You can’t write about sex and not eventually learn about Hysterical Literature.
Over the summer, I found out about this amazing artistic project in which two of my favorite subjects meet: literature and female sexual fulfillment.
Hysterical Literature is the brainchild of photographer and filmmaker Clayton Cubitt. It began in 2012 and features fully dressed women reading aloud while being stimulated by an unseen vibrator. They read until they reach orgasm.
Everything in the videos is woman-powered. The participants pick their own clothing, do their own hair and makeup, and choose the books they read. The person holding the vibrator underneath the table is Katie James, Cubitt’s partner.
Though Cubitt operates the camera, he doesn’t exert any influence over the session whatsoever. There is no editing once the filming is over and no participation in any way on his part beyond recording.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first visited the Hysterical Literature website. I thought it would be more overtly sexual. Maybe a little provocative. I assumed I might roll my eyes occasionally.
Instead, I found myself riveted seconds into the first video I watched. It was not overtly sexual, at all. Not provocative in the slightest. What on earth was this? I wondered.
As the session wore on and the reader became more and more aroused, I was shocked by how intensely erotic it was. How was that possible? She was reading a book. She had all her clothes on. She was (visually, at least) alone. How was it possible this could be so stimulating?
When the reader had an orgasm, I watched in absolute awe. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The heavens were weeping with joy. The birds sang extra loudly. The entire earth felt renewed in the face of that ecstasy.
Tears literally came to my eyes. And then I laughed. I laughed so loudly and so hard, I fell back against the pillows of my sofa, wiping the tears off my face.
How many people have you witnessed in orgasm? Go ahead and add up that number. (Yes, porn counts.)
Wait. Before you try to tally that up, count the male orgasms separately from female orgasms.
Now, I know what you’re going to say. Even if you’re like me and haven’t had a lot of partners, you’ve probably still seen a fair amount of porn, which means you’ve seen a lot of orgasms. How can you possibly count them all?
But I feel pretty confident that most people would say they have seen far more male orgasms than female orgasms, right? Everything in porn, after all, centers on the money shot.
As someone who has only had heterosexual encounters, I had never seen a woman have a real orgasm before watching Hysterical Literature. Sure, women in porn seem to be having one, non-stop orgasm, but please. We aren’t stupid. There’s no way she’s coming that long and that hard after two seconds of thrusting and zero clitoral stimulation. And don’t even get me started on the screaming, yipping, wailing, and your-dick-is-my-god grimaces of satisfaction.
For most of my life, my only experience witnessing female orgasms was with my own. Orgasms were something—I grew up believing—I should hide away. They were shameful. And to embrace that type of pleasure in front of a lover was just unholy.
In my first relationship, I was like a shy little mouse, barely making a peep when I climaxed. And though I came to every sexual encounter determined to orgasm, even that felt wrong, somehow—like it was improper to even think about pursuing that pleasure.
Thankfully, I got over that as the years went by, and one day found myself making a hell of a racket with a lover—even without the orgasm. It was such a turn-on to let loose like that, to hear my own pleasure. Just that experience of listening to myself gave me such joy.
What really helped me see the beauty of my own orgasms was my last partner, who prioritized each of my climaxes as much as he did his own. He seemed so overwhelmed to witness my pleasure. It was the first time I recognized the power and beauty of female sexual fulfillment.
Over the years, in my occasional wanderings into porn, I’ve always tried to find female-centered videos. My last partner didn’t care so much, of course. Most heterosexual men prefer traditional porn because it was created by them and for them. But I knew there was a growing market for female-centered porn out there and I always requested that we look for it.
We found some sites that were acceptable for my needs, but nothing I was really hoping for. Occasionally, we’d stumble upon a video in which the male actor sucks on the female actor’s nipples, and I’d about freak out. At certain times of the month, I could climax just from watching that, just from anticipating my partner doing the same to me. That’s how intensely my body responds to seeing a woman experience sexual pleasure (which is so rare to see in typical porn).
I can remember saying to him, “I want to see a video with a woman having a real orgasm.” I could only imagine how much that would turn me on.
And of course, his response was, “They have orgasms in all of them.”
Gods save us all.
Now that I’ve finally seen women having real orgasms, I have to say that I feel even more angry that our culture has deprived me—and all of us—from this pleasure. It almost feels like “Clockwork Orange,” when they pry open Malcolm McDowell’s eyes and force him to watch violent films as part of his experimental treatment. How many ejaculations do we have to show you until you believe that sexual pleasure revolves around the male body and experience?
And this isn’t just a problem with porn. How many movies have you seen that celebrate female sexual pleasure?
As Sarah Barmak, author of Closer: Notes From the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality says:
“Sexy women have been a building block of cinema since the silent era, but women’s experiencing pleasure or, God forbid, an orgasm in film, is much rarer….Mainstream film is a reflection of the language our culture has around sexuality. In the narrative now, men push sexual encounters forward, and women are the objects of sexual desire.”
Kimberly Pierce, director of “Boys Don’t Cry,” has gone so far as to say (and I think accurately so), “…the world is scared of female desire.”
Why? I have a theory. (Are you surprised?)
Female desire and the fulfillment of that desire are powerful forces. When I see a woman having an orgasm, I know I am witnessing something miraculous. A climaxing woman heals the torn fabric of this universe. Her orgasm creates supernovas, reverses the gravity of black holes, changes the trajectory of meteors. It stirs tectonic plates, makes the oceans roil, and catalyzes lightning.
A woman’s orgasm is a portal into the mysteries of the underworld, a secret passage to the doorway of heaven, a glimpse into the eyes of the creator.
I want more. I want the sound of women’s ecstasy to pierce through the quiet nights. I want to see their smiles, grimaces, bitten lips, open mouths. I want to watch them cry out, and I want to hear them laugh.
I want this in the movies. I want this in porn. I want this, most importantly, in real life. For all of us.
We deserve to see this. We deserve to be this: a woman drenched in joy, as Hysterical Literature participant Toni Bentley calls it.
This, I am convinced, is the missing ingredient in the recipe we so desperately need to heal our world.