Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.
He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.
His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.
If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.
In today’s United States, the term “espionage” doesn’t get too much use outside of some specific contexts. There is still sporadic talk of industrial espionage, but with regard to Americans’ own efforts to understand the world beyond their borders, they prefer the term “intelligence.” This may be an intelligent choice, or not, depending on how you look at things.
First of all, US “intelligence” is only vaguely related to the game of espionage as it has been traditionally played, and as it is still being played by countries such as Russia and China. Espionage involves collecting and validating strategically vital information and conveying it to just the pertinent decision-makers on your side while keeping the fact that you are collecting and validating it hidden from everyone else.
In recent years, the US intelligence agencies have decided that torturing prisoners is a good idea, but they have mostly been torturing innocent bystanders, not professional spies, sometimes forcing them to invent things, such as “Al Qaeda.” There was no such thing before US intelligence popularized it as a brand among Islamic terrorists.
Most recently, British “special services,” which are a sort of Mini-Me to the to the Dr. Evil that is the US intelligence apparatus, saw it fit to interfere with one of their own spies, Sergei Skripal, a double agent whom they sprung from a Russian jail in a spy swap. They poisoned him using an exotic chemical and then tried to pin the blame on Russia based on no evidence.
There are unlikely to be any more British spy swaps with Russia, and British spies working in Russia should probably be issued good old-fashioned cyanide capsules (since that supposedly super-powerful Novichok stuff the British keep at their “secret” lab in Porton Down doesn’t work right and is only fatal 20% of the time).
There is another unwritten, commonsense rule about spying in general: whatever happens, it needs to be kept out of the courts, because the discovery process of any trial would force the prosecution to divulge sources and methods, making them part of the public record. An alternative is to hold secret tribunals, but since these cannot be independently verified to be following due process and rules of evidence, they don’t add much value.
A different standard applies to traitors; here, sending them through the courts is acceptable and serves a high moral purpose, since here the source is the person on trial and the method—treason—can be divulged without harm. But this logic does not apply to proper, professional spies who are simply doing their jobs, even if they turn out to be double agents. In fact, when counterintelligence discovers a spy, the professional thing to do is to try to recruit him as a double agent or, failing that, to try to use the spy as a channel for injecting disinformation.
Americans have been doing their best to break this rule. Recently, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen Russian operatives working in Russia for hacking into the DNC mail server and sending the emails to Wikileaks. Meanwhile, said server is nowhere to be found (it’s been misplaced) while the time stamps on the files that were published on Wikileaks show that they were obtained by copying to a thumb drive rather than sending them over the internet. Thus, this was a leak, not a hack, and couldn’t have been done by anyone working remotely from Russia.
Furthermore, it is an exercise in futility for a US official to indict Russian citizens in Russia. They will never stand trial in a US court because of the following clause in the Russian Constitution: “61.1 A citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deported out of Russia or extradited to another state.”
Mueller may summon a panel of constitutional scholars to interpret this sentence, or he can just read it and weep. Yes, the Americans are doing their best to break the unwritten rule against dragging spies through the courts, but their best is nowhere near good enough.
That said, there is no reason to believe that the Russian spies couldn’t have hacked into the DNC mail server. It was probably running Microsoft Windows, and that operating system has more holes in it than a building in downtown Raqqa, Syria after the Americans got done bombing that city to rubble, lots of civilians included. When questioned about this alleged hacking by Fox News, Putin (who had worked as a spy in his previous career) had trouble keeping a straight face and clearly enjoyed the moment.
He pointed out that the hacked/leaked emails showed a clear pattern of wrongdoing: DNC officials conspired to steal the electoral victory in the Democratic Primary from Bernie Sanders, and after this information had been leaked they were forced to resign. If the Russian hack did happen, then it was the Russians working to save American democracy from itself. So, where’s the gratitude? Where’s the love? Oh, and why are the DNC perps not in jail?
Since there exists an agreement between the US and Russia to cooperate on criminal investigations, Putin offered to question the spies indicted by Mueller. He even offered to have Mueller sit in on the proceedings. But in return he wanted to question US officials who may have aided and abetted a convicted felon by the name of William Browder, who is due to begin serving a nine-year sentence in Russia any time now and who, by the way, donated copious amounts of his ill-gotten money to the Hillary Clinton election campaign.
In response, the US Senate passed a resolution to forbid Russians from questioning US officials. And instead of issuing a valid request to have the twelve Russian spies interviewed, at least one US official made the startlingly inane request to have them come to the US instead. Again, which part of 61.1 don’t they understand?
The logic of US officials may be hard to follow, but only if we adhere to the traditional definitions of espionage and counterespionage—“intelligence” in US parlance—which is to provide validated information for the purpose of making informed decisions on best ways of defending the country. But it all makes perfect sense if we disabuse ourselves of such quaint notions and accept the reality of what we can actually observe: the purpose of US “intelligence” is not to come up with or to work with facts but to simply “make shit up.”
The “intelligence” the US intelligence agencies provide can be anything but; in fact, the stupider it is the better, because its purpose is allow unintelligent people to make unintelligent decisions. In fact, they consider facts harmful—be they about Syrian chemical weapons, or conspiring to steal the primary from Bernie Sanders, or Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, or the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden—because facts require accuracy and rigor while they prefer to dwell in the realm of pure fantasy and whimsy. In this, their actual objective is easily discernible.
The objective of US intelligence is to suck all remaining wealth out of the US and its allies and pocket as much of it as possible while pretending to defend it from phantom aggressors by squandering nonexistent (borrowed) financial resources on ineffective and overpriced military operations and weapons systems. Where the aggressors are not phantom, they are specially organized for the purpose of having someone to fight: “moderate” terrorists and so on.
One major advancement in their state of the art has been in moving from real false flag operations, à la 9/11, to fake false flag operations, à la fake East Gouta chemical attack in Syria (since fully discredited). The Russian election meddling story is perhaps the final step in this evolution: no New York skyscrapers or Syrian children were harmed in the process of concocting this fake narrative, and it can be kept alive seemingly forever purely through the furious effort of numerous flapping lips. It is now a pure confidence scam. If you are less then impressed with their invented narratives, then you are a conspiracy theorist or, in the latest revision, a traitor.
Trump was recently questioned as to whether he trusted US intelligence. He waffled. A light-hearted answer would have been:
“What sort of idiot are you to ask me such a stupid question? Of course they are lying! They were caught lying more than once, and therefore they can never be trusted again. In order to claim that they are not currently lying, you have to determine when it was that they stopped lying, and that they haven’t lied since. And that, based on the information that is available, is an impossible task.”
A more serious, matter-of-fact answer would have been:
“The US intelligence agencies made an outrageous claim: that I colluded with Russia to rig the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The burden of proof is on them. They are yet to prove their case in a court of law, which is the only place where the matter can legitimately be settled, if it can be settled at all. Until that happens, we must treat their claim as conspiracy theory, not as fact.”
And a hardcore, deadpan answer would have been:
“The US intelligence services swore an oath to uphold the US Constitution, according to which I am their Commander in Chief. They report to me, not I to them. They must be loyal to me, not I to them. If they are disloyal to me, then that is sufficient reason for their dismissal.”
But no such reality-based, down-to-earth dialogue seems possible. All that we hear are fake answers to fake questions, and the outcome is a series of faulty decisions. Based on fake intelligence, the US has spent almost all of this century embroiled in very expensive and ultimately futile conflicts.
Thanks to their efforts, Iran, Iraq and Syria have now formed a continuous crescent of religiously and geopolitically aligned states friendly toward Russia while in Afghanistan the Taliban is resurgent and battling ISIS—an organization that came together thanks to American efforts in Iraq and Syria.
The total cost of wars so far this century for the US is reported to be $4,575,610,429,593. Divided by the 138,313,155 Americans who file tax returns (whether they actually pay any tax is too subtle a question), it works out to just over $33,000 per taxpayer. If you pay taxes in the US, that’s your bill so far for the various US intelligence “oopsies.”
The 16 US intelligence agencies have a combined budget of $66.8 billion, and that seems like a lot until you realize how supremely efficient they are: their “mistakes” have cost the country close to 70 times their budget. At a staffing level of over 200,000 employees, each of them has cost the US taxpayer close to $23 million, on average. That number is totally out of the ballpark! The energy sector has the highest earnings per employee, at around $1.8 million per. Valero Energy stands out at $7.6 million per. At $23 million per, the US intelligence community has been doing three times better than Valero. Hats off! This makes the US intelligence community by far the best, most efficient collapse driver imaginable.
There are two possible hypotheses for why this is so.
First, we might venture to guess that these 200,000 people are grossly incompetent and that the fiascos they precipitate are accidental. But it is hard to imagine a situation where grossly incompetent people nevertheless manage to funnel $23 million apiece, on average, toward an assortment of futile undertakings of their choosing. It is even harder to imagine that such incompetents would be allowed to blunder along decade after decade without being called out for their mistakes.
Another hypothesis, and a far more plausible one, is that the US intelligence community has been doing a wonderful job of bankrupting the country and driving it toward financial, economic and political collapse by forcing it to engage in an endless series of expensive and futile conflicts—the largest single continuous act of grand larceny the world has ever known. How that can possibly be an intelligent thing to do to your own country, for any conceivable definition of “intelligence,” I will leave for you to work out for yourself. While you are at it, you might also want to come up with an improved definition of “treason”: something better than “a skeptical attitude toward preposterous, unproven claims made by those known to be perpetual liars.”
Time is running out for Holocaust survivors | Society
Shimon Redlich, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor and author of the book Together and Apart in Brzezany, said: “As long as the survivors are alive and can remember, their testimonies must be recorded. Every story is unique.”
Edith Bruck is a 90-year-old Auschwitz survivor. Hungarian-born, she writes in Italian, and is the author of classics such as Who Loves You Like This? In a recent interview, she said: “Our lives do not belong to us. They belong to history.”
The survivors of the Shoah have allowed us to look into the abyss of the incomprehensible. They have brought generations of readers closer to an experience that can be transmitted, but not shared. However, as the years go by, the era of the witnesses is coming to an end. With their passing, something irreplaceable will disappear.
Boris Pahor passed away last May at the age of 108. A Slovenian born in Trieste, Italy, Pahor was deported as an anti-fascist resistance fighter during World War II. He is the author of one of the most prominent books on the Nazi camps, Necropolis. “My every word [was] driven by the fear of slipping into banality,” he writes.
The fear of banality and the impossibility of transmitting what was suffered has been a constant in Holocaust literature since the publication of the first great literary testimony of the camps, If This Is a Man by Primo Levi.
Another fear that many witnesses have conveyed is the empty space they will leave behind when the last of them disappears… the incommunicable experience they will take with them.
In an interview with EL PAÍS in 2000, the now-deceased Buchenwald survivor, Spanish writer and politician Jorge Semprún, reflected on the disappearance of those who witnessed the Holocaust: “Do you know what is the most important thing that happened in a concentration camp? Do you know the most terrible thing, the only thing that cannot be explained? The smell of burning meat. What do you do with the memory of the smell of burning meat? For those circumstances, there is, precisely, literature. But how do you talk about it? Do you compare? And what about the obscenity of the comparison? Do you say, for example, that it smells like burnt chicken? Or do you try to reconstruct the general circumstances of the memory, going around the smell, round and round, without facing it? I have inside my head, alive, the most important smell of a concentration camp. And I can’t explain it. And that smell is going to go away with me, as it has already gone with others.”
“We have been talking about the end of the survivors for almost three decades,” says Alejandro Baer, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. “That concern has spurred memory in the form of the creation of archives of oral and audiovisual history of survivors, documentaries, even virtual reality projects. But whoever has had the opportunity to meet the witnesses knows that nothing will make up for their absence. Because it is not just about the information they provide, but about the nature of the encounter and the transformation it produces: becoming a witness of the witness. If we look for something that approaches that experience, we will not find it in technology, but in testimonial literature.”
If This Is a Man was published in 1947. Levi himself explained that the publisher went bankrupt and that the book remained forgotten for more than a decade: the first printing of 2,500 copies went unnoticed. Society was not yet ready to read about those horrors, not only because the stories about the extermination confront us with the idea that anyone can be a victim, but because they force us to consider that we too could have been executioners. That same year, 75 years ago, The Diary of Anne Frank was published in the Netherlands under the title The secret annex. Its translation was rejected by various American publishers until Judith Jones of Knopf insisted on publishing it. The diary became an international success in the 1950s.
In the Federal Republic of Germany, Auschwitz did not become a household name for most of the population until the late-1970s, when the series Holocaust was released. That five-episode telefilm sparked a heated debate between those who saw it as a product of popular culture that trivialized the Holocaust by turning it into a family melodrama, and those who thought it did more than any eyewitness account to make Germans stand up to their dark past.
“It is an insult to those who survived. What appears on the screen has nothing to do with what happened,” wrote Nobel Peace Prize winner and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel, the author of Night. However, a survey published after its broadcast revealed that 70% of German young people between the ages of 14 and 19 said that they had learned more about Nazism from the series than at school.
This debate revealed another dimension to the horror of the camps: Is it legitimate to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has suffered something that cannot be explained? Is it possible to use the Holocaust to write fiction?
John Hersey wrote the first American Holocaust novel, The wall, between the 1940s and 1950s. It took place in the Warsaw ghetto; Hersey had met with survivors and visited the ruins of the Polish capital. However, his biographer, Jeremy Treglown, wrote that Hersey was faced with similar questions about authenticity: “Who owns the narrative? Can a young privileged white Anglo-Saxon from New England put himself in the shoes of the suffering of European Jewry under Nazism?”
Since the success of The boy in the striped pajamas, this debate has only grown. Novels with “Auschwitz” in the title have multiplied. The latest one is titled The dressmakers of Auschwitz. Some, such as The librarian of Auschwitz, by Antonio Iturbe, have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and received critical praise. Others, like The tattooist of Auschwitz, have been scrutinized by experts. The Auschwitz Memorial made a resounding statement about this best-seller by Heather Morris: “Because of the number of factual errors, it cannot be recommended as a valuable work for those who wish to understand the history of the camps.”
“This popular literature, which is so successful, simplifies the history and reality that is so difficult for us to understand,” says Yessica San Román, director of the Education and Holocaust department at Madrid’s Centro Sefarad-Israel. “The result is a trivialization of the facts. What should concern us when we read books like these about the Holocaust is that they resort too much to stereotypes, both for the Jews and for the perpetrators. The perpetrators were not all monsters or psychopaths. They were much more normal than we like to admit. The Holocaust was committed by men and women.”
“I haven’t read The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” explains Shimon Redlich. “I don’t like kitsch books about the Holocaust. However, I believe that films like Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah or Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List have had a significant effect on the dissemination and understanding of the Holocaust.” Asked by email about the books he considers essential, the survivor and author cites four: the works of historian and survivor Saul Friedländer, The years of persecution (1933 -1939) and The years of the extermination (1939-1945); An interrupted life, the diaries of Etty Hillesum, who was murdered at Auschwitz; and Anatomy of a genocide: the life and death of a town called Buczacz, by Israeli historian Omer Bartov.
Bartov’s book is part of a series of recent essays that are helping to deepen knowledge of the genocide. They mix detective-like investigations with the handling of thousands of documents. In the face of all-encompassing books like Raul Hilberg’s The destruction of the European Jews, a new generation of authors is focusing on smaller-scale stories.
“Most of the witnesses have disappeared and the investigators must become indirect witnesses, with the material they handle,” Dr. Wendy Lower, Director of the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights in Claremont, California, explains by phone. “We work with the material we have access to… [over] the last decades, we have been compiling documents, testimonies…. such massive archives have been amassed and so many testimonies have been recorded that no historian would be able to listen to them all. When there are no more witnesses, there will be a lot of material to work on: archaeology, forensics, documents, recordings…”
Eyewitness testimonies were not always considered such important material. “In the beginning, when researchers strove to establish the history of the Nazi genocide, they did not always welcome the voices of the survivors,” says Dr. Sara R. Horowitz, a professor of literature at York University in Toronto and the author and editor of numerous books on the memory of the Holocaust, including Voicing the void: muteness and memory in Holocaust fiction and Shadows in the city of light. “Historians preferred to rely on documentary evidence and were reluctant to base historical accounts on memory: they saw it as unreliable, fallible, and limited in scope. But relying on documents also has its limitations. In the decades immediately following the war, many survivors expressed frustration that they had not been heard. And the historical record was impoverished by this exclusion.”
“More than ever, it will be the power of literature– novels, poems, memoirs– that will preserve and continue to shape the memory of the Holocaust, in the different languages and the memory of each country. Writers like Aharon Appelfeld, Ida Fink, Elie Wiesel, Charlotte Delbo, Jorge Semprún, Sarah Kofman, Imre Kertesz and others,” Horowitz notes.
“Literature is essential,” advocates Marina Sanfilippo, a professor at Spain’s National University of Distance Education. She specializes in female testimonies of the Shoah. “It has never been possible to understand the reason for the Holocaust, as Primo Levi narrated in that famous phrase in which a German guard at Auschwitz blurts out: here there is no why. It is something that only literature can answer.”
Sanfilippo maintains that she has studied the literature written by surviving women “because the canon of the Shoah is above all masculine”– Primo Levi, Paul Celan, Kertesz, Elie Wiesel, Victor Klemperer, Viktor Frankl, and so on. She cites authors and works such as Liana Millu’s Smoke over Birkenau, Ruth Klüger’s Still alive, Charlotte Delbo’s None of us will return, or Daniela Padoan’s Like a frog in winter.
Padoan’s book is a journalistic investigation that collects the testimony of three women – Liliana Segre, Goti Bauer and Giuliana Tedeschi – who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau. “The experience was very different for men and women, because in the camps, people suffered from the body and bodies are different. What did it mean to have your period in the camp? Or to stop having it, or to think that you would never be able to have children? What did it mean to be the subject of medical experiments? The survival strategies were also different,” says Sanfilippo.
The survivors’ voices are also kept alive through the stories of their relatives. The most famous of these cases remains the comic book Maus, now a classic, in which Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father, an Auschwitz survivor, and at the same time describes the relationship – not always an easy one – between the two. The librarian and author Javier Fernández Aparicio maintained a Holocaust literature reading club in Madrid for eight years with fellow librarian Javier Quevedo Arcos, from which the book The culture of the abyss arose. They assure their readers that no book was as interesting as Maus, perhaps because of its dialogue between the past and the present.
In the house where Primo Levi died in 1987 on a wide avenue in Turin – it will never be known whether he committed suicide or fell down the stairs – no plaque remembers the writer. However, his last name still appears on the intercom, as if he could be called and his voice could emerge from the past to remind us of some of the many lessons contained in his books.
Levi deeply mistrusted charismatic leaders– those who ask us to renounce reason: “Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed truths, even if they exalt us by their splendor.”
The voices of those survivors that are slowly dying out remain essential to understanding what happened… but also to warn us about what may happen.
The Rise and Fall of Victoria’s Secret: A dictatorship of perfection and misogyny: a look into Victoria’s Secret’s angels and demons | Society
For the lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, once the head of an empire, the past decade has been turbulent. Gone are the golden days when the world stood still to watch the brand’s annual show. Its carefully chosen models, the so-called angels, represented a beauty standard unattainable to most women, and they paraded the runway in glittering wings and minuscule diamond-cut lingerie.
The shows, which lasted for 23 years, were considered the Super Bowl of fashion. They featured performances by pop singers including Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. Until its last edition, held in Paris in 2018, the event represented the fantasy that Victoria’s Secret marketed. It launched the careers of models Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, Heidi Klum and Alessandra Ambrossio, among others.
The women showed off almost superhuman physiques, sculpted through rigorous training and starved in the days leading up to the parade. But the brand’s image no longer has a place in a #MeToo-era society, now more willing to champion body positive, diversity and inclusivity and to denounce sexual harassment and the hypersexualization of women’s bodies.
The new three-part documentary series The Rise and Fall of Victoria’s Secret explores the brand’s shadows. The production, which premiered on June 18 at the Tribeca Film Festival, combines first-hand accounts with deep investigation to reveal the brand’s inner workings. “Truth is not what it seems, as the underworld of fashion, the billionaire class, and Jeffrey Epstein are revealed to all be inextricably intertwined with the fall of this legendary brand,” reads the summary of the miniseries, directed by Peter Berg and Matt Tyrnauer. It will be available to stream on Hulu starting July 14.
A culture of misogyny and the descent to hell
The film promises to uncover the lingerie empire’s links with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. A 2019 New York Times investigation revealed that in the 1990s, a financial adviser close to Leslie H. Wexner, executive director of the company L Brands—Victoria’s Secret parent company—worked as a model recruiter for the brand in exchange for sexual favors. This adviser would later be found to be Epstein, a millionaire accused of sex trafficking who later commited suicide in jail while awaiting trial. Subsequently, Wexner has repeatedly claimed to feel “ashamed” by his friendly relationship with the pedophile.
But Victoria’s Secret’s fall in popularity came before this scandal. In 2018, the company lost almost 50% of its value. That same year, which marked the last parade, the show reached the lowest audience in its history since its start in 1995: 3.3 million viewers compared to the usual 10 million.
That year, the company’s marketing director, Ed Razek, made clear his opposition to gender diversity in an interview with Vogue. “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world,” said the 71-year-old manager, who resigned from his position in 2019.
The rampant misogyny and harassment from company higher-ups was the final straw for the brand. In 2021, the New York Times published an extensive investigation entitled “‘Angels’ in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret,” in which more than 30 executives, employees, contractors and models denounced the company’s practices.
Rebel Angels and a change of direction
The Victoria’s Secret bubble ended up bursting with the resignation of several of its most iconic figures: Adriana Lima hung up her wings in 2018, claiming to be fed up with the dictatorship of perfection and the pressures on her physique. “I will not take of [sic] my clothes again for an empty cause,” she wrote in an Instagram post.
Gisele Bündchen, who signed her contract with the brand at the age of 19, confessed in her autobiography that after years parading in her underwear, she began to feel uncomfortable. She wrote that she felt “less and less relaxed” when photographed on the catwalk in just a bikini or a thong. In the same book, she wrote of suffering from panic attacks and suicidal thoughts during one of the most successful periods of her career.
Victoria’s Secret changed directions in 2020, when L Brands sold the company to the Sycamore Partners fund for just over $1 billion (€953 million), in a last-ditch effort to save the brand.
After Raezk resigned, in a last attempt to save its reputation, the company hired the transgender model Valentina Sampaio. It also included Winnie Harlow, a Canadian model with vitiligo, as an angel, and Lorena Durán became the brand’s first plus-size model.
Seeking to adapt to changing social norms, in 2021, the company announced partnerships with influential figures in culture and sports: American soccer player Megan Rapinoe, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, Chinese skier Eileen Gu and plus-size model Paloma Elsesser. It also announced that it would no longer refer to its models as “angels.” With that once-unthinkable gesture, Victoria’s Secret finally returned to earth.
Sex education: The creator of CLIMAX: ‘Good sex is like cooking, but there aren’t recipes for female pleasure on the internet’ | Society
Our ways of watching television have changed. No longer do we sit down to see what’s on TV, instead subscribing to platforms where we can watch our favorite content. But can that formula translate to content beside series, documentaries and movies? Can it be used to change the way we experience sex education? CLIMAX, a platform of sex education videos, is trying it out.
The platform started as an explicit educational series dedicated to female pleasure. Far from pornography, it was particularly directed towards women and sought to give advice and ideas for greater self-knowledge and sexual enjoyment. But that was just the beginning. As Camille Mariau, CLIMAX’s director of projects, explains, they are currently working on “a monthly membership platform dedicated to sexual wellbeing. The users will ahve access to periodic new content, ordered by topic (pleasrue for people with vulvas, for those with penises, tantric sex, oral sex, post-partum sex, etc.). We really want to create the perfect guide to help our users deconstruct their ideas about sexuality.” Currently, the platform has partnerships with educational and healthcare institutions, in order to bring education about female sexuality to all parts of society.
Laurène Dorléac is an expert in the technology market and co-creator of CLIMAX. “Not only is female pleasure little understood, but I also realized that taboos around the subject are still very present.” That’s why, despite her lack of experience in the area, she decided to venture into the topic. “Good sex is like cooking: it’s a creative process that requires practice, experimentation and care to have a good flavor. There are plenty of recipes and cooking classes, but we can’t find anything satisfactory about female pleasure on the Internet! That’s what led me to create the platform, so that we can all have access to better sexual education.”
The project brought together international studies, advice from psychologists and sexologists and over 100,000 testimonies. “Pleasure is a very serious thing, and it deserves a very rigorous approach,” she says.
CLIMAX comes to Spain
While the project was founded in France, currently, 40 percent of its subscribers are outside of the country, largely in the United States and United Kingdom. The team is optimistic about the Spanish market. “The market seems to be ready for a project like this. More than talking about pleasure, we really want people to have easy access to safe information about sexual education,” says Camille Mariau. Since the project launched in Spain just a few months ago, most of its users are between 28 and 45 years old, and, surprisingly, they are divided 50/50 between men and women.
To spread the news about the project, they have the help of Teresa Riott, known for her role as Nerea in the Netflix series Valeria, who narrates the videos. “It seems to me like a new idea in education, and it’s very necessary in order to better understand all the possibilities of our pleasure. CLIMAX has also had success in other countries. I’ve learned a lot about female sexuality in the process,” the actress explains.
She emphasizes that “they are videos that you can watch alone, in private, and you can experiment,” which “gives people confidence to explore their bodies without concerns.”
The platform’s content is explicit, but tasteful; obvious, but well-presented. It repeats explanations we have read in plenty of books, but which acquire a new dimension when we can see them on a screen: without drawings, diagrams or taboos, simply showing how to stimulate a vulva. The videos are meant to educate, not to excite, and they have no resemblance to porn. The images are accompanied by Riott’s voice, which explains each step in a clear and simple way, adding touches of scientific information. It explains not only how to stimulate the vulva, but also how and why the stimulation works.
We’ve learned that it’s much easier to exercise at home, or even to do home improvement projects, with the help of a Youtube tutorial video that shows us each step. So it makes all the sense in the world that we can use tutorials to learn how to excite our bodies, moving step-by-step over each part of our anatomy.
The platform is also notable for its diversity, not only in the appearances of the vulvas on screen, but also in the techniques proposed. It includes videos of 19 different masturbation techniques. In Spain, female masturbation has experienced a revolution in recent years. The brand Lelo, specialized in clitoral suction toys, increased its sales by 440% in 2019. The Satisfyer toy was even more popular: it registered an increase in sales of 1,300% in 2020, to the point that it had to resort to European countries to restock the toys during one of the busiest months of the year. Those toys finally normalized female masturbation. Vibrators themselves have also experienced their own revolution. Their technology and shapes have become more sophisticated, and they have become more effective and discreet. And Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop now features Viva la Vulva, an “extra-silent” vibrator model that can be used at any time without making any noise. Such devices are proof that manufacturers have taken pains to innovate their products for female pleasure, until recently a forgotten sector. Gone are the old dildos and penis replicas.
Beyond masturbation, with or without the help of toys, the content of CLIMAX “is like an encyclopedia of ideas that you can choose and use to enrich your sexual life. It can help you be more creative, learn moves that women with vulvas might like, etc. It can also be used as a basis to start a conversation with your partner about what you like, what you want to try or not. We want to give people the opportunity to get to know their own body or the body of their partner better,” explains Mariau.
To that end, the first two seasons are entirely scientifically based. To develop the content, 74 international scientific studies, widely referenced and accepted by the scientific community, were consulted. “There is one study that I find special: Shere Hite’s ‘The New Hite Report,’ a bestseller that has sold tens of millions of copies, which describes how women feel during different sexual activities and when they orgasm with greater frequency,” Mariau says.
In addition to a surge in vibrator sales, women have been consuming more porn than ever in recent years. According to a study by Pornhub on porn consumption in the pandemic, women increased the amount of porn they consumed by 17.5%. Audio porn, one of the latest developments in the industry, is particularly popular among women. And websites for pornographic content aimed at women, taking into account the tastes and aesthetics that female arousal requires, have proliferated in recent years.
Mission: equality in pleasure
The work of Shere Hite is one of the great sources of inspiration for CLIMAX. The late writer and sexologist was especially interested in the female orgasm. She interviewed some 3,500 American women, from prostitutes to former nuns, to create ‘The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality’ in 1976. Among her conclusions stood out two ideas: first, that few women reached orgasm through intercourse (only 30%), although they did through masturbation. Secondly, the clitoris was the key to climax.
CLIMAX is organized into several themes, which are available in different subscription packs: external pleasure (10 episodes), internal pleasure (11 episodes) and tantra exercises (7 episodes).
“Our mission is to equalize pleasure in a world where women report being less satisfied than men in their sexual activities, feeling less pleasure and having fewer orgasms. Education will make it possible,” the expert concludes.
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