NOT MUCH IS TABOO when it comes to sex these days. We have frank discussions about condoms, sexually transmitted diseases and homosexuality.
But women who touch their private parts and openly admit it? Nothing's more TMI than that.
It's considered kind of trampy to even bring the subject up — much less wax enthusiastically about the joys of solo sex.
"It's all skewed to make sure that you are virginal and pure until the right man comes along to awaken your sexuality and then you can sit back and he's going to take care of everything and he's going to know what to do," said Jill McDevitt, owner of Feminique Boutique, a feminist-oriented sex shop in West Chester. "People should not expect their partner to know. They need to be sexual in and of themselves."
She added, "My mantra is, you are a sexual person first and you share it second."
America will be talking a lot more about female orgasms in the days ahead thanks to the release of the stimulating new film "Hysteria," starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy. A romantic comedy, it's set in the sexually repressed Victorian era and tells the story of the creation of the first make-me-shiver device.
Those poor women. I say that because those really were the dark ages. Not only was the fairer sex blocked from voting, but women had practically no rights at all, much less anywhere to go for accurate sex information. It's a wonder that couples managed to procreate at all.
Back then, the medical establishment, which was still using leeches, didn't make the connection between clitoral stimulation and sexual satisfaction. (Heck, even today a lot of men still don't connect the two, but I digress … ) The vast majority of women then and now need clitoral stimulation to experience what the French call "la petite mort."
Before people knew any better, men would have sexual intercourse with their wives, and when the ladies complained afterward of feeling unsatisfied, they were said to be suffering from female hysteria. A catchall term, the medical establishment slapped it on women who complained of ailments as varied as insomnia or a toothache, as the film points out. The cure was manual massage done by doctors, who complained of achy hands afterward.
It's laughable, really.
Then again, the world was still decades away from Dr. Ruth Westheimer or the debut of HBO's "Sex and the City," which introduced us to the Rabbit Pearl Vibrator. Still, old taboos die hard.
"If you weren't meant to masturbate, then God wouldn't have made your arms long enough to reach it," said McDevitt, whose first orgasm at age 15 took her by surprise and sent her to the library of Upper Darby High School, where she pored through books about sexual health.
"I felt I had been lied to about the nature of female sexuality. … Nobody had ever taught me about clitorises," she recalled. "I was like, 'Why is this not taught in sex class? Why is this not mentioned on television? Why did my parents not ever say, 'Hey, I understand you're a teenager and you have hormones. You can have some fun and not get pregnant.' No one ever mentioned this. I felt like that was because it's kind of single-handedly the ultimate oppression of women. It's like you can't be sexual unless there's a penis involved."
Today, McDevitt is a sexologist and is anticipating completing her Ph.D. in human sexuality in a few months. She already has two other degrees in the subject. Besides running her retail sex shop at 104 N. Church St., McDevitt conducts in-home sexuality workshops on things such as performing fellatio. (Participants practice using fresh carrots.) To help illustrate her points, she'll bring along Margeaux, the Vulva Puppet.
"Margeaux's really important because most women, and men for that matter, have absolutely no clue what's going on with their genitals, how to bring them pleasure, what they look like. And I don't know how to show it to somebody without, like, showing them, " explained McDevitt, 25. "I just had someone showing them a vibrator … and they said, 'I don't know clitoris.' A lady said that to me. She said, 'I know you put this part in, but why this?' So, I got out Margeaux."
Feminique Boutique is girlie and comfortable. There's no pornographic literature on display. No creepy guys lurking. Just lots of bath and body products, massage oils, condoms, lubricants, sassy T-shirts and racy lingerie. In the back, instead of a requisite scary room with whips and chains, McDevitt has an antique-vibrator museum.
"Basically, it's a sex shop — but not what people think of when they think of a sex shop. I wanted to have a space that was more of a sexual-education center," McDevitt told me during a visit. "It's not about always selling but [being] a space that people can find sexual education and empowerment in."
McDevitt's hoping that "Hysteria," along with the popularity of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Gray, by E.L. James, will go a long way toward getting things, well, buzzing. And that, ladies, is a stimulating thought.