"Did you cum?"
If only I orgasmed each time a partner asked me that. In retrospect, I realize how it was a normal question for my male partners to ask me given how they couldn't make sense if I finished or not. Since I could ‘see’ them cum on most occasions if not all, I never felt the urge to question the 'obvious'.
Add to that the look of disappointment if I took more than 5 seconds to answer this burning question, which did feel like added pressure on multiple occasions to nod my head in a yes, and move on.
What still baffles me is how a lot of my partners have always presumed that I'd need penetration to orgasm and that if they rub my clitoris for 30 seconds in between the act, they can confidently ask me if I came or not. That's how casual we've all been about the clit, like my ex who took my feelings for granted.
Pleasure isn't codependent on the experience of orgasm, and some orgasms are more pleasurable than others. It's a simple idea that the renowned read ‘Becoming Cliterate’ by psychology professor and sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz emphasized but is definitely a harder pill to swallow given how we've grown up learning about sex from misleading sources such as mainstream porn, pop culture, and high school gossip.
While masturbation was seen as a 'natural' course of action for those with penises, it has been heavily criticized and stigmatized for vulva-havers. I know my mother wouldn't dare utter that word even in a closed room, and my grandmother wouldn't know its meaning.
Even when we keep intergenerational understanding aside, pleasure is a gendered discourse. And, the definition of sexual pleasure, or sex for that matter, isn’t just limited to penetration. But somehow, there’s a wide gap in perceiving sex so holistically. Quoting a popular study from the book—while 68% of women do consider cunnilingus as sex, only 33% of men count blowjobs as sex. So, why the pleasure divide?
What REALLY works well…
‘Becoming Cliterate’ does a really good job of breaking down the pleasure dynamics for women and men (whose partner is a vulva-haver) by starting off with redefining the idea of sex.
This sets a premise for the reader so that they include all possible acts of sexual intimacy into the picture and help relook at what’s pleasurable for THEM. A powerful quote by Dr. Mintz says:
“If we as a society made this change [reimagining sex], there’d be no need for the term ‘foreplay’. There’d be no one main event. Men’s and women’s satisfaction and routes to orgasm would be equally valued.”
In fact, within this read, you’ll find several useful references to other books and authors who’ve been contributing to the larger movement of becoming cliterate.
One such reference is to sex therapist Ian Kerner’s ‘She Comes First’ wherein he discusses the importance of letting go of penetration as the underlying aspect of sex and decentralizing the role of the penis (and, size and stamina) while talking about female pleasure.
Dr. Laurie Mintz unpacks how valuable this takeaway is given how it helps men understand how they can better please their partner, bring about sexual equality in the relationship, and relieves them of the pressure associated with performance anxiety.
The book also delves deeper into female masturbation, and how a lot of us explored pleasure growing up by rubbing ourselves against cushions and even using the classic bidet.
Traveling back in time, it was in the Victorian era that the clitoris got a major bad rep (thanks to Freudian principles). Rebecca Chalker, a women’s rights activist, and author is quoted in the book calling Freud the “hit man who delivered the final blow to the…clitoris”—the repercussions of which we’re still bearing as a society shaming women about their sexual needs.
Speaking of, it was through this book I also got to know how the vibrator was the fifth appliance in the world to be electrified – after the sewing machine, fan, teakettle, and toaster. How amazing is that?
Orgasms are widely talked about as an integral subject matter in this book, and from pulling out a mirror to taking a good look at your clit to rubbing it the way you like – there are a lot of tips and techniques that the book comes packed with.
Interestingly, as I mentioned previously too, there’s a dedicated chapter for men (cis men in particular who are into people with vulvas) termed ‘Cliteracy for Him’ that touches upon several concerns and insecurities that many male partners may have including anxiety around their size, performance and bringing in sex toys into the bedroom.
My partner, who is a cis man, has read this book before I did and shared how this was an enthusiastic and welcoming (not exhaustive) read for him.
What COULD have been better…
One cannot ignore the gender binariness in the experiences shared, surveys discussed and topics explored, and hence does cater more to pleasure in the cishet context. I would have appreciated a bit more diversity in narratives such as those coming from queer, disabled, and neurodivergent folx.
Not a critique, but given how I have personally consumed far more complex literature around the same themes, I did feel that this book is more of a starting point for people who are looking for a simpler and easy-to-digest read.Note for the Readers
A must-have for your home library, ‘Becoming Cliterate’ is a great read for you and your partner to pick up on a cozy Saturday night in, going through a few chapters and maybe finding your way to a healthy conversation about your bodies and intimacy.
I also recommend following Dr. Laurie Mintz on Instagram where she actively posts and holds space for the pleasure talk! In fact, once you’re done reading, pass it on to that cousin of yours in college who you think might be able to relate, and maybe they might find an answer they were looking for!
Juicy Reads by That Sassy Thing is an initiative where we will review books that align with our vision of making the world a safer, more pleasurable space.
We'll start with reviewing 2 books every month and as we grow, we'll have lots more coming your way!
About the Author
Anuja (she/her) is our Creator-in-Residence. After exploring all the different ways she could talk about who she identifies as, this is the closest she could get: “I’m your quintessential dog hoomum with a blue typewriter, living three blocks away, probably writing about you."