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The Female Orgasm: Myths and Misconceptions

My Women’s Studies textbook has just introduced me to the work of Anne Koedt, activist and co-founder of New York Radical Feminists (Feminist Theory, 2010). In her essay “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” Koedt addresses the myths centered on women’s orgasm, and why these myths have been perpetuated.

Written in 1970, this article must have been eye-opening, a keen and revolutionary text that women hid beneath their pillows and made them think critically, shamefully, curiously about their own bodies. Addressing the Freudian theory that women are sexually frigid, Koedt brings to our attention the fact that female frigidity prevails because women are not pleased sexually. And contrary to Freud’s and patriarchy’s assumptions about the female orgasm and its limited potential for pleasure, this is not women’s fault. It’s the fault of male-dominated institutions that used assumptions without lack of scientific evidence or anatomical exploration to make these assertions.

Interestingly, Koedt talks about vaginal orgasm vs. clitoral orgasm. There is no such thing as a vaginal orgasm. According to Koedt, who uses female anatomical evidence to show that no part of a woman’s vagina offers her an orgasm, women who say they have vaginal orgasms are simply confused. There are two factors that contribute to this confusion:

“One, failing to locate the center of the orgasm, and two by a desire to fit her experience to the male-defined idea of sexual normalcy.” (188)

The vagina has only four functions: 1) to receive the penis; 2) to hold the semen; 3) birth passage; 4) menstruation. Like many other organs, it is not made up of any sensitive parts that would respond to touch or reduce it to sputtering orgasmic pleasure. Koedt states that “The position of the penis inside the vagina, while perfect for reproduction, does not necessarily stimulate an orgasm in women because the clitoris is located externally and higher up” (189). The only kind of orgasm a woman can experience is through clitoral stimulation—and this she may have to ask for, demand, or take charge of for herself.

Why do men and women persist then in perpetuating this myth of the female orgasm? In our time, women seem to take pleasure as much as they give it when entrenched in consensual intercourse. And yet, when I have had discussions with women about orgasms, they always say they have vaginal ones. Are women still confused about the pleasure passages of their own bodies, 40 years later? After all, who teaches us about the female body—about orgasms—about deserving to feel as much pleasure from the act as men do without even trying?

Koedt contends that women in her time were educated about sex by men—from the male perspective. Men in science and anatomy and psychology and literature conspired out of ignorance—not deceit or malice—to explore our bodies and their functions without ever touching us. Their observations and findings resulted from looking, never exploring, and never by asking via interviews, surveys, or any of those factors. Women were taught about their bodies by men who didn’t understand female bodies—but endeavored to commit their distant observations as factual evidence. In this way, women have again been silenced and become what Koedt considers “the invisible women” (189). How do we correct this?

The image of Sex and the City’s Charlotte placing a mirror to her womanhood and exploring its mysterious entities comes to mind. We all need to unlearn what we have been taught about our sex—our bodies and our places of pleasure—by socially conditioned and normalized mechanisms. We need to take charge of the information that is perpetuated about us and about our bodies. We need to learn through exploration and defiance—through self-knowledge and experimentation—how our bodies work and what we need to feel good. We need to take back our sex.

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Marina DelVecchio
Marina DelVecchio is the author of The Prostitute's Daughter, a memoir in which she shows how she has used literature to combat a life of abuse and poverty. She blogs about female agency and the necessary empowerment of our daughters at http://marinagraphy.com. Her work can be found at the Huffington Post, The New Agenda, the WM Parenting Connection, and BlogHer. She teaches writing and literature on the college level.
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6  Comments
  • Dr. Charles Runels

    There are women who have difficulty reaching orgasm. It has affected their sex life tremendously. A new procedure called o-shot can help these women reach that big O. This procedure uses blood derived growth factors to give healthier vaginal tissue by stimulating uni-potent stem cells and has been very effective. Watch the procedure at oshot.info

    Charles Runels, MD

  • Marsha Wall

    I have orgasms both vaginally and through clitoral stimulation….
    ……..and love oral stimulation………not one theory fits all………

  • Allison

    The clitoral legs wrap around the urethra and vagina. The pudendal nerves surround all this tissue. The urethral sponge (aka the G spot) is also connected into this intricate system. Stimulation of this entire area can cause profound pleasure.

    The myth of the vaginal orgasm is the REAL myth. Our bodies are all different, and our responses to touch and pleasure cascade in different ways.

    I’ve had extraordinary, gushing orgasms from vaginal penetration alone. But Ms. Koedt apparently thinks I’m a liar.

    Perhaps the more constructive conversation should be about pleasure and the revolutionary act of women finding their own pleasure, instead of re-pathologizing women who find joy and pleasure in ways that an “expert” says is wrong.

  • Kari

    Well, more recent research has shown that clitoral tissue extends deeper in some women than was previously known. Personally, I find external clitoral stimulation painful and unpleasant. So I masturbate with dildos to hit an internal vaginal pressure point that brings me to orgasm easily. I have orgasms during penetration, but never through oral sex. Not all clits and vaginas are the same.

  • Cat Forsley

    I agree with Kate – It’s all about the individual

  • Kate Robinson

    Individual experience needs to be taken into account. Just because Koedt is female doesn’t mean she can tell any other woman what she does or doesn’t feel, just like a man cannot. I have two examples for consideration: for me, childbirth was not painful at all. I experienced only a little “pinch” when my children’s heads passed through my perineum. A friend of mine describes birth as completely painful. Did I experience pain that I deny? Did she not experience pain? My second example is that of people with sensitivities to textures. For some kids, a trip to the beach is a time without shoes, to explore the warmth and softness of sand, to feel the cold sting of the ocean and to avoid sharp rocks while getting into the surf on a rocky shoreline. For another child, the very sensation of sand is irritating, foreign, terrifying. Would we (male or female) ever think to inform the first child that he or she was not really having fun with all the foot sensations or would we tell the second he or she was silly and that the feelings were wonderful?
    Take back our sex is right, for ourselves, individually.

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