When ‘friends with benefits’ no longer benefits you

Let’s talk about sex, second tries, and no strings attached

When ‘friends with benefits’ no longer benefits you

A couple of months ago, I decided to get involved in a friends-with-benefits relationship. Do I regret it? No. Does it suck? Yes. Am I surprised that it sucks? No. After all, these situations rarely work out, but I also knew that I didn’t want to shelter myself anymore or cower away from new experiences, even if that entailed making myself vulnerable to getting hurt.

This was the second time I chose to get involved with this guy because I thought the feelings I once had for him were gone. Logically, I understood that we wouldn’t work out together, not only because he had expressed to me before that he didn’t see me ‘that way’ — ouch — but also because I genuinely could not see us in any type of relationship beyond this weird hookup or friends-with-benefits thing.

We don’t share many similar interests, we don’t really have the same sense of humour, and we just aren’t compatible. I figured that my judgment could override my emotions; naturally, this did not work out.

At the time, I didn’t even want a relationship, but tasting intimacy was simultaneously comforting and unsettling. I enjoyed it in the moment, but retrospectively, I felt fake because he didn’t actually want me and he just wanted to have sex with me. I began to crave something genuine.

I realized that my feelings had not disappeared and that I subconsciously thought that if he spent more time with me, he would like me. I eventually had to accept that I was the rule, not the exception, and that if a guy is acting like he doesn’t care, it’s because he doesn’t care. He was doing everything he should be doing for the type of relationship I agreed to: nothing more and nothing less. Could I really blame him?

I rarely dabbled in the dating scene, so I was disturbed when I began to doubt myself because a boy denied me affection. I began to question my emotional and mental depth. I overthought whether I was interesting enough to deserve romantic attention. I have always been strong-willed and self-assured, so I disregarded myself when I began to crumble over a guy who wasn’t worth crumbling over.

I hate to turn this oh-so-sexy article into a Chicken Soup for the Soul narration, but after I ended things with him, I realized how much love was in my life that I had been oblivious to while I was sleeping with him. Was part of this romantic longing a sick need to prove to myself my own worth by trying to win his validation? That’s when I knew it was time to end it.

After it was over, I continued to wonder if casual sex was ever sustainable, or if getting hurt and developing feelings for your partner is inevitable. A friend of mine said that her experience with casual sex worked out well. However, she only recommends it if you don’t see them often because otherwise “you’ll probably get attached, catch feelings, and start freaking out.”

I don’t regret my decision. I still care about him, and he still cares about me. I broke it off because hoping for anything stronger than platonic care is a waste of my time and energy. In a weird way, friends with benefits did work out. I learned from it. I sustained the friendship. I walked away.

If anyone relates to my experience or is in a similar situation, my main advice is to end it when it’s not fun anymore. If you want more from the relationship but can’t get it, or if you find yourself feeling generally dissatisfied or frustrated, you should probably move on.

Stop beating your dead horse. The horse is already dead and the punching and kicking will only make you winded. We all have too much to do to be winded.

(not) Overlooked: Romantic comedies

The best genre of film, fight us xoxo The Varsity’s A&C section

(not) Overlooked: Romantic comedies

Palpable and undeniable chemistry, long witty banter, brazen declarations of love, and unlikely pairings followed by actions laced with infinite empathy are just a few of the key pieces that embody the essence of a romantic comedy to me. Characters who seem emotionally incomplete without the affections of their person of interest — a habitually regressive trope that can seem rather fluffy in our recent era of heralding self-love, which is by the way also important and its about damn time — gets me every time. As I tell all my friends while planning my weddings with every guy who has ever returned a pen that I unknowingly dropped or held a door for me for an extended time, I can’t help it — I love LOVE.

My love of the genre can be traced back to my tween years in Nigeria as a fairly socially awkward schoolgirl. Being African, but specifically Nigerian, it was, and still is, rather bizarre to not be as abrasive and unabashedly confident as every other person you come across on a daily basis. So you can imagine how I stuck out like a sore thumb with my reserved nature and tendency to only speak when I needed to — a rare phenomenon back home. Instead, I used coming-of-age romance novels and the occasional Mills & Boon-esque books lent to me by my aunt — as inappropriate as that may sound — to escape into a world of stories that only I could imagine myself in. They ranged from summer love pieces and stories of best friends who unknowingly had feelings for each other, to fantasy stories about a princess recently hiring a stable boy who somehow constantly misplaced his shirt and needed her to keep him warm. I know, I know. But I went to an all-girls high school, so what we lacked in everyday interactions, we sought elsewhere. The whole romance thing fascinated me and I craved to understand and interrogate the nuances and intricacies of love.

The romantic comedy is as important a genre as any other, including science fiction, drama, and action. But, over the years, it has been afforded less cultural legitimacy than its counterparts. Romantic comedies are regularly degraded in favour of stories that highlight more heavy-handed topics. Though these lighthearted stories are equally as important, this stigma deprives the genre’s most ardent followers of the opportunity to be as openly self-indulgent about depictions of everyday romance as, for instance, Star Wars stans. Why should we diminish our declarations of love for one genre over another when, rather, we should be able to embrace them all without shame? Romantic comedies allow their audiences to delve into stories that touch on everyday human connections and the complexities of our interactions. Though it may be considered predictable or cheesy, there is a comfort in knowing what to expect, something that real life regularly fails to give us.

Nevertheless, the current sociopolitical climate has forced us to look at our most relished romantic comedies and re-evaluate what should be considered problematic. The recent box office successes of Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Warner Bros. Pictures’ Crazy Rich Asians sent messages to Hollywood about the lack of diversity in our most adored romantic comedies and that inclusive movies can be just as successful. The audience, including myself, craves representation on-screen. I grew up watching romantic comedies that mostly featured people who didn’t look like me, and that is a problem. Love and Basketball, The Best Man, and Think Like a Man stand out as some of the few features that encapsulated Black love on screen for me.

Having matured and experienced adult romantic connections, romantic comedies mean all the more to me now. Now, they are a reflection of lived realities, more meaningful than they were in past times of preferred realities. But I am now able to embrace myself, along with my awkwardness and its complexities, and forge my own stories outside of what I see in film. Romantic comedies served as an escape for a younger me to imagine a reality outside of my immediate world, and they are still just as significant to me now.

So yet again, it’s important to recognize that romantic movies are as important as the umpteenth period drama in the cinemas every year. Love is essential and even more special because it can be redefined in so many funny ways. Dismissing the quintessential plot of two unlikely individuals falling in love with each other in spite of themselves robs you of the comforts of revelling in the most basic of human connections. And that should be considered a crime in itself.

Need a hand getting started? Here is a list of my most loved romantic comedies, in no particular order — don’t make me do what I cannot do!

Also, the ’90s had the best romantic comedies, don’t deny it!

  • When Harry Met Sally…
  • Notting Hill
  • My Best Friend’s Wedding
  • The Proposal
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Jerry Maguire
  • Crazy, Stupid, Love

Things that go bump in the night

A playlist for wandering bodies

Things that go bump in the night

While sex is often dramatized as something similar to the glorious union of two silkily muscular dolphins, reality isn’t usually as kind. I, for one, am not a grey tube with flippers. Though I am extremely intelligent for my kind — blonde woman — so go figure.

Our bodies make sounds and produce fluids. Smushing them together often gets a little messy and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, especially if you have roommates with particularly sonic voyeuristic tendencies, a bit of ambient sound can be useful. As I’m sure you know, this is where music comes in handy.

But in the heat of the moment, making a musical selection can be stressful. Music can make or break a mood! So here I am with this generic and universally applicable playlist for you, embedded in an article that will pop up whenever anyone googles my name.

Please, enjoy. Embrace pleasure with an open fist and a tight glove.

1.  “Pink Beetle” by Rejjie Snow, 2016

As a recovering Catholic, I can assure you that all good things follow a resounding chorus of “Our Father.”

2. “Couch” by Triathalon, 2018

Okay, so we started out with some heavy religious motifs. Am I the only one who finds that hot? Surely not on this campus — cough, cough, St. Mike’s. Now let’s move into some lo-fi innuendos.

3. “Got Friends feat. Miguel” by Goldlink, 2018

Is this song about an orgy? I don’t know, I’m not Ilan Zechory. But it could be. In conclusion, mystery is hot and so is this song.

4. “Move Slow feat. Olukara” by Maxwell Young, 2016

Whew, okay, things started to heat up with that orgy-no-orgy debate, so let’s smooth things out a little bit. Here’s another skinny European.

5. “Yeah, I Said It” by Rihanna, 2016

Do I need to explain this? Nope.

6. “Why” by Roy Woods, 2016

Let’s get some Canadian nationalism in this strange line-up, shall we? Roy Woods is a trifecta of sexual energy: his name is gorgeous, he says “thighssss” with about a million s’, and he mumbles enough for me to project whatever I need to hear onto his vocal sounds.

7. “Redbone” by Childish Gambino, 2016

It has the word bone in the title! Hahahah.

Also, all the scenes in Atlanta of Donald Glover in tightie-whities has ensured that I will never not be attracted to him. So yeah, it’s a hot song. Aren’t you glad I dodged the obvious stay woke joke here? Comedy gold!

8. “Carmen” by Jay Squared, 2017

Honestly, this popped up on my explore feed last year and I got super into it. Could this be because I was alone at the time, and the singer — whoops — crooned “you ain’t alone no more!” in the first line? Who knows, psychology is a nerd’s game.

9. “Call Me Up” by Homeshake, 2017

Alright, we’re winding down. Soft trumpets. Yes. Lovely. Ooh, a soft voice talking about the future. Lovely. Don’t tense up, don’t tense up. The future. Pass the rash cream, please.

10. “Glory Box” by Portishead, 1994

Conclusion! Bing, bang, boom. “Just want to be a woman.” Or whatever you wanna be. It’s a post-orgasm world, “A thousand flowers could bloom. Move over, and give us some room.”

 

What movies get wrong about casual sex

You don’t have to be damaged to sleep around

What movies get wrong about casual sex

Two of my favourite romantic comedies are No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits, both centred around an ostensibly modern dynamic: friends having sex. Once taboo, casual sex is becoming increasingly normalized — mainstream enough to be the centre of a romantic comedy.

But underlying their apparently modern stories is a reliance on outdated tropes. No Strings Attached opens with young versions of the main characters at summer camp, with Emma (Natalie Portman) comforting Adam (Ashton Kutcher) over his parents’ divorce.

“People aren’t meant to be together forever,” young Emma says, making evident her resistance toward commitment, a detail that will drive the plot in the rest of the film.

The opening scene of Friends with Benefits is similarly meant to set up character motivations for having casual sex: both leads are dumped by their long-term partners, leading them to be cynical about love.

The concept that people only have casual sex because they are damaged is not a new one and is often levelled specifically against women. Even more recent films, like Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, reinforce this message that women sleep around because they fear intimacy and crave attention.

Amy (Amy Schumer) is told by her father in the opening scene that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” which then jump-cuts to her current lifestyle of excessive drinking and one-night stands. The audience is meant to see her life as a calamity — see the movie’s title. She ultimately changes her ways when Aaron (Bill Hader) persuades her to pursue a monogamous relationship with him — after some conflict, of course.

The plot conveniently plays on the classic fairytale ending of a woman being saved by her Prince Charming, while embedding this antiquated storyline in a modern context. As casual sex is increasingly portrayed on the big screen, I can’t help but notice that female characters like Amy are often portrayed as emotionally stunted to explain their sexual choices. In contrast, male promiscuity is seldom psychoanalyzed or represented as a character flaw.

When I started sleeping with a friend in first year, it didn’t look anything like these films. We didn’t spend time developing a list of rules. Both of us still believed in love and commitment, just not with each other. We were 18, friends, attracted to each other, and living in the same residence.

It was a dynamic made out of convenience — but that doesn’t mean it was without complications. There were times when I thought I was developing feelings for him. However, it was hard to differentiate whether I truly wanted a relationship or whether I just wanted to be absolved from the guilt of having sex outside of one. I was often unhappy and conflicted about the dynamic. I’d tell him it would never happen again, but then it would. I questioned whether choosing to sleep with a friend meant I was damaged in some way.

Ironically, it took someone else saying what I had been telling myself to realize how ridiculous it sounded. A male friend recently imparted this advice to me: if I wanted guys to find me attractive, I needed to stop sleeping with them. Men don’t like women who sleep around, he said.

I realized that for all the judgment I inflicted on myself, I never judged the guy I was sleeping with for having casual sex. Moreover, anyone who determined others’ worth by judging their sexual history was probably not someone I wanted in my life, friend or boyfriend.

Casual sex had its benefits. I was sleeping with someone who respected me and viewed my pleasure as important. I learned that sex could be something I actually enjoyed. The experience also forced me to confront the double standards that I had internalized and ultimately changed my relationship with sex for the better.

For young women, taking ownership of our sexuality doesn’t have a uniform manifestation. While some can’t have good sex outside of a monogamous relationship, others find one-night stands to be empowering. We don’t all want the same thing — but we should all have the autonomy to make those decisions for ourselves. Society needs to see that women are competent adults, not sexual objects.

Navigating the complex Venn diagram of sex, love, and intimacy is a captivating topic for films, but I would love to see more that challenge misconceptions rather than reinforce them. Pop culture needs a new narrative, one that doesn’t equate promiscuity with damage and cynicism — and we all need to stop pathologizing women for their sexual choices.

You’ll still catch me watching Friends With Benefits and crying when Justin Timberlake surprises Mila Kunis with a flash mob at Grand Central Station or when, in No Strings Attached, Ashton Kutcher brings Natalie Portman a bouquet of carrots because she hates flowers. But I know that real women don’t need a backstory to explain their sexual choices, or a relationship to prove that they’re worthy of love.

Queering the scoreboard

An athlete reflects on the history, experiences, and challenges faced by LGBTQ+ athletes

Queering the scoreboard

Every young queer needs a hero. At least, that’s what I always tell myself. Having grown up playing sports — and only coming to terms with my sexuality in adulthood — that person for me is one Brittney Griner.

But before I go further, I must clarify that I use the term ‘queer’ in this article as an umbrella term to refer to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and other non-normative sexualities and gender identities.

Griner has always been one of my favourite athletes. I can still vividly recall one of my earliest memories of watching her play some 10 years ago; it was an 80-second YouTube clip featuring the Texan and then-Nimitz High centre perform dunk after dunk during what appeared to be a break during practice.

At six-foot-eight, Griner went on to dominate the college basketball scene at Baylor University, leading the team to a national championship in her junior year and obliterating records in blocked shots and buckets in the process. To no one’s surprise, she’s since gone on to have a stellar career in the pro leagues, scoring a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury and several additional titles with her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Griner changed the game and left a legacy. Watching her dominate the court has been delightful, but it has been her courage off of it that transformed me into super-fan.

When Griner came out as lesbian in high school, she was kicked out of the house at her father’s request, and lived on her assistant coach’s couch for six weeks. At Baylor, due to the school’s stance on ‘traditional’ relationships, she was warned not to discuss her sexuality, especially because of her national profile as a star athlete.

Sport has never really been an apolitical domain, or simply about the numbers. In simply existing — let alone thriving — in her chosen field, Griner, a Black queer woman navigating a world dominated by white men, has never had the luxury of separating herself from her layered identities. While definitely not the first known queer athlete in sports history, she is certainly one of its most decorated.

But how does Griner fit into the larger picture? Attempting to map out a definitive, comprehensive history of queer athletes is difficult at best and problematic at worst. We simply aren’t monoliths. However, reflecting on major events in the sporting world over the past several decades can perhaps encourage us to evaluate both progress made and progress needed.

After iconic swimmer Diana Nyad came out as lesbian at 21 in 1970, legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova followed suit in 1981. Where King and Navratilova were trailblazers for women in tennis and sports in general, this was a significant moment in sports history by anyone’s account.

Meanwhile, in an announcement preceding the opening ceremony of the 1994 Gay Games, prolific American diver Greg Louganis publicly declared that he was gay, though, to those in his close circle, this was not much of a shock.

More recently, former NBA player Jason Collins as well as former NFL and CFL player Michael Sam disclosed that they were gay, in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Just last year, Collin Martin of the MLS’ Minnesota United acknowledged that he was gay on Twitter before the squad’s Pride Night, making him the only active male athlete in major professional sports leagues to publicly identify as queer. Despite the courage displayed by these athletes who openly acknowledge their sexuality, other moments are sober reminders of how far we have to go to make athletics a safe place for queer folks.

Recall the International Association of Athletics Federations’ humiliating and disturbing demand that South African intersex runner Caster Semenya undergo “gender testing” in 2009; the results of the test were leaked and she was “hounded mercilessly by the press and on social media.”

Meanwhile, in 2017, Texas high school wrestler Mack Beggs, despite asking to wrestle in the boys’ league, was forced to compete against girls. Under Texas law, athletes are required to compete under their assigned sex on birth certificates. Although he took home the state championship with a 32–0 record in 2017,when he took the state championship again last year, he was targeted on social media and in person at meets due to his gender identity.

There are countless other stories, moments, and figures that could give valuable context to the queering of sport. But how can we determine what constitutes progress? For every league like the WNBA, where so many of its biggest stars are openly queer that their ‘coming out’ stories don’t even make headlines anymore, there are countless others, like the men’s Big Five sports leagues, which have only one active and openly queer athlete collectively. And this doesn’t account for coaches like former Pennsylvania State University women’s basketball boss Rene Portland, who once said that she refused to “have [lesbians] in [her] program.”

But, for every Caitlyn Jenner — who, with the protection that comes from a life steeped in wealth, class, and racial privilege, rightfully earned the Arthur Ashe Courage Award following a very publicized transition — there are dozens more Brittney Griners and Andraya Yearwoods, young women simply trying to compete in the sports that they love. So, ultimately, while it’s good to celebrate the progress made, it is so much more important to be mindful of how much work there is left to be done.

Why we love sports

Three writers on why sports resonates with them in the ways that they do

Why we love sports

Those who compete in sports at the highest level do so because they have an innate desire to compete and win. For the fans on the outside, myself included, our love for sports is born out of the camaraderie that it creates and the sense of community that it fosters.

Look at the most recent Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, and how their fans reacted on parade day following their victory. People from all walks of life, from South Boston to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined together to celebrate their team’s success.

We love sports because no matter how bad our day has been, the moment that the game begins, it becomes our sole focus for the next few hours. We feel as though we are a part of something much bigger than all of us, and that our fandom is driving the players toward success.

International competitions bring out everyone’s patriotic side too, as even the most casual sports fan has a vested interest in the competition, if not for the love of the sport then at least for the love of their country.

For me, sports have always meant family time. I would sit down with my dad, mom, and sisters, and we would cheer on our favourite teams. We were together in both victory and defeat. Sports draws so many people in, as it gives everybody something to root for and believe in.

— Henry McGowan

The series of small, split-second decisions that comprise a sports game are also forms of communication. One can learn more about another by playing on a team with them for a single game than they could ever get out of a single conversation. The fast-paced nature of most team sports leaves only time for reactions so, on the field, one has no choice but to be oneself.

There is an unwritten code of sportsmanship that applies universally. It is unwritten because it has no language, nor does it need one. When players face each other with animosity all game but then shake hands at the end and walk off together, it speaks louder than words.

Team sports require constant communication, but rarely is any of it expressed aloud. When a play is executed at full speed, players know where the others will be in advance, and this is only possible by sharing the same line of thinking. This is how teammates overcome language barriers. People speak in order to be understood, but if you know where to go before the pass is made, it’s clear that understanding already exists.

Competitiveness is often put in a bad light, but its negative effects come from a rise in intensity, which strengthens all emotions equally. The better side of competition can be more easily understood with a Newtonian approach: all feelings of rivalry toward the opposition have an equal and opposite force that unites one’s own team. This explains why sports create the strongest friendships.

— Matthew Barrett

Sports is an immutable constant for many people all across the globe. This incorporates all denominations, including the classical physical sports, as well as unconventional activities, such as e-sports. There is comprehensive research regarding what motivates us to play and watch sports, and a our evolutionary history has been revealed to be a key driver.

Evolutionary theory can be applied to all facets of our lives, and sports are no exception. This is not to say that evolution is the only factor at play. There are many reasons why we watch and play sports, but evolution is a vital force in the development of our species, and its effects in the realm of physical activity are fascinating.

Sports, at their core, are displays of physical strength. All animals exhibit their strengths to attract mates and intimidate rivals. In response to such presentations, members of the species gather to search for a suitable mate or possibly learn more about the competition and decisions they must face.

As a result, there is a theory surrounding the viability of sports: for any sport to be viable, it must meet minimum levels of informativeness, accuracy, and transparency. That is to say, it must provide accurate and accessible information about its participants to the viewer.

However, the matter is not all black and white. Humans are very complex beings, and our interest in sports also involves a certain level of subjectivity, otherwise an audience is not entertained. Oftentimes, cultural norms also play a role in sports and their reception; despite lacking explicit displays of strength, some activities elevate participants’ standings in society. Additionally, team sports exhibit and teach team building and leadership skills that are imperative to all members of a community.

Clearly, there is a lot driving our love for sports, but one thing is without doubt: they are here to stay.

— Junaid Ishaq

Who knew cannibalism could be sexy?

The male redback spider has evolved to offer himself to females as a post-sex meal

Who knew cannibalism could be sexy?

During sperm transfer and climax, the male redback spider does a somersault of sorts, placing his abdomen in the perfect position for the female to eat, and more often than not, she goes for it.

Whether you think it romantic or horrific, there is something captivating about this ultimate sacrifice during the moment of climax. But because of this, the female redback may remain a lonely single after sex, albeit a little less hungry.

Black widows are also members of the Latrodectus genus to which redbacks belong.

This act of sexual sacrifice, called ‘terminal investment,’ has been extensively studied by the lab of Dr. Maydianne Andrade at UTSC, where thousands of black widows — notorious for their highly potent and neurotoxic venom — share refuge.

However, if you think it romantic, perhaps the male spider’s reasoning for sacrifice may make you think again. It appears that the male redback’s terminal investment serves an evolutionary, or depending on how you look at it, selfish purpose.

Though it may seem counterproductive for a male spider to sacrifice his entire existence for just a single shot at producing progeny, there are several adaptive advantages that he gains by taking this risk.

Self-sacrifice serves to enhance male paternity both by increasing the number of eggs the male spider fertilizes and by decreasing the chance that their female partner will mate with another competitor.

Andrade’s team found that six out of nine females that cannibalized their partners refused to mate with a second male, while only one in 23 females that didn’t have the pleasure of consuming their mates did the same.

Also, the chance that the male could mate again if he escapes the fangs of his lover is meagre. Therefore, his self-sacrifice offers a way to give it all he’s got by partaking in the ultimate act of evolutionary fitness.

Though female redbacks can be violent in their courtship, they do offer some mercy to the fittest of their male counterparts.

‘Premature cannibalism’ — which occurs before copulation is complete — is much less common if the male offers courtship for over 100 minutes, a marathon of sorts for the reward of paternity. However, males that are ready for this marathon must be wary of cheating competitors that can sneak in at the finish line, disguise themselves as the winner, and avoid being prematurely eaten.

And when it comes to being eaten by their mate, size does matter. Females are less likely to prematurely cannibalize a large marathon runner than a small sprinter.

However, more importantly, a male is less likely to be eaten by his female counterpart if she is well-fed — he only offers a meal sized at one or two per cent of her body mass.

Unfortunately for him, food is typically a rare commodity for a plump female redback in her native Australian habitat, so she may well take the meal that he offers in addition to her potential future offspring.

While this extreme sacrificial gesture and its violent ending could be seen as a spider’s ultimate Valentine’s Day gift, in the end, it is neither the life of the female nor the male redback that is rewarded, but their offspring that ultimately earn the gift of life — and go on to do the same.

The man, the myth, the clitoris

How anatomical misconceptions impact women’s health and sexuality

The man, the myth, the clitoris

Freud, who I’d absolutely be down for in another place and time, famously said that clitoral orgasms were infantile and their recipients frigid. Well, pass the mittens, Sigmund.

Like the majority of histories about female health, the story of the clitoris isn’t heartening.

Understandings of the clitoris have largely been shaped by societal norms around femininity, rather than scientific rigour or reality.

Premodern, modern, and even contemporary discourses surrounding the clit are guided mainly by patriarchal priorities. Past depictions of it involved associations with witchcraft, names such as “shameful member,” and claims that the clitoris was effectively a “female penis.”

Disgusted as I may be by the rise of white women calling themselves ‘witches’ for owning a succulent and the like, I do appreciate the associative power of drawing a connection between the clitoris and the supernatural.

In the twentieth century, the clitoris was erased from medical textbooks, including the famous 1948 edition of Gray’s Anatomy, or mentioned with little information and accuracy. For authors and researchers, the clitoris seemed to be a low priority — especially compared to male genitalia, which usually received extensive, accurate coverage. Today, however, this is not necessarily the case.

U of T Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Christine Derzko explained that there are a significant number of studies and academic papers dedicated to sexual dysfunction.

But, in her opinion, a “lack of information or misinformation about women’s sexual health has left many women to simply accept sexual difficulties.” This means that women are often suffering in silence “rather than seeking medical help for their problems.” These could include painful intercourse and hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which could be due to psychological issues like emotional or physical abuse. Only relatively recently, in 1981, was an anatomically correct image of the clitoris developed by the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Clinics. In 2009, the first 3D sonogram of the clitoris was created in France — a famously sexy country — by two researchers in the urology department of Saint-Germain-en-Laye Hospital.

In 2017, French engineer, sociologist, and independent researcher Odile Fillod developed and shared a 3D, life-size model of the clitoris. Contrary to popular belief, the clitoris is not the size of a fingernail!

As Fillod’s model shows, it’s usually over 10 centimetres in size and shaped like a wishbone that would fit nicely in a short person’s palm. Her model is free to download online, and inquiring minds can even print it out for themselves using a 3D printer.

Fillod told The Atlantic that she created the model to help educate young people, who are often taught “that boys are more focused on genital sexuality, whereas girls care more about love and the quality of relationships, in part because of their ‘specific anatomical-physiological characteristics.’”

Although teaching scientifically accurate anatomy doesn’t seem that revolutionary, in this case, it is. Undoing heteronormative, sexist, and essentializing beliefs about traditionally female genitalia is a radical act. Asserting a right to pleasure is political.

The clitoris itself is a bundle of super sensitive nerves above the vagina that extends into the body. It has twice the number of nerve endings as a penis, but, like the penis, has erectile tissue that can swell when stimulated. The clit has great blood supply, which means it can fluctuate in size repeatedly, allowing for multiple orgasms in close succession.

Freud’s argument, first made over 100 years ago, was that as girls matured, they transitioned from clitoral arousal to vaginal. He posited that women who orgasmed from vaginal stimulation were more psychologically mature, competent, and healthy. Although debunked, this theory still resonates today and stigmatizes those who rarely or never orgasm from purely vaginal intercourse.

But, according to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) report, only around 25 per cent of women “always have orgasm from intercourse, while a narrow majority of women have orgasm with intercourse more than half the time” and “roughly one third of women rarely or never have orgasm from intercourse.”

Not only does this Freudian make-believe obscure interest in or care for the clitoris during intercourse, it also unnecessarily segments sexual pleasure between the vagina and the clitoris. Pushing back on this narrative and others that have cropped up to support it is key.

People with different genitalia often experience sexual pleasure differently. While people with penises reliably climax during intercourse, those without usually require different kinds of stimulation. That stimulation varies widely between individuals, making ‘good sex’ much harder to quantify or enumerate.

As explained by the NIH, some “reach orgasm from direct clitoral stimulation, indirect clitoral stimulation, vaginal stimulation or stimulation of internal areas surrounding the vagina,” whereas others orgasm solely from penetrative intercourse, simultaneous stimulation, or not at all.

Derzko explained that while male orgasm is achieved with “a delicate balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system,” for females “the experience of orgasm is more complicated.” She highlighted that while “the autonomic nervous system plays an important role, including modulating brainstem function… the stress may lie more heavily on the physical anatomy itself.”

But understanding the clitoris isn’t just important for sexual education — it’s vital for doctors, too. In a 2005 study in the Journal of Urology, researchers reported that “because surgery is guided by accurate anatomy, the quality and validity of available anatomical description are relevant to urologists, gynecologists and other pelvic surgeons.”

This impacts clitoral preservation in invasive surgeries, as well as for broader basic complaints that women might bring to their doctors regarding clitoral pain or infection. On a broader scale, women’s health issues are often misdiagnosed or ignored entirely. Take endometriosis, or the condition where uterine tissue grows on other pelvic organs, which is estimated to affect one in 10 Canadian women but takes, on average, eight to nine years to diagnose and receives relatively little research funding.

As a woman with both a clitoris and endometriosis, this was a sad article to write. I know how frustrating it is to have a doctor dismiss you, or a sexual partner not really grasp your anatomic reality.

This is why better education is necessary for everyone. Fillod’s model is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. We have centuries of misconception to dismiss and so much more to discover.