International Clitoris Awareness Week: May 6-12

Megan Binkley, Opinions Editor

Hey, let’s talk about the clitoris.

Did that make you uncomfortable? Let me continue.

The clitoris is a small, pea-sized part of the female genitalia, home to over 8,000 nerve endings. It’s named for the Ancient Greek word for ‘key’, a reference to the fundamental nature that the Ancient Greeks believed the clitoris plays in female sexual experiences.

Anatomically, the clitoris and the penis are remarkably similar, except for the location of the urethra. If given regular doses of testosterone, individuals born with a clitoris can stimulate clitoral growth to the point where their clitoris ‘becomes’ a penis. Both the clitoris and the uncircumcised penis have protective folds of skin around them (the clitoral hood and the foreskin, respectively).

Now, take a step back from our anatomical examination: the similarities end here. In widespread society (especially in cultures constructed by individuals averaging under the age of 30), dick jokes are a commonality. Research into male genitalia, sexuality, health, and preferences abounds; meanwhile, the mere word ‘clitoris’ tends to make people squirm in discomfort.

Women’s right to sexual pleasure, sexual autonomy, and power over their own bodies is contested, inside and outside courts of law. On a daily basis, women are mutilated, ostracized, shamed, murdered, and harassed for enjoying their own bodies—both sexually and non-sexually—and girls are taught from a young age that sexual shame, guilt, and responsibility belong to them. Cover your legs, don’t distract the boys in your class. Leave the house for a week every month—menstruation is dirty. Pay a luxury tax on tampons. Don’t learn about sex, don’t talk about sex; as a result, sexual activity can become painful, even dangerous, for women when it inevitably happens.

This stigmatization culminates in the societal aversion to the clitoris: the center of female sexuality. I believe that all forms of female subjugation can be traced back to this aversion, and the utter lack of cultural recognition of this abhorrence. The stigmatization will be incredibly difficult to deconstruct. Yet it must happen — for many reasons, yet one essential reason stands above all others to me.
I believe that women deserve to enjoy their bodies, in the full range of what that entails.

For starters, women deserve to feel good about themselves and how they look, and to not be told otherwise by society and the people around them. Whether they enjoy their legs in the shortest of shorts, or feel most comfortable in head-to-toe coverings, that’s an individual choice about which others have no right to comment.

Ladies, if you prefer not to wear a bra — by all means, don’t wear one. Bras are horrible (especially underwire ones on hot summer afternoons).
Building on this, women deserve an educational system that actually informs them about their bodies, the changes that will occur to them, and the different things they can do to turn potentially painful sexual experiences into situations over which they have autonomy. Women deserve to live in societies where they can walk outside the house, in whatever situation, in whatever outfit, with or without companionship, and not have to fear for their safety.

The changes mentioned will take decades to enact, but we can start learning about ourselves, and to appreciate our bodies, today.

Let’s start by celebrating this simple awareness week.