The Petite Book of Orgasms - Q&A
What inspired you to write about female sexuality?
It was just by chance that I read up on Hysteria, which was a 'disease' going back to as early as the Hypocrites, but grew into a perceived epidemic in the Victorian era. Any woman could ostensibly develop it! The symptoms ranged from anxiety and uncontrollable outbursts to chronic arousal and erotic daydreams. Marriage was the cure commonly suggested by doctors, as well as things like vigorous horseback riding. The whole thing sounded so absurd and fictitious… I was compelled to find out more, to find out how this myth persisted, and how it was eventually put to bed.
Although I found the history aspect fascinating, I didn’t set out to write a history book. I felt a book about female sexuality needed a human touch (pardon the pun). Female orgasms, although perfectly natural, are still a bit of a taboo and I wanted to gage the public's perception of female orgasms as a whole e.g. how did they find out women could orgasm and questions like that.
I didn't want the project to culminate in another book treating female orgasm as a bunch of dry data stats. I wanted it to be a genuine reflection of female sexuality, featuring real experiences, good and bad, in all their rawness.
Why was this such an important topic for you to address?
I am generally passionate about female rights and feminism and as I started the study I realised so many young women had reached maturity but lacked the knowledge or confidence they needed to experience their full capacity as a sexual being. It is something I hope will change over time as female pleasure continues to be viewed as equally important to male pleasure.
What message were you hoping to achieve?
I didn't have an agenda for what I was saying with this book, I just wanted it to be a platform for others to embrace and express their sexuality. I wanted the book to be a celebration of female sexuality, but I also saw it as an opportunity to shed some light on its astonishing and widely unknown history, in terms of the theories and treatments of female sexuality.
My hope was that people would come away feeling empowered, having learned, and felt something. There are many beautiful responses in the book provided by over 150 people, men and women, ranging from the ages of 17-66, that give us a brief glimpse into their varied experiences of female orgasms.
What interesting things did you discover when researching for the book?
Absolutely all sorts, I tried to keep the historical parts included concise but interesting, including quotes and images where I could, which was a way to build an image without writing pages and pages.
For example, in the 1950s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson were the first to monitor the human body's response to sexual arousal and orgasm and they came to some very controversial theories that shocked everyone. One of their theories was that the size of the penis made no difference to the woman’s pleasure, and it was possible for women to have multiple orgasms, which was impossible for men. They observed 7,500 female sexual response cycles , compared to only 2,500 male cycles, due to the complex nature of the female genitals.
The data part was also really interesting, seeing what people's general thoughts were on questions related to female orgasms, such as 'if your female partner fails to orgasms, do either of you see it as an issue?'
What was your favourite response/most interesting statistic?
There's so many, it's hard to pick just one. I love them all for different reasons, from the person who described the first orgasm they had with a female as, simply "Wet." to some of the really sweet responses, and the ones that are incredibly blunt. Even the ones that want to show off a little bit or are just a little unexpected. I just loved the diversity of responses.
How different did the book turn out, compared to what you had envisioned?
Quite different, the idea kept developing while picking out pinpoints in history and learning more about the ways female sexuality has been treat throughout the years and of course the anonymous survey conducted really helped to shape the final book. I ended up really proud of what I achieved and that even though it's not a book to everyone's taste, it is unlike anything else on the market. It feels awesome, knowing that so many women have already responded so positively.
What kept you motivated?
I just had so much fun, it didn't feel like a huge task but rather a fascinating project. I really sunk my teeth in. I read a lot of books and even went to an exhibition in London showcasing artefacts from some of the people I was researching and similar research on studies of sex. If I am creating something I often just enjoy doing it, that's what I love working as a graphic designer and illustrator so much.
What was the general reaction when you mentioned the book to others?
I think generally people were interested and excited to see what was going to happen with it. However, many of my peers were a bit shocked and seemed to expect it to be some sort of smutty, vulgar, erotica style book. I think once people pick it up and have a flick through, they start to understand that this is not what the books is all about. To me, this confirmed the need for the book: women's sexuality is not vulgar, it's natural and it can be talked about in a tasteful, frank and personable way, as I’ve hopefully shown with the quotes I used from all the women and their partners.
What were your initial ideas for the visual style of the book?
As a graphic designer, it was important to me that that the design side of things was handled as delicately as the subject matter, so that the look and feel of the book was reflective of its beautiful content.
It was important for the layout to be dynamic, each page different, but still working together as a cohesive whole. I've used colour as a visual indicator, to help the reader distinguish between each section; purple for the section comprised of female responses, and orange for the section comprised or responses provided by their partners.
I used decorative floral imagery throughout because it is overtly feminine and elegant, and provides a delicacy. Each page has a slightly different arrangement of flowers to give the book an organic feel. I created feature pages to present interesting quotes, to achieve a more visually stimulating layout. I balanced contemporary-styled infographics with pull quotes and imagery, to keep the historical pages appealing. The Infographics also serve as a visual aid for the questions, summarising answers in a creative and illustrative way.
The book has a vintage vibe to it, to make reference to the Victorian era, and the Hysteria concept which was the initial inspiration for the whole book. The Victorians were historically some of the most prudish people, provoking frustrated women to fight for the right to vote and dispel the myth of hysteria. It seemed only right to pay homage to these strong women with a decorative style derived from their era.
What's next for The Petite Book of Orgasms?
I'm trying to find the right publisher. I've had lots of interest but it's generally not the type of book publishers want to take a chance on or be associated with, even for publishers that seem like they'd be open to it. We are in such revolutionary times for female rights and empowerment at the moment, so I am hopeful that as more minds are opened and stigmas are broken, it will pave the way for The Petite Book of Orgasms to be stocked across Britain and beyond.
See the project page for the Petite Book of Orgasms here.
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