misogyny, even in a porn culture. Only in a patriarchal, sexist culture (religious AND secular) would such discomfort occur as a result of us unashamedly speaking and educating about this--even on a college campus, a space for adult learners, a space that many people see as protective "free speech," embodies "liberal values," and/or is supposedly "sexually open."
Not so much. We received all sorts of strange responses and backlash for these events from inside and outside of our campus community: continuous complaints, threats, people trying to cancel or hide our event, people calling to yell at us for how "offensive" our programming is and labelled us "groomers" that are apparently promoting rape because we are educating grown adults on a college campus on the clitoris in 2023. It was a wild semester.
When I used to speak and educate in faith communities that were often very conservative, I would remind them that sex IS for pleasure and pleasure is the primary reason people have sex.
On what ground could I make such a claim (besides the fact that people who are capable of reproducing are only fertile a few days per month)?? Well, I had to remind church-goers in the pews that someone created the clit, and according to their belief system, it was God.
Cool, right? I could feel the deep exhale from a very tense religious crowd. What a relief for folks to know that the sole and only purpose of a clitoris is for sexual pleasure. As I let that statement sink in, I could visibly see the wheels turning and belief systems challenged/shifted.
Why is knowing this so powerful? Because a penis has multiple functions. A vagina has multiple functions as well. But God/the creator/universe very intentionally chose to bless the female body with an extra part for no other function but sexual catharsis. Oh, AND women can have multiple/endless orgasms!! So clearly the creator cared a whole lot about pleasure and women enjoying sex.
In addition, the most clitoral sensitivity and nerve endings are external on the vulva, not inside the vagina. (Side note--that should also make the straights question the centrality of penis-in-vagina penetration-focused sex).
Maybe all this female sexual power and capacity for pleasure is why men in this world have gone to such extreme lengths to control and colonize our bodies and sexuality. Maybe God is less uneasy and uncomfortable with female sexual pleasure than us humans are. God is less of a prude than your average dude or patriarchal church.
Despite this, women's sexual pleasure is still so taboo and shamed--not only in conservative or religious communities--everywhere.
However, discussing and educating others comprehensively on healthy, egalitarian, pleasure-based sexuality is a primary sexual violence prevention tool, proven by decades of research.
Women's sexual pleasure is still treated as a frivolous privilege, a bonus, afterthought, etc. Research shows that even after multiple waves of sexual revolutions, the sex lives of women have not improved all that much over the past 50 years. Beliefs around sex roles and men's sexual entitlement/self-centeredness is still deeply-rooted.
Lesbian women are the most sexually satisfied demographic, in stark contrast to women who have sex with men. What can men learn from lesbian and queer women? A whole lot. Men should be taking notes from lesbians... oh, and maybe ask their own female partners what they want in bed? For a society that is convinced it is so sexually liberated, we can't even get the most basic stuff down (saying anatomical body part names out loud, respecting boundaries and consent, and valuing the sexual pleasure of all).
I highly recommend reading one of my most favorite books for more analysis on this: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward. Ward is a lesbian who feels like she needs to be an "ally" to straight women. She feels the experience of too many straight women is a lifetime of suffering trying to be in relationship with sexist men... men who only want women because of what women do for them. And women who respond by exhausting themselves trying to convince/change/rehabilitate/fix men.
Included in this straight-woman-suffering is enduring serious sexual violence, trauma, and simply mediocre or bad sex. I have observed this as a frighteningly common experience of women and resonate with Ward's findings as an advocate who has worked all of my professional life with survivors of sexual violence and on issues of patriarchal violence, feminism, and gender equity.
I feel this has been a life-long frustration of mine: I constantly see fabulous, brilliant, powerful women in my life stifled by dweeby, clueless, or downright dangerous men who don't give a shit about them. My life goal is raising the insultingly low bar we have for men and calling them to a higher standard.
Men's sexual entitlement to women's bodies, with minimal/no knowledge or care regarding how to please them, is not only pathetic, it's actually disturbing.
It should be fundamental, expected, and *required* that people having (supposedly??) consensual sex are both enjoying it and experiencing pleasure. When bombarded by porn and media that portrays sex in a patriarchal, competitive, transactional, coercive, conquering, male-centered, and violent way, clearly this is a wild concept and needs more attention.
What does that say about how shamed women's sexuality is when grown adults cannot even say the word "clitoris" out loud (and if they do, are deeply embarrassed about it, and avoid it all costs)?
The personal is political and the political is personal.
Women's sexuality and pleasure is not trivial. The fact that women's sexual pleasure is so devalued and stigmatized simply imitates, mirrors, and reflects broader structures and systems that devalue women as an entire class. If we are going to end patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny, our sexual practices, and how we talk about them, matter.
We all need to become cliterate because women deserve better.