Elisabeth Lloyd on The Case of the Female Orgasm (to 45:56)
Elizabeth Lloyd

“This is what I sometimes refer to as ‘locker room science.’ It seems that these authors did not actually use the references they cited, but rather employed common, but mistaken, locker room understandings of female sexuality in their scientific research.”

Elisabeth Lloyd on The Case of the Female Orgasm

We saw in the third and fourth modules for this course that for much of Western history and in many parts of the world it has been believed that women as well as men emit semen when they experience sexual pleasure and during orgasm. The assumption has long been that female semen and orgasm would be necessary for sexual reproduction just like male semen and orgasm and that the male and female bodies would function analogously. As we also saw, in the immediate aftermath of the discovery that women do not in fact emit semen, and that female orgasm is not actually necessary for conception to occur, the normalcy of female sexual pleasure and orgasm were cast into doubt by Victorian scientists. Since the 19th century, scientists have been perplexed about why women experience sexual pleasure or have orgasms at all if, unlike male pleasure and orgasm, these do not serve an obvious purpose in reproduction.

Elisabeth Lloyd is Arnold and Maxine Tanis Chair of History and Philosophy of Science and Professor of Biology at the University of Indiana, and she is also a scholar at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. In her 2006 book, The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in Evolutionary Science, she considers twenty different theories from the science of evolution that try to explain the existence of the female orgasm, demonstrating that these arguments are characterized by male bias. The first assigned resource for this module is a lecture by Lloyd that is based on her research for this book. Note that the video is 56 minutes long but you can skip the last 10 minutes and stop watching at 45:56 when she finishes the lecture.

You can find the Lloyd lecture here.

Nancy Tuana,
“Coming to Understand: Orgasm and the Epistemology of Ignorance”
Nancy Tuana

“An important aspect of an epistemology of ignorance is the realization that ignorance should not be theorized as a simple omission or gap but is, in many cases, an active production.”

Nancy Tuana, “Coming to Understand: Orgasm and the Epistemology of Ignorance”

Nancy Tuana is a feminist philosopher and the founding director of the Rock Ethics Institute. She has written and edited numerous books in feminist philosophy, particularly in the areas of the history of philosophy and the philosophy of science.

Nancy Tuana’s The Less Noble Sex
Nancy Tuana’s Feminism & Science
Nancy Tuana and Shannon Sullivan’s Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance

In the article that you will read for this module, “Coming to Understand: Orgasm and the Epistemology of Ignorance,” Tuana takes up Foucauldian ideas and arguments that have been made by critical race theorists, according to which what we do not know is as political as what we do know. Combining Foucauldian and critical race theory insights, Tuana playfully applies these to what we do not know about female sexuality.

Find the Tuana reading here.