NYT Celebrates the Clitoris—Sort Of

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Last week’s New York Times featured an article about how most doctors don’t talk to patients about the clitoris—primarily because they get virtually no training about its existence or function.

This makes docs as clit-ignorant as civilians, who get no training about it in school, either. In most sex ed classes, the clit doesn’t exist. In many states a teacher can lose their job for mentioning it.

While the Times article does mention how the clitoris is central to most women’s sexual pleasure, it doesn’t point out that the clit is the only organ in the human body whose only function is pleasure. From my very first days as a sex educator in the 1980s, I always thought this was a cool fact to mention. “Forget penis envy,” I’d joke, “What about clit envy?”

The article does focus on urologist Dr. Rachel Rubin, self-proclaimed clitorologist and one of my professional heroes. As a sexual health specialist in Rockville, Maryland, she trains her patients, students, and colleagues with equal passion. She’s doing a great job normalizing the clitoris as a body part worthy of attention—both by medical practitioners and clit owners themselves.

Because doctors aren’t the only ones who don’t talk about the clitoris; way too many women don’t mention it to their partners (and to be fair, not all of those partners are listening). We’ve known that most women don’t climax without direct clitoral stimulation since Shere Hite’s groundbreaking work in the 1970s. Researchers have repeatedly confirmed this, including Dr. Sandra Caron’s studies of college women and Dr. Debby Herbenick’s studies of the general public.

So how many ordinary women are talking about their clit with their partners?


The article didn’t address the fact that so many women don’t talk about their clitorises with their sex partners.

As a clinician, I know that many heterosexual men and women define “normal sex” as penis-in-vagina intercourse. So when women don’t climax from intercourse, many people are disappointed. But most women masturbate, and most do it by stimulating their clit (via hand, toy, running water, etc.), NOT their vagina. So why isn’t that a clue as to how the female body works, cultural norms be damned?

And vibrators and other sex toys that delight the clit—why the taboo, the shame, the sense of failure so many users and couples feel? That’s like assigning moral judgement to light bulbs, hammers, and calculators: “What—you want to put a nail into the wall and don’t want to use just your hand? Guess you’re not a real woman. Can’t see in the dark? Never learned your multiply-by-twenty-three table? You should be embarrassed to rely on gadgets to make full use of your eyes and hands.”

As seems inevitable in articles about women’s health, women’s self-consciousness, women’s body image, and women’s everything else, the article talks about how females have it rougher than males. There’s a tut-tut comparison about how doctors don’t focus much on female sexual health and quality of life, while Viagra has brought tens of billions of dollars to Pfizer.

So memo to medical writers everywhere: Viagra’s existence is NOT proof that the drug industry is prejudiced toward men; its widespread prescription is NOT proof that doctors deeply care about men’s sexual pleasure; and the number of men prescribed Viagra who DON’T use it is testament to how it doesn’t always address what men (and their partners) need.

So do physicians take female sexual satisfaction less seriously than male sexual satisfaction? Ask any guy if his urologist has asked him about sexual pleasure. Um, generally not.

A half-century ago, Dr. Lonnie Barbach coined the expression “pre-orgasmic,” a big improvement over “non-orgasmic” or “dysfunctional” or (gasp) “frigid.” She was the first to develop a group treatment program for women distressed by their inability to climax regularly.

As she put it, “The predominant way Americans have sex is men rubbing their penises inside women’s vaginas—and most men climax, while many women are pre-orgasmic. However, if the predominant way people had sex was men rubbing their testicles on women’s clitorises, most women would climax easily, and men would be pre-orgasmic.”

So as Dr. Ian Kerner, Dr. Laurie Mintz, and a whole generation of sex therapists would say, let’s ALL get cliterate–and not just wait around until doctors take the clit more seriously.

Like short videos? Like sexual info? See dozens of my Video Quickies on a wide range of subjects.

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