The Pursuit of Pleasure – Musings on the March

“There is no biological reason for a woman to have an orgasm.”

This declaration from my biology professor in 1972 filled my ears as we marched, half a century later, from the Washington Monument to the US Supreme Court for reproductive rights. Between the comical signs, such as “Blow Jobs are Cannibalism” there was one reminding me of my own early activism, “Seriously? My mom already marched for this!” 

A week after the march, I opened the Washington Post to read about Oklahoma’s ‘Total Abortion Ban’ that defines life as beginning at fertilization. Egg plus Sperm join. No uterine implantation required. This draconian bill could translate into no IUD, no morning after pill, no to some birth control pills, no to Plan B, no to douching after the passionate act. In addition, “unexplained” miscarriages may be punishable by law. Extrapolate the religiosity, the racist replacement theories, or the outright misogyny to determine what this fight is about for women. 

I believe it’s a resounding fear of female pleasure. How dare women lust after sex without dire consequences? Never mind that an unwanted pregnancy may destroy her educational opportunities, her ability to earn a living, not to mention the extravagant need to not have her entire body owned by the state. It has the ring of biblical pronouncements when Eve was held accountable and punished while Adam continued to enjoy each orgasmic delight without recourse. 

I pride myself on being a feminist fighter. Even as an 18-year-old college coed sitting in that biology class, I questioned the middle-aged male professor declaring I had no need for pleasure. In his mind, sex was only about reproduction. I remember my hand shooting up. The gray-haired, bearded man in his brown tweedy jacket with brushed corduroy elbow patches lifted a bushy eyebrow and nodded.

“If women don’t have orgasms,” I began, my voice shaky with rage, “then why would we ever go through the hell of having a baby with all the pain of labor? I can tell you why,” my voice grew louder, “because our orgasms are so powerful, our lust so intense, that we forget about the excruciating horrors of being ripped apart in the process and are ready to begin to have sex yet again.” 

He had audibly sighed and shook his head as though dealing with a dunce. 

“I repeat,” he said, “there is no reason for you to ever experience an orgasm to reproduce. No pleasure is involved.” 

I had glanced around the room. Some women nodded. No joy for me, evidently, while inherent during the same act of reproduction for a man is the pure pleasure of orgasm. I wanted to ask him if this were true. Instead, I secretly thanked my intellectually defiant mother for showing me the Kinsey Report from 1953 that overturned the Freudian emphasis on sex research. She had noted, “when they surveyed and found over 65% of women had orgasms clitorally, all hell broke loose. It was the 1950s,” she added. The Hite Report on Female Sexuality was published in 1976. The survey had revealed that 85% of women had orgasms via clitoral stimulation, and almost all women reported masturbating to orgasm without penetration. 

I began to wonder. How many generations of disregard for female pleasure do we have to endure? 

Sex is basic. So basic that it sits on the first rung of Maslow’s original pyramid hierarchy of needs nestled soundly along with water, air, food, and shelter. 

As I marched at the Bans Off Our Bodies, I remembered reading that the most popular electric appliance sold in America when it first arrived in stores was the vibrator. Due to the 1873 anti-porn Comstock Act, which is still on the books, marketers were not allowed to use the term “vibrator.” Nonetheless, the powerhouse personal tool outsold toasters, vacuum cleaners, and light bulbs. Anthony Comstock, US Postal Inspector in the late 1800s, had once proclaimed all “marital aids” to be pornographic and therefore illegal and immoral. 

Decades later when Congressmen realized what this newfangled appliance was really being used for, they voted to restrict mailing the instrument. This effectively kept the vibrator from being mailed by Sears and Roebuck directly to ladies’ houses. Some brilliant marketing genius, though, had neatly renamed the vibrator as a “whole body massager” meant for both men and women. The change in nomenclature enabled the toy to circumvent the anti-porn act. 

In Mary Roach’s book, Bonk, on the biology of sexual response, she noted that the clitoris is composed of the same epithelial tissue as the penis, only in a smaller size but with 8,000 nerve endings, twice as many as the male penis. It’s as if the chihuahua had the nervous strength of a great Dane. While the lumbering Dane with one shot was done, the chihuahua keeps going. 

Helen Fisher, in her TED Talk on the Anatomy of Love, described how a female pig is anatomically constructed to have her clitoris efficiently move into the vagina during coitus ensuring orgasm every time, or as she noted, “lucky sow.” 

What has this to do with the anti-choice legislation, you might ask? Well just about everything. Think about it. Without reproductive rights to protect ourselves, women are in constant fear and worry of getting pregnant for a night’s pleasure.

Knowing that my former biology professor was probably dead did not alleviate my need to yell at him during the March. He represented the truth of his time. But how did we get to this theocratic, religious, legal puritanism a half century later? Is it really about abortion, birth control, fertilization, conception, and reproduction—or is it about the audacity of women to live like men, choosing the freedom to enjoy a lusty moment in the sack and the absolute joy of female orgasm? To be clear, without reproductive rights and sovereignty over our own bodies, women may be burdened a lifetime for that same pursuit of gratification.

So, next time someone argues with you on the pro versus anti-choice subject, change the tone and ask them “what is it about female joy that makes you hate women so much that you want to legislate it?” 

One could argue that the use of sex toys, female oriented porn, various lubricants, and an aimless Sunday afternoon may reduce the need for abortion, coupled sex, or any sperm to egg connections. Maybe a case could be brought before the Supreme Court on the right to pleasure, thus avoiding the entire issue of what constitutes human life and when it begins. Perhaps then the privacy rights between a woman and her doctor might better become the privacy rights between a woman and her vibrator. 

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