Monthly Archives: August 2012

Let’s Give Female Masturbation a New Name

I love masturbating T-shirtJack off. Choke the chicken. Beat the meat. Spank the monkey. The rich vocabulary to describe male masturbation is directly related to our acceptance and even celebration of it. Women’s masturbation is less accepted, so the terminology used to describe it suffers as a result. If you asked a random person on the street to name euphemisms for female masturbation, they’d probably fail to name even one. I’ve read that Jill off is a female-specific term, but I’ve never actually heard anybody use it.  Since I spend a large portion of my life writing and speaking about female masturbation, I am routinely frustrated by the dearth of terms to describe it. (As you’ll note from this paragraph, I’ve always resorted to using the cumbersome phrase female masturbation).

Before we investigate alternative terms for female masturbation, it’s instructive to delve into masturbate itself. Masturbate most likely derives from the Latin manus (hand) and stupare (to defile), according to the OED. Its origins reveal that it once was a pejorative term, as many terms for masturbation are today. Etymology aside, masturbate is simply too cumbersome and unwieldy to form the basis of the go-to term for female self-pleasuring. Masturbate doesn’t so much as roll off the tongue as it does tumble in a cascade of inelegant syllables.

Not surprisingly, the Ancient Greeks had a few terms for female masturbation, one of which was clitorize, according to Rod L. Evans’ Sex-i-con Evans says that clitorize derives from the Greek kleitoris, whose etymology is uncertain but the OED says that it may derive from a Greek word meaning to shut. First-century Greek physician Rufus of Ephesus defined clitorize as “the lascivious touching” of the clitoris. In Latin there was maritate, meaning “to manipulate one’s vulva by hand; of females, to masturbate.”  It was derived from “maritus (husband), with the suggestion that one’s hand is acting as a husband,” according to Evans. Although I love the idea of having a hand husband, but I can’t imagine myself employing the word maritate in my daily life. Continue reading

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What is a Sex Toy?

Wahl 2-speed all-body massager

Is this a sex toy or a therapeutic massager? How do we make this distinction?

It seems ridiculous to ask this question, nearly a year into writing my blog and my dissertation. But it’s an important one because what is and is not a sex toy is not readily apparent. Sure, you could confidently state that the devices sold on a sex-toy site like Good Vibrations, are in fact instruments that are designed to stimulate the genitals. But not all sex toys are sold in sex toy stores. Nor are all massagers that are marketed to “relieve pain and fatigue,” actually used for back massage.

So how do we judge whether something is a sex toy or a therapeutic device? Do we accept a company’s marketing claims at face value? Or do we factor in how the consumer actually uses the device?  Take the Wahl Two-Speed All Body Massager  for example. Wahl makes vague claims that the massager: “Increases circulation,” “Relieves aches and muscle pain,” and works well for “facial” and “deep tissue” massage. But nothing indicates that the massager provides women with incredible orgasms. You have to look to Amazon.com’s product reviews to find that information:

“Best. Thing. Ever. No clue how it does at massaging sore muscles, but as a vibrator it’s definitely in my top 3. Most of the time the low setting is perfect, but for an extra little something there’s a way to hold it so you can flip it to high right before you have a orgasm [sic] and I have to say it’s better than anything else I’ve experienced. A definite must for anyone.”- Anonymous

Not all of the reviews are like this, of course. But enough of the reviews are like this that there should be no doubt in any consumer’s mind that the Wahl provides an amazing clitoral massage. Continue reading

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How We Should Write About Sex

If only more academics followed Stacia Kane’s advice.
Image from staciakane.com

Most sex writing is terrible. Most scholarly sex writing is even worse. It’s a problem that stems from the unimaginative academic universe, a world that indoctrinates grad students out of creative prose, that Scientologizes away all sense of originality so that all papers sound as if they could have been written by the same chunky, black glasses-wearing, latte-sipping, theorist-name-dropping late 20s humanities Ph.D.  Academic writing is the antithesis of sexy. It’s dry and clinical, jargon-filled and plodding.  Reading it is like decoding a text whose message, when revealed, is frequently not worth the effort. Even if it is worth the effort, it’s still a frustrating endeavor. Writing about sex needs to be wet and messy and passionate and dirty. Academics have even managed to sanitize the word body, to jargonize it, to make it the opposite of what the body is, a flatulent, oozing, prickly thing that brings us sloppy, messy joy.

Sex writing needs to evolve away from a clinical, Kinseyian style. Since he was writing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Kinsey’s clinical style made sense. It was appropriate. It was a way to give sex studies legitimacy. But we’re over a half a century beyond that. Even though the sex-studies stigma still exists, that doesn’t mean that we have to be overly scientific to the point of impenetrability in response. Stigmas about sexuality will always exist. Scholars shouldn’t respond to criticism by making their work innocuous and boring. Instead, they should fight critics with provocative prose full of stimulating ideas. Here’s a 3-step plan to improve academic sex writing.

First, academics need to stop pretending that they don’t have sex. Why is there an insistence that to be an intellectual means that you have risen above the corporeal? In the words of Us Weekly: Academics are just like us! They watch porn, masturbate, and have sex just like the rest of the rabble. They don’t copulate while wearing a monocle and a top hat. They don’t bring test tubes and statistical software to their assignations. They fuck. But for some reason intellectuals like to write about sex as if it’s something that happens to other people. Continue reading

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