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Becoming "Cliterate"
August 30, 2013 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Teaching Cliteracy 101: "It is a curious dilemma to observe the paradox that on the one hand the female body is the primary metaphor for sexuality, its use saturates advertising, art and the mainstream erotic imaginary. Yet, the clitoris, the true female sexual organ, is virtually invisible." ~ Artist Sophia Wallace is using street art and an art exhibition that incorporates pithy slogans, 'scientific data, historical information as well as references to architecture, porn, pop culture and human rights' to make "the case for the clit". (Links throughout this post may be NSFW.)

Wallace's Site.

The comment she makes at the beginning of the HuffPost article, that "scientifically, the clitoris was only discovered in 1998," is not precisely true. However, this image on tumblr indicates what she meant: "Epistemic grasp of the precise anatomy, function, complexity and external and internal scale of the clitoris discovered by Helen O'Connell in 1998" More on O'Connell's research from the Museum of Sex. Also see: Previously on MeFi.

Posts tagged "cliteracy" on Tumblr and Instagram. Femina Invicta has a post that shows some of Wallace's "100 Natural Laws."

Early to Bed: [The Cliteracy 101] series is a fresh and sometimes humorous take on Ann Koedt’s 1970 essay, The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm.

Sort of related: On Pink: CLITeracy 101: What I Wish I'd Have Learned About My Body Years Ago.
posted by zarq (57 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well obviously there should be some kind of cliteracy test so she can stop being so wrongly smug or concerned about my lack of cliteracy.

Get on it, web developers. I want to know my cliteracy test score.
posted by surplus at 10:37 AM on August 30, 2013


By the way, did any of these links actually provide the new graphic (2013) that shows how much larger and deeper the clitoris goes than what we'd been provided in prior anatomy diagrams?
posted by surplus at 10:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


First suggested in 1924 by a contemporary of Freud’s, Princess Marie Bonaparte, this ‘Rule’ suggests that if the distance between your vaginal opening and your clitoris are longer than the length of your thumb, you may have more difficulties reaching orgasm via penile-vaginal intercourse only.

Because it keeps the clitoris and the bone apart.

I appreciate a story that lets me make the peurile jokes myself. You see fewer of them these days.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:42 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh here's the new MRI. (2009) Pretty cool looking.
posted by surplus at 10:45 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the way, did any of these links actually provide the new graphic (2013) that shows how much larger and deeper the clitoris goes than what we'd been provided in prior anatomy diagrams?

The "O'Connell's research" link is really good on all that.
posted by yoink at 10:49 AM on August 30, 2013


c'mon it's not that hard to find
posted by sidereal at 10:53 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


surplus: "By the way, did any of these links actually provide the new graphic (2013) that shows how much larger and deeper the clitoris goes than what we'd been provided in prior anatomy diagrams?"

Clitoral anatomy is discussed the first link in the post and also in the link under "research" in the third graph of the post, with more information.
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on August 30, 2013


(With the image, I mean.)
posted by zarq at 11:13 AM on August 30, 2013


OK sorry zarq I see the science has been covered along with the cultural education.

Now show me the cliteracy test scores. If no statistics, how will we know if we're making progress in the War against Clitilliteracy?
posted by surplus at 11:27 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Teeny derail - not looking to start a conversation - of this well constructed, in-depth post that zarq certainly did the work on, but is anyone else just absolutely fucking exhausted with our civilization?
posted by codswallop at 11:34 AM on August 30, 2013 [21 favorites]


the clitoris, the true female sexual organ

What silliness is this? The clitoris, wonderful though it may be, is sexually unnecessary. That's pretty much the whole reason it's been a mystery for so long.

Let's not confuse fun with function; that's caused enough problems already. (Slut-shaming, gay-bashing, whathaveyou.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 AM on August 30, 2013


War against Clitilliteracy

Illclitorisy is more right but sounds more wrong.

Anyway yes, this is a very interesting and well-made and exhausting post, and I am forwarding it to my daughters (late teens/early 20s) because while we talk about almost everything, they absolutely refuse to talk about lady parts with me, just their mum. They won't reply but I'm sure they'll click the links.
posted by sidereal at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2013


Sys Rq: "The clitoris, wonderful though it may be, is sexually unnecessary."

I think what she means is 'reproductively unnecessary' ≠ 'sexually unnecessary'.

surplus: "OK sorry zarq I see the science has been covered along with the cultural education.

No worries. To be honest, I should have constructed the post better. I usually don't include so many links in single paragraphs, because it makes it hard to pick out the important ones.

Now show me the cliteracy test scores. If no statistics, how will we know if we're making progress in the War against Clitilliteracy?"

:D
posted by zarq at 11:45 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


If no statistics, how will we know if we're making progress in the War against Clitilliteracy?

Perhaps Congress could pass some "no clit left behind" legislation.
posted by Slothrup at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2013


I defer to the real authority on the subject.
posted by w0mbat at 11:54 AM on August 30, 2013


Why not start her off with a nice kiss? You don't have to go leaping straight for the clitoris like a bull at a gate.
posted by hal9k at 12:35 PM on August 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


> Teeny derail - not looking to start a conversation - of this well constructed, in-depth post that zarq certainly did the work on, but is anyone else just absolutely fucking exhausted with our civilization?

This is the Swiss army knife of MetaFilter comments; usable in almost any thread with only slight modifications.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:47 PM on August 30, 2013 [32 favorites]


There certainly is no shortage of cliterature on the subject.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:55 PM on August 30, 2013


but is anyone else just absolutely fucking exhausted with our civilization?

Absolutely. It's makes no damn sense that Double Stuff Oreos aren't the default.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:37 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


> It's makes no damn sense that Double Stuff Oreos aren't the default.

Madness. You can't combine two double-stuffs to make a single cookie - way too much sweet frosting.
posted by anti social order at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can't combine two double-stuffs to make a single cookie - way too much sweet frosting.

HERESY
posted by kafziel at 1:47 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of an experience some time ago. I was driving a friend's ex-girlfriend home from a party and she asked me, "Do you know where the clitoris is and do you know what to do with it?"

I responded in the affirmative but was very curious why this question was being asked (apart from the other inevitable and obvious question that followed). She said that many men don't know anything about it. I was, and still am, greatly surprised by this.

More awareness is indeed needed. Ladies first is more than just a saying you know.

My answer was negative to the other question she asked soon after for a number of reasons I need not go into.
posted by juiceCake at 2:01 PM on August 30, 2013


I feel that these sort of issues will be far less prevalent in the future, because compared to the shame of asking one's parents/friends/siblings about these 'icky' topics, Dr. Google is a benevolent god and will yield all sorts of sex positive topics that one can peruse in private.

yay internet~
posted by kurosawa's pal at 2:15 PM on August 30, 2013


There certainly is no shortage of cliterature on the subject.

excite?
posted by zippy at 2:17 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


What silliness is this? The clitoris, wonderful though it may be, is sexually unnecessary. That's pretty much the whole reason it's been a mystery for so long.

Let's not confuse fun with function; that's caused enough problems already. (Slut-shaming, gay-bashing, whathaveyou.)


I think you have this only partially right. It doesn't really make sense to use words like "unnecessary" in evaluating a component of a biological system. Necessary or unnecessary for what? You seem to be acknowledging that the sole "goal" of sex is not reproduction with your list of slut-shaming, gay-bashing, etc.--but this seems to be right after having made that very same mistaken attribution yourself. Human and animal reproductive systems are incredibly varied and "could" look many different ways. Why do most placental mammals have a penis bone if it is apparently unnecessary, as demonstrated by its lack in humans? Why do humans have an external vaginal opening if it is apparently unnecessary, as demonstrated by its lack in the spotted hyena? These kinds of questions are tempting but ultimately not well-formed. You cannot ask how the system "would" have evolved if you just removed some key component.

I think this is a really critical point actually that the artist is trying to encourage us to explore. The clitoris has probably in part been a mystery for so long because it is mostly internal, but beyond that, we are encouraged culturally to understand that female sexual function is defined by reproduction and the vaginal aspect of penis-in-vagina sex: "Boys have penises; girls have vaginas." Actually, no, Wallace is saying: Boys have penises, and girls have clitorises. Women are not defined sexually or otherwise by how their anatomy can be understood to be complimentary to a man's for the purposes of some sexual act. There are a lot of women who won't ever stick a penis in their vagina and there's nothing sexually dysfunctional about that.
posted by holympus at 3:36 PM on August 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


"Do you know where the clitoris is and do you know what to do with it?"

What to do with it, indeed. I find this attitude eerily common, you know. I'm hardly a casanova, so may be entirely off the mark, but my limited experience with different women is very much that there's no one "thing" to do - with sex as with clitorises (clitori?)

I dunno, there's something... confrontational about this assumption that the average man knows nothing about the clitoris, and also that if you just do [whatever] to it, you somehow pass, or otherwise fail.

My experience has been that women, just like men, vary widely without what they like in bed, and how much of it. So much so, that something which 100% works for one person may 100% not work for others.

I sometimes find that hovering behind some of these conversation is this "recipe" approach to sex and/or relationships that if you just get the ingredients in the right ratio, everything is fine. While a soupcon of anatomical knowledge certainly doesn't hurt, I also think that respect, light-heartedness, and a willingness to listen and communication is far and away the most important thing.

I find the artist's approach to this project much like this. Use of "natural laws" and the authoritative, omniscient tone to the text seem like largely buying into a lot of problems we have with sex and femininity (this is how it is, this is what you should do), rather than any genuine pushback against it. The fact that much of the text is grossly oversimplified, newspaper-headline generalisation and assumption doesn't help, either.
posted by smoke at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Do you know where the clitoris is"

Can you remember where you were last using it?
posted by yoink at 4:32 PM on August 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


My experience has been that women, just like men, vary widely without what they like in bed, and how much of it. So much so, that something which 100% works for one person may 100% not work for others.

So very much this. Also, part of the lesson of these recent revelations about the clitoris is that most people--women and men--haven't actually known "where the clitoris is" for pretty much all of recorded history (the answer turns out to be "well, it's complicated") and that there are a myriad of different ways to stimulate it. What most people mean when they ask "do you know where the clitoris is" is "do you know where the glans of the clitoris is." And, yeah, sure--I think in the age of the brazillian and internet porn you're probably going to be hard put to it to find guys who can't answer that question. But equally, in the age of internet porn you're going to find a lot of guys who think that "what you do with it" is roughly equivalent to masturbating a penis--and there's a lot of women who will be immediately turned off by direct and vigorous stimulation of the glans in that way.
posted by yoink at 4:37 PM on August 30, 2013


Back before the war when I was young and dewy the presumption amongst my paramours was that the clitoris was located at the opening of the vagina, which wasn't much fun with all the twiddling and chafing. More than one got pissy if I moved their hand to where it actually was or even dared use those fateful words, "up a bit". Hooray for progress!
posted by h00py at 4:54 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ahh, to be young and dewy again.
posted by forgetful snow at 5:02 PM on August 30, 2013


Ahh, to be young and dewy again.

I dunno, do we?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:16 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why do most placental mammals have a penis bone if it is apparently unnecessary, as demonstrated by its lack in humans?

What does that have to do with anything? Nobody's claiming the baculum is "the true male sex organ." But Wallace is making that claim about the clitoris, which is what I was responding to. It's ridiculous -- almost as ridiculous as its context, in which she seems to be wondering why we don't see a lot of clits in advertising.



...something something illiter(prost)ate.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:10 PM on August 30, 2013


Can you remember where you were last using it?

Jondalar? Is that you?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


In becoming cliterate, it helps to be a cunning linguist.
posted by the painkiller at 7:30 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wanna become cliterate!
posted by nervousfritz at 8:03 PM on August 30, 2013


Well, if you're starting from total illclitoracy, I'd work with beginner-level material like The Clitsy Bitsy Spider, The Very Hungry Cliterpillar, or Fun with Dick and Jane.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:08 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know, I actually think maybe we do need more literature on the subject. I can walk into a store and buy hundreds of books on how to please a penis, but how many of those are about how to please a clit? And maybe it's just what they put out there, but I suspect it's (if you'll forgive me) deeper than that.
posted by corb at 11:40 PM on August 30, 2013


I made my biggest strides in clitoral competence when I heard someone describe it as a tiny penis that wants you to play with it but is also quite comfortable in bed where it is with the sheets pulled up to its chin. Sort of obvious what to do once you have that picture, and feh on any alphabet techniques.
posted by middleclasstool at 1:14 AM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


but how many of those are about how to please a clit?

Using that exact phrase? Two and one DVD, according to Amazon.

You can look inside one!

Not the one penned by "Clit E. Taurus" sadly.

Searching Books › "Clitoris": Showing 1 - 12 of 1,327 Results

It looks like a lot. At least enough in there to mine for awful puns.
posted by Mezentian at 1:23 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


My wife likes to derisively say that I can't find her clit, though I have no trouble finding the glans or whatever, and have plenty of history bringing her to orgasm every which way until kids and the stress of home ownership came into the picture.

So she moves my hand here, and there, and then to the left, and to the right, and wait over here, over there, not quite, there it is, just kidding, how about here, actually no, that's not it, what's your problem? No, I can't show you how I'd touch myself, I don't do that. Well I don't not do that, but I won't show you. No, no oral allowed, you can't go down on me, that's too easy, it's cheating -- and I realize she's just not that into me :( Definitely kissing and lots of other foreplay leading up to the stimulation makes it magically easier to "find," but our flame is going out, reader.

I don't know how common that is but I need to like, become attractive to her again and "finding the clit" just seems like her impossible goalpost that belies a greater frustration in me. I'm resorting to reading PUA shit at this point and learning how to "be alpha" and "neg" and it kind of works which pisses me off but it ain't me. FML.
posted by lordaych at 2:33 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I sometimes find that hovering behind some of these conversation is this "recipe" approach to sex and/or relationships that if you just get the ingredients in the right ratio, everything is fine.

I'm waiting for one of those bachelor chow questions on Ask now, "Where can I buy a sexually complete performance package that will guarantee satisfaction?"
posted by knapah at 2:52 AM on August 31, 2013


In my last semester in college, lo these countless eons ago, I had a couple credits to kill and I had the notion that it might be worthwhile to have some basic understanding of how the lady parts worked despite having no direct application of such knowledge beyond the possibility of having to deliver a baby in a stuck elevator (if sitcoms of the eighties are to be believed). I signed up for Human Sexuality 100, and man—what a journey it was!

We had a great instructor, though I may have become the Menace to his Mr. Wilson with my eager front row arm-raising enthusiasm. We talked about biology, with slides and charts and handouts, explored notions of gender as a socially mediated performance, had guest speakers, and occasionally watched eerily clinical sex research films from Scandinavia in which lab-coated scientists manipulated parts with lucite rods, giving a running narration that I mostly understood without the subtitles, being in my last semester of Swedish, as well.

Occasionally, I'd run afoul of expectations. When the professor asked, in what I did not realize was meant to be an illustration of discomfort on the subject, who had masturbated that day, my hand shot up. A collective gasp, then a general tittering swept the room. I turned back, my hand still up, to see that I was the only one with my hand up.

"Well," the professor said, chuckling, "Mr. Wall is once again the lone honest person in our class, because statistics guarantee that a large percentage of you did, in fact, masturbate today."

That one was a relic of an earlier time. The shame about masturbation has faded awfully quickly in the last nineteen years.

On another occasion, we were covering female ejaculation, complete with films, Swedes, lucite rods, and extreme close-ups. I got a spooky, unsettled feeling, for reasons completely mysterious to me, and I suddenly realized I needed to get out of the room.

Halfway through the film, I tentatively got out of my seat and started working my way towards the door. As I passed the professor, he looked up.

"Is everything okay, Mr. Wall?"

"Umm, I—" I started to say, afraid to admit that the film was making me lightheaded for no readily apparent reason. "I think I need to lie down for a minute."

On the screen something squirted, my eyebrows shot up, and I lurched out of the room.

Near the end, I was cruising into a nice solid A, but when the potential of an extra credit project came up, I had something in mind.

I ended up in the living room of my friend Anna with a speculum and an Instamatic, with a clipboard for notes and my class book, and the most game friend in the history of game friends idly watched a football game while I wandered around her undercarriage with my camera, making notes and drawing little diagrams. I briefly developed a lovable duck voice for the speculum, but was instructed to knock it off immediately.

"What the hell is this?" I asked. Anna looked down irritably from her football game. Her two giant German Shepherds stood patiently on either side of me.

"I don't know. What's it look like?"

"I'm not sure."

"Give me the fucking mirror." I complied. She peered down.

"That would be a freckle, ass."

"It's so complicated down here. This thing's like a terrarium!"

Two satisfyingly muscular thighs suddenly clamped down on my head in a slightly milder homage to Pris vs. Deckard.

"Show's over!"

"No, I didn't mean it was full of plants or anything! There's just a lot of geography in there," I protested, my voice muffled somewhat by the fact that I was essentially delivering my defense into a crotch.

"Seriously? You're telling me I have a geographical vagina?"

"C'mon, this is my first time around one of these things!"

She unclenched. The dogs curled up on the rug, the game proceeded, and I finished my notes. I hit the darkroom to develop my photos, cut up the slide film to mount in little plastic slide frames, fired up the Commodore to write up my report, and was quite proud of myself.

"Into The Wild Pink Vagina with Joe Wall," my professor read, looking over my extra credit project folder. He took the page of slides neatly ordered in a notebook sleeve and held them up to the light. In several, I was holding a card with a label, an arrow, and a quarter for scale, indicating various parts.

"I was originally thinking of going for a Fantastic Voyage pastiche, but I couldn't find a yellow wetsuit."

My professor rolled his eyes.

"No one can fault you for not going the distance, Joe. Where did you find someone to let you do this?"

"I have great friends."

"You sure do. Do you actually want to do this as a presentation?"

"I hadn't really thought about it. I guess without a costume, there's not much point."

"You ever think of doing stand-up?"

"No. Should I?"

I got the report back, marked "Very good," and was pleased with myself. "Particularly impressed that you had a slide of the cervix. Why did you or your friend just happen to have a speculum lying around?" asked the notes at the end, but I never went back for follow-up.

I really need to remember where those slides went.
posted by sonascope at 8:04 AM on August 31, 2013 [23 favorites]


You have been waiting ages to tell that story, right?

Also: I am damned curious to know how many people need to admit they clicked on the speculum link.

Because I think they sell plastic ones now. They glow in the dark and all.
posted by Mezentian at 8:16 AM on August 31, 2013


Man. My undergrad education was... not like that.
posted by diocletian at 8:28 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


The clitoris, wonderful though it may be, is sexually unnecessary.

Not mine, it isn't. Trust me on this.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:10 AM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I doubt the clitoris is sexually unnecessary. Sex is about a lot more than reproduction. In fact, sex is probably less about reproduction than serving other purposes.

After all, how many times has the average person had sex? And how many children does the average person have?

I suspect that the idea that the purpose of sex is supposed to be reproductive is pushed strongly by religions which have their own purposes in controlling human sexuality.

If sex where really about reproduction, people would probably have a fixed fertile period once a year or so.
posted by jclarkin at 9:49 AM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Do you know where the clitoris is"

Stan: Chef, how do you make a woman like you more than any other guy?

Chef: Oh, that's easy. You just gotta find the clitoris.

Stan: Huh?

Chef: Whoops.
posted by ogooglebar at 10:54 AM on August 31, 2013


All I remember from my college Human Sexuality class is the graphic childbirth films that had us all crossing our legs so hard we were probably bruised down to the knees.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:24 PM on August 31, 2013


I suspect that the idea that the purpose of sex is supposed to be reproductive is pushed strongly by religions which have their own purposes in controlling human sexuality.

Yes, and labelling anything to do with genitals -- especially, heaven forfend, pleasure -- as "sexual" (a word that is inextricably tied to reproduction) enforces that idea and expands it even further. Let's stop doing that, is all I'm saying.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:12 PM on August 31, 2013


What?
posted by stoneandstar at 5:22 PM on August 31, 2013


as "sexual"

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Seriously.
posted by zarq at 12:12 AM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


My undergrad education was... not like that.

Undergraduate studies: now with more literalism!
posted by ShutterBun at 1:19 AM on September 1, 2013


Pleasure that comes from stuff you do with your genitals is not sexual? Wait, dude... what?

When I use my genitals to feel pleasure, that's definitely sexual pleasure, and for me it's not linked to reproduction at all.

So what would you call that kind of pleasure, and why would you not call it sexual?
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:15 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


now with more literalism!

The sad part, on reflection, is that what I thought was clever and radical at the time was actually as mortifyingly uninventive as a kid making a papier-mâché volcano that actually erupts for a science fair, which is less about science and more about art direction for a mid-sixties B-movie about cavemen. Then again, most of my college years were ultimately about art direction for a mid-sixties B-movie about cavemen from which I have yet to escape.
posted by sonascope at 5:22 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


sonascope: "mortifyingly uninventive"

I'd always assumed sonascope stories were of the highly inventive, fictional type.
posted by pwnguin at 9:39 AM on September 1, 2013


What I meant by "literalism" is that you were literally studying while under(neath) someone. Hence, undergraduate studies. Pun fail.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:11 AM on September 2, 2013


You know, I think my friend was a graduate by that point, so the pun would have held.
posted by sonascope at 6:04 AM on September 2, 2013


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