I’m not really sure what I expected, but certainly not a close up of a fully shaved vulva. I was watching a woman using her hand to put pressure on her vaginal mound. And there was absolutely nothing sexual about it.

I was watching one of 17 videos available on CLIMAX, the first online sex education course grounded in science. Laurène Dorléac, founder of CLIMAX spent eight months with her team aggregating data from 21 scientific studies and over 90,000 third-party studies to write and produce a series of instructional masturbation videos that formed Season 1, focused on external clitoral masturbation techniques.

Laurène created the platform to fight the pleasure gap and to provide a safe space where anyone can go to learn about anatomy and female pleasure.

One of my closest friends is French, and when I think of the French woman, I think of her, confident, vulnerable, real. We used to spend long evenings in her apartment with wine, chatting freely about love, sex, relationships; nothing was off topic, and nothing was taboo. The French woman is famed for that je-ne-sais-quoi; an offhand, no-airs self-assurance.

So perhaps it is fitting that CLIMAX is created by a French woman because there is nothing cinematic or theatrical about the educational videos. The videos show a real person, they show a part of the body we hardly see on screen presented in an objective informational manner. The narrations, available in French or English, are direct and purely instructional.

No ambient music, no flamboyance, just straightforward, and matter-of-fact education, with clear instructions and lessons. After all, this is the country where an anatomically correct, printable 3D clitoris is used for sex education in schools.

We need somewhere to go to, to learn

It is sorely needed too. Katherine Rowland, author of The Pleasure Gap, argues that the pleasure gap, a social phenomenon referring to the disparity of cisgender men and women in terms of sexual satisfaction, is a result of our culture’s troubled relationship with women’s sexual expression.

Put more crudely, popular culture (read: porn) has always prioritised male pleasure and achieving orgasm through penetrative sex. Even though, about 75% of all women never reach orgasm from intercourse alone.

Laurène saw that it was high time this changed. She tells me that she knows of some friends who had a bad experience when they were in the exploratory phase, as teenagers, having been caught masturbating by their parents. She herself was lucky, because her mother had always been open-minded about sexuality, straightforward and taught her that no two bodies are alike.

However, Laurène says that perhaps it is not the role of the parents to take on sex education. Of course, the role of the parents is complementary, but she saw the need for a safe space where teenagers, womxn and men can go to learn about pleasure and anatomy.

It’s no secret that proper sex education is sorely lacking in school systems all over the world. Teenagers in the United States, for instance, are getting their sex education from TikTok. CEO and co-founder of O.school Andrea Barrica said recently that during the four years of medical school (in the US), the average medical student receives less than four hours in sexual health and education.

Stressing the need for a safe space, Laurène says: “Sexual pleasure is not natural, reproduction is natural. Sexual pleasure is awareness, it’s education, it’s educating yourself about your anatomy and then using that knowledge as a starting point to understand how to please yourself.” She adds that there are many social media accounts doing a great job of sex education and closing the pleasure gap, but she did not see a platform using a female body in its flesh and blood presenting the content.

For most women, the only place you see a real vulva is perhaps in passing, from a pornography clip. Rarely does a woman look at their own vulva. In a survey conducted amongst college students in 2013, the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology concluded that over one in four women could not identify the clitoris on a diagram. In CLIMAX, real, different vulvas are shown, of different skin colours and shapes.

Laurène was adamant about the ‘realness’ of the content; when CLIMAX was in its conceptualisation stage, the team experimented with illustrations, motion graphics, and other ways of presenting the content. But nothing except video felt real enough. CLIMAX is the closest you will get to having another person teach you about the female body, the female anatomy, and external clitoral pleasure techniques without judgement or bias.

After Season 1

Season 2 of CLIMAX will focus on internal female pleasure, set to be released during the first quarter of 2021. This time, Laurène plans to bring more vulvas on screen, and show a larger spectrum of the female body. In Season 3, CLIMAX will focus on male pleasure, an area that Laurène thinks is even more taboo than female pleasure.

How French of her.

More on CLIMAX here: