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Sex + Relationships

Misogyny in Sex Education: The female orgasm, the clitoris and a unicorn – one of these things are not like the other.

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

“Don’t worry; it is supposed to hurt. Make sure not to have sex on your period. It’s unhygienic. Always be on the pill.” And other lies…

After someone’s first sexual encounter, it isn’t long before they realise the lies fed to them during their sex education from either school or their parents. Sex has become something bigger than itself over the years. It’s been mythologised to the extent that losing one’s virginity is life-changing. And although it is (well, it should be) fun, it is not all that it is built up to be. You don’t look different; you don’t act different. You haven’t tainted yourself, and I am sure if someone really wanted to, they could still sacrifice your blood to the devil. This idea surrounding ‘losing’ one’s virginity and ‘becoming’ a woman stems from deep-rooted misogyny being fed to us under the guise of education. The consensus of what sex education should include and exclude is extremely outdated and, consequently, rather harmful.

One thing, which is often skipped over at school, is the clitoris. Professor Caroline de Costa explains that this phenomenon continues into medical research, saying, ‘It is not discussed. I go to conferences, I go to workshops, I edit the journal, I read other journals. I read papers all the time, and never do I find mention of the clitoris.’ This resulted from the clitoris being absent from medical textbooks until 1998, when Professor Helen O’Connell, then a student, did the first comprehensive anatomical study of the clitoris.

O’Connell was astounded at the disregard textbooks had for educating doctors on how to perform surgery without hurting the nerves attached to the clitoris, which was commonplace for textbooks to do for the penis. At this time, the clitoris was seen as a ‘poor homologue’ of the penis’ and was not given any importance. In 2005, O’Connell observed the clitoris under an MRI for the first time. In 2018, O’Connell and her team found only 11 articles on anatomical dissection of the clitoris that had been published worldwide since 1947. Despite the hard work of many academics and researchers, the clitoris still remains absent from sex education lessons and academic resources.

The result of this negligent academic research into the clitoris arguably stems from society’s values influencing scientific values and the infamous Sigmund Freud. The clitoris was made to be seen as a source of embarrassment. This stigma meant that the clitoris was often referred to as the ‘shameful member’ and was previously linked to witchcraft. Furthermore, Freud declared that clitoral orgasms were immature and vaginal orgasms were more mature and respectable, adding another shade of shame to the clitoris.

Consequently, the female orgasm was also widely ignored in talks of sex education, and this has prompted our lack of knowledge on the clitoris today. O’Connell explains, ‘We see literature doubting the importance of female orgasm, entertaining the argument that from an evolutionary standpoint female orgasm could merely be a by-product of selection on male orgasm.’ 

The female orgasm is not often taught in schools and is often joked to be a ‘myth’ and unachievable.

Undeniably, this is a result of the lack of research on the clitoris; therefore, it has become shameful to talk about. Often, women can feel shame for not achieving orgasm, and their sexual partners may feel shame in not being able to give them an orgasm. This stunts any communication and becomes a circle of shame. In 2016, O’Connell co-authored a paper that disproved the existence of the G-spot. No erectile tissue was found in the vaginal walls, only in the clitoris. Clitoral stimulation is often key to the female orgasm.

After publishing her research, O’Connell stated, ‘ People want a kind of magical thing, where he gets off through penetration of the vagina and exactly what causes his joy causes her joy. Almost everyone is going to fall short on the goal because the organs just don’t seem to be designed in this magical way that would fit with the kind of thrusting behaviour causing an orgasm.’ Of course, different things cause different people to orgasm, which is perfectly normal. However, like the rest of sex education, women’s pleasure is assumed by what causes men joy, which can make sex awkward and not fun for the parties involved. 

The biggest thing to take away from this research is that if you are ever feeling ashamed about your knowledge or sexual performance, it is clear even academics don’t always know what they are doing. The only thing we can do to prevent awkward sexual encounters is to educate ourselves and hope one day; sex education becomes useful. Maybe that day will arrive when the maths criteria switch out pi with taxes. A girl can dream.

she/her I'm Charlotte, though most people call me Charli. I am currently studying English BA.