It is a rare and powerful book that can have me bouncing up and down with excitement and urgently reading a I loved this book. I also hated this book.
It is a rare and powerful book that can have me bouncing up and down with excitement and urgently reading aloud a passage on female physiology to my wife one minute, and leave me embarrassed for the author and wondering if I was reading satire the next. Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A new Biography had me jumping back and forth between the two fairly regularly. Within the first few pages, I had decided that this was not the book for me, so filled were they with the woo and mysticism of the vagina, the use of the term goddess, and other new-age language . All this despite my absolute feminist/goddess-loving/serious woo beliefs. Which should tell you something right there.
But then, BLAM, Wolf moves into the realm of science and starts unpacking the big picture of female lust and sexual response, including orgasm. And I was hooked. She explores recent research and physiological realities to detail the ways that “even though we talk about sex all the time, the information we have about female sexuality is generally out of date. If women had easy – or at least easier- access to and could draw on the new scientific discoveries about female sexuality, which have not been widely reported, they would have a much deeper understanding of their own sexual and emotional responses” (p75, Vagina). Toni Bentley’s review in the NYimes puts it well, “Wolf’s ideas and suggestions in “Vagina” are valuable ones, and she repeats much truth, particularly in the territory of Helen Fisher and Louann Brizendine, about the full-body, chemical grenade that is lust. Her premise is that “the vagina is the delivery system for the states of mind that we call confidence, liberation, self-¬realization and even mysticism in women.”
I consider myself very well educated about female sexuality, and this book was a fabulous eye-opener of all of the information that I did NOT have ( please, please google Netter image 5101 and read Wolf’s explanations of the sexual neural network and it’s role in pleasure and orgasm -- and the ways that much of our sexual response variability can be due to our physical wiring) about neural responses, the autonomic nervous system, and the role of dopamine and opioids in sexual pleasure. BUT all of this fabulous information should have been the base of the whole book – I could have read much more about the science of it all – and instead Wolf veers far afield. Again, Bentley in the NYTimes hits it on the head when she says, “Herein lies the problem of Wolf’s admirable attempt to straddle two worlds. She wants to connect the science of female sexuality to tantric sexual knowledge to prove that this knowledge is indeed true and effective. Now, any man or woman who has experienced sexual tantric practice knows it is irrefutably powerful (guilty and charged) — but it’s a tough sell to everyone else, because even the best literary attempts to teach it appear silly or simply absurd.”
Overall, I recommend that you read at the very least pages 1-124 which explore the science of female sexual response. If you venture beyond that, it is at your own risk. As Bentley said “Wolf’s scattered new tome wants to be that scream, but instead it provides a blueprint, a valuable negative example, for the important book that will be written one day.” ...more
I just re-read this for the first time since college and swooned anew. How I love Tom Robbins -- and now I am off to re-read Still Life with WoodpeckeI just re-read this for the first time since college and swooned anew. How I love Tom Robbins -- and now I am off to re-read Still Life with Woodpecker....more