Syd Markle's Reviews > Promiscuities: An Opinionated History of Female Desire

Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf
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's review
Jun 17, 2007

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bookshelves: cultural, reviewed, non-fiction
Read in August, 2005

Sexuality, my own in particular, is not an easy subject for me to discuss. No doubt, I am not alone in my shyness when it comes to talking about how I feel about sex. There is a lingering fear that surrounds the word “sexuality” and even more so around the world “promiscuity.”

Naomi Wolf has taken and anecdotal approach to evaluating the secret history of female desire with her book, Promiscuities. Through conversation with her friends and by tell her own coming of age story Wolf reveals the winding history of female sexuality through time. The bulk of anecdotal experience is centered in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, circa 1969. However, she does cover many historical references to female sexuality and the prevailing social standards regarding women and sex.

I found, even though I grew up more than 20 years later, that some of her experiences were still true to my own. Feminism. AIDS. Media. All these things have impacted they way we look at sex. And in effect, for most (at least for myself), has left huge gaps of confusion when it comes to morality and spirituality. How far is too far? Is it wrong to be sexual advanced? Will something bad happen to me (illness for example) if I enjoy it too much? Will I be punished, shunned, unloved and unwanted if I am a sexual female? Am I weak and co-dependent if I want a man?

‘Emma Goldman: Feminist or Slut?’ one might ask, just as she was mortally afraid that people would; and just as one might ask the question of the discarded but adoring Wollstonecraft, and note the attacks directed at Gloria Steinem for acknowledging passionate feelings for a man. A curious hostility is directed by women against ‘feminist who love too much.’ It is a projection of own failure to integrate the urgency and even neediness of female sexual passion into the strength of female character that creates in us this reflex of animosity. Goldman was in this way no different from so many women; a feminist with genuine ideals waging an internal war with the ‘promiscuity’ of her sexual and emotional feelings for a man. Or, one might also say, keeping in mind what we’ve seen of the fierceness of female desire: a woman with a living mind and living body. Can we make room for so much vitality in ourselves, in the world, in other women? –page 230

There is sharp contrast between the two extremes. The stereotypical slut just doesn’t really do justice to the complexity of female desire. Neither does the virgin. There is a balance there between the two where pride replaces shame–and respect replaces degradation.
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