Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psychologist (1856 to 1939), was the first scientist of note to talk of female sexuality. Freud’s methods were based on observation rather than science. He treated women for what was thought to be repression of their natural sexual urges. In those days, the general public was not aware that women were even capable of orgasm. Nevertheless, Freud invented the term vaginal orgasm, as if such a response was possible.
The anatomy, the physical stimulation and the erotic turn-ons required for male arousal and orgasm are very evident not only to the man himself but also to his partner. So no one discusses male orgasm. Neither is it a female turn-on. By contrast, men are memorised by the idea of female arousal. Men talk about female orgasm much more than women ever do themselves.
Women’s sexual responses are not such that men can divine the turn-ons and stimulation involved in female orgasm. That doesn’t stop men spending a great deal of time and effort trying to guess. A belief in vaginal orgasms is vital to men because it represents a means of justifying intercourse. This provides political and emotional incentives for women, who know nothing of orgasm, to say that they orgasm in a way that pleases men. Female orgasm has always been a mystery and most women realise it is elusive with a lover.
Freud dismissed clitoral orgasms as immature no doubt because of the male experience. Young boys may discover orgasm by masturbating but grown men prefer the erotic pleasure of intercourse. But unlike the male experience (where the same anatomy is involved in masturbation and intercourse), female masturbation involves the clitoris rather than the vagina. No one saw any contradiction in suggesting two quite different sources for female orgasms. Mental arousal motivates us to stimulate the phallus. But men are aroused by women’s breasts and vaginas so they hope that women will respond to the stimulation they are motivated to provide.
No one thought that Freud, as a man, might be unqualified to pronounce on how female orgasm is achieved. Men have always been confident to assert how women should respond sexually and women tend to accept male opinions on sex. Science has always been a male domain. Women wrote books about topics they felt qualified to write about such as cookery, housekeeping, child-raising and even childbirth. But they did not write authoritative books about sex. Sexuality has also long been a male domain.
Theories in sexology are promoted on the basis of sensationalism rather than credible evidence. Men propose theories and assume they are correct because women lack the authority to put men right even on their own sexuality. But women’s silence does not constitute proof. If sexology were a science, then women’s sexual experiences would be accepted for what they are. If sexologists were scientists, they would welcome alternative points of view. They would encourage active debate of the topic. Instead sexologists disseminate their beliefs like political activists. They never reconcile their opinions with the silence of women in the population. The goal of sexology appears to be to educate women in their role of providing male pleasure.
Sex is a subject on which every adult feels entitled to have an opinion, however uninformed. Both individuals and institutions fight for funds and scant resources. Everyone is competing for the limelight and recognition. Those who can conjure up an attention-grabbing headline, regardless of any facts or logic, get the attention of the public. Regardless of merit, research that produces unpopular conclusions is ignored. Everyone, both amateurs and professionals, think that their personal experiences and opinions qualify them to know better. No wonder we have so little sex research!
Most people are only interested in sex research or sex education as a means of confirming fantasies. Few are interested in an intellectual understanding of sexuality. Everyone seems to assume that erotic fiction is gospel rather than stories aimed at arousing and entertaining. Sex research has always been led by men. Men’s lack of objectivity about female sexuality is never acknowledged. Men only fund sex research that backs their own interests.
Sex research can never compete with the sex industry that is dominated by the fantasies of the male consumer. Misleading information and exploitative images are everywhere. Researchers need to abandon their personal opinions based on ignorance, prejudices and assumptions. They need to approach sexuality with a scientific mind that is ready to accept the facts and conclusions before them. A scientific understanding of human sexuality involves studying the behaviours and responses of the whole population.
Researchers need to challenge what they are told. Rather than just accepting women’s claims, researchers must establish what psychological and physical stimuli cause orgasm. Researchers should establish women’s motivation to enjoy sexual activity alone and with a lover, their appreciation of eroticism and their willingness to explore a variety of sex play with a lover. Instead of having a competitive and sensationalist focus on responsiveness, we should be interested in how we can enjoy pleasure and how relationships endure.
Considering the importance which sexual problems have in the practice of psychiatry, medicine, psychology, and counselling of every sort, it is disconcerting to realize what scant bases there have been for over-all statements that have been made in this field. (Alfred Kinsey 1948)