Written by Jessie Sage, originally Published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
Vaginal penetration is rather “meh” for me. Clitoral stimulation is the best way for me to climax. Everyone seems to think it’s “wrong” that I prefer clitoral stimulation over penetration. Is it normal for someone to prefer clitoral stimulation/orgasms?
~ Shy Spells ~
Dear Shy Spells,
You are certainly not alone in this! Many women who primarily or exclusively experience orgasm through clitoral stimulation have been made to feel like there is something wrong with the way they experience pleasure. Our culture’s near obsession with vaginal orgasms has a deep historical context, beginning with Sigmund Freud’s theory of female sexual development, where he connected vaginal orgasms to sexual maturity.
According to Freud, young girls experience an active sexuality that is similar to that of their male counterparts. He believed sexual pleasure during this early stage of female development centered on the clitoris. In this way, early female sexuality was believed to resemble active masculine sexuality, which focused on the penis. However, Freud thought that normal maturation from girls into women involved an abandonment of this masculine sexuality in favor of a passive femininity. In other words, a sign of female sexual maturity is the successful move from active clitorally-focused sexual pleasure to passive vaginally-focused sexual pleasure. He says, “With the change to femininity the clitoris should wholly or in part hand over its sensitivity, and at the same time its importance, to the vagina.” He goes so far as to call women who primarily achieve orgasm through clitoral stimulation “infantile” and “frigid.”
Freud’s theories weren’t based in any careful observation of female anatomy or physiology and have long been debunked. So it’s worth asking why, more than 100 years later, many women are still shamed for not having vaginal orgasms.
One explanation for this — embraced by many feminists — is that clitoral orgasm is threatening to male partners. (This is, in part, why vibrators are seen both dangerous and liberating.) Freud argued (and many men still, unfortunately, believe) that female pleasure is dependent upon male involvement and male pleasure — that women’s bodies are designed to be passive receptacles for male pleasure and only experience pleasure in fulfilling that role.
For a heterosexual man to admit that the majority of women don’t have sex through vaginal penetration alone would mean that he also has to come face-to-face with at least three other truths about his sex life. First, he may have to engage in sex that does not revolve around his penis and his pleasure in order to make his female partner orgasm; next, he is not necessary for his partner to experience pleasure; and third, female sexuality is not passive (which ties into the first two points).
In the last half century, much research has been done regarding female orgasms — all of which suggest that it is relatively uncommon for women to orgasm through vaginal penetration alone. Personally, I am quite sure I have never had an orgasm from penetration alone. So, despite what Freud asserted, and what many people have been led to believe, inability to orgasm without clitoral stimulation is perfectly normal.
Rather than trying to force our bodies to experience pleasure in ways that don’t work for us, we should put our energy toward teaching and learning to respect each other’s bodies and desires. And partners that shame us into sex that is convenient for them, don’t deserve it.