Naomi Wolf, the bestselling author of “The Beauty Myth” and the recently released “Vagina: A New Biography,” finds female anatomy and physiology complex and worthy of greater study. Her personal medical struggle inspired her to explore the connection between the vagina and the brain. After surgery, Wolf got her ability to orgasm back and wanted to know why her creativity and worldview had suffered without it.
As a bit of a disclaimer, in the introduction Wolf textualizes her intention for this book to be for straight women by a straight woman. She does not wish to exclude or downgrade the experiences of lesbian, asexual or transgender people but does not delve into how the vagina-brain system works for them. This mention keeps Wolf’s book from seeming heteronormative to a fault. Even though she makes her point of view known, some of her ideas can feel dismissive of lesbians’ or other sexualities’ experiences.
Wolf writes, “The vagina and the mouth of the cervix seem to be evolutionarily rigged to need an ‘other.’ This ‘other’ is the penis, and the idea that women naturally need a penis degrades the sexualities of people that are not cisgendered heterosexuals.”
The “mind-vagina connection” is what Wolf found to be the backbone of female empowerment. Wolf finds the vagina is not just a mere physical representation of being a woman, not “mere flesh,” but an extension of the female brain and soul. This connection, along with its connection to society, is the most interesting discussion in the book.
Wolf finds that there is a link between societal repression of women and their sexualities and the physical reaction of orgasms in a woman’s brain. Severely patriarchal societies limit women sexually in dress and action and Wolf sees this as a natural reaction men might have to sexually empowered women. Wolf takes these ideas apart scientifically; she finds that orgasms release a chemical cocktail that empowers female confidence, creativity and character. Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin levels are raised after an orgasm and are the key to a happy and confident woman.
Wolf sprinkles a great deal of scientific claims throughout the book. This almost-case study of the vagina mainly uses anecdotal evidence from women Wolf knew or met briefly. Just because some of these anecdotes are not scientifically sound does not mean the implications of advice taken from them would be bad. More orgasms and, most importantly, better orgasms for women are, as a whole, a good thing.
Society focuses greatly on that “big bang”; that ending that is greater than the sum of its parts. Wolf does bring to light the necessity of arousal, or what she calls “activation,” as being integral to an overall enjoyable and fulfilling experience. She makes a great point when she explores why we refer to actions taken before penetration as “foreplay”; a word that suggests a non-necessity to these very important components. The focus on orgasm as the be-all and end-all of the sexual experience lessens the inclination of many men to engage in foreplay.
The book hems and haws from scientific and personal anecdotes to mystical hippie language. Even though referring to one’s vagina as “The Goddess” might be a little too much for some, this book is full of useful and important information for all sexes. Men in heterosexual relationships can find many revelations among its pages as well and learn ideas for ways sex can be more fulfilling for them and their partners. Vaginas are complex and the constant fight to control them and what women do with them makes learning every aspect of their being a necessity for women.
Naomi Wolf is a featured author at this year’s Texas Book Festival and will be at the Sanctuary at First United Methodist Church Saturday, from 4:15 to 5 p.m.