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Still from “Le Clitoris”
Still from “Le Clitoris”Courtesy of the filmmaker

Get to know your clitoris

Lori Malépart-Traversy’s viral animated short film destigmatizes the erogenous zone

The clitoris contains an incredible 8,000 sensory nerve endings, nearly double the amount found in the penis. And yet, historically, it has remained a taboo subject within our collective socio-cultural lexicon. Enter emerging Canadian filmmaker Lori Malépart-Traversy, who, with the help of an adorably anthropomorphic animated clit, hopes to pull back the curtains of mystery shrouding this wonderful and tragically elusive sex organ.

Premiered online as part of Cartoon Brew’s CB Fest, Malépart-Traversy’s short film, Le Clitoris, chronicles the misadventures and misrepresentations of the clitoris throughout history, from its supposed “discovery” by various men, to its misdiagnosis by Sigmund Freud, who declared the clitoral orgasm “infantile.”

Part cute cartoon, part educational documentary, Le Clitoris does more than just demystify the clit – it celebrates it. Below, Malépart-Traversy shares what inspired her to make a film about the stigmatised subject, the most surprising facts she learned during her research, and why proper sex education is paramount to feminism.

Why did you choose the clitoris as the topic for your film?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: My film was done during my last year of study in the Film Animation Program at Concordia University in Montreal. For the final project, students have the opportunity to do one short film over the course of eight months. We had total liberty of the content and technique, so I decided to explore female sexuality.

This is something we don’t see often in the media and cinema, and which is linked with many myths and false information. I started to do some research on the internet and came across the Wikipedia page for the clitoris. By reading a lot of information and historical facts I had never heard before, like the fact that the clitoris has long roots and that men “discovered” it, I thought I could make my short film on this particular organ. I thought it would be interesting to deconstruct myths and misinformation about the clitoris. I continued my research and found a very good book on the subject called La Fabuleuse Histoire du Clitrois written by a French sexologist named Jean-Claude Piquard. My film is a kind of very short summary of his book.

“Women’s sexuality is not seen as something independent from men’s desires, so a woman who knows her body and knows what can please her can be seen as a menace to the patriarchal system” – Lori Malépart-Traversy

Why do you think female pleasure is considered scandalous or culturally taboo in a society which typically celebrates the sexual pleasure of men?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: Female sexuality and pleasure are taboo because of sexism. Women’s sexuality is not seen as something independent from men’s desires, so a woman who knows her body and knows what can please her can be seen as a menace to the patriarchal system. The clitoris can be seen as a powerful symbol of female pleasure and female freedom because it doesn’t involve penetration. It can be a threat to some men.

Do you recall your first education about the clitoris? What were you taught about it in school?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: I learned about the existence of the clitoris when I was about 15. It was my mom who explained where it was located and what it was for, and I’m very grateful to her! I never learned anything about it in school. All the information that is in the film was completely new to me before I started doing my research.

What was the most surprising thing you learned during your research?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: As a 25-year-old woman, and as an “educated feminist”, I was surprised to not know more about the clitoris. I was surprised to learn that our historical knowledge about the clitoris has changed so much. At some time, it was well-known and well-represented in anatomy books, but at other times, it was absent from medicine books. I was also shocked to learn that Sigmund Freud created the idea that some women are “vaginal” and that others are “clitoral”, and that the vaginal orgasm is supposedly more “mature”, according to him. It’s a very pervasive idea that I remember I heard when I was a teenager, but it is completely false and non-scientific.

Was the cute design of the clit in your film meant to demystify her for the audience?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: When I found images of the clitoris’ anatomy on the internet, with the roots that look like two legs, I really saw the potential of doing a character design with it. I also wanted to clearly present the clitoris, and not the vagina, as the equivalent of the penis for males. By becoming a character, the clitoris is alive and has agency. Because it’s cute and appealing, I hope that people will remember it and will want to be kind with it!

I’ve seen some web sites struggle to tag your film. Do you believe your film should be labeled NSFW?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: It should not be labeled NSFW for the main reason that it is not pornographic. It is an educational documentary. I have even had requests from people who said my film should be shown in schools. If it’s safe for schools, it should be safe for the workplace.

Why is sex education so important for feminism?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: I think that sexism and the patriarchy tend to distort our knowledge and comprehension of sexuality. As a woman, I learned about sexuality principally through a male perspective, which can be alienating. Movies taught me false things about it and I am now trying to deconstruct all these false conceptions. Gaining a better perspective on sexuality is a necessary part of the fight against sexism.

Are there other stigmas about women’s sexuality that you want to explore on film in the future?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: I’m starting work on a new animation project on the subject of women sexuality. This time, I would like to concentrate on female masturbation, fantasies and desires. Masturbation is still a taboo subject, and even more so when it comes to female masturbation. I would like to illustrate different stories by different women on their experience of solitary pleasure.

Do you hope Le Clitoris will inspire women to explore and become more comfortable within their own bodies?

Lori Malépart-Traversy: Yes, that’s the main message of my movie. As it says at the end of the film: “Since it exists only for pleasure, why not use it?”