The Sunday Bulletin: ‘Don’t say gay,’ do say ‘clitoris’

We’re taking the bulletin international this week to talk about how modesty culture is weaponized and used to imprison and abuse women in Iran. We’ve also gotta talk about a proposed national “don’t say gay” bill, and the most misunderstood organ in the human body, the clitoris.

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Devotion: The misunderstood clitoris

Has your gynecologist ever asked questions about your clitoris? Has a doctor ever bothered to show you and explain to you how female pleasure works? Probably not.

It’s no wonder there are men who still believe sex is not pleasurable for women or that women should be able to reach orgasm through penetration alone.

This report from The New York Times highlights several women’s experience of losing clitoral sensation and the ability to orgasm after medical procedures damaged the precious, sprawling nerves of the clitoris.

Most of what folks know of the clitoris is the visible portion outside the body, but the clitoris is much larger than a mere “devil’s doorbell.” It encompasses the vagina and sprawls through the vulva and top and sides of the vaginal canal. Much larger than the pea-sized organ you may (or may not) be aware of.

Why is understanding the clitoris a big deal? Because, women may not be aware of conditions causing pain or discomfort. A 2018 study in the journal Sexual Medicine found that a failure to examine the vulva and clitoris led doctors to regularly overlook sexual health conditions.

The authors concluded that all health providers for women should routinely examine the clitoris. But that was easier said than done, they wrote, as most providers “neither know how to examine nor feel comfortable examining the clitoris.”

“I truly believe we are just several decades behind on the female side,” Dr. Rachel Rubin, a urologist and sexual health specialist outside Washington, D.C. told the New York Times. “But we have to do the work. And we have to have people interested in doing the work.”

Iranian women seek freedom from violent modesty laws

For the last month, coverage of Iranian women protesting has dominated international headlines. Women took to the streets in protest after a woman, arrested for violating the country’s strict dress code, died in police custody. The woman, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, was detained September 13 for wearing her hijab too loosely in violation of religious laws demanding women in public wear the Islamic headscarf. She died three days after she was arrestedt

Another Iranian woman, 33-year-old Elnaz Rekabi, competed in a climbing competition without her headscarf at the Asian Climbing Championship in Seoul, South Korea earlier this month. Iranian women are required to wear the hijab in all international sports competitions. She was reportedly missing after the competition, sending more waves of concern about the safety of Iranian women accused of not following religious laws. She was later located in Tehran, and now claims her headscarf slipped off accidentally. Activists worry she’s making the statement due to pressure from police.

Iranian woman have taken to the streets around the world to talk about their hair, their bodies and bodily autonomy. Teenage girls took off their hijabs in protest at school. Dozens of people have died during protests, but figures available vary widely. Iran state television suggested at least 41 people had been killed in the demonstrations as of Sept. 24. An Oslo-based group, Iran Human Rights, estimates at least 185 people have been killed, AP said.

Many other compelling images about Iranian women’s fight for autonomy have been shared on social media. I found this one compelling, as a woman dangles a man over a ledge by her hair. She is holding scissors to her hair, which when cut, will send the man falling off the edge.

Republicans want a national “Don’t say gay” bill

Congressional Republicans filed the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act” this week that would create a national “Don’t say gay” law barring federal money from being used to teach children under 10 about LGBTQ issues or gender identity. The measure was introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., and co-sponsored by 32 other Republicans.

LGBTQ advocates warn the bill could defund any organization that uses federal funds to serve children.

“Universities, public schools, hospitals, medical clinics, etc. could all be defunded if they host any event discussing LGBTQ people and children could be present. The way they define “sexually oriented material” simply includes anything about LGBTQ people,” said Alejandra Caraballo, an attorney who advocates for LGBTQ rights in a series of tweets about the bill.

The bill also gives parents the right to sue if their child is exposed to any “sexually oriented material funded in part or in whole by federal funds”--an aspect of the bill Caraballo heavily criticized.

“I can’t overstate how radical the private right of action portion is. The bill is so broadly defined that a pediatric hospital could be sued for having a pride flag or a medical pamphlet about gender dysphoria. It deputizes anti-LGBTQ bigots to engage in bounty lawsuits,” she said in a tweet.

#MeToo: Kevin Spacey found not guilty of sexually assaulting Anthony Rapp

“Rent” actor Anthony Rapp this week lost his civil case against Kevin Spacey claiming the House of Cards star sexually assaulted him at Spacey’s home in 1986.

Rapp’s claim was one of the most prominent in the early days of the #MeToo movement, as accusers started to come forward with allegations against high-profile men in the entertainment, political and business worlds.

“Bringing this lawsuit was always about shining a light, as part of the larger movement to stand up against all forms of sexual violence,” Rapp said in a statement posted on Twitter.

He pledged to continue advocating for “a world that is free of sexual violence of any kind” and said he hopes survivors continue to tell their stories and fight for accountability.”

BuzzFeed News published Rapp’s account of his encounter with Spacey in October 2017, which triggered more than a dozen other sexual misconduct accusations against Spacey. Spacey has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault in Great Britain and his attorney said he’s confident Spacey will be found not guilty in all cases.

Anna Beahm

Anna Beahm |

I report on the intersection of religion and sexuality in America. Follow me on Twitter @_AnnaBeahm

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