02 Mayo 2017 14:51
An octopus performs cunnilingus on a woman enveloped in its tentacles; the villain Durand Durand places Barbarella inside the Excessive Machine (orgasmotron in the French version) and attempts to pleasure her to death; three angels stimulate a woman's breasts and vagina in a sort of heavenly orgy where nothing is real and everything is a lie. Perhaps this has something to do with why the female orgasm has long seemed to be the work of the Holy Spirit.
If we base our understanding on the paintings, prints, films and literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, the female orgasm seems like something dreamlike and fantastical: something unreal, something so unattainable that it's probably not even worth trying for.
I remember asking my 94-year-old grandmother one day if she could tell me what an orgasm felt like. She shot me a stern look and said 'girls don't do things like that.' I never raised the subject with her again.
Now I'd like to show her the online Orgasm Sound Library and say, look, grandma, this is what girls do. The library collects real orgasms 'donated' by women from all over the world. The recordings, which have been listened to more than two million times, are accompanied by attractive graphics generated by a data art algorithm.
The project seeks to explore feminine sexuality from a perspective that's authentic and free from taboos and prejudices. 'We want to show that there's not just one way for pleasure to sound, nor is there a single way of expressing or feeling it,' says Marta Aguera, one of the women behind the initiative. Each recording specifies how the orgasm has been achieved: masturbation, penetration, alone, with a partner, in a trio, etc. Around half the orgasms were reached by women alone in their room stimulating their clitoris.
'Although there are fewer taboos around the female orgasm these days, we continue to base our ideas about it on films – like Fifty Shades of Grey – or mainstream porno. So, the next step should be to talk about sex from a place of authenticity,' says Marta.
'The first time I had an orgasm I didn't know what it was,' confesses 25-year-old activist, porn actress and sex worker Maria Riot. 'I knew I'd felt something extremely pleasurable that I'd never experienced before, but I didn't understand that it was an orgasm until I started researching in books and magazines. Nobody had ever talked to be about orgasms, sexual pleasure, masturbation or anything like that before.'
Over time, 'I started to understand that I wanted orgasms too, and that if the person I was having sex with achieved orgasm, that didn't mean we we're finished. I could continue masturbating myself or I might ask my partner to touch me.'
Screenshot of the Orgasm Sound Library
Sexologist Silvia C. Carpallo, author of El Orgasmo de mi vida (The Orgasm of My Life) agrees that although the female orgasm has been out of the closet for some time now, 'we've fictionalised it too much because of the lack of real-life references from the past.' Historically, one of the main authorities on the female orgasm is Freud – the man who labelled women 'hysterics' and claimed that the clitoral orgasm was some kind of defect. 'It's absurd that he should be our guide to the female orgasm. His idea about the dichotomy between vaginal and clitoral orgasms is meaningless these days,' says Silvia.
This lack of trustworthy references from the past has led us to depend on ideals based on popular culture, such as Hollywood movies, which generally depict a lover (male) bringing the woman to a screaming orgasm in seconds through thrusting penetrative sex.
'We need more doses of reality. Lena Dunham has managed to show real sex in her series Girls: couples moving awkwardly, no romantic music, unflattering lighting. Her sex scenes don't always focus purely on intercourse, and the couples don't usually come at the same time, just like in real life.'
The heroine of Selma Lonning Aaro's novel I'm Coming is engaged in a quest to achieve her first orgasm. A married woman with three children, Julie has faked orgasms throughout her life. One day, she decides she's had enough and locks herself in the bedroom with baby oil and a vibrator. The impediments to her success are varied: they include her stressful lifestyle, her unrealistic expectations, a family background that denied any open discussion of feminine sexuality, and – of course – the weight of a cultural industry that teaches us to feel almost like fictional beings. This is from chapter two:
'But although it's K's fault that I can't come, there are other factors too. My body is part of the problem. I can't relax, I'm not skinny. I don't look like the women in the movies... It's as if women in magazines and movies came from somewhere else, as if they were a different species. If those women were dogs, they'd be Greyhounds, while I'd be a St Bernard – or maybe a Rottweiler on one of my better days with some drinks inside me.'
Photo from Broad City
Julie takes matters into her own hands and buys herself a vibrator that guarantees reaching orgasm in 30 days. She tries to ignore the fact that the device sounds like her dad's old lawnmower and focuses (as best she can) on coming for the first time in her life.
20% of the orgasms on the Orgasm Sound Library were achieved with the aid of a dildo or other sex toy. 'This figure is significant because it proves that the vibrator is becoming an increasingly frequently used tool in women's sex lives. It's lost its connotation as a device designed to substitute a sexual partner and is now more accepted as a method of sparking up your sex life, whether used alone or with your lover,' adds Silvia, the sexologist.
'One of the key reasons sex toys have become more widely accepted is that they are no longer linked so explicitly to the penis. Some of the best-selling devices are those designed specifically to stimulate the clitoris. They can be used alone or in couples to help the woman orgasm,' Silvia adds.
María Riot admits that women know much more about their bodies and sexuality these days. But she says that there's still a long way to go. 'Several years ago, I was the only one of my friends who would admit that I masturbated. It's gradually becoming more normalised, but we're not there yet. I've encouraged friends to tell their partners if there's something they don't like, or if there's something specific they'd like them to do. I've also urged them cast off taboos and preconceptions about their sexuality and to masturbate (some of them had never done it!) without feeling guilty.'
It's time to cast it all aside – phallocentric theories denying our right to sexual pleasure, and wet dreams with cephalopods – and strive to achieve what Anaïs Nin evoked in her famously erotic stories.
'Electric flesh-arrows traversing the body.
A rainbow of colour strikes the eyelids. A foam of music falls over the ears.
It is the gong of the orgasm.'
At last – music to our ears!