Annamarie Jagose's Orgasmology aimes to critically examine the role of orgasm as the concept and practice of simultaneous orgasms has been used to maintain heterosexuality and "normality". Jagose states that: "Insofar as it operates as the exemplary figure for a newly remodeled understanding of relations between the sexes, a principally erotic relation, and insofar as it emblematizes that hetereroticism in terms of a reciprocity and fusion secured via continuous processes of bodily labor and interpersonal communication, simultaneous orgasm, as a value more than a practice, is central to the evolution of the monogamous intimacy that defines contemporary heteronormativity" (p.44) and that: "Moreover, whether being advocated or renounced, simultaneous orgasm has often been worked, both as a bodily technique and a rhetorical trope, to articulate and maintain heteroeroticism's flexible but persistent relation to normalcy" (p.45).
Jagose discusses orgasm from a few different perspectives, first arguing that simultaneous orgasm upholds and maintains heterosexuality and normalcy, then looking at orgasm and the straight woman/gay man before discussing orgasmic reconditioning, "the face of orgasm" and ending with fake orgasms.
I appreciate how Jagose argues that simultaneous orgasm has been used as a tool in order to dictate what is considered normal and unusual in heterosexual relationships and Jagose succeeds in doing so successfully with reading material and sources from for example marriage manuals of the past which claimed that the material was written for "normal" and "ordinary" men and women.
The chapter called Behaviorism's Queer Theory: Sexuality and Orgasmic Reconditioning is also very interesting and discusses the reconditioning of (mostly) homosexual men through experiments that involved the role of the orgasm in order to achieve a "healthy" (heterosexual) sexual preference. Even though the role of the orgasm was one of many employed techniques in this type of reconditioning, I understand Jagose's argument. Also, Jagose is again critical of what is considered normal, acceptable and a success. For example, in regards to the rehabilitation of homosexual men Jagose provides this quote: 'There had been a couple of exhibitionist incidents "but whereas before treatment he had only considered young men and boys, he now considered both sexes. This occurred only in hot weather of which there was not much in an English summer" (p. 111).
On the downside, I am surprised that the book does not discuss orgasm more than it does since the title suggests that this is the main focus of the book. I am also not convinced by Jagose's claim that simultaneous orgasm maintains heterosexuality since there is little evidence provided to make such a point. While reading the book I am waiting, and left waiting, for concrete evidence that simultaneous orgasm upholds heterosexuality. Jagose poses many questions concerning orgasm and the connection between orgasm and sexuality, sexual orientation and so on, but does not answer these questions in a way that is clear and concise.
Orgasmology utilizes queer theory and is therefore useful when discussing this theory. It could also be used in the classroom in order to discuss methodology and subject matters that are not as obvious as others (for example orgasm is quite a tricky subject matter). Separate chapters from Orgasmology are also useful when discussing pathology, normalization, heteronormativity and sexuality.
© 2013 Elin Weiss
Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Women's Studies from University College Dublin.