Chinese Malaysian, American Literature at Osaka University, Japan.
Rethinking Women’s Movement: The Politics of Orgasm in the 1970s
Since the 1970s, the politicization of women’s personal life experiences started and issues such as the right to sexual pleasure, the right to say ‘no’, political lesbianism, debates around abortion, rape, sexual abuse, pornography, sexual harassment and prostitution were introduced into the political arena (Mottier 59).
Since then, studies on the female sexuality had become more important. Among sexologists such Sherfey, Kaplan, Fisher and others, Masters and Johnson had discovered that women’s unlimited orgasmic capacities are associated with the clitoris (see The Pleasure Bond, 1974). This evidence proved that the emphasis on vaginal orgasm as natural and superior is deprived from male oppression of female sexuality. Feminist Anne Koedt’s further claimed in her essay “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm” (1972) that
“Women have thus been defined sexually in terms of what pleases men; our own biology has not been properly analyzed. Instead, we are fed the myth of the liberated woman and her vaginal orgasm—an orgasm which in fact does not exist.”
This controversial argument had become a crucial issue in the politicization of sex as people at that time believed that “women who prefer[red] clitoral stimulation to any other form of sexual activity can be regarded as suffering from frigidity and require[d] assistance” (Caprio 64).
Despite their discovery of clitoral orgasm, Masters and Johnson declared that only intercourse that involves orgasm can be viewed as “normal” and the clitoris was supposed to be automatically stimulated during intercourse (qtd in Mottier 62). As opposed to this, feminist Alix Shulman criticized that “I suppose, as a penis is automatically ‘stimulated’ by a man’s underwear whenever he takes a step” (296).
Regarding women’s capacity of orgasm, Shere Hite identified that “of the 82 percent of women who say they masturbated, 95 percent could orgasm easily and regularly” (59). Drawing on this evidence, Hite claimed that “women know how to enjoy their bodies; no one needs to tell them how. It is not female sexuality that has a problem (‘dysfunction’) but society that has problem in its definition of sex and the subordinate role that definition gives women” (60). With regard to the social model of sexuality, she pointed out that “the pattern of sexual predominant in our culture exploits and oppresses women”; “Our model of sex and physical relations is culturally (not biological) defined and can be redefined—or undefined” (qtd. in Sexuality 63).
Although Hite’s argument had been criticized as “political bias”, her theory had increased the politicization of female sexuality. For instance, some feminists named “the clitoris as a woman’s best friend” while political lesbians declared that lesbianism is more like a “political choice” than a biological determined sexual identity (Mottier 64-5). Among those viewpoints, Adrienne Rich introduced the concept of a “lesbian continuum”: ‘all women can share a “range of woman-identified experience”, from any form of “bonding against male tyranny” to genital sex’ (qtd. in Sexuality 65; see “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, 1980 pp. 631-60).
Today, the myth of “vaginal orgasm” is still affecting millions of women, as most of the countries are in fact male-dominated. In contrast, some countries that had gone through the feminist movements come to argue that prostitution can be good for women, to express women’s “sexuality”; some promote the practices and products of the sex industry to women—there is now a whole area of the women’s communities where critical analysis of sexual practice is classified as “political correctness” (Jeffrey “How Orgasm”). For those who suffer under the male-dominated society, freedom is represented as a better orgasm. As for those who are too-liberated society, perhaps it is time to review the history of feminist movements.
Caprio, Frank. The Sexually Adequate Woman. NY: The Citadel Press, 1963.
Hite, Shere. The Hite Report on Female Sexuality. NY: Dell, 1976.
Jeffreys, Sheila. “How Orgasm Politics Has Hijacked the Women’s Movement.” A Magazine of Critical, Independent Thinking. Spring 1996. Web. 29 June 2016.
Koedt, Anne. “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm.” Radical Feminism. NY: Quadrangle, 1972.
Shulman, Alix. “Organs and Orgasm.” Women in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness. ed. Vivian Gornick and Barbara K. Moran. NY: Signet Books, 1972.
Text © Lay Sion Ng
Lay’s Previous Contributions To Edge Of Humanity Magazine
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