Thursday, September 08, 2005

Phoblog Health & Lit Report: Back To The Big O

Regular readers know my commitment to promoting articles on women's sexual health as long as I'm subjected to Levitra and Viagra ads and as long as health plans are allowed to cover Viagra and not birth control. To that end - I present a book report by Cristina Nehring whose writing I've previously enjoyed in The Atlantic Monthly on O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm.

Nehring is none too happy about the cultural importance given to the orgasm - the holy grail of sexual interaction, the emphasis on which, in her view, leads to stress and fear in the bedroom. Oddly, women's orgasm's specifically turn into a men's issue as woman "fake it rather than risk the traumatization of their mate:"

It's not that the sexual revelations and revolutions of the recent past have not brought considerable good. It's great that men know more about women's bodies than they did, great they no longer imagine, like the cad in Milan Kundera's 1972 novel The Joke, that any sexual exchange short of intercourse is emasculating. What's bad is that now we have books like Margolis's O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm, which insistently and insipidly fetishize orgasms--adding, thereby, not just to our fears in the erotic realm but also, paradoxically, to our boredoms. What may be worse is that such books are in sync with the zeitgeist. . . .

It is hard to imagine anybody reading Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World and taking the anonymous copulation and orgasm-inducing machine in its pages for a beautiful ideal rather than bitter satire, but Margolis manages. In fact, he gamely remarks, some of Huxley's vision had already been "aspired to and achieved" in the 1960s! Only the machine itself, the "Orgasmatron" made famous by Woody Allen in Sleeper, remains frustratingly unavailable. What Margolis does for Huxley he does for the King James Bible. Champion of the clitoris that he is, he finds instructions for its use all over the Old Testament. When the female speaker in the Song of Solomon says, "Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me," Margolis can reach no other conclusion than that the Song, in this line, "certainly advises a man as clearly as possible to stimulate manually his lover's clitoris." As clearly as possible, indeed: With directions like that, no wonder it took men a few more millennia to catch the drift.
The review, and thus this post, is less on the orgasm itself and more on crappy writing and foolish, false histories penned by those content to confuse science, history, and literature. Crappy writing, of course, is another favorite subject of mine. And you have to admit, I had you at "orgasm," didn't I.

Anyway - read the article - Nehring is a great writer. For example:

We have demystified orgasm enough over the decades; perhaps it is time, now, to remystify it. Margolis rightly blames the church for having attempted to make sex a mere tool for procreation: God, he says, gave us a race car; why use it as a tractor? No, God has given us a chariot to the sun, and Margolis, alas, is using it as a Honda Civic. Always reliable, generally available, but just not a lot of magic. Sex is many things to many people and that is as it should be, but the last thing we want is orgasms on tap; an erotic culture of infinite availability and amiable innocuousness is an erotic culture that is bland. There will always be those for whom sex is a snack or a sneeze, but let us leave room for sex as communion, sex as spirit made flesh, sex as a brush with the feathered glory of Leda's swan, a brush with the divine.

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