As soon as I heard that this week, from the 6th to 12th of May had been dedicated as Clitoris Awareness Week I just knew I wanted to write about it. I struggled a bit because, I'm a man, and more specifically a gay man. What on earth can I say about the clitoris that would have any relevance at all. But the more I thought about it the more I wanted to celebrate this week. It has it's origins, as one might guess, in pain and suffering which often occasions the female body and harsh societal and cultural practises when it comes to the sexuality of women. I will leave that information to the Wall Street Journal to which I have already linked.
I want to tell you three short stories that involve me and 'the clitoris'.
I was teaching a course at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, on the subject of Human Sexuality. It was a wild and fun course. I believe that laughter is a natural part of learning and so ... as the subject was sex, the students were young and hormones flew through the air - it was an exciting ride. We covered a lot of material and the students quickly learned that they would be expected to learn and that some of what was learned was difficult and uncomfortable. On the last day of class a young woman came to speak to me. She was one that I always worried that I was offending because she only seldomly reacted to the humour and when she did it was just with a smile. I thought she was there to complain about my, sometimes, unorthodox approach to teaching. But no, she just quietly waited until I was finished packing up. I'd offered to stop and talk, she insisted I finish what I was doing. She told me, when we sat to talk, that she was terrified to take this course and she took it even though it wasn't a course she needed to take. She had been brought up by parents who, while they weren't religious, they were very, very strict. She had been taught that her body was dirty and that her 'uglies' as her parents called them, were to be kept clean so she wouldn't 'smell up the house.' She cried as she told me this. The pain radiated out of her. Finally, after gathering herself she said that learning words like 'clitoris' and 'labia' and 'vulva' were beginning to have a healing effect on her. They weren't 'uglies' any more. They had names. They were given to all women. They were, and this was shocking to her, no longer unspeakable. She thanked me for filling the class with laughter, she said she felt that each time the class laughed a layer of 'dirty' washed off her attitude towards her body and sexuality. She left me. I sat down at my desk, for about five minutes, and then cried.
It was my second or third time teaching sex education to people with intellectual disabilities. A young woman with Down Syndrome was there. She was attending with her boyfriend who mooned at her with such love and longing. After the second class, where we were still getting to know the group and where we were covering non-stressful material in order to develop trust and safety before we got to the part about body parts and the like, she came to speak to me. I was surprised, in the end, that she chose me because a female teacher was present. But, no, she marched up to me. Determination all over her face. "That's my boyfriend," she said in a "matter of fact" manner. I told her that I had guessed that. "Well then," she said pulling a piece of paper out of her purse and slapping it down on the table in front of me, "What's that called?" She had ripped a page out of some book that had a close up picture of female genitalia and her finger pointed to the clitoris. I told her, quietly, that it was called the clitoris, she turned to her boyfriend, who was waiting with great anticipation, "It's the clitoris. That what it's called. That's what you need to touch more." She walked away. The two of them left the room. Him giggling with embarrassment her with real purpose. She wanted the word so she could say what she wanted.
When preparing to teach sexuality I read a fact about the clitoris, that it was the only organ in the body that exists for the sole purpose of giving pleasure. I remember reading that for the first time. I remember that fact hitting me hard. I'd had learned, like we all did, that sex was something that was half dirty, half sinful and would occasion or loss of innocence. I knew I was gay for a very long time. I knew that others saw my sexuality as deviant because it produced pleasure not children. And here is this creation, put there on purpose, that said - hey pleasure is OK. It may be odd for a gay man to be grateful to a clitoris, but I am.
It struck me then that the clitoris was more than just a pleasure giving devise.
It was also a messenger.
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE PLEASURABLE. It isn't supposed to be about force, or about hurt, or about domination. IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT PLEASURE.
PLEASURE. Not about demonization of sexuality, not about making sexuality dirty, not about surrounding it with sin and moral statues. PLEASURE.
We have been given a message.
And the clitoris is the messenger of great, good, news.