When I step into artist Sophia Wallace’s Sunset Park studio in Brooklyn, the first thing I notice is the six-foot effulgent glow in the corner: "CLITERACY," the sign reads, illuminating a 130 square-foot wall dedicated to statistics, visual puns, and thought-provoking quotes about the human clitoris.
Wallace is on a mission. Since launching her cliteracy campaign last October, which she has plastered on walls, street corners, and displayed at a "clit rodeo" (yes, you read that correctly), Wallace’s "natural laws" have begun to pick up heat on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and 20,000 re-blogs on Tumblr. She has also gotten "thank you" notes from women whose partners have been introduced to the work. The goal is simple: To foster discussion about one of the most ignored, neglected, and brutalized parts of the human body—as well as to celebrate its magnificence.
"It’s really a joy to have a project that can be so irreverent and intentionally blasphemous," Wallace explains. "And poke fun at sexual incompetence and ignorance, which is where I think we should be poking fun—not the female body."
The implications of clitoral ignorance (clit-illiteracy, in Wallace’s terms) on a societal level are probably too many to count. The themes of shame, empowerment, pleasure, and taboo (for all bodies, not just female ones) came up frequently in our conversation, but even more compelling were some of the simple but relatively unknown facts. Without further ado, here are some of Wallace’s highlights:
"It’s amazing the level of advancement we have, and yet we didn’t know the anatomy of the clit," Wallace says. "Helen O’ Connor studied the clit, and she was an Australian urologist. The female anatomy, details about the minor anatomy were completely missing. She did the first dissections, and found it was significantly bigger than she expected." O’Connor’s new information was published in the Journal of Urology in 1998.
Wallace collaborated with fellow artist Kenneth Thomas on a bronze sculpture of the internal and external clitoris, courtesy of Helen O’Connell and helpful illustrations from the Museum of Sex. This past summer, they displayed their work at the Wassaic Project in upstate New York, where Wallace was an artist-in-residency. As a result, a "clit rodeo" was born, in which the artists invited viewers to ride the bronze sculpture.
"Women are just as sexual as men. Give any woman a vibrator and she’s probably going to get off," Wallace says. "So what’s the issue? The issue is you’re probably not touching her where the 8,000 nerves are. Do you want to drive a car by pressing a brake? No, you want to press the gas. A man would never be expected to orgasm with sex that didn’t actually acknowledge his penis."
An estimated majority of women have faked orgasms, and other studies have found that 70%-80% cannot orgasm through penetration alone.
"I want sex to be about pleasure, the clit to be as equal as the penis," Wallace said. "I want the distribution of orgasms to be one-to-one. "
The World Health Organization estimates that between 100 to 140 million women have been subjected to genital mutilation.
Wallace points out that a surgical technique advanced by Dr. Pierre Foldés now seeks to restore clitoral pleasure for women who have been mutilated, but that it’s still in its infancy, and few doctors are familiar with the practice. One of Wallace’s laws states that only one doctor performs the surgery, but she clarifies: "In the scheme of things, when you compare the number of women who have had genital mutilation compared to the number of surgeons performing the surgery, it might as well be one."
The clitoris of a female spotted hyena extends several inches outside the body. Scientists refer to it as a peniform clitoris or "pseudopenis."
"For many years, scientists assumed that all spotted hyenas were intersex and had both organs, and then they realized that some are female, because some are giving birth and others are not," Wallace says. "The males will lick all the clitorises, but females [don't usually] lick the penis of the male hyena, because they are lower ranking," she adds.