Bringing Sexy Mac: the orgasm imbalance
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Bringing Sexy Mac: the orgasm imbalance

A diagram of the clitoris. Illustration courtesy of Penny Kahn ’17.
A diagram of the clitoris. Illustration courtesy of Penny Kahn ’17.

As we enter the second week of the new Sexy Mac, I will be introducing the standard question-and-answer format I hope to follow in the coming weeks. I expect to answer between one and three questions per week, depending on the complexity of the question and/or the material I can find on the matter. As always, I welcome feedback. Without further ado…
Why is it so much harder for people with vaginas to achieve orgasm?

Like most other complicated questions, the answer involves both social and biological elements. I will preface this answer by saying that people much more qualified than me have been searching for an answer to this questions for decades, and many people have written hundreds of pages of literature and research examining the complexity of the human orgasm. That said, I will try to explain a reasonable enough answer in the few hundred words I have allotted to me. Let’s start with the biological explanation.

If you were to examine a human fetus before the two-month mark, even the most conservative parents would be unable to assign a gender to their child’s genitalia. At six weeks, all human fetuses have identical internal sex organs and two sets of ducts: the Wolffian and Müllerian. If a Y chromosome is present, the SRY-gene (Sex determining Region Y gene) will cause the Wolffian ducts to develop into the vas deferens and seminal vesicles, while the Müllerian ducts will essentially disappear. The previously bipotential sex organs will develop into testes, and, if everything goes as planned, a penis, scrotum and testicles will soon follow. In the absence of the SRY-gene, the Müllerian ducts will reign victorious and the bipotential sex organs will develop into ovaries, typically followed by a vagina and labia. Note: the above process does not take intersex individuals into account, and it must be said that human sexual differentiation often does not follow the traditional paths of development described above.

Phew! After that crash course on biology and sexual differentiation in human fetuses, we can talk about why the above paragraph is relevant to human sexual response. Because internal sexual organs are identical at the start of fetal development, an extreme oversimplification allows us to view genitalia of all sexes as essentially identical, but in various degrees of “externality” vs. “internality.” In other words, the nerves present in a penis are also present in a vagina, but internalized.

Referring to the attached diagram, the head of the penis is analogous to the external clitoral glans, while the internal clitoral crura (also called clitoral wings) can be compared to the penis shaft and the vestibular bulbs to the bulb of the penis. Thinking in these terms, it is no wonder that people with vaginas often have a more difficult time reaching orgasm. Imagine if the only reachable part of the penis was a fraction of the head, and the rest of the pleasurable tissue sat inside the body anchored behind a wall of less-sensitive flesh. The internal nature of the majority of clitoral tissue tends to perpetuate the idea of people with clitorises’ sexual response and orgasm as “mysterious” and “hidden,” which leads us to the socialization aspect of the complexity of vaginal/clitoral orgasm.

Oh, patriarchal socialization, what have you managed to destroy this time? Note: non-heteronormative non-gendered research/literature/narratives on human sexual response are, as one might expect, extremely difficult to come by, and thus, in this section I will focus almost exclusively on cis men and cis women.

For a so-called progressive society, vaginal/clitoral pleasure remains taboo. Media representations have improved, but depictions of cis women’s sexual pleasure are dramatically rarer than depictions of that of cis men’s. The masturbation of cis women remains an undiscussed open secret, whereas the masturbation of cis men is normalized and encouraged in mainstream discourse. Part of the differences in conversation are relics of the past, when women (trans people were seldom discussed as this point, so the “cis” prefix seems redundant) were viewed as sexless beings who engaged in intercourse with their husbands in accordance with their wifely duties as child-bearers and the submissively penetrated.

Today, the binary-based myth of women as less sexual than men has continued and is internalized in women so that they are still very much encouraged to sleep with as few people as possible in order to “act like a lady.” If women do decide to engage in intercourse, they are encouraged to make excuses: they were swept away by passion, they made a mistake, they consented in order to please their sexual partners. They are not encouraged to make their pleasure a priority, and in fact, young cis women are told that their first time will be extremely painful and will make them cry and bleed. The pleasure of the woman is ignored, denigrated or used as a pejorative.

In many sexual and romantic relationships between cis men and cis women, the “goal” of sexual intercourse is penile ejaculation; anything else is a nice bonus. In contrast, some (usually) well-meaning cis men put so much emphasis on vaginal orgasms (regardless of the partner’s gender) that the intercourse is not considered over until the latter orgasms.

This overemphasis on the orgasm of both parties often creates a pressure that encourages the person with a vagina to “fake it” in order to protect the fragile ego of the cis man, who ties virility to the ability to induce vaginal/clitoral orgasm.

People with vaginas are encouraged not to prioritize their own pleasure, are shielded from representations of people experiencing vaginal/clitoral pleasure, are characterized as non-sexual beings and are repeatedly told that their bodies are “just too complicated” to induce to orgasm. This, coupled with biological factors, helps explain, in short, why people with vaginas often find orgasm more elusive than people with penises.

Questions? Comments? Insults? Email me or, for a more anonymous option, go to mailing services and SPO your question to box 764.

April 8, 2016

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