Monday, February 27, 2012

What Lies Beneath - There's More to the Clitoris Than You Think

I stumbled on a picture the other day that caught my attention.

This is not modern art - well, I suppose it could be - it's actually an MRI of the female reproductive system. That yellow thing there? That thing that looks like a wishbone with wings and surrounds the entire vaginal opening? That's the clitoris. Yes, this thing that we think is so tiny and elusive is not so tiny after all.

I learned this from my sexual anatomy work some time ago and I have seen diagrams, but I have never seen the real thing in 3D. It's fascinating. Here's another view so you can get a better idea of what's going on down there.

Knowing this about our anatomy really blows some of the conventional wisdom about women and sex out of the water. This is why I love telling women about this. We hear over and over again that only 40% of women can have an orgasm from penetrative sex. Almost inevitably this lovely 'fact' is followed by some advice as to how to make that happen if you're not one of the lucky 40%. As if this is the real way to have sex and if it's not working for you, you just need to find the thing that will make it work for you. But this image tells us two important things about this vaginal orgasm idea.

First, the clitoris is huge. Well, maybe not huge, but much much bigger than we thought. It's not just the head of it, the part that we see that's sensitive and wired for pleasure, it's the whole damn thing. Focusing only on the head of it is exactly like focusing only on the head of a penis. There's a whole lot more there. So for women who do orgasm easily during penetration, isn't it entirely possible, indeed, highly likely, that the penis or the finger or the toy in there is rubbing against parts of this highly sensitive clitoral tissue that surrounds the whole vaginal opening? That circle and the wing parts you see are made of corpus cavernosum (the same kind of spongy tissue inside a penis). The clit gets hard! So if it's all hard and excited, no doubt you are going to be rubbing against it, no matter what kind of sex you're having. Now, this is not to say that you should get off from penetrative sex - lots of us actually don't. It is to say, however, that if you do, it is probably not because you've learned how to do it right, it's probably because that amazing clit tissue is getting some love. The idea that there is a distinct different between a vaginal orgasm and a clitoral orgasm seems pretty silly when you look at these pictures.

Second, when you look at how this all fits together, it seems absurd that we focus so much on penetration as the route to sexual pleasure. Yes, the clit is big, but it mainly surrounds the outer structures. That awesome sensitive stuff isn't deep inside the vaginal canal, it's much nearer the surface.

What also strikes me is that most women still don't know this. This is the picture we see when they teach us about our sexuality in school.

But this is what it really looks like:

Pretty big difference, huh? This first one is sadly simplistic and lacking in some very important elements. It doesn't even show the vagina, let alone the clitoris. But if you were like me, this was the only kind of picture you ever saw. The only thing we are taught about our own anatomy is how babies are made. Everything to do with sexual pleasure is taken out. No wonder so many of don't have orgasms until we've been having sex for many years. When do we ever get the chance to know the truth about how sexual pleasure works for us?

I have made it my mission to explain this to as many people as possible. These lovely new pictures will certainly help in the quest.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oh the things we learn on Oprah

I have just realized that I'm able to get the Oprah Winfrey Network on my TV now. I think it's just a preview though. I'm really hoping that it is because there's a lot of stuff on that channel that could really suck my time.

But anyway, one of the things that's on the Oprah network is reruns of the Oprah show so I was watching that this morning. (you had to know there was no way we would every be completely rid of the Oprah show). I justified watching it because of the topic. It was about coming out. The one little section I saw was totally fascinating. It was about a woman who was 'happily' married to a man and had two small girls. She never had any inkling, thought, or inclination towards relationships with women until she met a woman at a conference and fell head over heels in love with her. She told her husband and he said 'Well, now that you mention it, I've had some interest in men for some time now and I'd like to explore that.' So now, he has a male partner and she has a female partner. They did not say, in the section I watched, whether they are still married but they were definitely still friends and still co-parenting.

What struck me about this was two things. First, the lack of angsty, hand-wringing, 'what does this mean for the children?' discussion. It was all very civilized and simple. She fell in love with a woman. She wasn't expecting that but she didn't want to deny it. He was interested in men. They allowed each other the space to explore those things. I don't think that it was entirely without angst and stress, but it seems they had worked it through in a totally mature, respectful way. When asked about their kids they said they had told their children the simple truth. Mommy loves Daddy and this woman. Daddy loves Mommy and this man. They said the kids haven't really had much trouble with it. Their children are 4 and 7 years old.

Second, how utterly normal this seemed to me. I work with and hang out with and care about lots of people who live out this kind of reality. They accept that sometimes you love more than one person and sometimes you love people that are the same sex as you. That's just something that happens for some of us and something that's natural for some of us and it can be completely fine. It was interesting to watch this discussion of this 'unusual' family setup and not see anything unusual about it at all. The only thing I thought was unusual was how cool everyone, including Oprah and the audience seemed to be with it. (I didn't see the whole show though - there may have been some backlash).

Maybe we are finally starting to evolve to a place where we can see that there isn't just one way to have a happy and healthy family - there are lots. Had these two denied their natural inclinations they would have either ended up cheating on each other or resenting each other - both of which probably would have led to an antagonistic divorce which would have been much harder on the children. As I said, I didn't find out if they were still married, but they were definitely still friends. I do think divorce is very hard on children, but if it's done in a way where everyone is civil and stays respectful friends, kids can come out of it okay. It is much better than Mom and Dad hating each other and the kids feeling like they have to take sides.

Contrary to what the vocal minority 'traditional family values' crowd would have us believe. This kind of family arrangement can actually work.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

No Taboo in Abbotsford

CanWest announced last week that there will be no joy in Abbotsford for the Taboo Show has been cancelled.

There are somewhat differing views as to why this is but it appears that what happened was, a few people in the community got their panties in a twist over having a sex show in their backyard and started raising a pretty high-profile stink about it. CanWest got nervous about the stink and said well, the city won't give us the kind of liquor license we really want as this thing so screw it.

It's unfortunate really. I'm not a huge lover of the Taboo show. There are things that go on there that make me uneasy. But overall I think it's a good thing. The main thing that Taboo does is offer a safe an open, and fairly anonymous place, where people can go and explore things related to sex. In our country, there are not very many open public spaces where you can have sex toys and porn and lingerie and swing club info and BDSM demonstrations out in the open. Almost every place where you can see these things require that you become a member of a club or that you feel comfortable enough to walk into a sex shop or leather store on your own. For many people, especially those who are just making there first forays into exploring such things, that it just too scary. A big public show in a trade complex is much less intimidating - lots of people are going, no one is likely to notice you there, you don't have to talk to anyone or do anything if you don't want to. I think it's important for people to have this kind of opportunity to make exploration more accessible and more comfortable.

This is what annoys me about the stink that was raised. I understand that some people are not comfortable with the more adventurous sides of sexuality. I understand that there are some people who believe that open displays of sexuality are immoral. I get that and I do respect it. And to them I say, please, do not go to Taboo. You will be uncomfortable. It is not the place for you. Please do not go. The nice thing is, no one's forcing them to go. Just because it exists in my community does not mean I need to go there. The lame excuse that it's bad for community standards doesn't wash because children are not allowed in Taboo. No one needs to go in there, to be exposed to it, or really to even know that it's there if they don't want to. Why can't people simply say 'that's not for me, I won't go, but you go ahead if you like?'. Why do they think it's acceptable to try to make other people conform to their beliefs and standards?

I, personally, do not like organized religion. I think it's dangerous and harmful. But I would never say that I don't want a church operating in my neighborhood because I think it's wrong. I simply won't go into that church. But I will respect other people's rights to do so.

CanWest is talking a lot about the liqour license issue but it seems to me, if you read between the lines, that they have never been able to get a roaming liquor license at the Abbotsford show so this year would have been no different. It seems to me that it was the pressure from the vocal minority that brought about this decision. This is part of the statement by CanWest: “We have a strong relationship and reputation in the Fraser Valley that we wish to uphold. Taboo is just one of our many shows. As a show producer of our size and diversity, we have a responsibility to be a good community partner and when the community starts to speak out we listen. We fully respect and appreciate the viewpoints being expressed by several folks in the community. After all, I think there are upwards to 80 churches within a very small region and that speaks to the strong morals and values of the residents here." It's a lovely respectful statement and I appreciate CanWest for it. But I think it's sad and wrong and I hope they do have Taboo in Abbotsford next year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


So I went to see Shame last night and I am left somewhat confused. Shame, if you haven't heard, is a Steve McQueen movie starring Micheal Fassbender. It's gotten a lot of attention and critical acclaim. It's the story of a man addicted to sex. It also features long shots of Michael Fassbender entirely nude - full frontal, people - so naturally I wanted to see it.

I have to admit that even though I love movies and see a lot of them, I often seem to miss the point or have a very different interpretation than others, so I may be completely off-base in my analysis here. But I left feeling uncomfortable, and not in the way that I think the director intended for me to feel uncomfortable. This morning it occurred to me why that might be.

The movie is very slow and quiet and doesn't really give you anything directly but it is quite clear that we are meant to understand that this character has lived through trauma as a child and is scarred by it. We are also meant to understand that this trauma has led him to an unhealthy obsession with sex. This is where my troubles arise. We see some of the different sexual things that he does. We do see that he doesn't seem particularly connected to them but, except for one scene close to the end, we don't really see that he is hurt or bothered by the things he's doing. I don't see that what he is doing is actually hurting him. It's clear that the director wants us to believe that he is but I don't see it. He seems quite unable to connect to people in a really emotional way, that's made quite clear, but the connection of that to the sex is having is not clear. It's as if we are meant to believe that the sexual things he deo are damaging in and of themselves - ie. if you have tons of sex with random people, that all by itself is a problem, whether you seem distressed by it or not. I just don't believe that. The things this character does are not particularly dangerous or disturbing. They include:
- watching porn during most of his free time
- getting visits from sex trade workers
- watching porn at work (not smart but not exactly unheard of)
- having a massive collection of smut magazines
- going to sex clubs
- picking up random people and having sex with them.
These may be things that our society frowns upon but they are also things that the vast majority of us have done at some point in time and lots of people do quite regularly. His behavior does not seem out of control to me at all.

The key to whether the behavior is okay or not is how it makes him feel. Had the writer and director done a better job of showing us what is driving the behavior - some connection between the seeking of sex and what led him to do it, and some indication of how he feels afterward - I would have acknowledged that even if he isn't a sex addict (if you have read some of my other posts you'll know I don't agree with concept of sex addiction), he is at least using sex as a way to divert himself from his pain. We get a glimpse of that near the end of the movie but just a glimpse.

You could just as easily make a movie about someone who is doing exactly the same sexual things as this character and is happy as a clam. I think there is much too heavy a reliance on the sex itself to indicate that there is something wrong for this person. True, he doesn't show much interest or excitement in the sex, and that is telling, but for me it just didn't go far enough.

And there is a scene in which he throws a hitachi magic wand in the trash and that's just not cool.

If you'd like to see a movie that tackles a similar storyline is a more nuanced way and is, in my opinion, more successful, watch The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon.