For a body part that is widely considered ground zero for the female orgasm, the small but mighty clitoris has been woefully ignored. For starters, it is largely concealed, turning any attempt at contact into a frustrating, twisted kind of Easter egg hunt. Scientific research has similarly obscured the clitoris: In 1948, it was unceremoniously written out of Gray’s Anatomy, then the world’s foremost anthology of human anatomy, due to its insignificance. It wasn’t until 1953 that sex researcher Alfred Kinsey deemed it the “centre of female pleasure,” and only in 1983 did Australian urologist Helen O’Connell provide the first comprehensive view of the clitoral landscape via MRI. Add to that the reality that orgasm eludes up to 40 percent of women during intercourse, and it’s obvious why plain-language conversations about female pleasure aren’t exactly mainstream.
So when a website called OMGYES, billed as “a modern, hands-on exploration of women’s sexual pleasure,” launched late last year, many women, including nouveau feminist icon Emma Watson, were exuberant. For $29, subscribers (currently an even split between men and women) can observe ordinary women — not porn actresses — explaining their pleasure preferences on video and demonstrating them on their own bodies. Users then have the opportunity to learn by (ahem) doing, which means using a cursor to masturbate a lifelike onscreen vagina. Developed with the help of researchers from Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute, the software — and the audible moans of your “test partner” — lets you know when you’re hitting the spot.
It’s not the only new player in the sex-tech space: A company called Lioness is beta-testing a “smart” sex toy-and-app duo that responds to your body; there’s also HappyPlayTime, an online game aimed at demystifying female masturbation with the help of a creepily enthusiastic cartoon clitoris.
As Facebook and texting have shown us, though, new media can be more alienating than engaging, and the risk is especially evident when the subject is sex. It might be discouraging to think about young adults, bereft of frank, empathetic discussions, looking to internet porn for a crash course on how to please a partner — but are iPhones and tablets really the appropriate tools to dig us out of this communication dead zone?
“Women are not always encouraged to explore their own pleasure and desire — that’s part of why there’s an orgasm gap,” says Lydia Daniller, who co-created OMGYES with friend Rob Perkins, explaining what motivated them to build the site. “There’s a lot of trial [involved] in learning what you like.”
They started by partnering with the Kinsey Institute to probe the sexual experiences of more than 2,000 women aged 18 to 95. Out of those discussions, 12 major climax-inducing concepts emerged — some as masturbatory techniques (like “edging” and “orbiting”) and some as psychological mood setters (Hint: Don’t ask, “Are you close?”). The advantage of OMGYES over other web-based “teaching tools” is that it simply gives its users the specific language to express what turns them on and, more important, request it. However, even when tricked out with fancy visual aids, sex tech will never fully render the fumbled, vulnerable exchanges between lovers obsolete. It’s not “a game or a substitute,” as Perkins explains. But it offers, as Daniller says, “a spark.”