Most sex-ed classes don’t devote much time to the clitoris, and, if they do, they only mention the external nub that sits above the labia minora. A French researcher named Odile Fillod is aiming to teach French students that there is much more to the clitoris than meets the eye. As the Guardian reports this week, Fillod has released an open-source 3D-printer blueprint for a life-sized model of the female sex organ intended to be incorporated into sex-ed curricula. A prototype of the model clitoris was printed out of polylactic acid, a rigid biodegradable material. “Ideally, the clitoris should be printed in a flexible material in order to approximate anatomical reality. We didn’t try this due to a lack of time,” reads an information page on the clitoris (my translation).
The Guardian’s Stephanie Theobald explains how the 3D clitoris can be used as a pedagogical tool:
From Fillod’s sculpture, pupils will learn that the clitoris is made up of the same tissue as the penis. That it is divided into crura or legs, bulbs, foreskin and a head. That the only difference between a clitoris and a penis is that most of the female erectile tissue is internal—and that it’s often longer, at around 8 inches.
If you had quizzed me on any of the above points before I read this article, I probably would have gotten them all wrong. And I’m almost 30! I own a clitoris and use it often. In high school, I got a sex education that was probably in the top decile, nationally, in terms of quality and accuracy of information. I work in the ladyblog industry, which requires knowing a lot more about female genitalia than the average bear. Despite all these apparent advantages, I know less about clitorises than French schoolchildren will if France adopts the 3D clitoris as a pedagogical tool.
But that’s a big if. Despite the Guardian’s assertion that the 3D clitoris “will be used for sex education in French schools, from primary to secondary level, from September,” the model clitoris has not yet been widely embraced. According to the French design news site Makery, the idea for the 3D clitoris came out of a meeting between Fillod and a documentary film company called V’idéaux, which wanted to incorporate a video about the clitoris into a state-funded educational website that’s set to launch in January 2017. In the meantime, a group of activist teachers have created an online resource called SVT Égalité that offers pedagogical tools for teachers who want to eliminate sexism from their classes, including the 3D clitoris. (SVT stands for sciences de la vie et de la terre, or life and earth sciences.) Because the plans for the clitoris are open-source, any French (or American!) teacher could hypothetically print a clitoris and incorporate it into their lesson plan—but we’re a long way from every French student being issued an anatomically correct clitoris on their first day of lycée.
Which is too bad—there should be much more discussion of clitorises in sex ed. So much sex ed is overly focused on breaking down the mechanics of reproduction and on attempting to persuade teens to delay sexual activity as long as possible. Even worse, some sex ed perpetuates harmful stereotypes about sex: According to the Guardian, a recent government report found that current French sex ed curriculum guidelines “state that young boys are more ‘focused on genital sexuality,’ while girls ‘attach more importance to love’ ”—outdated ideas that shortchange girls and boys alike. Sex ed that not only acknowledges but illuminates sexual pleasure—which is, after all, the reason most people have sex—stands to produce a generation of more skilled, less selfish lovers. Currently, most kids get their information about sexual pleasure from porn (according to which women orgasm instantly upon being penetrated) and from other kids (who typically know nothing). A thoughtful sex-ed curriculum that explains how the clitoris works can clear up misconceptions about the female orgasm, help girls feel less self-conscious about how their bodies work, and give (straight) boys the information they need to be good, giving, and game (to steal Dan Savage’s coinage).
In other words, three cheers for the 3D printed clitoris! You can watch a video of the 3D-printed clitorises being designed and made, accompanied by a porn-worthy funkadelic soundtrack, here: