As society is becoming more and more progressive, many different facets of society have become more open and accepting. From marriage laws, to racism and discrimination, sexism, and confining gender roles we, as society, have seen much change, including in the realm of sexuality. The sexologists of the 19th century, though through their work created dangerous ideologies such as normalizing heterosexual behavior, was the first to “get the ball rolling”. They started the conversation around sex and sexuality, and though this conversation has seen its ups and downs throughout time, that conversation is still ongoing. The most surprising conversation however, centered around sex and sexuality that is taking place right now, is that of women’s sexuality.
In the documentary Orgasm Inc., the narrators openly speak on the topic of female sexuality, but to be cliché however, the more things that change the more that stay the same. Though this film documents a shift in discourse (maybe?) to more open conversations on the topic of sex and sexuality, it also illustrates the need for society to regulate. The film explores the topic of female orgasms, using it as proxy to signal female desire. The orgasm is front and center in what is being called Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD), or lack of sexual desire or pleasure, which in other words signals to females… if you don’t orgasm there is something wrong with you and we will try to fix it. This is what is known as the Medicalization of Desire, or controlling sexuality through medicine. In the film the narrator states, “we as a society think we should be able to fix everything”, but this “corporate sponsored creation of disease” goes way beyond that, which this film explores. On the surface it seems as if society is trying to “help” women (and make a few bucks in return) however this imagined disease is nothing but disguised mass regulation of bodies, specifically the female body.
Throughout history, female bodies and sexuality have always been regulated in a way that gives them no power over themselves. What is taken from them, as Deborah Tolman defines it, is their sexual subjectivity. In Tolman’s article Adolescent Girl’s Sexuality, she describes the phenomenon in which adolescents are taught to incite desire rather than express it (154). She writes, “in order to keep boys in check, the suppression of girls’ sexual desire is required” (155). If girls were to act on their desire, the “entire system would be in chaos”, which might be exactly what the rule makers fear of this progressive society… the system is failing. This article is almost in direct contrast with the film, the former describing the societal norm of suppressing desire while the latter describes abnormality if you lack desire. However, this may be due to shifting of norms in society, which means the ways in which we regulate bodies must shift as well. We must now create new labels and the creation of Female Sexual Dysfunction is one way in which we’ve done that. It is a more modernized way to regulate female sexuality. Society recognizes that females are “bumping” the system and have gained a little bit of their sexual subjectivity. They are having sex, so now we must tell them that their sex is wrong.
The film discusses the ways in which media and big business label and/or categorize sex and sexual desire into “normal” or “abnormal.” This then leads to medical “fixes” that are created in order to “help” those with what has been deemed abnormal sexuality. Female Sexual Dysfunction creates the dichotomy that orgasm during heterosexual penetrative sex is normal, while the lack of orgasms and/orgasm during any other sex act is out of the norm. This normalizes orgasms and places shame or blame on those who are not able to achieve this feat, when in fact not achieving orgasm is more the norm. This gives the false perception of being a diseased minority, which ostracizes female sexual encounters that do not meet this standard, but what is normal?
In Fifty Shades of Grey, we are presented with the female orgasm numerous times. Though this novel is very progressive in the sense of shedding a positive light on an otherwise “abnormal” sexual practice, it also participates in normalizing as well. The heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey Ana, orgasms a great number of times throughout the novel. This in turn, characterizes orgasms as natural, normal, easy or something that occurs often, which is something seen many times in a lot of other romance or erotica novels. This then can lead women who are reading these novels to think of Ana, then think of themselves and ask “why am I not like her.” This film highlights how the female orgasm as s form of desire has been normalized. Something that “normal” people experience, and if you do not, there is something wrong with you that must be fixed. To many readers, in reading novels it is a way to escape and identify with the heroines of these novels, however when messages such as the orgasm is normal and easily achievable, woman can internalize these beliefs and view themselves as less than or diseased.
What is normal and abnormal anyway? According to Orgasm Inc., abnormal is when 43% (43% holy cow!!!!!) of the population suffers from a disease… making them the minority majority?? When almost the majority of society is “suffering” from of a disease, doesn’t it then become… normal?
As society is changing, what are other ways we have shifted or disguised labels to continue to regulate bodies? Will we ever be able to break this paradigm?