Magazine article Herizons

The Pleasure Principle

Magazine article Herizons

The Pleasure Principle

Article excerpt

HOW SEXUAL EMPOWERMENT CAN DISRUPT A RAPE CULTURE

Remember that old Herbal Essence shampoo commercial, the one with the woman in the shower? Maybe, like me, you were unconvinced that lathering your hair with aromatic shampoo could bring you to a moaning, gasping, squealing orgasm, as the television ad suggested. Here was another example of women's sexuality being used to sell a product - a sure-fire way to heighten women's sex appeal! Impulsively, the self-righteous feminist in me added that brand to my list of boycotted products.

However, the more I saw the commercial, the more I appreciated it. After all, the intensely perfumed shampoo wasn't marketed to men, and here was a woman, alone in her shower, rocking one intense orgasm! Perhaps there was something positive in this portrayal, after all.

I was inspired to watch for more examples of women's sexual pleasure in popular culture. It didn't take long to realize that media representations of women engaged in sexual enjoyment without a partner, for reasons other than the gratification of a male spectator, were few and far between.

Maybe this isn't surprising. Together, strong social taboos around masturbation and distorted, misogynous portrayals of women in pop culture and porn all but obliterate the possibility for unadulterated images of women's solo sexual pleasure.

In North America, women are inundated with conflicting messages about sexual pleasure, and it can be tough to find empowering, sex-positive spaces and discussions. On one hand, the tenet "good girls don't" continues to be strongly endorsed. Abstinence-based sex-ed programs and the purity balls and pledges popular among the Christian right in the U.S. are just a few ways this message is promulgated. On the other hand, popular films, music and magazines advance hyper- sexualized (and hetero-normative) images of very young women, exploiting and demeaning them as sexual objects. From Rihanna videos to Cosmo, such images abound in pop media.

As a feminist, I firmly believe that a woman's sexual empowerment can actually empower her in other aspects of her life as well. So, how, you ask, might the personal experience of sexual pleasure strengthen women in their political struggles?

In recent years, a woman-centred retail sex industry, feminist popular literature and scholarly research have each made meaningful contributions to the discussion of sexual pleasure, taking ideas about women's sexuality beyond the dichotomous extremes of abstinence versus exploitation. Whether it's a favourite sex shop or online retailer, a book or a college or university classroom, women today have unprecedented access to practical information about sex that goes way beyond what students used to learn in health class. Most importantly, this trend has informed new research and discussion on the connections between sexual empowerment and women's ability to resist sexual assault.

Where might women begin their quest for sex-positive information that legitimizes their desire for sexual pleasure? Well, in an ideal world, such inquiry would be initiated between and among women, with mothers and mentors leading the way.

"On my 18th birthday, my mom pulled me into the living room to give me a gift," recalls Krystin, a Vancouver Island University student in her late 20s, "a light pink vibrator and a book on female orgasm and sexuality." The book was Rebecca Chalker's The Clitoral Truth, which explains in detail the workings of the vast system that is the clitoris and its 18 parts. While initially surprised, Krystin was deeply moved by her mother's rationale. "She refused to have her daughters go through life knowing only how to pleasure a man and not themselves."

Chalker wrote The Clitoral Truth because she believed too many women thought the "clitoris is this teeny peasized bump and that women's sexual response is not as powerful as men's." If they understood how all of the parts of the clitoris work together to produce orgasms, she hoped they would be better able to explore and enhance their sexual response. …

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