I ran across this passage in a women’s erotica book I purchased recently:
“Sacred and magical little organ! Praise be to it, she thought. Temples should be built in its honour, ceremonies inaugurated. For centuries the phallus has been revered, worshipped, fashioned into icons – obelisks, standing stones, all representing the male member. But now it was time the clitoris took precedence – that febrile bundle of nerve endings designed for satisfaction. There was no other part of the human body fashioned exclusively for enjoyment. Only the vibrant clitoris, instantly responsive to stimulation. By comparison the penis was a dull, cloddish thing. No wonder man feared woman, and had done their best to ignore or denigrate her pleasure zone. ”(1)
I didn’t agree with it completely, but every sentence intrigued me whether I agreed or not. What a fascinatingly new way to look at the clitoris, which – for all its undeniable pleasure – has been overlooked time and again throughout history.
So, first things first.
The passage begins: “Sacred and magical little organ!” But is the clitoris really an organ? Doesn’t an organ need to have some purpose, some function within the body’s operations, in order to “earn” its title of organ? A clitoris doesn’t really perform a neccessary function – I mean, some women have gone through their entire lives without deriving pleasure from its existence – so reason would state that it’s unneccessary. So… organ or not?
According to the AMA’s online resource, it is: “Clitoris- a small female organ located near the opening of the vagina that swells when sexually aroused.” (2)
Masters & Johnston, however, don’t mention its status directly – organ or otherwise – though you may find this tidbit interesting: “The clitoris is often regarded as a miniature penis, but this notion is sexist and incorrect. The clitoris has no reproductive or urinary function and does not usually lengthen like then penis when stimulated, although it does become engorged. The clitoris and the penis, however, are derived embryologically from the same tissues.” (3)
For now, at least, the organ issue seems solved by the AMA.
The next portion of the passage that intrigued me was the reference to the icons we as a race have fashioned over time to pay homage to the clitoral counterpart, the penis. Obelisks, standing stones, etc. I found this interesting of note, since I’d be hard pressed to imagine large temples and pieces or architecture fashioned (even stylistically) like a clitoris. Is this my male-dominated upbringing speaking to me, or is that I truly don’t find the clitoris a particularly aesthetic image? Feminists might believe it’s the former – and goodness knows, they might well be right – but I tend to think it’s the latter. The penis is a very simplistic design, long, smooth, with rounded tip. This is precisely the type of design that lends itself well to be stylized, made into an icon, represented easily through art and architecture. The clitoris, by contrast, is smaller, more complex in design, and less eaily represented in a stylistic manner.
Perhaps I just like obelisks. But then, I’m a woman.
The reference: “No wonder man feared woman, and had done their best to ignore or denigrate her pleasure zone.” resonated strongly with me. Perhaps it’s not as true in this day and age, but in ages past in and other cultures even today, women’s sexuality (as best represented by the clitoris, or so it seems) has long been treated in a manner at best cavalier and at worst in such a way that it horrifies me a woman. For example:
1. Clitoridectomy, the act of removing the clitoral hood, was practiced in North America as late as the 19th century and is still widely practiced in parts of Africa today. (4) The thinking behind this horrific act gives a new perspective to the infant male circumcision still widely practiced in North America today. (5)
2. The history behind the vibrator. Even as late as the 30s and 40s, many types of female stress and emotional upset were diagnosed by the medical community as “hysteria”, and the cure: manual manipulation of the woman’s genitals by the doctor, in order to bring her to orgasm and therefore relieve her “hysteria”. Vibrators were originally invented in the late 1800s to make easier this “tedious” task for the medical community.(6)
The sentence, “There was no other part of the human body fashioned exclusively for enjoyment.” intrigued me most of all, however. It’s a simple enough statement, with no earth-shattering revelations contained within, and yet it struck me by its simplicity. The truth is, I’d never thought of the clitoris that way before.
It makes me think about the purpose behind the biology and physiology of the human body – little wonder that the clitoris has long been ignored and even mutilated throughout history, as it serves no biological purpose. It’s easy to dismiss the organ as superfluous, as a result. And yet the definition from the passage above is infinitely more wondrous, and makes me wonder how our sex lives, as a race, might improve if everyone’s thinking was swayed to view the clitoris in this light – as the sole organ on either body whose only purpose is to provide pleasure!
What a difference a point of view can make!
1. Silken Bonds by Zara Devereux. Libris. 1997.
3. Sex and Human Loving by Masters & Johnson. Little Brown. 1985.