I am sure you have heard this one; Victorian doctors invented the vibrator to masturbate women to 'hysterical paroxysm' (orgasm) because they had been hand cranking so many of their patients, to cure them of their hysteria, that they developed repetitive strain injuries. We love this story. I love this story. Hollywood loved this story so much that the 2011 film, Hysteria, was based entirely on this story. So it is with a heavy heart that I have to tell you, this really is just a story. Like ‘trickle down’ economics and Jamie Lee’s hermaphroditism, it’s an urban myth. But, like all the best stories, there are flashes of truth in it. I will tread lightly and salvage as much as I can because I know how pervasive and popular this myth is. Not only is it much loved, it's well established and is referenced in numerous texts, documentaries, online sources and has become part of our collective history. We love it because it goes straight to the hysterical heart of the Victorian sexual hypocrisy that we enjoy rolling our eyes at; ‘did you know Victorian doctors were diddling female patients, but considered exposed table legs to be sexually obscene? So glad we’re not like that now!’ (Except the table legs thing is also myth, but that’s another post for another day.)
The female orgasm is often spoken of as if it were a lost treasure to be found only with maps, detailed instructions, a packed lunch and a diamond dick. The intrepid sexual adventurer boldly sets out, like Indiana Jones, to navigate the mystery of the female body, to read the clues, solve the puzzle and choose wisely before drinking from the Holy Grail. The male orgasm, on the other hand, tends to be spoken of as if it were a bottle of coke; shake it up, until it explodes out the end and makes everything sticky. Job done. Almost all slang terms for orgasm throughout history refer to male orgasms, rather than female, with women effectively sharing terms for orgasm with men rather than owning ones of their own; cumming, spending, climaxing, orgasming, etc., (with the possible exception of squirting) are all unisex. Whereas there are thousands of noun words for semen, how many can you think of for the natural lubricant women secrete during sex? Thankfully, Roger’s Profanisaurus arrived in the 1990s to nourish the lexical wasteland with such gems as ‘fanny batter’ and ‘gusset icing’. And however welcome such editions may be the fact remains that slang for semen and the male orgasm could fill a dictionary, and the female equivalent could fill a footnote.
In 1989 David Strachan proposed what became known as the ‘hygiene hypotheses’. Strachan suggested that we have sanitised our world to such an extreme that we’ve killed off bugs we need to develop a resistance to, and collectively weakened our immunity. Strachan’s work suggested we need a little muck to be at our best; or as a wise woman once sang, ‘if you ain't dirty / You ain't here to party.’ The hygiene hypotheses has been challenged over recent years, but one thing is true; despite Ms Aguilera’s protestations, we have never been less dirty, and more aware of cleanliness, hygiene and bacteria than we are today. From face wash for faces to special soaps for your ‘special places’, almost every part of our bodies has its own specialist cleaning product. Our homes are scrubbed, our clothes are washed, our streets are swept, our air is ‘freshened’, our odours are eaten, and our food and drink are manufactured within government specified guidelines. A 2014 UK study conducted by researchers at the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh, Lancaster and Southampton, showed that three-quarters of respondents had at least one shower or bath a day. Even if you are reading this sat in the same clothes you’ve worn for the last two days, with cornflakes in your hair and spaghetti stains on your tits; rest assured – as a society, we have never been so clean.
One of the best (and scariest) things about Twitter is the instant feedback. I have posted all kinds of historical titbits, which have led to some fairly heated debates in the Twittersphere. But, no subject (not gay marriage, abortion, adultery or even Trump) causes the inflamed reactions that pubic hair does. It is inevitable, whenever I post an image of a woman with a full bush an argument ensues. Interestingly, no one has ever commented on the state of a gentleman’s manscape as long as I have been tweeting them; but, a woman’s knicker whiskers will upset someone every time.
Amongst the sleigh full of Christmas themed memes that have been doing the social media rounds since August, the above gem has graced my various timelines more than once.
Whilst I would urge anyone to dance naked and drunk rather than queuing at Argos, the question of just how a ‘Pagan’ partied at the Winter Solstice is a contested one. The origins of the Christmas festival are mysterious, to say the least; but the subversive joy many derive, each year, from suggesting Christmas has its origins in nude Pagans rutting like reindeer under the mistletoe, and spanking one another with holy sprigs is now just as much a part of the tradition as a partridge in a pear tree. But, is there any truth to this?
Germaine Greer once said she would ‘rather be called a whore than a human being’; but, what does the word ‘whore’ actually mean? Where has it come from, and what does someone have to do to earn that particular title? Why was Joan of Arc, who died a virgin, called the ‘French Whore’? And why was Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, attacked as the English Whore’? The revolutionaries called Marie Antoinette the ‘Austrian Whore’; Anne Boleyn was the ‘Great Whore’ and Air America host Randi Rhodes came under fire for calling Hillary Clinton a ‘big whore’ in the 2016 American elections. Perhaps we think we know perfectly well what we mean should we ever choose to drop the w-bomb, but the word is historically and culturally complex. This simple monosyllable is loaded with over a thousand years of attempting to control and shame women by stigmatising their sexuality.