Someday, I would like to take all the sexually active men in the world and cram them into a classroom. Then, my hair securely tied back in a bun and wearing a pair of black plastic-rimmed glasses, I would pull down charts, project slides, analyze charts and show films about the anatomy of female genitalia.
Somewhere along the winding road of male sex education, this subject appears to have been, well, ignored.
Like many of my girlfriends, I have long labored under the misapprehension that all men know about the clitoris. After all, I know about the penis, right? I was taught all about its shape, its physiology, its hidden ducts and channels in my seventh-grade sex education class in an all-girls school. But now that I think about it, I realize that the subject of the clitoris was blipped right over. We all suspected that the little hooded form was significant; at that point, we'd just made our own early inroads into the world of masturbation. Some of us had figured out that if you lay on your back in a bathtub and let the water splash over just the right spot of your prepubescent mound, a strange sensation rocketed through you, making you tremble and feel guilty.
Later, we looked at our parents' books: "The Joy of Sex," "How to Make Love to a Woman" and even the Japanese coffee-table tome, "Erotic Art." Seventies couples were pictured in the prototypical line drawings, men busily attending to that little rosy button between the legs of their women folk, who were seemingly paralyzed, backs arched, in the throes of what looked like pain. By the time our mid-teenage years had kicked in, we girls knew the clitoris was the gateway to our pleasure. We naively assumed the boys would make it their business to find out too.
My friend Isobel has been going out with Jack now for about a year. She is by all accounts in love. They mesh in all the right ways, she says, from their mutual love of "Law & Order" to their decision not to have children to their enjoyment of Alice Waters' cuisine. And yet, and yet. Isobel has never had an orgasm with Jack, which astounds me, but seems to only mildly bother her (which astounds me further). "Sometimes it feels like I might," she said to me. "When he's on top of me, and he's lasting longer than usual, and he's moving in the just the right way, when our rhythm is in sync. But then ... I don't."
"Have you tried ..." I cleared my throat, "well, talking about this?"
Isobel looked distracted. "I would," she said, "but at this point it's kind of too late. You know? I should have said something a long time ago. I don't think he knows anything about the clitoris, I don't think he knows that I can't get off unless he pays attention to it. I'm not sure he would know what I was talking about."
"What if you showed him?"
"It's not as if he hasn't ever touched me there. It's just that when he does, it's not the right way. He doesn't have any delicacy about it, he kind of fumbles around, and it ends up hurting more than feeling good. Then afterwards, when we're done and he gets up to go to the bathroom, I touch myself. I can come really fast on my own." Seeing my startled expression, Isobel said hurriedly, "It's not as if I don't enjoy having sex with Jack, because I do. We share other great things that make up for it."
I would like to think that Isobel is an anomaly, that most men are more knowledgeable about the female anatomy than Jack. I mean, could it really be that as we approach the millennium that men are clueless when it comes to the function of the clitoris? Or that they don't know about this little issue called the clitoral foreskin, which when rubbed the wrong way can result in a jangled, stabbing little pain, as nerve ends are exposed? Of course it's possible: Who's going to tell them about all this if it not us girls?
Once upon a time, in our sex education class so many moons ago, a new teacher, bless her heart, told us to go home, get a mirror and sit down to look at our vulvas. Figure out where everything is, she told us: the vagina, the labia, the urinary tract, the anus, the clitoris. We were all horribly embarrassed and giggled madly. But now, I like to think I know the reason she gave us that advice. She knew that someday we, too, would have to be sex educators -- only not in the classroom.