Yes, of course I’m riffing on Anne Koedt’s famous 1970 work, The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm, an icon of modern feminism. Now comes more bad press for the vagina from Elisabeth Lloyd, author of The Case of the Female Orgasm. It impresses Michael Castleman, sex educator and author in his own right, who assures the readers of this site that “intercourse is not the essence of lovemaking.” The photo with his piece shows a kind, friendly face. He looks to be, and reads as, the sort of post-feminist guy who insists that his bedmate finish first. In one hand he has Lloyd’s book; his other hand is at his partner’s clitoris. How sweet, how contemporary…how wrongheaded.
Freud was spot-on in dubbing the clitoris infantile. Like a little boy’s penis, it’s suitably placed for self-exploration and masturbation. A pubescent girl needs nothing more than her fingers to produce a brilliant array of sensations. Because she’s alone in her single bed, her mind roams freely, trying on various fantasies, eventually developing a virtual library of them. And there’s the rub.
Throughout a woman’s life, clitoral stimulation harkens back to her childhood solo flights and goes hand in hand with fantasying. If she’s by herself, the circle is complete. But if she’s in bed with someone else, let’s say a man—a man whose fingers or mouth or nose or toes are nudging her towards ecstasy, he’s reduced to the role of a human Eroscillator. Doing his gallant best to mask his tedium and muscle cramp, he diddles his “partner” while she reruns her favorite X-rated films in the screening room of her mind. This is not the essence of lovemaking, no matter how lovingly intended.
Clitoral orgasms are delicious: hot sugar fireworks. They do wonders for curing migraine. But they are solipsistic—the very opposite of lovemaking.
Here’s a telling quote from Michael’s apologia: “’Intercourse is okay,’ says New York City sex educator Betty Dodson, Ph.D. ’But I much prefer a talented tongue on my clitoris.’” Dr. Betty is an original and a star, an example for us all at age eighty; but she remains above all else the author of Sex for One, deservedly in print since 1974, a celebration of masturbation.
Sex is never just about anatomy. There’s always a cultural component. Mid-20th Century feminists rose up against the definition of “frigidity” as the inability to have a vaginal orgasm. As feminism, bi-sexuality, and lesbianism became cozy bed partners, the clitoral orgasm became the politically correct one—no penis required. The cruel irony is that the emphasis on the clitoris may have killed vaginal orgasm for a generation of heterosexual women.
Clitoral stimulation does nothing for the vagina; in fact, it may deflect arousal from the vagina. It’s stimulation of a woman’s breasts that sets a vagina thrumming. Anyone who has nursed a baby knows that sucking at her nipples echoes down below, deep inside, setting off waves of pleasure. Don’t take my word for it: readTantric Orgasm for Women by Diana Richardson.
Speaking of babies—pregnant or not, a woman enhances her ability to have vaginal orgasms by doing the exercises invented by Dr. Arnold Kegel to abet vaginal delivery. Voluntarily flexing one’s puboococcygeous muscle, on the pelvic floor, is a pleasure in itself…and promotes pleasure all around during intercourse. Thus toned, a woman may delight her lover by gripping and releasing his penis while it’s inside her. And the conscious pulsing will give way to involuntary contractions. A vaginal orgasm, in other words.
But—enough about the body political and physical. What is lovemaking, anyway? It’s not just a drive toward orgasm. It’s union. During intercourse, the eyes can engage, lips kiss, words murmur back and forth. There’s the amazing business of someone being inside someone else. For a heterosexual couple—brand-new strangers or lovers forever—there’s nothing else quite like it.
Michael Castleman properly notes that after age forty, erectile capacity and vaginal lubrication diminish. But a man need not be fully erect to enter a woman. Any joining may be ecstatic; it’s not just about thrusting and ejaculating. As to lubrication, I think Michael sells short the new generation of Silicone-based slick-ums, (and he makes no mention of the power of kegels to get the juices flowing even after the estrogen years).
My clitoris, my orgasm. My vagina, our secret meeting place, our garden of echoing bliss.