This article originally appeared on VICE France
I can still clearly remember the cold shivers that ran through me when I was 14 and I heard my biology teacher – who was nearing retirement – say the word "penis" out loud. This ultimate discomfort reflects the state of sexual education in many European countries, where it's basically people in their 50s explaining to teens how the penis fits in the vagina, and which STIs to watch out for.
Odile Fillod, an independent researcher from France, thought it was time for a new take on the textbooks and created a printable, full-size 3D model of the clitoris. This clit is currently being exhibited at the Fab Lab in the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris – the biggest science museum in Europe. The goal of the printable clitoris is to have it distributed around schools in France to improve sex education in the country. When I spoke to her, Odile Fillod explained to me that she hoped "that the ability to print a 3D clitoris will help teachers and educators struggling to talk to students about sexuality."
French sex education begins at primary school with the general aspects of reproduction and goes into finer detail at middle school discussing STIs, physical changes coming with puberty and the sexual organs. In high school, French kids are presented with a course on contraception. It's not much different here in the UK: younger students are taught about reproduction and sexual health, and from the age of 14 STIs and practicing safe sex are discussed. UK schools can opt out of sex and relationship education – and parents can still keep their children out of classes that teach more than the bare basics.
So the sex education curriculum is primarily based on prevention and functionality. The topic of sexual pleasure – especially for girls – is hardly ever discussed. Textbooks aren't very helpful, according to Fillod: "The clitoris is generally believed to be some kind of a small bean of one or two centimetres long, shown in diagrams." She added: "The quality of sex education in France has never been properly evaluated, but the few surveys that do exist suggest it's very poor." The Haut Conseil à l'Égalité – a French council focused on gender equality – published a rather dramatic report last June on the state of sexual education in France, which it considers as particularly sexist.
They come to that conclusion because the clitoris has the same embryological origin as the penis and works in the same way (blood rushing to it is the main component of sexual arousal) – but that doesn't mean basic sex education treats them equally. "The representations of sexuality are mostly centred on the male sexual organs," Fillod expained. "Practices that do not include an erect penis are not seen as 'real' sex. Under natural conditions an erection and ejaculation are necessary for fertilisation – which brings the focus to the mechanisms of male arousal and the male orgasm. Whether a woman is excited or not or whether she has an orgasm or not plays no role in fertilisation – which apparently means it can be royally ignored." Fillod also mentioned another possible reason the clitoris might be overlooked in sex education: "Anatomically, the clitoris is almost completely hidden."
Luckily, Fillod is not the only warrior from the pro-clit camp making herself heard. Art collective Les Infemmes from Nice recently created a fanzine called L'antisèche du clito ('The Cheat Sheet of the Clit'), including pretty sweet designs like the Dracula Clit, the Punk Clit and the Christmas Clit. So hopefully soon all biology classrooms are filled with clitoris models to handle with care, giving all students the chance to learn more about the anatomy of 50 percent of the world's population. You can print your own 3D clitoris here.
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