This past Sunday evening Hanna, Minerva and I started swapping personal anecdotes about friends and acquaintances who, at one time or another, showed a startling lack of knowledge about their own bits and how to use them. What can I say. This is what happens when you get a women’s studies major, a future sex educator, three fanfic enthusiasts, an asexual and two dykes together with a bottle of wine and some good carrot cake.
The conversation started because we were making fun of a series of French sex guides, one of which I had recently received as an advance reader review. This led to Minerva sharing a story about a straight college friend who had borrowed her guide to lesbian sex in order to educate her boyfriend (of two years!!) about her body. Soon, we were sharing stories about stumbling upon weird knowledge gaps among friends about their own bodies and how they work sensually: what feels good, how parts can go together, what parts they actually had, how arousal happens physiologically, the erotic uses of various toys, how to talk to your partner about what turns you on. Between the three of us, we had a fairly long list of girls and women we’ve known who’ve let it slip in one way or another that they have a profound lack of understanding about how their bodies work.
Which led me to write this second post in the series “Why I like the 70s”: the women’s health movement, Our Bodies, Ourselves, and do-it-yourself pelvic exams.
(NSFW naked picture and video after the jump)
It’s easy to caricature the women’s health movement of the 1970s, and their enthusiasm for consciousness-raising sessions where people whipped out hand-held mirrors and learned how to do their own pelvic exams or just took a look at what was down there. There’s something charmingly optimistic about their confidence that their own gaze, a sort of personal ownership of their own bodies, would be enough to erase well-schooled shame and ignorance. It seems simplistic in the face of the complicated miasma of carefully-cultivated bodily shame, sexual trauma, relational dynamics, and other cultural narratives that get in between us and our embodied experiences of pleasure.
But to me, it’s the simplicity of the DIY approach that actually makes it so awesome. As dated as the language of natural childbirth and consciousness-raising might be, I firmly believe that feminists of the 60s and 70s grasped the essential truth that sexual pleasure is grounded in bodily ownership, confidence, and intimate knowledge. They encouraged women to become comfortable with handling their physical selves, with touching and looking. They tried to normalize actual bodies (not just clinical diagrams or airbrushed models), demystifying the process of interacting with ones sexy parts. Even if in the name of health rather than explicitly sexual exploration, I’d argue that encouraging women to learn how their bodies — specifically their own bodies not just “the female body” in the abstract — function is a giant step in the right direction. Because it encourages people to engage with their physical being-in-the-world. It encourages us to be authorities of our own bodies.
It’s a fairly small step from knowing your body in the physical health sense of the term to knowing your body in the Biblical sense of the term … with your own hands, and eventually, possibly, if and when you feel desirous of it, someone elses’ hands. And mouth. And tongue and bits.
We might think we’re “too cool for school” when it comes to the women’s health advocates with their flashlights and hand-held mirrors. But I can’t say the anecdotal evidence I’ve collected over the past ten years encourages me to believe we’ve moved beyond the point when such elementary education in one’s own body is no longer needed. On the contrary, pretty much everything I’ve seen and heard encourages me to think we could use way more self-knowledge than we currently have. In that spirit, I bring you this three-minute You Tube video of Betty Dodson drawing the internal structure of the clitoris.
100% For. The. Win.