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Research into human sexuality

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.

Freud dismissed clitoral orgasms as immature no doubt because of the male experience. Young boys often 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 want women to respond to the stimulation they 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. Men propose theories and assume they are correct because of women’s silence. But women’s silence does not constitute proof.

Women wrote books about topics they felt qualified to write about such as cookery, housekeeping, child-raising and even childbirth. They did not write authoritative books about sex. Men’s lack of objectivity over female sexuality is never acknowledged. If sexology were a science, women’s sexual experiences would be accepted for what they are. Even today, women lack the authority and the motivation to put men right about their own sexuality.

Men have traditionally lead sex research but they only fund research that backs their own interests. The male quest to understand female sexuality is evidence of men’s dissatisfaction with women’s sexuality as they find it. They want to find ways of encouraging women to be more interested in sex. The goal of sexology would seem to be to educate women in their role of providing male pleasure. This is a political battle rather than a scientific one. The response of orgasm evolved millions of years ago. Nothing new can be discovered as such. We can only document the facts and use logic to explain women’s sexuality as we experience it. If women were responsive (as men are), these phenomena would be well understood. There would be no need for researchers to tell us what generations of heterosexuals have missed.

The fact that no one discusses erotic turn-ons in the context of female sexuality is evidence that women are not aroused as men are. The focus is always on stimulation techniques. Either new anatomy (such as the clitoris) or new parts (such as the G-spot) are suggested in a never-ending search for the magic button that will guarantee female orgasm. But we do not increase women’s arousal by suggesting a variety of anatomy for men to stimulate.

Everyone seems to assume that erotic fiction is the equivalent of holy scriptures rather than fictional stories aimed at arousing and entertaining. Researchers must challenge what they are told. They 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. Instead of sensationalising accounts of orgasm, researchers should promote ideas for enjoying pleasure and longer-term relationships. Researchers need to abandon their personal opinions based on ignorance, prejudices and assumptions. They should approach sexuality with an open mind that is ready to accept the facts and conclusions before them.

Everyone is competing for recognition. Theories in sexology are promoted on the basis of sensationalism rather than credible evidence. Individuals and institutions fight for scant resources. Those who can conjure up an attention-grabbing headline, regardless of any facts or logic, get noticed. Sexologists need to welcome alternative points of view and encourage active debate. Research that produces unpopular conclusions is ignored. Sex is a subject on which every adult feels entitled to have an opinion, however uninformed. Everyone thinks their personal experiences and opinions qualify them to know better. No wonder we have so little sex research!

An unfortunate by-product of sex research that involves talking to women is that unrealistic orgasm claims are promoted and given credibility just because they have been provided to researchers in the name of science. Any man can observe how his female partner behaves during sexual activity. Nothing changes just because someone puts on a white coat. Researchers must establish the psychological and physical stimuli that cause orgasm. A scientific understanding of human sexuality involves studying the behaviours and responses of the whole population. It includes understanding how we become aroused as well as the function of turn-ons, sexual invitations and consent. Sexuality involves a spectrum of experiences.

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)