womanhood is a terminal condition

On a long drive I started listening to Bill Bryson’s entertaining (and at times ghastly) “At Home: a short history of private life.” The book travels through the rooms of a house and recounts interesting tidbits from history that made that room what it is.

In Chapter 15, The Bedroom, he writes about the 19th century:

…[W]omanhood was automatically deemed to be a pathological condition. There was a belief, more or less universal, that women after puberty were either ill or on the verge of being ill, almost permanently. “The development of breasts, womb, and other reproductive apparatus drained energy from the finite supply each individual possessed,” in the words of one authority. Menstruation was described in medical texts as if it were a monthly act of willful negligence.

‘Whenever there is actual pain at any stage of the monthly period, it is because there is something wrong either in the dress or the diet or the personal and social habits of the individual,’ wrote one (male, of course) observer.

He goes on to describe the medical treatment of sexual thoughts by “the thorough scouring of her vagina with borax” and the treatment of nearsightedness with hysterectomy.

Just remember that, would you, when you consider whether or not a medication might be the appropriate treatment for your low sexual desire, slow orgasms, or lack of lubrication. Just remember the centuries of pathologizing of everything female or feminine, that constitutes our cultural inheritance. Just remember that when you or your partner can’t just WANT SEX spontaneously or doesn’t get wet as soon as foreplay starts. You can’t just want sex or get wet because you’re a WOMAN; being woman and being broken are not the same thing, no matter what your doctor, a magazine, or your parents tell you.

So into this books falls the recent Jezebel piece about men who like to give women orgasms because they like to give women pleasure, not as an ego boost.

How does it relate?

(Some stereotypes get used here, so just take a deep breath and be okay with it for argument’s sake:)

For men, orgasm and pleasure are closely linked. They’re practically the same thing. They can enjoy arousal without orgasm, sure, but basically they can tell if they had a good sexual experience by whether or not they’ve had an orgasm.

And they apply that standard – THEIR standard, the male/masculine standard – to their women partners. As though women are men, and as though to be anything else is to be broken.

So even if a guy wants his female partner to have orgasms because he wants to make her feel good, which is lovely and very nice, why can’t he just MAKE HER FEEL GOOD because he wants to make her feel good, without the performance demands of orgasm?

Orgasm is often slower and more effortful for women than for men; it’s more variable from woman to women, more variable from day to day in an individual woman. Sometimes orgasm just isn’t there for her; she can still experience truckloads of pleasure, though.

Anyway. We’ve certainly come a long way if in 150 years we’ve gone from improving eyesight by removing a uterus to using male standards to judge female orgasms, right? Not bad.

BTW, the commenters at Jezebel said a lot of sensible things about enjoying the journey and not worrying about the destination, to which I would only add, pleasure is a destination, not a journey; if you feel good, you have already arrived.