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Ten Things I Learned About Female Orgasms
...from the documentary Orgasm, Inc.
By Kelly Bourdet
Filmmaker Liz Canner was working for a pharmaceutical company, making erotic videos for use in tests of female arousal drugs. Her growing suspicions about drug companies' ulterior motives inspired her new film, Orgasm, Inc., which takes a skeptical look at the business of female pleasure.
1. Supply creates demand; the pharmaceutical industry creates disorders.
What happens when people believe there ought to be a pill to solve all their ailments? A vaguely defined "disorder" can create a demand for a pill, any kind of pill, that purports to provide relief. Thus, we get "female sexual disorder," which, according to dubious research, affects forty-three percent of women. So we can make a drug for that, right?
2. Remember "hysteria?"
That zany condition that swept the nation in the early twentieth century? Well, in hindsight, it seems like "hysteria" was just women being super-stressed that they never got off. And they never got off because there was no sex education and people didn't know as much about female sexuality then. "Female sexual disorder" might just be the twenty-first century equivalent.
3. There's no right way to have an orgasm.
There's a really heartbreaking portion of Orgasm, Inc. in which we meet Charletta, a sixty-year-old Southern lady who claims to have never experienced an orgasm. She becomes a test subject for the "Orgasmatron," a device that's actually surgically threaded through her spine. Despite the doctor's high hopes, the device doesn't work. By this point, I'm really feeling terrible for Charletta. But then, the filmmaker asks a question about her inability to climax and it's revealed that Charletta can have an orgasm, just not through penetrative sex with her husband. Wait, what? This woman said she was unable to orgasm! But she can have an orgasm just fine. She just needs a tongue or a vibrator or her hand or whatever. Charletta's story highlights the way we view women's pleasure through the lens of male pleasure.
4. Speaking of which, "Orgasmatron" is a terrible, scary name for a sexual aid, albeit a great name for a Motörhead album.
The device Charletta has surgically installed into her backbone is a live wire, placed adjacent to nerve endings that supply the impulse for orgasmic sensation and pleasure. The creator boasts that it's guaranteed to provide a woman with an orgasm. Well, it doesn't provide all the women in his extremely small test group (eleven women) with orgasms. Oh, and potential risks of the device include shock, paralysis, epidural hemorrhage, and cerebrospinal fluid leak.
5. Help a lady out.
Obviously the problem of women's diminished interest in sex as they age has multiple contributing factors. Orgasm, Inc. explores the fact that working women still complete three times as much housework as their partners. Women are also often more responsible for child-rearing. Maybe this has something to do with their not wanting to have as much sex.
6. A puppet vagina makes everything more fun.
In the process of making the film, Canner comes across some entertaining ladies offering non-medical solutions to women's dissatisfaction. (One sex-shop owner showcases a big velvet puppet of a vagina.) Maybe we need to focus on providing women the tools to explain where and how they like to be touched instead of looking to medication.
7. Your junk is beautiful.
Recent years have seen a surge in women seeking vaginal plastic surgeries. There are now over 200 cosmetic genital surgery clinics worldwide. The filmmakers interviews a woman who lost a third of her total blood volume following a botched vaginal plastic surgery — not common, but scary. Women often seek cosmetic procedures to tighten their vaginas and to reduce the size of their labia, but the potential risks of these surgeries include scarring, infection, chronic pain, loss of sensation (kind of an important one), and inability to have intercourse.
8. There's a lot of money to be made by convincing women there's something wrong with them.
Obviously, financial gain is the motivation behind many questionable cosmetic procedures and pharmaceutical remedies, but it's especially resonant to watch Canner interact with Lisa, a marketer who's promoting "Designer Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation surgery" at a sex convention. When Lisa shows Canner the results of the surgeries, Canner exclaims that the women have been made to look like little girls. Lisa then admits this is true and vows to quit her job. (She doesn't.)
9. "Will a pill help solve women's sexual dissatisfaction? Maybe if the box has a map of the clitoris on it."
One sex-shop owner's response to the search for the female-orgasm drug emphasizes, again, that we need more women to understand the ways their bodies work. The film points out that seventy percent of women need direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm. How many of them know how to get it?
10. Monkey expert solves the world's sex problems.
In the final scene of the film, Canner speaks with Emory University psychologist Kim Wallen at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. He's spent his life researching the sexual behavior of primates. The two watch some monkeys engage in an elaborate sexual dance and she asks him what lessons he's learned from his observations. He pauses, then says, "Pay more attention to females." That's a takeaway message if I've ever heard one.