D.H. Lawrence had a lot to say about these topics in Lady Chatterley's Lover, and almost a century later, women's sexual satisfaction and orgasm inequality are finally becoming mainstream subjects of discussion.
Cosmopolitan's 2015 survey found that 57% of women in heterosexual relationships orgasm most or every time they have sex, while for their partners, the figure rose to 95%. The female orgasm has been shrouded in mystery and confusion - because to understand female sexual pleasure, we have to, you know, talk about it. A large part of the problem lies with on-screen sex being mostly penetrative; but studies show that only around 8% of women orgasm from penetration alone.
The existence of female sexuality is finally being acknowledged. It is now a subject of research and conversation, a result of feminist activism and art, and continues to inspire creative minds with the goal of normalising and un-tabooing the juxtaposition of women and sex. We're witnessing the breakdown of the patriarchal belief that men are sex-obsessed and must be satisfied, while women sexually dead and don't desire such fulfilment. Women are demanding satisfaction and control - something denied to them for centuries; another extreme form of oppression. We're also taking full control over our sexual health and pleasure, assisted by new innovations and technology.
“Women’s sexual pleasure for the sake of pleasure has been ignored by science,” says OMGYes co-founder Rob Perkins. “The different specific ways of touching that are pleasurable are still seen as ‘too sexy’ to get scientific funding. When it comes to women’s pleasure, even experts and scientists still say, ‘Everyone’s different!’ as though that’s an end to the conversation. But since when has variability stopped scientific curiosity?”
Subscription website OMGYes instructs users IB-style on how to give and receive better orgasms. The tutorials are touchable and vivid, featuring real, responsive vulvas.
Users can practice pleasure-enhancing techniques and receive digital feedback on their performance. The site was recently endorsed by Emma Watson, and uses research from over 2000 women aged 18 to 95.
Education about female sexual pleasure has far-reaching benefits, as found in the 2015 OMGYes Study of Women’s Sexual Pleasure: “Couples who constantly explore new ways to increase pleasure are five times more likely to be happier in their relationships,” explains Perkins.
“We really want this kind of exploration to be normalised as healthy curiosity and not cast as ‘for women with problems’ or ‘for men who are bad in bed’—just as buying a travel magazine isn’t ‘for people with travel problems’ or ‘for bad travellers.’”
What does a real female orgasm sound like? Emphasise the word 'real' and most people realise they can't tell between a real and a fake one. In comes Spanish advertising agency Proximity Madrid, along with erotic toy brand Bijoux Indiscrets, to "rectify the situation" - on the Orgasm Library of Sounds, women anonymously upload audio recordings of their genuine orgasms.
Toy brands are getting smarter, aiming to increase pleasure, knowledge, and promote healthy sex lives through their products. The Lioness vibrator's sensors record vaginal contractions, temperature, and positioning to explain to users optimal foreplay times, the connection between the menstrual cycle and sex drive, and more. According to founder Liz Klinger, Lioness fosters “curiosity, comfort and confidence” in its users. “Even those who start out describing themselves as ‘very open’ suddenly find that they have an avenue to talk with partners with objective data that takes away the performance anxiety or ego that so often dominates those conversations.”
"The need for understanding and exploring our bodies spans across all phases of life and has been largely neglected, which I think adds to why so many people are excited about Lioness.”
Nooky Box, a subscription box service for sex toys launched in February 2016, also provides answers to common sex questions on its blog, but with prices starting at $300 for a year. Then there's Sustain Natural, encouraging women to #GetOnTop of their sexual health, with its sustainable, vegan, fair-trade condoms and other sexual well-being products.
There's an app for everything, and some useful ones when it comes to female sexual health. Period tracker and sexual health app Eve by Glow gives users detailed sex ed in an interactive format, with sex quizzes, a period and sex log, an Eve community to share experiences and more.
What I love is the way everything is normalised, as it should be - tips on orgasms, foreplay, masturbation, "Master Touch" and much more, whether you're straight, bisexual, or lesbian. It promotes feminism, body positivity, and healthy sex; and celebrates an inspiring woman every day on its "Woman Crush" gem.
We know the capabilities of good art. A medium for social change, awareness, and education - unrestrained. Conceptual artist Sophie Wallace used her passion and creativity to bust myths about female orgasms, sexuality, and put the clitoris in the limelight, an organ that was omitted from anatomical diagrams for decades and only re-acknowledged in 1998.
“The clitoris, which is the sexual organ of cis women and trans men, is not eroticized,” Wallace said in an interview with Broadly. “…this ignores the organ with 8,000 nerves in the glans alone and more internally.”
In 2012, she launched her Cliteracy project with an exhibition featuring a giant gold clitoris and graphic wallpapers plastered with phrases.
2016 saw Wallace exhibit 'Over and Over and Over', exploring representation and the power of the small.
“Like the clitoris, the neon works are small yet powerful,” Wallace wrote in a press statement. “Until the subject exists in representation, it must be repeated in form and speech, again and again, until it is naturalized.”
The inequality persists, but Wallace observes some progress since the launch of 'Cliteracy'. “I think more women of all ages, and particularly young women, are beginning to increase their sense of sexual entitlement,” she explains.
“My project has offered women core truths about their bodies with language that is bold and powerful, unlike most language we have for female genitals in any context. Human dignity. This is one of the reasons that, though it is a conceptual art project, it has been resonated at such scale.”
The growing body of research on female sexual fulfilment still needs further exploration. The stigma that barred any effort to explain our pleasure and sexual health has led to serious untreated problems, misconceptions, fear, and chronic frustration and unhappiness. And it is still at large. However, we're gaining a deeper understanding of women's bodies, beyond the superficial objectification that has dominated society for decades. Women are tired of the hushed voices and knowing silence, and the deeper we probe into and discuss these topics in clear voices, the healthier and happier we all are.