Politics behind study on penis length and female orgasms?

I recently published a piece on ABC Science Online about a study that claimed to find that women were more likely to experience “vaginal orgasms” when, among other things, they have sex with men with longer penises. Obviously the issue is a bit sensationalist but there are a bunch of interesting political issues that the story briefly touched on.

There has been a long tradition of feminists denying the existence of “vaginal orgasms”. Anne Koedt wrote a great essay in 1968 called The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm. This feminist claim was a reaction to what was seen as a patriarchal and hetro-normative orthodoxy led by Freud who argued that clitoral orgasms were childish. Freud thought that when a woman matures, she ought to learn to have orgasms without clitoral stimulation.

It should be noted that Anne Koedt and other feminists were not arguing that it is impossible that women can have orgasms without clitoral stimulation, but rather that such orgasms were rare and were not a different category of orgasm. Indeed, Koedt mentions the cases of women who can achieve orgasm with no physical stimulation at all.

The study I reported on made a number of  claims about the value of vaginal over clitoral orgasms which should be read, I think, very skeptically. For example, the study argues that women who can achieve orgasms without any clitoral stimulation have better relationships with their friends, their partners and better all-round well-being. Most of the evidence cited by the authors is their own work and these claims are hotly contested by other researchers.

While researching for my article a number of scientists told me they thought the study had a political agenda it sought to push and the language the authors use would suggest so. They refer to views such as Koedt’s as “clitorocentric” and blame it for “the destruction of human pleasure”. Even if Koedt was wrong, it such an assignment of blame seems a little far-fetched.

Another issue the piece touches on is the influence of drug companies on this kind of research. As one of the experts I quote says, it is very useful for drug companies if women who need clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasms are classed as “sick” because then we might be able to sell them a pill.

I am very surprised that the study wasn’t written up for trashier publications with the simple (and inaccurate) line that “size does matter”. All up, I think the study needs to be read with a very critical eye.