Considering how long females have graced this earth, it’s astounding to think it was only 21 years ago that scientific research discovered something fundamental about that crucial female sexual organ, the clitoris.
In 1998, Melbourne-based urologist Dr Helen O’Connell published a groundbreaking paper debunking the long-held belief that the clitoris was merely a small glans, proving instead that it extends up to nine centimetres long underneath the pubic bone. The findings set a more accurate representation for medical professionals, sexologists, educators and womankind of the inner workings of one of the most complicated areas of the female body.
Revolutionary as the research was, however, there is still a lot we don’t know about female sexuality. At least 50 per cent of women don’t orgasm from intercourse alone and some don’t experience orgasm at all. While science made great leaps, the taboos surrounding female sexuality are still stuck in a time warp.
But change is afoot. In 2019 vaginas are big business and the female gaze is casting its eye over the US$30 billion sex industry. A recent report by trend forecasters J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, coined the term vaginanomics – an emerging market addressing women’s sexual fulfilment, which runs the gamut from aesthetically pleasing sex toys, female-positive porn and an increasingly open conversation led by fact and research.
Once a topic only discussed with your inner circle (or frankly, not at all), female sexuality is now seemingly all around us. And we have the wellness movement to thank for it. Having stocked our wardrobes with a lifetime supply of sportswear, our pantries with activated everything and our schedules with an endless roster of workouts, the final frontier of wellness has set it sights on another heart-rate-raising activity: sex.
“We need to be open to the idea of more a holistic model around sex. For us to feel healthy and happy we need to be enjoying a healthy sex life, too … having a healthy relationship with our sexuality is a good start,” says Australian sexologist and Authentic Sex podcaster Juliet Allen.
All this pillow talk is also being championed by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Love her or loathe her, Gwyneth Paltrow has fuelled a positive conversation about sex and has become the closest thing we have to a grown-up incarnation of Dolly Doctor. Want to know the ins and outs of orgasmic meditation or how water can improve your sex life? It’s all in her book: The Sex Issue: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Sexuality, Seduction and Desire.
While the tome isn’t without is fair share of Goop-isms (sacred snake ceremony, anyone?), in the foreword Paltrow addresses the selfconsciousness we harbour around sex: “Women talking about sex – about what they like and don’t like, what they are getting and not getting in their intimate relationships, the toll of sexual trauma and how they heal – has a tendency to make people (both men and other women) extraordinarily self-conscious and uneasy,” she writes, continuing: “Whether tantra or BDSM or threesomes or vanilla are your thing will never be the point; knowing yourself, all your options, and how to ask for and pursue what feels good to you, is.”
New Yorker Eileen Kelly created Killer and a Sweet Thang, a sex-demystifying website which promotes an open and honest dialogue around sex, for similar motivations. What started as a Tumblr for Kelly to offer peer-to-peer sex education – information which, she says, was off-limits in her Catholic household – quickly transitioned into a popular Instagram account and website serving up real-world sex advice and coming-of-age titbits from more than 100 writers. “Whether you talk about it or not, sex is constantly around you in advertising, in movies, in magazines – you can’t escape, so we might as well have a conversation about it,” the 23-year-old founder says.
Elsewhere online, a lack of reliable information around female sexuality has ushered in a new wave of honest, female-created and approved content. OMGyes, a one-time-purchase site with the seal of approval from actor Emma Watson, is a research-backed education resource with a singular objective: female pleasure and orgasm. “The more we talk about it and learn about it, the better it gets. And we made OMGyes to accelerate that shift – with new scientific research and a frank, honest showcase of the findings,” says program director Claire Kim, who notes that Australia has the most subscribers per capita.
The site’s not-safe-for-work video tutorials demonstrate a host of techniques and cliterature – prepare to add adjectives like edging, signalling and orbiting to your bedroom vocabulary – but uniquely, they feel as safe and inclusive as if you were hearing this information first-hand from a friend.
With OMGyes Kim wants “more people to see and feel the way the current generations are releasing those old taboos. Many ways of thinking that have been passed down aren’t really good for anyone. And we’re so excited that, maybe, we can shift culture so the next generation can enjoy pleasure more.”
Millennials and Gen Z are driving much of this shift, which could be credited to logistics – excellent information and purchasing power is at their fingertips. According to the 2018 Global Wellness Summit Report, it’s thanks to young people that “sexual pleasure brands are strongly aligning themselves with wellness, and sex is fast shedding its taboo status”.
In fact, the sex and tech worlds are now happy bedfellows, with the newest haul of toys being designed by women, for women. A report by Technavio released last year notes the sexual wellness market is set to grow by almost US$18 billion by 2022. The most buzzed-about products – everything from vibrators, clitoral stimulators, devices for Kegel training and pelvic floor exercises – rival beauty brands with their aesthetically pleasing packaging and whipsmart innovations. Lioness, the world’s first smart vibrator, even collects data from your experiences and links that information to your smartphone.
And forget exploring the dark, often-irksome depths of the web: the e-tailers promoting these goods are beautifully curated and, dare we say it, cool. Co-founded by ex-magazine publisher Monica Nakata, online store Par Femme aims to “destigmatise the whole consumer purchasing decision around sex toys”. “Sexual empowerment is such an important step in empowering women overall,” says Nakata.
On the site, white cotton basics sit alongside editorial-worthy imagery of sex toys and candid discussions and reviews. Nakata notes the fact that as the sex and wellness industries have converged, conversation has opened up to “a wider audience group than ever before and reinforcing the idea that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the past, sex positivity was something we didn’t really hear about, and now it’s actually becoming aligned with body positivity,” she says.
Women, it’s time to bring your O-game.
This article originally appeared in Vogue Australia’s April 2019 issue.
Original article published by @VogueAustralia >