The history of orgasmology

5 March 2013

'Orgasmology', by Professor Annamarie Jagose.
'Orgasmology', by Professor Annamarie Jagose.

Fifty years after the sexual revolution, many of us presume we know everything there is to know about orgasm, but a new book suggests it still has plenty to teach us.

Orgasmology, by the internationally celebrated novelist and queer theorist Annamarie Jagose, traces the strange theoretical absence of orgasm that can be found in a plethora of material dedicated to the study of sex.

From simultaneous to fake orgasms, from medical imaging to pornographic visualisation, from impersonal public sexuality to domestic erotic intimacies, Professor Jagose traces the career of orgasm across the 20th century.

Along the way she examines marriage manuals of the 1920s and 1930s, designed to teach heterosexual couples how to achieve simultaneous orgasms. She also provides a queer reading of behavioural modification practices of the 1960s and 1970s, aimed at transforming gay men into heterosexuals.

In addition, the book demonstrates how representations of orgasm have shaped ideas about sexuality and sexual identity while uncovering surprising parallels between cinematic representations of orgasm (art house, mainstream and pornographic) and the images used to illustrate the popular works of sexologists Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson.

In a perhaps surprising revelation, Jagose claims that fake orgasm is one of the very few sexual inventions of the 20th century.

Orgasmology (Duke University Press, 2013), affords fresh perspectives on not just sex, sexual orientation, and histories of sexuality, but also agency, ethics, intimacy, modernity, selfhood, and sociality.

Professor Jagose is the Head of the School of Arts, Letters and Media at the University of Sydney. Her books include the now canonical An Introduction to Queer Theory (New York University Press, 1996); and also the novel Slow Water (2004), which won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award and was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award.

She has previously held positions at a variety of universities including International Scholar at the Centre for Research on Gender and Sexuality at New York University.

Watch Annamarie Jagose's talk on orgasmology.

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