The Politics of Orgasm

As powerful and wonderful as sex and orgasms can be, they are also strongly feared and often repressed. Throughout history and across cultures, there have been attempts to restrict, limit, or altogether abolish certain sexual behaviors. These restrictions have been executed in a variety of ways; sometimes through ridicule or shaming, sometimes with the threat of losing status or being excluded from the group or tribe, and sometimes with the threat of fines, imprisonment, injury, or even death. There have also been many attempts to liberate sexuality from such repressive views and attitudes.

Sex Laws

Laws pertaining to sexual behavior have been around since the beginning of civilization. The first evidence of rules pertaining to sexual behavior dates back to the beginning of the early Ancient Egyptians in the form of pictographs and pictograms. Later, written laws grew increasingly specific about adultery, sexual abuse, rape, incest, anal sex, oral sex, homosexuality, age of consent, prostitution, and bestiality. Some of these laws probably seemed quite necessary and reasonable to the majority of people. Many of them, however, seem to exist solely to control the sexual behaviors of others, even behaviors in which there are two consenting adults, and no harm is being done.


The Hammurabi Code—the oldest written laws known to mankind—included the first written sex laws. It dates back to the eighteenth century b.c. in the ancient civilization of Babylon and includes laws pertaining to adultery, rape, and incest. It says nothing of homosexuality or prostitution; laws concerning these practices did not come until later in the history of civilization.

There are still many antiquated sex laws in the United States today. Most of them, such as laws criminalizing adultery and oral or anal sex, are rarely enforced. Because they are so rarely enforced, there is little incentive to change them. It is essential, however, to keep laws current with the culture's changing attitudes. This will, in the long run, protect those who may fall prey to the lingering repressive attitudes of those who want to control the sexual behavior of others.

Some cultures also have laws that force people to be sexual. Women are, in some places, required by law to have sex with their husbands whenever they are approached. Men may be required to have sex with their wives every so many days or every few months. While it is great to encourage sex among married couples, enforcing it is a kind of sexual repression. People need to be free to make their own choices and do what feels right, when they are ready.


The sexual repression of women has been one of the main ways that human sexuality has been subject to control by others. The means by which female sexuality has been repressed are many, but none is so physically overt than the practice of clitoridectomy. Also referred to as female circumcision, infibulation, or female genital mutilation, clitoridectomy is a procedure performed on females primarily to prevent them from experiencing sexual desire, pleasure, or orgasm. Other peripheral reasons are to preserve chastity and virginity, to symbolize social status or belonging to the group, for hygienic motivations, for male approval, and for mystical and ritualistic purposes.

Clitoridectomy is the partial or full removal of the female's external genitals, potentially including the clitoral hood, glans, and shaft, as well as the inner labia. The procedure is usually performed on young girls before they hit puberty. There are cases, however, where it has been performed on grown women, usually before or immediately after marrying into a family that practices the tradition. Clitoridectomies are usually performed without the use of an anesthetic and are often followed by immediate complications and long-term problems in regard to both the physical and mental health of the girl or woman.


Can women who have had a clitoridectomy still achieve orgasm?

Yes, sometimes they can. There are accounts of women who have had clitoridectomies who indeed experience vaginal orgasms through vaginal penetration alone. Also, not all of the clitoral tissue is actually removed—usually just the glans and the shaft. The clitoral bulbs remain intact and are capable of engorgement and sexual pleasure.

Clitoridectomy is a cultural practice, not a religious one. It takes place today primarily among certain groups of people in Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Immigrants from these areas have brought the practice to other parts of the world, including the United Sates. It is believed that this practice affects more than 100 million women. The practice itself dates far back in history, since before Islam or Christianity even existed, and has been practiced by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Only a little over 100 years ago, clitoridectomies were performed in the United States and Britain as treatment for excessive masturbation, lesbianism, hysteria, epilepsy, and melancholy. The practice of clitoridectomy is no longer accepted in Western culture, and there are numerous groups who are attempting to end this practice worldwide.

Although the clitoris is known to be a woman's main route to orgasm, it is not the sole route, and women who have had a clitoridectomy may still be physiologically capable of orgasm. However, it can make orgasm considerably more difficult. Still, where it is the cultural norm, women may accept it and even believe it is necessary. In order for this practice to change, many cultural views and attitudes pertaining to sexuality will have to shift.

The Sexual Revolution

The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s helped unravel some of the negative attitudes pertaining to sex that had built up since the sexually repressive Victorian era. Although the sexual revolution didn't sprout until the 1960s, many of its seeds were planted a decade earlier. Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey published his now famous works on human sexual behavior in 1948 and 1953. His works mark the onset of the sexual revolution. Before these books, people were mostly in the dark about the sexual behaviors of others. Helped by Kinsey's extensive data, people began to see that they were not alone in their proclivities. They could relax and accept more of their own sexuality. Many taboo behaviors, such as masturbation and homosexuality, were normalized as a result of Kinsey's work.

Many other sex researchers and pioneers followed suit, helping to support the sexual revolution through books, workshops, seminars, and lectures. Notable contributions to the sexual revolution include Shere Hite's extensive reports on female sexuality, Masters and Johnson's study of the human sexual response, Helen Singer Kaplan's and Hartman and Fithian's work in the area of sexual dysfunction, Betty Dodson and Lonnie Barbach's writing on female sexuality and orgasm, Bernie Zilbergeld's book on male sexuality, and Alex Comfort's guide to lovemaking. All of these researchers and pioneers have helped in the understanding, acceptance, and improvement of human sexual behavior and paved the way for continued study, research, dialogue, and exploration.

Your Orgasm

Somewhere in the great range of ways people experience sex and orgasm lies your personal experience. Perhaps you have never had an orgasm. Or maybe you want your orgasms to be easier to attain, or more satisfying. You might be curious about how other people experience orgasm. Or maybe you want to help your lover get more enjoyment from his orgasms. Whatever your interest, keep in mind the following two principles.

1. There is no right or wrong way for consenting adults to be sexual. Whatever works for you to really enjoy the gift of sexuality is most important. There is a great range of variety in other people's sexual behaviors, but none of this need dictate what is true for you. You are the ultimate authority on your own sexuality.

2. An open mind can help you find even more satisfaction with sex. There is nothing that you should do. But if you are open to exploring new sexual possibilities, you may bring yourself more and more joy and fulfillment through sex. Casting off the shackles of shame that inhibit you and allowing yourself to wholeheartedly feast on all that sex has to offer can be the most rewarding growth you will ever experience. Be free.

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