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.
In March of 2022, I piloted this new presentation with women student leaders at the College of St. Benedict's and at a St. Cloud State University human sexuality class.
The session was titled, The Revolution is COMING: Sexual Politics, Pleasure Equity, and Cliteracy.
This session gives participants an opportunity to (re)learn and discuss the politics around women's sexuality, pleasure and orgasm in/equity, cliteracy, and examine cultural messaging about sex and gender roles, desire, and the impact of sexual trauma on sexuality. I also share resources and strategies for change.
This is a great presentation topic for college students, adults, women's groups, men's groups, pre-marital/marriage groups, conferences, etc.
What inspired me to take on this new topic is recognizing how little people of all genders know about the clitoris and the lack of prioritization of pleasure for people who have them!
I have had many conversations with women of all ages who had been having sex for years (even decades!) and did not know where their own clitoris was located and/or never had an orgasm. This both pained me... and pissed me off. THIS IS A FREAKING TRAGEDY YA'LL...
Our "sexual education" system protects patriarchal sexual norms. "Sex ed" is purposefully designed to invisibilize and fail women, queer, and gender-marginalized folks.
At the college I work at, students were really interested in inviting a speaker to talk about the orgasm gap on campus. We searched... and there were only a handful of speakers we could find throughout the country that spoke on this topic... and only one or two speakers who lived in our state.
So, here I am. Talking all about clits and other important stuff because women's sexual lives are not trivial.
Another one of my many life missions is for women to have better sex and to openly, proudly, unashamedly talk about women's sexual pleasure and orgasm equity. The personal is political and the political is personal!
I am a feminist practitioner with a social and political science background. No, I can't tell you the biology or give the detailed specifics surrounding the science of arousal and orgasm, but that's not really what I see audiences are looking for anyway.
Pleasure/orgasm inequity has far less to do with biology, sex/gender differences, or actual orgasm difficulties as it has to do with power, social and cultural norms, patriarchy, sexism, sex/gender roles, sexual entitlement, and this fabulously accurate new term I'm hear more: "strategic incompetence."
It also has a lot to do with who defines "sex."
Those questions are mostly rhetorical, as the answer(s) is literally hitting us on the head with a giant brick.
So, is the content I share in this presentation cutting-edge, earth-shattering, wildly innovative, and novel?
Sometimes, we just have to collectively face the music. I'll be sharing the research, allowing us some space to discuss, learn, unlearn, and think critically to confront the silly sexual messaging we receive about the "mysterious female orgasm" because, oh heavens, women's bodies are sooooo complicated. *Eye roll*
Yes, there a bit of snark in this presentation. How could there not be?
Sometimes, we must laugh at the absurdity. And then... fight for the revolution. It's COMING.