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Uncovering the abundance of clitoris ignorance: A Conversation with Alumna and Author Sarah Chadwick

The other end of the world is only a second away when I open up Zoom and call Sarah. After a short confusion – with all the online calls, it is difficult to keep track of exact times and dates - and some hasty emails being written, Sarah answers the call, her hair still in a bun as she had just finished a sports class. Sarah Chadwick, now living in Chicago, once attended King’s to get her teacher’s license and has just started her journey as an author.

With a present that to some extent resembles Arthur McFly’s “Back to the Future” world, it seems odd that the topic we are talking about that Tuesday night is still taboo and the act of writing her book “The Sweetness of Venus – A history of the clitoris” can still be considered extraordinary, and to some, it is even outrageous. A short visit to Google reveals a remarkable shortage of books concerned explicitly with the clitoris. While in recent years a rising number of books and graphic novels such as Liv Strömquist’s bestseller The Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs the Patriarchy have been published, a book solely about the sex organ that is responsible for female pleasure is a relatively rare occurrence (one confounding factor might be the confusion of the terms vagina, vulva and clitoris used by many synonymously). This hesitancy is also reflected in an anecdote Sarah tells about trying to find a publisher for her book. While many complimented the author on her witty writing style, most publishers considered her book to niche, some mentioning they had only published a period book last year. Retelling the story, Sarah cracks up: “50 per cent have it. Question mark: Is it niche?”.

The superb quality of Sarah’s book and our conversation is her mixture of subtle but great humour and the intimate stories that she shares with the reader’s and this evening with me. In the opening chapter, Sarah describes the time her daughter discovered her clitoris and thought - as so many Ancient Greeks did - that she, just like her brother, had a penis. While she had had no problem providing her son with a nickname – the penis is said to be the English word with the most synonyms -what could she tell her daughter? There are not many words for the clitoris or vagina that are not inherently sexist or quite technical.

Her daughter is frequently mentioned throughout the book and was Sarah’s inspiration for doing the research. She had assumed that today’s students were better informed and equipped to have fun and pleasurable sex. However, when her 19-year-old daughter asked her how sex really worked, not the technical part rather the enjoying of it, she realised that sex-education had not changed that much after all and that while they had talked about safe sex, they had always circumvented masturbation or orgasm. Thus, Sarah wanted to explore these topics in more depth - the lack of knowledge on the clitoris as well as some of the amazing facts about this sexual organ that have remained widely unknown.

One of these widely unknown things that fascinates Sarah the most is the sheer size of the clitoris and its complexity that has been made visible through a 3D printing. What is visible from the outside is really only the tip of the iceberg or, in this case, more like the tip of a gigantic orchid that is embedded in our bodies. When she talks about this picturesque model of the clitoris, I can spot her adoration and curiosity gleaming in her eyes which matches the passion with which she talks about her findings and her eagerness to share her knowledge.

But why, why do we need to know about the clitoris? For some, it might be enough to see that it has been an issue suppressed for centuries, especially since the Victorian era, that needs to be freed from its stigma. But there are also more practical reasons: enjoying sex in itself is essential and far less common among women than among men, but a person who has pleasure from masturbating is also more confident in their own skin. As Sarah puts it: “A sense of personal sexual wholeness is incredibly important to emotional well-being, and being allowed to own one’s sexual truth, without shame, is fundamentally empowering. It is time to give vulva owners their clitorises, and to celebrate their wonder.”

If you want to know more about Sarah and her book, have a look at her Instagram account @its.personalgirls or click on www.goodreads/sarahchadwick.