It’s Valentine’s Day loves! On this day of love, indulgence, and pleasure, we couldn’t think of a better topic to talk about than the ever-misunderstood orgasm. Big disclaimer for this episode, the history and science that we discuss is very gendered, binary, and heteronormative, because well, mainstream history itself, is just that. However, we acknowledge that different genders experience orgasms differently, and that gender is a spectrum and is not based on the sex you were assigned at birth. The majority of data that’s been collected throughout history is often trans-exclusionary and cis-normative.
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The female* orgasm and women’s sexual pleasure more broadly, has baffled men, researchers, and scientists since before the 12th century. Despite there being “gourds” of evidence that people, including Queen Celopatra, have been pleasing themselves sexually since the caveman days, western socio-religious values demonized women’s sexual pleasure, turning into a pathological form of deviancy. Enter Hysteria! This is the one part of sexual history that we tend to all be familiar with: the fact that female sexual desire and tension was diagnosed as “hysteria,” or the “wandering womb,” a psychological condition that was believed to drive women completely insane. The treatment for such required a pelvic massage. In this episode we unpack the medical coercion and abuse of this treatment, and how this diagnosis was used by men and powerful elites to maintain gendered power and control. It’s no surprise that the hysteria diagnosis reached its peak during the women’s suffrage movement. This troubled history has had severe impacts on how we understand and view women’s sexual pleasure and orgasms today. A 2017 survey of sexual behavior among adults in the US, only 65 percent of women who have sex with men, reported that they usually or always orgasmed during sex. This made them the group with the lowest sexual satisfaction — behind lesbian and bisexual women, and all of the men surveyed. Their male partners, however, came out on top, with 95 percent reporting regular orgasm with a partner. This study also showed that 85 percent of men surveyed claimed their partner had an orgasm every time they had sex. This leaves a significant proportion of men deciding — or believing — that their partner has experienced an orgasm when she hasn’t. The problem isn’t that men are different from women; it’s that our society treats men’s sexual pleasure as something that’s expected and deserved, and women’s sexual pleasure and comfort as an afterthought. This is outlined in Lili Loofbourow’s ‘The female price of male pleasure.’ Even more progressive research surrounding women’s sexual please is still very “male-centric.” Just take a look at this article from the Kinsey Institute which lists possible explanations for the female orgasm as encouraging sperm upsuck and increasing male pleasure during ‘coitus.’ But one thing is for certain, women’s orgasms are REAL, lovely, and they have marvelous health benefits. Sexual pleasure is so important to our own health and wellness. Orgasms have been discovered to improve mood and emotional closeness, regulate menstruation, improve brain function, boost white blood cell levels and immune systems, and help with pain! Additional Information & Sources
Mentions DJ Khaled ‘Don’t Have Sex with a Guy Who Won’t Eat You Out First’ Shirt Todd Akin The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Music Historical HerStories Theme and Sound Library by Juice Lee (AKA Bruce Leanin’) Welcome To Jurassic Park from Jurassic Park – John Williams (1993) – Universal Pictures Film Music