Talons Philosophy

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‘That which causeth Lust’: Dr. Handy and Clitoris Logic- Emma F.

Historically, the clitoris has been tragically misunderstood. When searching for a misconstrued argument pertaining to the clitoris, my web searches revealed what seemed like an endless buffet of past ignorance. However, I became particularly interested in an excerpt of a book that examines the relationship between homosexuality, clitorises, and intersex people (referred to as ‘hermaphrodites’ in the text). The argument that you’ll find below is one that was formulated by Dr. William Handy in the early 1800’s; during this time, he was conducting an inquiry into persons with perceived ‘enlarged clitoris’. Specifically he was interested in the determining factor of clitoris size. Please familiarize yourself with page 156-157 in the follow link to get the full scope here:

An interesting logical argument emerged through my reading, which is centralized by the quote: “The clitoris grew to unnatural proportions because of “the morbid effect of frequent lascivious unnatural excitement”. Here we could replace ‘lascivious unnatural excitement’ with ‘stimulation’ for argument’s sake. If you read the sentences that follow, Handy seems to conclude that women who engage in sex with other women show evidence of the described enlargement from the premises below.

Premise 1: Clitoral stimulation leads to clitoral enlargement

Premise 2: Sex between women involves clitoral stimulation.

Conclusion: Women who have sex with other women have enlarged clitorises.

A closer look at this argument shows that the factual correctness simply does not stand up. Firstly, after a bit of research, it seems that there is no scientific evidence to show that Premise 1 is factually correct. Although clitoris size can vary, the claim that stimulation directly leads to prolonged, permanent enlargement doesn’t garner scientific support. This was just an assumption that Handy was operating from during his time of study.

If we take a look at Premise 2, we can conclude that this statement CAN be true, but is not necessarily true. Which is to say, sex between women could involve clitoral stimulation in some cases, and not in others. So if I we were to label this premise in terms of factual correctness, I would probably slap on a ‘can’t tell’.

But! Let’s say that Premise 2 is factually correct. If it is true that clitoral enlargement is derived from clitoral stimulation, and that women who have sex with other women experience this stimulation (in every given case), it should be fair to say that they would have enlarged clitorises. This makes the argument valid. In other words, if variable A causes result B, then a group that experiences variable A should observe result B.

However, an important distinction should be made. The premises only support the conclusion that women having sex with other women would have enlarged clitorises. We would need an entirely other argument to prove that women who experience clitoral stimulation (from other sources) would also experience this same enlargement. This is simply because we only know of one group that experiences clitoral stimulation, and that group is women who have sex with other women. Without any other information, we cannot assume any other group experiences clitoral stimulation, and therefore clitoral enlargement. Conversely, we still cannot say ‘women who have sex with other women are the ONLY group with enlarged clitorises’, for it is possible that there are in fact other groups of people who experience clitoral stimulation, and therefore clitoral enlargement.

Altogether, it seems Hardy has constructed a false, but valid argument. He was misguided in his facts, and therefore he came to a conclusion that was also false. Oh, the falsehoods.

From this point in time, it took still hundreds of years for the clitoris to be more thoroughly understood and normalized, and scientific research and discovery would eventually disprove this argument officially. There were assumptions made about the clitoris in the 1800’s that could obviously be questioned and refuted with our modern lens. Take a look at the rest of the chapter in the text if you are interested to explore!

For now, I’ll just give a shoutout to Dr. Handy for his attempt to understand what people of the 1800’s saw as the ~elusive~ clitoris. You got it wrong, but your validity stood up ok. Nice try bro.