The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception, 1800-1975

By Hera Cook | Go to book overview

11
'The Vagina too, Responds':
Vaginal Orgasms, Clitoral Masturbation,
Feminism, and Sex Research 1920–1975

THE ACTIVE VAGINA

Debates on female sexuality throughout the twentieth century assumed the existence of a transhistorical, unchanging body which provided a secure basis for knowledge. Questions about how the female orgasm occurs and what it consists of directly related to the issue of whether the female vagina is an active organ, or an inert canal which forms a passive receptacle for the penis during heterosexual intercourse. Marie Stopes described the female genitals and the act of coitus in detail in Contraception (1923). She understood sexual intercourse as an activity in which both partners were active, arguing that 'the coital act is an extremely complex social function in which the woman (as well as the man) is an active partner' (italics in original). According to her the female orgasm entailed a corresponding action of the vagina to that of the penis:

[I]n the fully excited uterus the cervix may spontaneously open and interlock with the glans penis which thus discharges directly into the uterus … I have formerly hinted at this active co-operation of the cervix, but received critical comment or denial of the possibility of the action. Such criticism is, however, due to the rarity of the persons in whom this happens and the impossibility of demonstrating it, as it can only take place at the height of sexual excitement. There is no doubt whatever, that some fully sexed and roused women do experience the interlocking of the glans penis with the cervical

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