[TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of hostility to consent and agency, rape,
graphic descriptions of female genital mutilation]
Yep, International Female Orgasm Day is a real thing. Arimateio Dantas, a councilman in Espertina, Brazil, came up with the initiative. He wanted to both honor his wife and raise awareness in others that female orgasms are a healthy and beautiful thing. Apparently, he went so far as to pass a law in Espertina requiring men to ensure their wives have orgasms. This is, of course, a truly terrible idea no matter how well meaning: it is coercive and not centered on the participants’ consent.
But the voluntary celebration of the female orgasm? Now that is something we can enthusiastically endorse, on August 8th and, you know, every other day.
Aside from the obvious benefits — obvious to me, anyway — female sexual empowerment is deeply upsetting to social conservatives and misogynists of every stripe. In many cultures for much of recorded history and continuing to this very day, women’s sexuality has been controlled, denied, punished and outright eliminated. Why else would female genital mutilation (FGM) affect 140 million women and girls around the world? The practice of FGM is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” That definition seems a bit detached, and “for non-medical reasons” certainly leaves a lot of things open to interpretation when the reality is crystal clear. What is actually going on is this:
- The procedure is typically carried out on girls between four years old and puberty (although it may be conducted on younger infants and adults). In communities that practice it, it is typically supported by both women and men.
- It may take place in a hospital (mainly for the affluent in urban settings), but is most often performed without anesthesia by a traditional practitioner using using non-sterile cutting implements such as knives, razors, scissors, cut glass, sharpened rocks, and fingernails.
- There are several types of FGM with escalating disfiguration, all of which are excruciatingly painful, and almost all of which involve the removal of the external portion of the clitoris. In its more barbaric forms, this is also accompanied by slicing off the inner and outer labia and stitching the wound shut, leaving only a tiny hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood.
- Complications include fatal bleeding, acute urinary retention, urinary infection, wound infection, septicemia, tetanus, and in cases of reused instruments, hepatitis and HIV. Those are just the short-term effects; long-term effects are equally horrific.
- It is unknown how many girls and women die from the procedure: few records are kept, complications frequently go unrecognized, fatalities are rarely reported — and in some cases girls who bleed excessively are regarded as witches.
- The wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth.
The Wikipedia article on the practice is fairly thorough and provides plentiful citations. Where it fails is in connecting the dots from the practices and attitudes of the deeply traditional societies that engage in FGM to the way similar ideas play out in modern Western culture. It is true, as the piece notes, that the practice of FGM “is rooted in gender inequality, cultural identity, ideas about purity, modesty, aesthetics, status and honor, and attempts to control women’s sexuality by reducing their sexual desire, thereby promoting chastity and fidelity.” But all of that can be crystallized to one idea: women exist to serve men. They are breeding-sows. Property. Pleasure providers and slaves to men and to children, who deserve no pleasure or autonomy of their own. Downright biblical, wouldn’t you say?
That is precisely the view of women that leads to the deadly abortion restrictions we are seeing enacted nationwide, sometimes with exceptions for so-called “rape-rape.” Women must be severely punished—with unwanted children, poverty, and potentially death—if they consent to sex. The parallel movement to outlaw birth control exists solely to prevent women from controlling their own fertility, often put in terms such as “having sex without consequences” (as if that’s a bad thing). Medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds required before abortions are punishment for having consensual sex, nothing more. Until very recently in the United States it was literally impossible to rape one’s wife, and prominent conservatives still argue that a wife’s consent to sex is permanent and irrevocable as of the moment she says “I do.” The rape culture thrives in an atmosphere where women are objects, and not full human beings with dignity, worth, desires and rights of their own. All of these things exist on a continuum with FGM: they are difference of degree, not of kind.
That is what makes the female orgasm a political act.
Of course, it is an empowering personal act as well: a gift of profound pleasure to oneself and one’s lover(s). One writer noted:
According to Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and author of The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead To a Better Life, “the more often you have an orgasm, the higher your overall level of sexual desire and arousal.” Frequent orgasms may increase the body’s natural production of testosterone, which consequently increases desire and arousal, thus creating a spiral effect.
She also urges people to use this day to learn more about the female orgasm in order to empower women to fully experience the sexual life they envision for themselves. To that end, she offers a recommended reading list [NOTE: we have not explored all of these links and therefore cannot provide trigger warnings or suggested age restrictions where these may be appropriate.]:
Ten Explosive Female Orgasms
Do Orgasms Make Us Better Moms?
Mindblowing Orgasms Keep the Doctor Away
Will Faking an Orgasm Keep Your Partner From Cheating?
Masturbation Myths and Truths
Are you Sexually Frustrated?
Sex Beats Botox! Makes YOU Younger
Women and Their Sex Toys
Is Not Having Sex Bad for You?
More resources and information about sex and sexuality can also be found in the Palace Bedroom.
Better get busy celebrating International Female Orgasm Day, people! Enrage a conservative today.