April 23rd, 2006
Recently I was invited to take part in an early morning TV show aimed at a mainly female audience to be broadcast this coming week.
The aim of the programme, that would span a whole week of morning broadcasts, was female sexuality and boosting women’s sexual confidence.
A number of issues were to be tackled each day, but the programme they wanted me to be part of would address the female brain, since according to the TV researcher I spoke to this was ‘the largest female sex organ’.
To illustrate the brain was the biggest sex organ, and also to show how confidence could be boosted, they planned to have a pole dancer in the studio.
Before we tackled the ‘biggest female sex organ is the brain’ theory, I questioned why they wanted to use a pole dancer?
‘Because it’s visual’ came the reply.
I’d no quarrel with that, but pointed out for some women pole dancing may be something they wouldn’t be confident enough to do, and for others it may not be suitable due to cultural, political or financial reasons.
‘Well, what would you suggest?’ the researcher for the programme demanded.
I listed a number of activities from walking and swimming, yoga and pilates or belly dancing. I explained these didn’t all cost money and done regularly could benefit a woman’s health, which in turn might help her sex life.
I was told these options were ‘not exactly interesting’, ‘not visual’, ‘not something we can show in a studio’ and ‘not sexy’.
They clearly wondered what I had against pole dancing. The answer, of course, is nothing. However the idea that you can simply fix a sex life that needs a boost or is in trouble by a pole dancing demonstration isn’t going to be useful to many women. And no matter how visual an example I couldn’t see how showing pole dancing related to the female brain idea they were using.
Realising I’d lost that battle, we moved on. They wanted me to approve the ‘female brain as the biggest sex organ’ idea and I asked them where they’d got that belief. The researcher laughed and said ‘well everyone knows that’ (in a tone that made it clear I obviously didn’t).
Patiently I pointed out whilst it was a commonly held view, not everyone agrees with it. Certainly not all neurologists would (the researcher didn’t know what a neurologist was, which limited that discussion). I explained some scientists exploring the clitoris and finding it to be far larger and complex an organ with greater arousal potential might also think that was a bigger sex organ than the brain. I also explained how often we focus on the brain for women and the genitals for men which discourages men from exploring sexual feelings, emotions and desires, and prevents women enjoying genital pleasure.
Evidently I fared no better putting these views across than my discussion about pole dancing since the researcher then very slowly and patronisingly asked me to tell her just what I thought was the ‘most important female sex organ’.
‘The clitoris’, I replied, ‘although women also report pleasure from their vagina’.
I was then asked, if I couldn’t discuss the brain as a ‘massive sex organ’, what things I ‘actually could offer’.
Things were obviously degenerating rapidly. I felt I was now auditioning for a part, and was getting really irritated by their lack of sex knowledge, and that they’d called me up for information but then dismissed each thing I said. Rudely.
However, I’ve a commitment to trying to sort out quality sex information in the media so I doggedly continued with an account of the physical, social, cultural and psychological things that can get in the way of women’s sex lives – as well as solutions and ideas for pleasure. I stressed how important it was to give women permission to feel arousal, desire and excitement.
As I finished the researcher yelled down the phone
‘Yes but how does that relate to the clitoris then?’
Shaken, I wondered if she were angry with me, but as I heard the laughter in the background from her office I realised she was performing to her colleagues who were obviously listening in on the call. Perhaps in their office it’s a novelty to discuss sex. It certainly wasn’t feeling that way in mine.
As the laughter died down I pointed out that whilst not all the things I’d mentioned linked to the clitoris really we were talking about empowering women and increasing their desire. ‘No’ I was reminded ‘we’re talking about the brain’.
Since we’d already established they didn’t know what a neurologist was, and also that this wasn’t really about the brain at all, I floundered. What the hell could I say to persuade them to tackle the wider issues of female sexual pleasure without reinforcing unhelpful myths?
The researcher allowed me an opening when they moved from discussing the brain to saying they would consider talking about how pelvic floor exercises were good ‘for women’s sexual pleasure and confidence’. Self-conscious about mentioning the c-word again and feeling more than a little stung after being laughed at, I valiantly tried to acknowledge we could discuss vaginas but implying women needed a fanny tight enough to fire ping-pong balls out of to enjoy sex wasn’t necessarily helpful.
Which raised a laugh from the researcher. And I’m sad to admit I then performed like a blue entertainer at a stag weekend trying to get her to laugh more and more. Why did I want to impress this woman who didn’t understand sex, had tried to humiliate me, and was generally dismissive? Well, for all those reasons – and a few more. Whilst I didn’t give a toss about their programme this had become a battle of wills around trying to get them onto a sex positive format.
I knew the whole way through I was fighting a losing battle.
And yet, the whole thing was resolved by simple broadcasting practicalities.
Having eased up on the Jeremy Paxman act, the researcher decided I’d passed the test to appear on the programme (or more likely realised they’d not got anyone else so they better go along with me). So we briefly discussed the kinds of thing I’d discuss.
Amongst other topics I said I’d like to mention lubricant. ‘You can’t say that’. I was told. ‘Clitoris?’ I tried. ‘No, not that at all. You can say ‘touch yourself’ and ‘down there’ but nothing graphic. Unless it sounds medical’
So after all the to-ing and fro-ing all my evidence sharing was for nothing since I could only appear on the programme if I didn’t mention clitorises, lubricant or use the word ‘masturbation’. Clearly I wasn’t prepared to accept those terms. However it explained why they wanted to go with the ‘female brain as the biggest sex organ’ angle since it sounded quite medical and also meant you didn’t have to name the female genitals.
But a pole dancing demonstration in the studio was absolutely fine.Tweet