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The Clit Test

The Clit Test is redefining female pleasure in film, TV, and beyond

It’s like the Bechdel test, for sex scenes

An estimated 80 per cent of people with a vulva need some sort of clitoral stimulation to orgasm, yet you wouldn’t know that from what’s shown on screen. Female pleasure, if seen at all, is usually a heteronormative affair, where sex equals penetration and foreplay is few and far between.

Enter The Clit Test, a new campaign encouraging more accurate representations of female pleasure within pop culture. Created by Frances Rayner, 34, from Glasgow and Irene Tortajada, 25, from London, it’s an online forum that celebrates TV shows, films, books, and music that acknowledges the clit (which, by the way, wasn’t even made an official part of the female anatomy until 1998). This can be a head or hand disappearing under the covers, or a specific reference to female masturbation. Think of it like the Bechdel test, only for sex scenes.

With backing from academics, including Professor Elisabeth Lloyd, who wrote The Case of the Female Orgasm, and Becoming Cliterate author Dr Laurie Mintz, the test surveys and makes a simple conclusion on an expanse of sex onscreen, in books, music videos, and more. There’s Michaela Coel’s horny teen character in Chewing Gum (“dick-centric sex sucks”), Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s sex-positive “WAP”, and the Clitoris Man in Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other. Here, we speak to Rayner of The Clit Test about orgasms, why sex scenes in pop culture impact our realities, and the future of sex on screen.

Was there a particular film or moment that inspired the creation of The Clit Test? What really spurred you to do it?

Frances Rayner: The inspiration behind The Clit Test was really a lifetime of watching bad sex scenes on screen. At uni, I read the Hite Report – a seminal report on female sexuality from the 70s – which showed that only 1.5 per cent of women used penetration as their main masturbation technique. 86 per cent touched the outside of their vulva and the remainder did both. I was astounded to read this because it was the first time I’d heard that the clit is really the main deal for people with vulvas.

Why was I, and all these other women, masturbating one way and then completely ignoring the clit when we had sex with men. The most shocking bit to me was that the report had huge media coverage at the time, and has been supported by countless studies since, so why are we still acting like women are wild for penetration? It seemed to me that the worst culprit for that was the script for cis het sex we see in pop culture: sex equals foreplay (if you’re lucky), followed by penetration, which ends when the man ejaculates. Of course, there is a huge need to improve our formal sex ed but there’s already campaigns dedicated to that.

The clit was ‘officially’ discovered in 1998 (scream), how do you think the portrayal of the clit in media has changed/developed since then? If so, at all?

Frances Rayner: This is actually a slightly contested fact as it’s actually been discovered and hidden and rediscovered through history. Even taken out of Grey’s Anatomy at one point having previously been in there.

I actually don’t think there has been a change since 1998. The change has really been since around 2015 which I think can be attributed to women and especially queer women and Black women and women of colour gaining increasing power in the film and TV industries. We definitely see a lot more Clit Test passes when women write the script or direct the film. 

What impact does the portrayal of sex in film and TV have on women’s lives?

Frances Rayner: Numerous academics – including Professor Eilsabeth Lloyd and Dr Laurie Mintz who are backing The Clit Test – have argued that the sex script on screen is one of the main reasons there is such a big orgasm gap between cis men and women. When we get together, we tend to perform what we believe is expected and desirable. This tends to relegate things like oral sex for women and touching the vulva with hands or a vibrator to a ‘nice to have’. But we know these are the most reliable ways for someone with a clit to reach orgasm.

We know cis women who sleep with men have alarming rates of disappointing, bad, and even painful sex. (If you go to the blog on our website there’s a post called ‘what's the problem’ where we have lots of stats on this.)

“I think it shows that most of us know on some level – at least vulva owners – that penis in vagina sex is just one sex act, and often fun, but not the most fun” – Frances Rayner

What are your favourite examples of shows or films that pass The Clit Test and why?

Frances Rayner: Dear White People has lots of scenes where women receive oral sex and references to women masturbating. One young woman even got in touch to say seeing those scenes was the first time she felt ok about how she got off.

I love the fact that in This Way Up after Aisling Bea’s character has penetrative sex with a man, he asks if he can make her come now. It’s so rare to see just this basic acknowledgement that penis and vagina sex will only have brought the person with a penis to orgasm.

I love Chewing Gum for the fact that Michael Coel’s character is a horny and assertive teenage girl who’s clueless about sex because of all of the unhelpful sex ed she’s had from friends and porn. When she finally does have sex, she says she prefers receiving oral sex to penetration.

Are there any surprising examples of shows or films that don’t pass the test?

Frances Rayner: The Long Shot was very disappointing. Such a great feminist film in other ways but the sex scene between Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan’s characters results in them both reaching orgasm after seconds of penetration and no foreplay.

We also find that even in a lot of films and TV that pass, there will be one Clit Test passing seen amid many other fails. Sex Education has some great storylines but we see a huge amount of women coming from penetration.

What has the response been so far to the Clit Test?

Frances Rayner: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. I really thought we might receive some pushback or scepticism but it just hasn’t happened. I think it shows that most of us know on some level – at least vulva owners – that penis in vagina sex is just one sex act, and often fun, but not the most fun. It’s maybe a bit embarrassing to say this because it’s deviating from the norm. We’ve heard from people of all ages – and I’m sad to say some quite young ones – that the sex script has had a bad impact on their sex lives and self-esteem.

How do you think filmmaking in the future and sex scenes will proliferate in a pandemic world? Can a socially distanced film still pass the clit test?

Frances Rayner: This is such a good question that I don’t feel qualified to answer as I don’t know much about how the industry works. But a Clit Test pass happens any time you acknowledge the clit so we actually don’t need to see much and a lot can done through dialogue, just talking about what happened during sex.

How do you want the test to affect change, moving forward?

Frances Rayner: We want to get a conversation going in the same way that the Bechdel Test did, so that if you’re an actor working on a film and the sex scene is a bit outdated you’d be able to say, “have you heard about the Clit Test” instead of having to say, “well, this wouldn’t make me come”. We’ll be reaching out to people at all levels of the film and TV industry to get them on board.

You can find out more on The Clit Test’s website and Instagram.