First Stirrings: Cultural Notes on Orgasm, Ejaculation, and Wet Dreams

By Janssen, Diederik F. | The Journal of Sex Research, May 2007 | Go to article overview
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First Stirrings: Cultural Notes on Orgasm, Ejaculation, and Wet Dreams


Janssen, Diederik F., The Journal of Sex Research


Sexology and Chronometry: Three Milestones

In this article I want to do three things. First, I provide an overview of data pertaining to the chronology of what are usually referred to as three milestones in sexual autobiography: first orgasm (orgasmarche), first ejaculation (oigarche), and first nocturnal emission. Second, I point out the methodological problems associated with the measurement of these variables. Third, I want to situate these problems in a culturalist perspective. Specifically, I want to examine the pedagogical status of pleasure as well as the cultural underpinnings of the notion of a psychosexual milestone. By this I want to specify the (uncontroversial) observation that orgasms are "cultural" in terms of their occurrence as well as perceived salience, necessity, and "age appropriateness."

This problem feeds into a number of wider issues some of which are explored in more detail elsewhere (Janssen, 2003, II). First, the biographic timing of sex (its meaning, measurement, control and salience) is of ongoing demographic and medical interest. From a medicolegal perspective, since the 1970s the chronometric parameter "age" has largely replaced that of "gender" as a mobilizing principle. That is to say: while prior gender-related impossibilities have been steadily normalized and decriminalized, age became the paradigm parameter of sexological welfare, justice, and intervention. This paradigm shift can for instance be observed after the depsychiatrization of DSM-II Homosexuality which was subsequently normalized through alternative milestone models (Cass, Lee, Plummer, Coleman, Troiden, and later Savin-Williams) and prolongated as problematic primarily where pedagogical issues were in vogue (differential consent age, parenting, adoption, custody, teachers, Scouting mentors, curriculum, internet filters, Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood). Sexualities, "normal" and "alternative," became chronological problems. During the 1990s, this development came to inform the peculiar notion of "age-appropriate sexuality." Thus, early sexual behavior became appropriated by a new diagnostic imperative which conventionalized during the early 1980s and came to be known as child sexual abuse.

While timing (as prevalence, frequency, attitude, and discourse) is a salient culture marker, I also think that it is important to remain critical of the chronometrization of sexuality (Janssen, forthcoming). In this article I will argue that sexological chronometry should be critiqued even when it pertains to the "body proper."

The Cultural Orgasm

While the cultural underpinnings of girls' first menstruation (menarche) have received over one hundred qualitative studies, (1) the case of orgasm has received hardly any attention. According to Meyer (1996, p. 100) orgasm is a behavioral tool mastered by adults, in contrast to children, a "superior orgasmic technology" utilized in ramifying the sexual status of the child. While this seems a strong perspective, orgasm indeed is not a topic commonly discussed in books on sex education prepared for preadult U.S. audiences (Martinson, 1994). Reiss (1998) found that in instruction books for UK 14 to 16-year-olds, "Ejaculation was mentioned in 12 of the 15 books; female orgasm in just five." In a perceptive article by Moore (2003) on sperm in sex education books marketed to a child audience, ejaculation and orgasm were not problematized. Some Western education books explicitly deny the possibility of prepubertal orgasm. Some sex researchers avoid and even reject orgasmarche (first orgasm) as a salient issue in developmental sexology. Rademakers (2000, p. 17), for instance, contended that "sexuality of children does not lend itself for description in terms of the sexual response cycle (desire-arousal-orgasm-recovery)." Elsewhere it was noted that, "the limited definition of human sexuality in terms of the sexual response cycle [...] doesn't do justice to aspects of sexuality which are more relevant to children" (Rademakers et al.

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