The essay, “The Sex Which is Not One” explores female sexuality in a light, different from the contemporary views of the author, Luce Irigaray’s time. The summary given by a fellow classmate brought about a discussion of some key concepts: western sexual imaginary – penis envy – autoeroticism.
The essay published in 1977 and later translated to English is believed to be a refutation to Freud and Lacan’s conclusion of women’s sex as the lack of the male organ, phallus. Irigaray defies the Freudian and Lacanian reading when she analyzes the construction of the woman: a deficient derivative of man. She disagrees with the idea of women’s sexuality as that which is dependent on the phallus or in relation to the phallus. Throughout the history, penis invariably became the presence which defined the standard for masculinity. Women, on the other hand lack a clear and visual form of a sex organ. As they have always been constructed through the “male language”, this led them to be considered as the substandard and inferior.
The genitalia we never see, the “down-there” we never talk about, the masturbation we discourage, the sexual pleasure we never explore. As a society we have made the female sex invisible, and in its place propped up a cardboard cut out of a sexuality that is only for the comfortable enjoyment of man and his dominant phallic economy (Feminist Frenzy).
Also, male sexuality is seen as “the "strongest" being the one who has the best "hard-on," the longest, the biggest, the stiffest penis,” with reference to the western sexual imaginary. And when, man penetrates a woman with an intention to understand the secret of his origin, women in this imaginary, only become a prop in man’s fantasies.
According to Irigaray, women’s sexuality can be understood only through her body and this body cannot be reduced to one sex organ. The society has symbolically reduced male pleasure to the phallus, but women have multiple/diversified organs through which they can derive pleasure. Here, female genitals are prominently discussed.
Autoeroticism: She speaks of autoeroticism as internal to women. The “labial” lips of the vagina, that are always in contact with each other give her incessant pleasure while a man needs external tools to arouse himself. Further, she says women’s pleasure centres are plural. The foundation for the essay lies in this assumption.
Irigaray tries to prove that women have neither one nor two, but many pleasure centres which makes a woman’s sex not one. Therefore, sex which is not one is created through negation of sexual pleasure from singular or plural pleasure centres to none.