Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

This Sex Which is Not One

Rate this book
In This Sex Which Is Not One, Luce Irigaray elaborates on some of the major themes of Speculum of the Other Woman, her landmark work on the status of woman in Western philosophical discourse and in psychoanalytic theory. In eleven acute and widely ranging essays, Irigaray reconsiders the question of female sexuality in a variety of contexts that are relevant to current discussion of feminist theory and practice. Among the topics she treats are the implications of the thought of Freud and Lacan for understanding womanhood and articulating feminine discourse; classic views on the significance of the difference between male and female sex organs; and the experience of erotic pleasure in men and women. She also takes up explicitly the question of economic exploitation of women; in an astute reading of Marx she shows that the subjection of woman has been institutionalized by her reduction to an object of economic exchange.
Throughout Irigaray seeks to dispute and displace male-centered structures of language and thought through a challenging writing practice that takes a first step toward a woman's discourse, a discourse that would put an end to Western culture's enduring phallocentrism.
Makin more direct and accessible the subversive challenge of Speculum of the Other Woman, this volume--skillfully translated by Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke--will be essential reading for anyone seriously concerned with contemporary feminist issues.

222 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1977

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Luce Irigaray

76 books279 followers
Luce Irigaray is a Belgian-born French feminist, philosopher, linguist, psycholinguist, psychoanalyst and cultural theorist. She is best known for her works Speculum of the Other Woman and This Sex Which Is Not One. Presently, she is active in the Women's Movements in both France and Italy.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
677 (38%)
4 stars
606 (34%)
3 stars
339 (19%)
2 stars
93 (5%)
1 star
45 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 63 reviews
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
874 reviews2,265 followers
November 11, 2013
Freud's Metaphors

To the extent that Freud might have thought he was creating the foundations of a science, that is not his appeal to me.

I see him as making first, tentative steps to explore and map the human psyche in a language that makes extensive use of metaphor, particularly the metaphor implicit and explicit in Greek and Roman mythology.

My first appreciation of Freud was literary, rather than scientific. A lot of his early embrace outside the immediate sphere of psychoanalysis, in the broader cultural sphere, resulted from the quality of his prose.

However, just as mythology tended to reflect a masculine worldview, so too did the use Freud made of it.

He never solved "the woman question", nor did he purport to. That task fell to those who followed him, even if it threatened the metaphorical framework that he had created. However, psychoanalysis was and is a work in progress.

I still look upon it as a quest for new and more appropriate metaphors and literary analogies.

Feminism is one of the greatest sources of new metaphors, and this is where I think Luce Irigaray makes an enormous contribution to not just psychoanalysis, but an understanding of language and the practice and interpretation of literature.

Masculine Parameters

One of Irigaray's greatest contributions has been to question the male foundations of Freud's version of psychoanalysis:

"Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters. Thus the opposition between "masculine" clitoral activity and "feminine" vaginal passivity, an opposition which Freud - and many others - saw as stages, or alternatives, in the development of a sexually "normal" woman, seems rather too clearly required by the practice of male sexuality...

"In these terms, woman's erogenous zones never amount to anything but a clitoris (sex that is not comparable to the noble phallic organ), or a 'hole-envelope' that serves to sheathe and massage the penis in intercourse (a non-sex, or a masculine organ turned back upon itself, self-embracing).

"About woman and her pleasure, this view of the sexual relation has nothing to say. Her lot is that of "lack," "atrophy" (of the sexual organ), and "penis envy," the penis being the only sexual organ of recognized value."

This analysis builds on Simone De Beauvoir's ideas in "The Second Sex".

Most of De Beauvoir's Introduction describes how male thinking positions males as the Self and females as the Other (and therefore inferior).

De Beauvoir discusses the male perception of himself as "positive" (to which she adds "neutral"), while males perceive females as "negative" ("defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity").

In terms of the "lack" associated with Freud and "penis envy", she actually quotes Aristotle:

"The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities...we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness."

Feminine Parameters

Irigaray attacks the phallic basis of psychoanalysis and posits a wildly different framework of feminine sexuality in terms of a more extensive definition of genitalia, sexual apparatus, sensation and sensitivity, even if she uses highly metaphorical, rather than biological, language:

"...woman has sex organs just about everywhere ...feminine language is more diffusive than its 'masculine counterpart'. That is undoubtedly the reason...her language...goes off in all directions and...he [man] is unable to discern the coherence."

Women have a far greater potential to masturbate, touch, pleasure and embrace themselves than the masculine limitation to the singular penis.

Women's potential is diffuse and diverse and plural and optional.

Men might think the feminine is not a sex, that it is "not one", that it is less, but in fact it is more, it is many, it is manifold.

In positing this concept, she develops a whole new language to discuss sexuality, starting with female sexuality.

Equality in Difference

De Beauvoir uses the term "equality in difference" in the Introduction to "The Second Sex".

Although she has reservations about the connotations of the term, she definitely opposes the belief that women are the same as men, whether or not men see them as an inferior version.

Irigaray highlights sexual difference, although she believes that sexual difference is a product of language and linguistics, not anatomy (hence she is not actually a biological essentialist).

Feminine Language

Irigaray believes that women need to develop a new language or use of language that frees them (and men) from the male parameters implicit in current language.

In a way, men and women share "la langue", but she believes that there is a male subjectivity built into it, which also affects "la parole" and the way women communicate.

Irigaray's clinical research forced her to conclude that women are not subjects in language in the same way that men are. Hence, the need for a "parler-femme" and inter-subjectivity.


In her later work, Irigaray speaks in terms of a respect for difference without hierarchy:

"In order to go bey­ond a limit, there must be a bound­ary. To touch one another in inter­sub­jectiv­ity, it is neces­sary that two sub­jects agree to the rela­tion­ship and that the pos­sib­il­ity to con­sent exists. Each must have the oppor­tun­ity to be a con­crete, cor­por­eal and sexuate sub­ject, rather than an abstract, neut­ral, fab­ric­ated, and fic­ti­tious one."

Irigaray's later approach has been called "mutual feminism". 

It is not a form of feminist separatism. Once women acquire their own language, the challenge is to found relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, that recognise that the partners are genuinely equal but different.

Her quest is to create a "we" out of an "I" and a "you".

Irigaray as Literature

Irigaray is a latterday demagogue. She is not content to just analyse, she wants to advocate and practise as well.

She is not content to merely propose the development of a new feminine language, she wants to use it in her own writings. She wants to make an example of herself.

As a result, her essays and books have a literary and metaphorical style and tone.

They constitute a new "feminine imaginary".

It is not for the narrow-minded or pedantic or dull or unimaginative, which in a way is a tragedy, for they are the ones who most need it, whether they are male or female.

I love her writing. It's like watching a circus performance or a fireworks display. It stimulates me. It stimulates all of me, all over. I can feel the power of her language in my whole body, but especially in my mind and my imagination. Her fusion of creativity, intelligence, language and sexuality turns me on like a light bulb.

For me, to improve on or supplant Freud's primacy, it wasn't just necessary to counter his analysis, it was necessary to counter his metaphorical and literary power.

Irigaray is doing just that. More power to her, but equally more prose and poetry from her.


A Woman's Touch

Please don't let my choice
Of rhyme scheme or words
Cause any affront.
A woman can touch 
Herself anywhere,
It's not just a stunt,
Her breasts, her belly,
Her lips, her ears,
Without being blunt,
Her behind, even
The naughty bits down
Below at the front. 
Profile Image for Andrew.
2,024 reviews730 followers
February 1, 2018
I felt like I should read this, as it was a landmark piece of French feminism. Unfortunately, it was awful in that essentialist, arch-Freudian way that too much French thought of the time was. OK, so she pointed out that a lot of Freud's concepts were idiotic and misogynistic (as they were), but she still remained within that framework. And then she pointed out that Marx neglected the role of domestic labor (which he did), but doesn't do much productive analysis with that fact. Oh, and as for her claim that women are always turned on, and can be brought to climax with language (because we're living in a porn flick, apparently), and men need heavy outside stimulation, I offer this riposte:

Profile Image for Lane Wilkinson.
153 reviews108 followers
March 31, 2008
Have you ever read a book that made you feel stupid? And I don't mean in the "wow, this is intellectually impressive!" way. I mean in the "you mean that I wasted my time getting two masters degrees when I could have just spouted-off incoherent, inconsistent, and self-contradictory nonsense and become a post-modern celebrity?!" way. Kudos to Irigaray for gaming the system.
Profile Image for Melissa.
52 reviews21 followers
April 4, 2015
I have so many problems with Irigaray, but I also think she is ridiculously brilliant and bold and creative in so many right ways and reading This Sex Which is Not One made me think about sex, discouse, the academy, feminism, and more very deeply. Her prose alone is mystical, interesting, bizarre, and poetic. Her willingness to take the misogyny of Freud, Lacan, and the rest of pscyhoanalysis to task is inspiring. The main argument of many of her essays in this book is that Freud, Lacan, et al. cannot understand women and their sexuality because they can only view them through intense andro- and phallocentrism. She succeeds because she uses their own words against them again and again and she is also very adept at parody ("Cosi Fan Tutti"). However, my favorite essay in This Sex Which is Not One was "Women on the Market" which is her take on marriage, capitalism, and the falsehood of "heterosexuality." She contends that heterosexuality should actually be seen as hom(m)osexuality: men use the bodies, notions, ideas, of women to connect with other men.
Profile Image for Derek.
97 reviews
April 8, 2009
This is an okay book on French post structuralist feminist thought. Some of Irigaray's points are valid, but some just absurd. I refuse to believe that because my labia are constantly in contact with my clitoris that I am then perpetually masturbating.
Profile Image for Scott.
358 reviews
January 28, 2008
Irigaray's "ecriture feminine" would be more compelling if it didn't hinge on heavily policed and essentialized notions of womanhood.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,316 reviews972 followers
December 25, 2022
Sans aucun doute, à l’époque, ce genre de texte était révolutionnaire. Luce Irigaray (à juste titre et à bon droit) met le doigt sur la misogynie dans les écrits des philosophes et théoriciens classiques, à savoir Marx, Lacan et Freud. Dans ce domaine, elle a tout à fait raison. Néanmoins, le stade dans lequel l’argument d’Irigaray commence à s’effondrer est lorsque sa propre réfutation des hommes misogynes célébrés consiste simplement à dévoiler une misogynie d’une saveur différente. Est-elle au parfum ? Pas possible, à mon avis. Son affirmation selon laquelle les femmes sont constamment excitées sexuellement... que puis-je dire à ça ? Peut-être existe-t-il une femme (platonique, sans doute) qui peut atteindre l’orgasme simplement en se faisant parler. Personnellement, je ne l’ai jamais connue, et je ne serais pas si certaine qu’elle existe, encore moins qu’elle soit la femme archétypique et moyenne. Somme toute : pensées révolutionnaires, à l’époque ; datées, à notre époque.
Profile Image for Tia.
156 reviews11 followers
September 24, 2023
Free at last (from trying to finish this)! Lots of very interesting ideas— Irigaray has such fascinating things to say about and with form—but I found it hard to follow because of the sentence fragments and unclear use of pronouns/articles. A lot of chapters are also responses to specific works by Lacan and others, which may not be explained explicitly in the text. I’d also advise flipping to the back and reading the note on terms from the translator first (I didn’t see it until I finished, rip).
Profile Image for Lenna Pronk.
15 reviews5 followers
January 10, 2023
Een oppervlakkige lezing van Irigaray wordt al snel lachwekkend. Absurd is ze, zo nu en dan, schrijvend over baby’s als clitorissen, schaamlippen die zichzelf autoerotisch beminnen; maar achter de (misschien niet zo metaforisch bedoelde) metaforen wordt duidelijk wat ze aan het doen is. De taal van de psychoanalitica, van Freud en Lacan, van het ‘phallogocentrisme’ omkeren, tegen zichzelf, om duidelijk te maken hoe diep de vooronderstelling van het masculiene als norm in ons denken, praten, handelen, ect. verankerd zit.
Profile Image for Martin.
102 reviews9 followers
December 13, 2011
I won't venture whether Irigaray is brilliant or bat-shit crazy, but I am well aware of the confluence of these two qualities among Freud's critics. You have to be at least a bit crazy to take on the most influential mind of the 20th century and turn his language inside-out. And he deserves it. But can Irigaray free the female imaginary by spending so much energy tethering it as a language of opposition and rehabilitation? Isn't she just trading one objectify language for another? Doesn't her diffuse interiority create a new fetish-object? At any rate, I wanted to get this "historical" theory in before reading Film and Female Consciousness: Irigaray, Cinema and Thinking Women to see how it holds up in contemporary post-structuralist discourse.
Profile Image for Anna Braga.
96 reviews13 followers
July 30, 2022
Tenho muita coisa pra falar desse livro maravilhoso!

Primeiramente, contextualizando, no Capital, Marx fala como a negritude nao existe ontologicamente, ou seja, não foi feita pra gente pensar o ser social. A negritude é produto de uma série de ralações, por exemplo, o negro é fruto de um sistema de produção que o transforma em escravizado, mao de obra e etc. A Luce tá fazendo essa mesma discussão no livro sobre esse sexo feminino que nao é só um sexo, mas um sistema de opressão, e de como é importante visualizar gênero como um sistema de opressão.

Nesse sentido, tendo em vista o caráter ontológico da diferença sexual, por que então submete-los as mesmas regras, aos mesmos saberes? Dessa forma, se há uma polarização binária de diferença, a mulher sempre será o negativo do homem. Na psicanalise, a mulher não é passível de representação, ela sempre é representada a partir do que o homem dita.

Outra questão muito desenvolvida no livro é a defesa que a autora faz acerca da escrita, da fala, ou seja, de como a linguagem é o locus da mudança.
Profile Image for nocturne89.
91 reviews33 followers
March 4, 2015
"The rejection, the exclusion of a female imaginary certainly puts woman in the position of experiencing herself only fragmentarily, in the little-structured margins of a dominant ideology, as a waste or an excess, what is left of a mirror invested by the masculine "subject" to reflect himself..."

"For where pleasure is concerned, the master is not necessarily well served. Thus to reverse the relation, especially in the economy of sexuality, does not seem a desirable objective.." I love this. To reverse the order of things, even if it were possible, would lead history to repeat itself. THe idea does not stop at increasing wages, or elevate their status to expand the range of what women are able to enjoy...Irigaray demands that we dismantle the structure so we may open the ability to recognize her in her own language.
Profile Image for Ruth.
1 review
July 27, 2018
Ground breaking by Luxe Irigaray , one of the founders of- so called - French feminism. She purposes a concept of female sexuality and expression which is outside the phallocentric construction where female sexuality is defined as lack. A difficult read and not 'enjoyable'. A Nevertheless it is an important feminist text which raises difficult issues.
7 reviews1 follower
September 9, 2007
this book changed my life, back in college days. she's a neo-freudian feminist. go figure. the psychological difference between men and women lay between in their legs, but with a twist - she focuses on women's genitalia rather than men's.
Profile Image for Emily Tilton.
Author 204 books426 followers
July 3, 2021
The inspiration for Geoffrey's Rules was really my whole graduate school experience, but if I had to pick a book (that wasn't Story of O or One Hundred Days of Sodom), it would probably be this one. French feminism has a crypto-submissive, playful eroticism that I find missing in almost all Anglo-American feminism. That ability to see the need for some level of complementarity on an erotic level, just to make things interesting, even as on a political and an ideological level egalitarianism remains the only acceptable stance, appeals to me greatly both intellectually and libidinally.

Geoffrey's Rules
237 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2023
Extremely lit. First Phil text I’ve read that repeats the word clitoris over 1000000 times 👍
9 reviews
March 18, 2019
Dear God. This goes on the list of books that have ruined my life in a good way. I don't enjoy nonfiction as a general rule, and especially not super academic works that involve making love to a dictionary just to get the gist, but this....
Luce Irigaray begins by analyzing Freudian sexuality and comparing his thoughts to other psychoanalytic works of the time, both those of his students and those who disregarded his school of thought. She points out that Freud did not have a concept of femininity or female sexuality, and that women throughout history have been defined by their lack of male genitalia.
She moves on to linguistics and discourse, and the concept of a masculine discourse and lack of a feminine discourse. It's interesting that she spends a great deal of time emphasizing the importance of feminists not hating men, and not making moves to claim ownership of the masculine power structures that are in place in society.
She proposes an entirely different direction for us to grow as women: horizontally, not vertically. Flowing like water, not trying to occupy as much airspace as possible. Tis was easily the most challenging book I have ever read, and in order to get everything out of it, I would have to read it several more times.
So, so good.
Profile Image for Helen.
6 reviews5 followers
October 23, 2013
When I first encountered this work of, um, feminist psychiatry, I was vey young and mostly just in love with the very lyrical translation of a work I presumed to be all about Irigaray's own poonanny; the "sex" of the title.
Later, I realised that the scholar and psychoanalyst, writing in the Freud-Lacanian tradition, had developed a useful model for understanding bodies and how they produce social meanings.
She extends our understanding of the phallus and explores the emptiness and plurality of the female organ (in both cases, as signifier, not actual thing-in-itself but meaning-maker).
Look. I might find it a bit girly now. I don't know. But it blew my mind as an introduction to the French psychoanalytic feminist tradition. Which, lemme tell you for nothing, makes Anglophone women seem pretty dumb.
25 reviews4 followers
August 8, 2011
Core feminist text which really should be on the A A reading list for its insight into the sexual dynamic of the 0=2 formula, for all that Irigaray has apparently no regard for metaphysics whatsoever ( as an expression of the prevailing "phallic" philosophical discourse). The allusive/elusive quality of her experimental "language of the feminine" remains at any rate a useful imaginative marker of difference for this male reader.
Profile Image for Chris Ma.
18 reviews2 followers
March 5, 2014
I first read it in my junior year in college, among the first bunch of philosophical texts in English I've read - needless to say, it didn't make much sense. Now reading it again, it is surprisingly powerful, after I have an okay knowledge of Freud and a minimal knowledge of Lacan. Women on the market is such a powerful and daring essay.
Profile Image for Xio.
256 reviews1 follower
November 3, 2007
fits with Freud. is it rebuttal? is it commentary? I don't care! But certainly joins his conversation, so to speak. Rather like Clarice Lispector in her expository style. Which is an interesting though not always compelling style, for me. Though has its stunning moments.
Profile Image for Cindy Cunningham.
Author 1 book17 followers
December 31, 2016
I read this during my undergrad women's studies intro course and realized that other people really DID think the way I did. This work was one of the pivotal books in my critical thinking. You have to be prepared to think when you read it, but it's a fascinating read.
Profile Image for Slava Skobeloff.
57 reviews3 followers
March 15, 2020
Irigaray is interesting precisely because she's heterodox--interpreting even the scientific obsession with solids, and not fluids, as a form of masculine thought that literally cannot think the feminine. Revolutionary and exciting read.
Profile Image for Simona.
65 reviews27 followers
January 14, 2008
probably the most lucid, comprehensive study of Lacanian and Freudian ideas, combined with intense criticism and lyrical writing.
Profile Image for Diana.
528 reviews21 followers
February 8, 2009
I found Irigaray in my Critical Theory class my first year of grad school for my PhD studies - it was like being struck by lightning. Profoundly life-changing for me.
4 reviews11 followers
Currently reading
May 12, 2009
the feminine sex is active because it touches itself all the time. The male needs to be touched...
Displaying 1 - 30 of 63 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.