Saturday, November 14, 2009

Uncountable Orgasms

(This poem is indebted to Rachel Maines' "The Technology of Orgasm".)

'When did God make men? When she realized vibrators couldn't dance.'
---Roz Warren?

Leave it to mathematicians to invent something called a
countable infinity; a contradiction
in oxymorons to the lay ear. What they mean
to convey is that whereas infinity is something you know
you can't count to, nonetheless, if you have an infinity
of integers at least you know which one is next.
If you reach 3,458,753 you proceed to 3,458,754.
6,400,079,010 leads immediately to 6,400,079,011.
But then again if you start trying to count what they call real
numbers --- it could be something quite small, 15 perhaps,
you don't know what the next number is. In theory
if you just step to 15.000000001, there are still
uncountable millions of fractions in between. In the
case of 'real' numbers you don't know what the 'next one'
means. In both there is an infinity of numbers
but in the latter case an infinity between each step towards
infinity. It's like the difference
between not having a prayer of getting
where you're going but at least knowing the next step,
and not having a prayer of getting where you're going
and being clueless
about what the next step is.
Almost like two different types of people.
A countably infinite person looks down on
an uncountably infinite person for lacking direction.
The uncountably infinite contend that the countable are,
regrettably, not very deep.
I was reminded of these two different types of infinity when I was trying to imagine the total number of times in history
women have faked orgasms. I figured it was such a large number
(probably one or two for each grain of sand on an ocean beach)
that you might as well call it infinite
in that same poetic imprecision one lets slide with sand.
You see I've been reading about the evolution of vibrators
and medical douches and I've been,
let's see, it's hard to find a word for it….
flabbergasted? (Really, more like gabberflasted? ma-zazed?
fumdounded? sta-monished? pur-srised?
stump-jarted? ) to realize not just how often women fail
to achieve orgasm from plain old vaginal
penetration, but also how long this has been going on and why.
How often, throughout history, they were told this was because of something wrong
with them and they were frigid. That if they tried to satisfy themselves they'd only be made
more frigid, perhaps infertile. And so women would become
physically ill from unsatisfied sexual desire, diagnosed as
hysterical. Up until 1952 hysteria was one of the most commonly
diagnosed illnesses in hystory. What an amazing thing that the social
construction of sexuality can get so close to a person, so far
inside her head, that it could stand between a woman and her own

The prevailing treatment for women
diagnosed with hysteria? Go ahead, guess.
Would you believe me if I said
genital massage? Yes, 'genital massage'. As far back as the second
century A.D. the leading physician of the time, Galen,
provided a detailed description of how to bring a woman to what he called, 'hysterical paroxysm'; his description complete with
vaginal contractions and release of vaginal fluids leading to
'relief of symptoms'? As Rachel Maines (the author of
'The Technology of Orgasm') observes
doctors have had their hands full throughout history
satisfying the sexual needs of
women otherwise unmet by their husband's penises.
She calls the term 'hysteria' social-
camouflage for 'sexually unsatisfied'.
'Hysterical paroxysm' camouflage for 'orgasm'.
Historically then, doctors have functioned
as (albeit socially prestigious) sex slaves, or,
given the differentials in pay, lucratively
rewarded prostitutes.

I imagine there are those who think such pursuit
the stuff that dreams are made of, but medicine
even then being a volume business, and paroxysms often
requiring up to an hour of devoted physicians' attention,
doctors were quite eager for any technique or device
that could save them labor, increase turnover
so to speak. This explains what might otherwise
strain belief, at the end of the nineteenth
and beginning of the twentieth century, the wide
dissemination in doctor's offices
of that new invention, the electromechanical
vibrator. Responding as it did to a need both
urgent and widespread it nonetheless proves a little shocking
to twenty-first century sensibilities
that the medical vibrator was patented
fully a decade before that
other great labor saving device, the vacuum cleaner.
Achieving regularly in five minutes what men's penises often failed
of for years, and which even a skilled surgeon's fingers might
only succeed at in ten-fold the time, the technological imperative
of such a machine is clear. But
as so often happens in materialist culture what begins
as curiosity soon evolves through convenience to household
necessity, and an earnest and thrifty market learns
to bypass the middleman. So it came to be that
medicinal electromechanical vibrators were widely advertised
in the sorts of ladies journals read by knitting circles
and elderly spinsters, and even the Sears-
Roebuck catalogue.

What then? Shall we call it revealing
or call it odd, that nature (or was it God)
should design a woman's genitalia
in such an inappropriate fashion
(or at least unflattering to the male anatomy?)
That the act of procreation should so often fail
to satisfy feminine lust or (truth be told) masculine
ego? And once this fact concealed
how quickly the healing profession, dominated
by men, should substitute its agency
for prostitution, which because invested with social
prestige, could never be perceived
for what it was? But more again how a
foreign hand should improve on a lover's
virile member, and how a hard, dead, anonymous
vibrator should, at least functionally, improve
on either?

We sound these nether regions imperfectly
with the mind --- finding our egos
always there arrived
of us. But such creatures as have conjured
incubus and succubus alike
to explain what they, neither male nor female, can
comprehend, should only pretend certainty --
with caution. Beneath the skin such turbulent
purposes contend with reason
we both must, and cannot begin
to fathom. Resigned sheerly to function,
our technology has surely rendered us already
superfluous; once the markets
demand it, vibrators will undoubtedly
dance. But these shall sooner coax stars out of the sky
than entrance, whoever the fool and however foolishly,
or achieve the starry devotion of a lover
in the uncountable infinity
of a beloved's sparkling eye.

1 comment:

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