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An astonishing work of cutting-edge science and cultural history that radically reframes how we understand the vagina—and consequently, how we understand women—from one of our most respected cultural critics and thinkers, Naomi Wolf, author of the modern classic The Beauty Myth. When an unexpected medical crisis sends Naomi Wolf on a deeply personal journey to tease out the An astonishing work of cutting-edge science and cultural history that radically reframes how we understand the vagina—and consequently, how we understand women—from one of our most respected cultural critics and thinkers, Naomi Wolf, author of the modern classic The Beauty Myth. When an unexpected medical crisis sends Naomi Wolf on a deeply personal journey to tease out the intersections between sexuality and creativity, she discovers, much to her own astonishment, an increasing body of scientific evidence that suggests that the vagina is not merely flesh, but an intrinsic component of the female brain—and thus has a fundamental connection to female consciousness itself. Utterly enthralling and totally fascinating, Vagina: A New Biography draws on this set of insights about "the mind-vagina connection" to reveal new information about what women really need, and considers what a sexual relationship—and a relationship to the self—transformed by these insights could look like. Exhilarating and groundbreaking, Vagina: A New Biography combines rigorous science, explained for lay readers, with cultural history and deeply personal considerations of the role of female desire in female identity, creativity, and confidence, from interviewees of all walks of life. Heralded by Publishers Weekly as one of the best science books of the year, it is a provocative and deeply engaging book that elucidates the ties between a woman's experience of her vagina and her sense of self; her impulses, dreams, and courage; and her role in love and in society in completely new and revelatory ways sure to provoke impassioned conversation. A brilliant and nuanced synthesis of physiology, history, and cultural criticism, Vagina: A New Biography explores the physical, political, and spiritual implications of this startling series of new scientific breakthroughs for women and for society as a whole, from a writer whose conviction and keen intelligence have propelled her works to the tops of bestseller lists, and firmly into the realms of modern classics.


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An astonishing work of cutting-edge science and cultural history that radically reframes how we understand the vagina—and consequently, how we understand women—from one of our most respected cultural critics and thinkers, Naomi Wolf, author of the modern classic The Beauty Myth. When an unexpected medical crisis sends Naomi Wolf on a deeply personal journey to tease out the An astonishing work of cutting-edge science and cultural history that radically reframes how we understand the vagina—and consequently, how we understand women—from one of our most respected cultural critics and thinkers, Naomi Wolf, author of the modern classic The Beauty Myth. When an unexpected medical crisis sends Naomi Wolf on a deeply personal journey to tease out the intersections between sexuality and creativity, she discovers, much to her own astonishment, an increasing body of scientific evidence that suggests that the vagina is not merely flesh, but an intrinsic component of the female brain—and thus has a fundamental connection to female consciousness itself. Utterly enthralling and totally fascinating, Vagina: A New Biography draws on this set of insights about "the mind-vagina connection" to reveal new information about what women really need, and considers what a sexual relationship—and a relationship to the self—transformed by these insights could look like. Exhilarating and groundbreaking, Vagina: A New Biography combines rigorous science, explained for lay readers, with cultural history and deeply personal considerations of the role of female desire in female identity, creativity, and confidence, from interviewees of all walks of life. Heralded by Publishers Weekly as one of the best science books of the year, it is a provocative and deeply engaging book that elucidates the ties between a woman's experience of her vagina and her sense of self; her impulses, dreams, and courage; and her role in love and in society in completely new and revelatory ways sure to provoke impassioned conversation. A brilliant and nuanced synthesis of physiology, history, and cultural criticism, Vagina: A New Biography explores the physical, political, and spiritual implications of this startling series of new scientific breakthroughs for women and for society as a whole, from a writer whose conviction and keen intelligence have propelled her works to the tops of bestseller lists, and firmly into the realms of modern classics.

30 review for Vagina: A New Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dorianna

    Naomi Wolf was very distraught when she noticed that her sex life lost its poetic dimension. One night, out of desperation, she prayed next to the stove. In case you were wondering, the stove was cold, ironwood, and completely irrelevant to the content of this book. Bargaining with the universe and any deity willing to listen to her plight, she promised that if she could be healed, she would share the experience and what she learned from it with everyone else, and she would make money off of it. Naomi Wolf was very distraught when she noticed that her sex life lost its poetic dimension. One night, out of desperation, she prayed next to the stove. In case you were wondering, the stove was cold, ironwood, and completely irrelevant to the content of this book. Bargaining with the universe and any deity willing to listen to her plight, she promised that if she could be healed, she would share the experience and what she learned from it with everyone else, and she would make money off of it. She really is self-entitled narcissistic out of her goddamn mind a woman who seriously needs to get a grip an incredibly selfless woman. The universe apparently had nothing important to do that day, and made certain to remind Naomi that there are doctors before returning to more trivial matters. Turns out our poor writer was suffering from numbness due to some messed up vertebrae and needed surgery. She can’t dance like she used to anymore, but her poetic fucking was restored at last! A woman of her word, Naomi returned the favor, and published a book celebrating the very heterosexual vaginas of privileged women with way too much damn time on their hands. This silly and maddening book talks a lot about a vagina-brain connection. This confused me, but then again, my vagina never transmitted messages to me from my cervix, so this was obviously new territory for me. She tries her best to use some odd combination of science, mysticism, literature and cultural history to explain this to her readers. She speaks fondly and nauseatingly about the painfully cutesy “Goddess Array”, which she considers to be the set of behaviors a lover uses to arouse his or her partner. All of this in the name of making sex pathetically romantic for feminism! Science is not exactly my thing. Since it’s also not Naomi’s thing, we apparently have one thing in common. The only difference is that she will insist on writing about science, and while I am not perfect, I try my best to avoid talking out of my ass as often as humanly possible. So I will keep the talk about science brief so that I don’t end up looking like an idiot, and quote a neuroscientist’s response to Naomi’s belief that dopamine is the ultimate feminist chemical in the female brain: “If that were true, women with Parkinson’s could never be feminists, because that disease is caused by degeneration of the dopamine neurons. If that were true, feminists would be campaigning for the legalization of cocaine and crystal meth – at least for women – because those drugs boost dopamine levels. In fact, if that were true, it would mean that the most complimentary thing you could say to a woman would be “You sound like you’re on crack!” Naomi Wolf, you sound like you’re on crack.” Basically the kind of science Naomi is prone to is looking up the definition of something and then jumping to insane conclusions to fit her cockamamie theories. Now that we’ve taken care of that, we can go on with the rest of this scattered mess of a book. Naomi has some serious issues with feminism lately. She’s got a grudge against second wave feminists. Judging by her whining, it’s probably because they didn’t fix everything for her so that she can stop having to think too hard about this inequality shit. Second wave feminists also didn’t tell her the joys of having her boyfriend gaze at her yoni to learn secret truths while she reads Fifty Shades of Grey. Nope, Naomi had to actually find the time to learn about what she likes sexually while dealing with the reality of an unjust world like everyone else and that was apparently something she felt she shouldn’t have to do. Another thing Naomi likes to whine about is the so-called "hook up culture" because casual sex makes her feel icky. I can see why. Casual sex and experimentation really doesn't fit into her very narrow Goddess vision. Naomi’s views on sex are extremely wholesome. There’s the candles. The expensive flowers ordered in advance that somehow have to do with evolution. The reservations to the fancy restaurant. The kind, gentle words. The Goddess Array and the Goddess Network. For some odd reason, she thinks that no other woman has heard of this brand of romance and intimacy even though at this point it’s become a cliché. She threatens men who do not fulfill these requirements with some pretty harsh words. “Straight men would do well to ask themselves: “Do I want to be married to a Goddess-or a bitch?” Unfortunately, there is not, physiologically, much middle ground available for women.” Naomi, you’re seriously starting to turn me into a raging bitch with this two dimensional woman whose very fulfillment relies on a man's ability to remember her favorite flowers. Another thing about feminism that really upsets her is that it broke the association of heterosexual female sexual awakening with dependency on man. They do not acknowledge this imaginary paradox of feminine autonomy coexisting with our feminine need of interdependence. She considers this the central paradox of the female condition because of Eros, and I consider it the central delusions of her idiotic mind. She explains that women are just addicted to love, in need of a partner because of nature, and also because some of her favorite female writers, artists, and activists experienced an increase in creativity and passion because of a sexual awakening. Apparently she thinks the sexual experimentation of these women are because they acknowledged Naomi’s Goddess Array, and because they realized that they need the dick because of their ravenous vaginas. Someone seriously needs to tell Naomi that creativity and talent are not sexually transmitted diseases that only hetero women can become infected by. In case all this candle lighting and reading Anais Nin to your crotch every morning isn’t your thing, don’t worry, she delves into Eastern Philosophy and Tantric sex practices next. This is when we’re introduced to the vagina whisperers. One such individual is Mike Lousada, London’s very own tantric guru and special snowflake, who fancies himself a vagina healer. Naomi seems to consider him to be some kind of champion for women and especially sexual assault victims, because for the American equivalent of $150 an hour he will massage the knots out of your vagina, say “Welcome Goddess” to you, and heal you sexually. Now I understand that we all have to pay the bills, but unless he spends his spare time volunteering at rape crisis centers, he’s either a fancy sex worker or a rip off artist. Perhaps some kind of combination of both. He prefers to call himself a “sexual healer” though, and he gets very offended if you don’t acknowledge his magic powers. But who can blame him? This is a man who claims to have seen an image of the Virgin Mary while gazing at the yoni in search of enlightenment. Personally, if some guy just stared at my twat seeking enlightenment, I'd be more than a little annoyed. But my idea of sexual practices that appreciate my vagina are a little different from Naomi's. Naomi Wolf needs all this tender loving care though, as her vagina is very easily traumatized. I won’t even get into the now infamous Cuntini incident that caused her vagina to suffer from writer’s block. There was another incident on a cruise with some moron friend who can only read Military books because he's an insecure mama's boy who needs to pretend he's in the military to feel like a man because according to him, all modern fiction is targeted to women and all that woman-y stuff just doesn't interest him. I'm going to guess this man doesn't read very much, or every time he reads something and comes across a female character he shits himself and gets all pissed off because there is a woman in his book which is beyond his comprehension. Everyone knows that women belong in binders! Oh and there’s sex in these military books. And by sex he means “There’s rape. LOL!” Naomi’s response to her friend was to then go to bed, weep for all the women vaginally traumatized by those words, and then passive aggressively call him out in her book, because being the martyred whiny victim apparently makes Naomi’s vagina do a happy dance. It’s more than a little insufferable. Naomi means well. She read a survey once about how Western women reported lower levels of happiness and satisfaction even though our freedoms have grown over the years. And while feminists might well try to tell you that the continued existence of inequality might just have something to do with that, Naomi would like you to know that really, you just have a sad vagina in an overworked undersexed world. The vagina is a “gateway to a woman’s happiness and to her creative life” and if we all just remember that, life would just be one never ending orgasm no matter what happens. This is the part where I’d love nothing more than to shake some of the loose screws out of Naomi’s head. Inequality still exists no matter how mind blowing Wolf’s orgasms are. This childish view of empowerment does not address this fact, presumably because it makes her vagina too sad to think about. Her vapid idea of fantasy land happiness is based on the idea that we should just be sexually dependent on men to keep our unruly yonis satisfied, and then maybe write a poem about our vulva. All this sad traumatized vagina crap cuddles up a little too close with the idea that male responsibility is dependent on female vulnerability. It feeds into patriarchy, it isn’t helping women, and it’s really getting on my nerves. I will continue to be dissatisfied with gender inequality, and while we’re at it, all inequality. If happiness for women means just getting fucked dumb, deaf and blind, I’d rather be perpetually pissed off. Her journey finally comes to an end with a completely unnecessary description of her family trip to Greece. This is when Naomi takes her self- indulgent and over privileged prattling and turns that shit up to 11. She really is painfully out of touch if she thinks her mission to help all women was completed with this book when her vagina can afford healing sessions in the UK and then excursions to Greece when the most exciting place my vagina went recently was the drug store to pick up Icy Hot and disposable razors. No matter how much information she vomits up from eastern philosophy, literature, pretend science, and her love of hardcore eye contact and gentle massages during couple arguments, this book is not some kind of thought provoking feminist work. This is a book about how happy Naomi Wolf is about her sex life and she wants to help you fuck just like her. There is nothing wrong with enjoying sex, or knowing what you like. It isn’t even bad to write about it. But just call it what it is. At best this book is self-help for privileged heterosexual women who somehow never heard of tantric sex. At worst this book is a self-important literary festival of misinformation that doesn’t just straddle misogyny; it dry humps it on the chaise lounge while getting high off all the scented candles. Instead of imagining a better world for women, or feeling proud to be a woman, I imagined that I was enduring a long winded conversation with a ditzy friend who is just going on and fucking on about her sex life. Her boyfriend, like a sexual Christopher Columbus, discovered all her equipment and finally thought to ask “What does this button do, my Goddess?” instead of just reading her poetry and sending flowers that he imagined might look like female genitalia. To make it worse, she’s trying way too hard to be profound and lyrical about it all because she accidentally found Anais Nin’s Wikipedia page. Her face is one of both joy and concern as she takes my hand in hers. She finally stops gushing over her boyfriend and explosive orgasms for a moment because this is important. She looks me in the eye and lets me know, that as a newly independent woman, she feels it’s her duty to tell me that if I just found myself a man who can awaken my creativity, I’d stop being so, you know, bitchy. Whatever, girl.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    Why is this book not a must read for everyone who owns a vagina and everyone who does not own a vagina but hopes to have a partner who will share hers? The biology is important to Naomi Wolf's argument, as is the chemistry, but if you don't like that sort of thing, ignore it and focus on The Goddess Array. What woman does not wish to be treated according to the Goddess Array? If treating a woman that way makes her happier, healthier and more willing to share (I mean her life, not just her vagina Why is this book not a must read for everyone who owns a vagina and everyone who does not own a vagina but hopes to have a partner who will share hers? The biology is important to Naomi Wolf's argument, as is the chemistry, but if you don't like that sort of thing, ignore it and focus on The Goddess Array. What woman does not wish to be treated according to the Goddess Array? If treating a woman that way makes her happier, healthier and more willing to share (I mean her life, not just her vagina), then what man in his right mind would not be willing to study the Goddess Array, learn it and apply it throughout his life? That said, there appear to be doubters everywhere, many of them women beginning with the female critic who savaged the book in the New York Times. I turned to GoodReads and also found reviews by women readers here who savaged "Vagina". (As if enough vaginas had not been savaged already.) What am I missing here? Why am I so attracted to this book which others find badly researched, badly thought out and badly written? Perhaps at this point I need to establish my bona fides as a man. I am a husband of 43 years, father of three, grandfather of 7. I was an infantry platoon leader in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. Since then, I have been a bicycle racer, a coach and a scoutmaster. When I read "Vagina", I realized that, simply put, I could have easily treated my wife better, making both of us happier throughout our marriage by making the Goddess Array a part of our everyday lives. What woman does not want candles and flowers, to be touched lovingly, to have her man look deeply into her eyes and tell her every day how much she is loved and valued and how beautiful she seems to him. What woman does not want to be taken seriously, to truly be listened to when she speaks and to be treated with decency and honor?Why do American Men treat their women like Goddesses when they are courting them and then ignore them, denigrate them and treat them like the hired help after the honeymoon? Ms. Wolfe has her theories, and they may or may not be valid, but I found the arguments in Vagina compelling. I have asked my wife to read it but whether she does or not, I intend to let the Goddess Array guide me for the rest of our marriage or until she tells me to just quit telling her that she is loved, touching her,listening to her, lighting candles and bringing her roses. I don't think that Ms Wolf expects her to tell me to stop. I don't expect it either.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Viola

    The Vagina Myth Jaclyn Friedman September 11, 2012 The American Prospect http://prospect.org/article/vagina-myth Naomi Wolf's yoni worship isn't just silly—it's dangerous. This summer, Michigan state representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor when she dared to say the word “vagina” in a debate about proposed restrictions on abortion. Just three weeks ago, Todd Akin revealed what many Republicans believe: If you get pregnant, it can’t have been rape. It’s been a year of politicians tryin The Vagina Myth Jaclyn Friedman September 11, 2012 The American Prospect http://prospect.org/article/vagina-myth Naomi Wolf's yoni worship isn't just silly—it's dangerous. This summer, Michigan state representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor when she dared to say the word “vagina” in a debate about proposed restrictions on abortion. Just three weeks ago, Todd Akin revealed what many Republicans believe: If you get pregnant, it can’t have been rape. It’s been a year of politicians trying to force women to have medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, and “personhood amendments” granting one-celled organisms more rights than women, as long as the cell resides in the woman’s uterus. If there ever were a cultural moment crying out for an impassioned defense of the vagina, it would be now. It’s beyond unfortunate, then, that Naomi Wolf’s new book Vagina: A New Biography is such a failure. Vagina: A New Biography By Naomi Wolf. Ecco Press, 400 pages, $27 Wolf is best known for her 1991 text The Beauty Myth, but more recently has made headlines for claiming that penetrating a sleeping woman represents a “model sexual negotiation” and saying that rape victims should lose their right to anonymity if they report the crime to authorities. She was inspired to write Vagina by a personal medical crisis, in which her sexual response was diminished by what turned out to be a mild form of spina bifida. Using her intimate journey back to sexual health as the frame of reference, the book’s core argument is that “the vagina and the brain are essentially… ‘one whole system,’ and that the vagina mediates female confidence, creativity, and transcendence.” What starts as a biology lesson quickly evolves into an evangelist text. On her magical mystery tour of female sexual biology, Wolf cherrypicks and misinterprets research to support her conclusion that “G-spot” orgasms are better for women than “clitoral” orgasms (though she seems to also know that the G-spot is actually a part of the clitoris), and that having as many of these special orgasms as possible is what enables women to be creative, ambitious, emotionally available, and spiritually enlightened. The rest of the book explores the ways that men and less-enlightened feminists have harmed women’s ability to have this particular kind of orgasm, and offers her recommendations for how more of us can experience it. Her prescription: We should all worship the vagina as a goddess, and men should be nicer and more tender to their women. Wolf ‘s big finish is her conclusion that “our species’ original sin was deviating from our earliest tradition of reverence for the feminine and for female sexuality” and that “waves of tragedy—for women, for men, and for a now unbalanced, now plundering civilization … [follow] from this original alienation.” Throughout, she writes with the fervor (and overwrought prose) of a would-be-prophet who believes she has discovered a previously unknown truth that must be shared with the world. Much ink and many pixels will be spilled about the biological determinism that underpins Wolf’s central thesis, and for good reason. Most people understand that it’s insulting to men to suggest that they’re helplessly beholden to the impulses of their sex organs, or that their character is reliant on their sexual satisfaction. It should be no different for women. It also makes no sense. What of the many women whose spina bifida can’t be cured like Wolf’s was? Does their diminished capacity for Wolf’s favorite orgasm really diminish them as people? Surely celibates, women with abusive partners, cisgender men, and all manner of people not having spiritually mindblowing “high orgasms” (her term) regularly prove themselves capable of remarkable creativity, ambition, and love. If Wolf had written a personal memoir called My Vagina, this self-indulgent tunnel vision could be, perhaps, excused. But she’s presenting it instead as a Universal Theory of Women, and that’s both offensive and dangerous. The book collapses under the weight of a breathtaking narcissism: If it doesn’t apply to Naomi, it doesn’t exist. Despite the title, this is a book explicitly and exclusively about straight vaginas. Lesbians and bisexual women? They’re a mystery to her, beyond the scope of the book. Women of color are rarely referenced, appearing mostly as victims, goddesses, or Josephine Baker. Women who don’t have vaginas, and people with vaginas who aren’t women? Never heard of ’em. Nor does she bother to define key terms like “female body,” “female brain,” or “femininity,” since clearly her understanding of the phrases is universal. If Wolf had written a personal memoir called My Vagina, this self-indulgent tunnel vision could be, perhaps, excused. But she’s presenting it instead as a Universal Theory of Women, and that’s both offensive and dangerous. In making her case for the vagina-as-destiny, Wolf ignores profound cultural realities. She asserts—without sarcasm—that, nowadays, “women can do ‘whatever’ they wish sexually and be ‘bad girls’ with little stigma,” a “fact” that would come as a surprise to women of color, Sandra Fluke, and any female survivor of sexual assault. She insists that women who are alienated from their sexuality or unsatisfied with their sex lives lack only male partners with better skills, as though misogyny, poverty, and any number of other structural oppressions don’t exist. She draws on ancient cultures to prove that the vagina's right place is as an object of worship, though these same cultures also believed the sun revolved around the Earth. She’s even untroubled by the fact that many of the ancient traditions she cites so credulously valued the vagina for the ways it supposedly benefits men. (“In Taoist sexual texts, women were understood to emit medicinal fluids from various parts of their bodies … The man’s goal for the sake of his own health was to stir the release of these precious fluids.”) Wolf’s self-absorption also produces terrible journalism. She may have had her pelvic nerve cured and her Technicolor orgasms restored, but she still suffers from a profound lack of curiosity. She is given to sweeping generalizations about gender. In a typical passage, Wolf asserts that “in some senses having to do with consciousness … sex for women is a different thing altogether than sex is for men.” She provides scant evidence for this assertion, nor does she consider counterexamples. What about intersex people? Do women who are sexually attracted to women really have different neurobiology from straight women? She’s silent on the matter, though she's happy to assert that what straight women need is for men to bone them (Wolf would have me say "make love”) lest they turn into harpy shrews. (These are seriously the only two options she provides: “Straight men would do well to ask themselves; ‘Do I want to be married to a Goddess, or a bitch?’ Unfortunately, there is not, physiologically, much middle ground. Either they are extremely well treated sexually, or else they become physically uncomfortable and emotionally irritable.”) Like a New York Times trend piece, she relies heavily on the anecdata of the privileged, informally polling her friends, students at Oxford, and Anaiis Nin to support her pet theories. The following exchange with therapist Nancy Fish needs no context whatsoever, as it serves as a template for nearly every exchange in the book: “What I am really teasing out is whether your clinical experience confirms what is right now just an intuition for me, with some science to hint in that direction,” prompts Wolf. Fish replies, “I definitely think based on my clinical experience that what you are saying is very, very valid.” Never is Wolf led down a path that contradicts her expectations. Never do two experts or two scientific studies have conflicting findings. Even her many informal surveys of friends of friends on Facebook turn up no examples of anyone whose lived experience challenges Wolf's worldview. Wolf's road to vaginal discovery has only two bumps: the medical condition that kicked it off, and the occasional man who does or says something anti-vagina, causing Wolf to have to lay down and have a good cry, or suffer months of writers block. (Women never say anti-vagina things in Wolf’s world, presumably because, in her world, women are vaginas.) It’s as if Wolf is Rip Van Winkle, having fallen asleep shortly after The Beauty Myth was published in 1991 and only waking up in time to tell us we should all be having sex like she does. It’s no surprise, then, that everyone from antiquities experts to sex scientists have been challenging the rigor of her research. My area of expertise is feminism, so I found her review of feminist approaches to sexuality particularly galling. It’s as if Wolf is Rip Van Winkle, having fallen asleep shortly after The Beauty Myth was published in 1991 and only waking up in time to tell us we should all be having sex like she does. She seems bizarrely unaware, for example, that Natalie Angier wrote Woman: An Intimate Geography in 2002, even though was a New York Times bestseller and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Having devoted an entire chapter to Victorian England’s relationship with the vagina, she reduces all feminist thought and activism on the subject since the early ’90s to one paragraph. Instead of citing work like Angier’s or other feminist achievements from the last two decades—the Riot Grrl movement, bell hooks’ trilogy on love and sexuality, Slut Walks, and the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective—she invokes contemporary straw feminists who want to “glamorize the clitoris” at the expense of the vagina and insist that all liberated women “fuck like men,” whatever that means. Thank goodness Wolf has finally arrived to reveal the truth about our bodies to us. Ultimately, what would Wolf have us believe about our bodies? It’s hard to tell. She claims to want to undo the ways in which women are reduced to their genitals, but spends most of her project telling us that as goes the vagina, so goes the woman. In the first chapter, she goes into great detail about the ways different women’s neural wiring can result in a wide range of sexual preferences and responses, but then spends multiple chapters later in the book credulously quoting Tantra advocates, who say things like “For some women, the lightest touch of a feather can be orgasmic. But most women in this culture need a lot of friction-based stimulation, which suggests that there is loss of sensitivity for them.” She suggests that we’re hardwired to like rape fantasies and rough sex, but tells us we shouldn’t indulge in them because we’ll get addicted and ignore our somehow equally hardwired need for safe, tender, gentle lovemaking with a committed guy. So, we’re all biologically predisposed to get off differently, but if we want friction or kink we’re damaged? Wolf does gesture at some real and urgent issues: The pandemic of sexual violence against women around the world; the misogynist microagressions that women have to negotiate daily; rampant media sexualization that goes along with a deep, silent river of female sexual dissatisfaction. It’s not that I don’t share some of Wolf’s alarm at the current state of sexual affairs. I wrote an entire book to help women reclaim our sexual agency. Rape is an ongoing public health crisis that’s treated as the status quo, as inevitable as the weather. Sex education in the US is a shameful shambles, and we’re all in desperate need of accurate and judgment-free information about our bodies and our sexual health. Meanwhile, we live in a deeply sexualized culture in which corporate media, politicians and religious leaders constantly tell women and girls that the most important thing about them is what they are or aren’t doing with their sexuality. This sexualization has real consequences. It can impair girls’ ability to perform math and logic tasks and exacerbate eating disorders and depression. It creates in all of us, whatever our gender, unrealistic, often negative expectations about sexuality, alienating us from our genuine sexual needs and boundaries. Which is exactly why this book is so harmful: It’s just as sexualizing to sacralize vaginas as it is to demean them. Whatever Wolf’s intention, Vagina is just another billboard telling women and girls that the only thing that matters about us is what’s happening “down there.” We get no closer to a freer world when we worship one specific genital configuration or one particular kind of sexual experience. Real sexual liberation will only be achieved when we’re fooling around on a genuinely equal playing field. About the Author Jaclyn Friedman is author of What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl's Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety, and editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. She is executive director of Women, Action & the Media, and a charter member of CounterQuo, a coalition dedicated to challenging the ways we respond to sexual violence.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben Babcock

    This book was like tearing the scab off a freshly healed wound. It’s been so long since I’ve had to deal with the shittiness that is evolutionary psychology, and then Naomi Wolf comes along and reminds me of just how terrible it is all over again. Well, let’s do this. Vagina: A New Biography is Wolf’s syncretism of Eastern teachings about sex (particularly Tantra) with Western medicine, with a particular focus on the way women in the West regard their vagina. It’s the fifth book in the Banging Boo This book was like tearing the scab off a freshly healed wound. It’s been so long since I’ve had to deal with the shittiness that is evolutionary psychology, and then Naomi Wolf comes along and reminds me of just how terrible it is all over again. Well, let’s do this. Vagina: A New Biography is Wolf’s syncretism of Eastern teachings about sex (particularly Tantra) with Western medicine, with a particular focus on the way women in the West regard their vagina. It’s the fifth book in the Banging Book Club, an awesome monthly reads group about sex and sexuality run by Hannah Witton, Lucy Moon, and Leena Norms. I have enjoyed all of the previous club reads, to one extent or another, but I don’t think I can say that about Vagina. What starts as a promising book about women’s relationships with their vaginas—kind of like a more scientific look at the same ideas explored from an emotional angle in The Vagina Monologues —eventually turns into a poor mash-up of biological determinism and evolutionary psychology. Here’s how Vagina went from good, to boring, to bad, to worse. I was actually very excited to read Vagina, for so many reasons. I was aware that Wolf has been a source, or topic of, controversy in more recent years, but I had genuinely appreciated The Beauty Myth and will stand by the idea that it’s a seminal work of feminist scholarship. I was also looking forward to learning more about vaginas—because I don’t have one, and men don’t really learn enough about them in school! I’m always interested in learning about perspectives that are, by dint of circumstance, inaccessible to me. It was with some exhilaration that I proudly read this book in public, during my flights home from a work trip, as well as in the airport lounge on the layover. I wanted people to see a man reading a book called Vagina—and if it led to any genuine conversations, if I could help people see that there is value in deconstructing stereotypes about gender and what is appropriate knowledge for our genders, then cool. (Indeed, my seatmate on my last flight actually asked me about the book, after we had already struck up a more general conversation. However, at that point I was only a few chapters in, and the book was still good and interesting, so I was much more positive about it than I feel now.) Perhaps Vagina is so promising because of its context. Wolf opens with a lengthy anecdote about a reduction in sensation felt as a result of pelvic nerve damage—something she eventually fixes thanks to medical consultations and surgery. She expresses her amazement that, if she hadn’t linked the disappearance of her rosy afterglows with a physical ailment, she might not have discovered the problem at all. During this period, she learned more about how the vagina is connected to the brain, and it apparently awoke a deeper curiosity in her. Hence a “biographical” look at vaginas, I guess. And I was totally on board, because as The Vagina Monologues asserted a decade before this book, our society has a hang-up on vaginas. They are a taboo subject, yet beneath the surface, so many of us brim with intense curiosity and fascination. And I agree with Wolf that women have too long have been made to feel dirty or ashamed, and that many of the modern standards of beauty tell women that their natural vaginas are bad and need to be perfumed, made up, even altered, to become acceptable. Although initially unsettled by the title of Part 1—“Does the Vagina Have a Consciousness?”—and its implications of far too much mysticism for my taste, Wolf’s zealous commitment to scientific language and citing research won me over. I was learning things about female physiology that I hadn’t known. And Wolf explores many of the physical explanations for why many women have difficulty achieving orgasm as expeditiously as men. This whole idea, of course, is hugely parodied and constantly referenced in our comedy: men just want quickies; women need candlelit dinners and flowers and commitment, and then there’s some kind of punchline that is almost certainly misogynistic and sometimes also emasculating. We’re socialized to see women’s needs as unimportant at best and weak or repugnant at worst, without ever really stopping to ask why. So I approve of Wolf attempting to uncover some of the science behind these differences. Alas, even in this first part, there are moments when I had to pause and blink, and maybe do a double-take. Wolf likes to make a lot of generalizations, particularly when it comes to findings about hormone levels. She begins to mix science with anecdotes: I experienced some of the “thoughts” of the uterus myself. In 2000, I wrote about how oxytocin had made me gentler, more conflict averse, and basically nicer, when I was pregnant. My uterus was doing some of my thinking for me, in spite of my will, and mediating my consciously autonomous, consciously assertive, feminist brain. Now, let’s be clear: I have nothing against anecdotes. Interesting stories are the life-blood of non-fiction. What’s problematic here is the way Wolf seems to accord anecdotal evidence the same level of privilege as scientific evidence. She constantly mentions hundreds of responses she receives from people in response to articles she has written, as if this correspondence should have the same weight as lab studies. It’s very easy to do bad science. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver very recently did a whole bit on this. So a science writer has a duty to her readers to distinguish between reliable and potentially unreliable or flawed studies. Wolf doesn’t do this. She relies a great deal on studies on rats and uses them to draw conclusions about human sexual behaviour—and yeah, we do tend to study rat brains and then draw conclusions about human brains, but at no point does Wolf stop and remind us that, hey, rats are not humans, and maybe there is more going on here. At one time, she cites a study that had nineteen participants, without mentioning anything about the possibility of small sample size bias. Worse still, Wolf compounds her habit of mixing science and anecdotes: I conducted informal interviews with groups of women with whom I met both in person and online. I told them about the possible effects of semen, and then I asked them to remember back to a relationship in which they had at first religiously used condoms, and then … had stopped using condoms. Same guy, same sexual style, same scent: any difference? I saw looks of shocked recognition cross my interviewees’ faces. “Totally different,” said Julia, a graphic designer. (Emphasis mine.) What?? No. Do not do this! Telling people about the effect you want to measure is called confirmation bias, and it is a huge no-no. Entire scientific protocols are designed to avoid this very serious problem. Furthermore, asking people to “remember back,” is fraught with problems—our memories are so very fallible. Taken together, it should not be surprising that Wolf got the reaction she did. It’s like telling people most robberies are committed by shifty guys in ball caps right before you ask them if a shifty guy in a ball cap was lurking outside a jewellery store that was robbed. Chances are they will “remember” the guy vividly, even if he didn’t exist. (This is is also possibly a case of spurious correlation: if the couples had progressed to a point in the relationship where the condoms came off, it’s likely there were other factors that made the relationship “good” and that could very well be the cause of the better sex.) Wolf goes on to say: But I do think it is important to understand what may happen to the female mind when we do take in semen…. When a man comes in a woman’s mouth, she may feel energized; when he comes in her vagina, it can boost her tenderness and, if Meston and Buss are right, help elevate her mood. Seriously? Naomi Wolf is seriously telling women that semen has brain-altering properties and they should get themselves more of it. In their vaginas! In their mouths! Just … all the semen. Everywhere. Look, it is possible that Wolf is right and semen does have such properties. But because of the way she presents these ideas, by conflating possibly-unreliable scientific studies with anecdotal and unquestionably flawed stories, we cannot, responsibly, accept her conclusion. So I’m not saying she’s wrong about semen, or about Tantra, or about vaginal pulses. I’m just saying that her writing undermines the credibility of her explanations. This is not a scientific book; it is a heavily opinionated book masquerading as scientific, and that is something else entirely. That whole semen thing comes from the last chapter, in which Wolf dispenses advice for how to pay more attention to a woman’s sexual needs. Some of it is cringe-worthy, while some of it is sweet and sensible and probably worth remembering. Unfortunately, Wolf presents this advice as a kind of “lessons learned” from all this scientific research, and I have to take issue with that. Science is great at explaining how things work, but it is not a great tool for deciding why we should do things. I hate evolutionary psychology so much, partly because it is so difficult to distinguish between biological and cultural causes, but also because it tends so dangerously towards biological determinism. It’s true: on me level we’re all just squishy meat robots. But we’re squishy meat robots with a diverse cornucopia of cultures and practices. Biological determinism is hugely problematic in the fight for social justice. It’s a bedrock of arguments to support oppressive practices. And Wolf demonstrates surprising support for these ideas, and for ideas about gender essentialism. She continually refers to “male” brains and “female” brains as if these are concrete things—they aren’t. It is true that there are sex-linked differences to the brain, but they are far more nuanced and complicated than inferred from Wolf’s casual use. In particular, there are epigenetic factors at work. Plus, neuroplasticity means that cultural influences could potentially affect our brain wiring as well. Wolf is, at best, being irresponsible in failing to elucidate the complexity of the origins of these perceived differences in the brains of men and women. A reader could be forgiven for thinking, from this book, that the differences between the sexes were a settled matter of scientific record, rather than the intense source of debate and further study they continue to be. I should probably have seen the red flags earlier on. In her introduction, Wolf casually mentions she is going to ignore LGB experiences because they deserve whole books of their own. It was basically a bald-faced “this is hetero white feminism, deal with it” and I remember a few alarms going off when I read it—but I trudged on. In retrospect, considering the other problems with this book, that statement is so much more harmful. Firstly, notice that Wolf doesn’t even mention the T, Q, A, etc. Not everyone with a vagina is a woman, and not every woman has a vagina—but Wolf blithely uses one as synecdoche for the other. Secondly, claiming you’re only going to talk about straight women to “keep things simpler” isn’t just a cop-out; it’s offensive—to everyone. It further “others” queer women, setting up heterosexuality as normative and queerness as deviant—something that can be sidelined for “later books.” It might be less obvious, but I also don’t see this as a great thing for straight women: it asserts a rigidity to sexuality and gender identity that does not necessarily exist. It’s possible to be straight, bi, gay, or ace—but it’s also possible to locate oneself somewhere outside of, in between, or in transition between, these restrictive categories. Wolf seems so intent on liberating the understanding of the vagina—but for who? Why gatekeep? Wolf is also super-moralistic when it comes to porn. She minces no words as she describes the way “habituation” to porn affects men and women, creating impotence. While I agree that there elements to porn that are problematic and need to be addressed, I just find it so disappointing the Wolf chooses to be utterly polemical here. She talks to a bunch of male (and at least one female) “sexual healers” or whatever, but does she ever talk to a sex worker? To a porn actor? To anyone who makes porn or erotic art? I kind of feel like they have interesting things to say about vaginas and sex, but I guess Wolf wants to discount them. So I guess what disappoints me about Vagina, to bottom line this already ridiculously long review (thanks for sticking with me if you’ve read this far), is that it tries to be too many types of book at once. It wants to be scientific, but it leans on anecdotes and mysticism. It wants to be mystical, yet it insists on trying to find parallels between the East and the West (and I can’t speak for Eastern practitioners, but I’m sure they are very tired of Westerners coming around and borrowing appropriating their “exotic” beliefs for other purposes). It wants to be empowering, yet it carves out a specific category of “woman” and then speaks only to them. There are some really interesting facts in this book, and even some good science—but these are buried beneath layers of poor journalistic choices. I want to be clear that I’m not taking issue with the idea or intent of Vagina, just its confused and unsound execution. However, if you read the book and liked it, I’d be happy to have some civil discourse about it in the comments. Or come join us in the Banging Book Club Goodreads group!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    This is a book that will make you question your faith in everything. It is not good at all.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Stringer

    Why does the author feel the need to write a book about the vagina? Because as many as 30% of western women report that they get little pleasure from making love. Because bad sex is linked to depression. "A lot of my readers who are in their twenties, their first concern is about porn addiction....Pornography has speeded-up sex, so there is a lot less foreplay, kissing or going to second or third base. The desensitisation of the brain's response to porn is not good for intimacy."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Henry Le Nav

    I really enjoyed Naomi Wolf’s new book, Vagina: A New Biography. Of course I would, I am a heterosexual, male, monogamist and a first class flake, so I was like a kitten with a bowl of warm milk. It puts me in mind of that song from The Sound of Music, These Are A Few of My Favorite Things. In a way, I wish some one else beside Wolf had wrote the book, then I would not be forced to acknowledge that much of the world thinks this is a silly book and most of the people who think that are women. I I really enjoyed Naomi Wolf’s new book, Vagina: A New Biography. Of course I would, I am a heterosexual, male, monogamist and a first class flake, so I was like a kitten with a bowl of warm milk. It puts me in mind of that song from The Sound of Music, These Are A Few of My Favorite Things. In a way, I wish some one else beside Wolf had wrote the book, then I would not be forced to acknowledge that much of the world thinks this is a silly book and most of the people who think that are women. 
 I really like the idea that a woman’s vagina and brain are one. We men have been accused of thinking with our little heads for centuries, so it refreshing to see a feminist make such a claim for women and their vaginas. I also like the idea that my wife is a goddess and her yoni is sacred and by appealing to her goddess array and engaging in deeply penetrative coitus I can send her galloping off on a magical unicorn of orgasm across a technicolor rainbow of pheromones from my arm pits and a love potion number 9 of feel good hormones and neurotransmitters absorbed from my semen. This is all good stuff and I loved reading about it, and yes I am exaggerating, but only slightly, what Wolf has said in the book. But I can also understand where many women may not quite like the idea that their thinking is so strongly colored by their vaginas or that they need a man to help them see in technicolor. I also think the Wolf is getting worked over with some past due karmic debts from some feminists...I saw numerous references to Julian Assange in many negative reviews. While I consider myself a pro-feminist supporter, I am in no way familiar with the nuances and politics within the movement, but I definitely get the feeling that Wolf has stepped on a few toes in the past and her book is something of a pair of combat boots in a ballet. Much of what I read in Vagina, I already knew, I have an interest in sex like some people have in astronomy. However there was for me one piece of valuable information that I never realized before. The female pelvic innervation is not only far more complex than I understood, but also subject to a lot of variation from woman to woman. This explains the mystery of vaginal orgasms verses clitoral orgasms. As I have long suspected Freud’s claims of a woman’s maturity determining the type of orgasm she experiences is bullshit. If a woman lacks the nerve connections for deep vaginal orgasms then she will experience clitoral orgasm--maturity has nothing to do with it. For me this was worth the price of the book. Another fascinating bit of knowledge for me was that, although I knew nipple stimulation causes oxytocin to be released, I did not know that nipple stimulation is actually used in natural child birth procedures to initiate labor contractions. It amazes me that nipple stimulation would have this kind of power. Wolf provides some cautions that a woman may want to be choosy about whom she gives access to her bra (especially near the end of her pregnancy). Oxytocin is a bonding hormone. Helen Fisher has offered much the same advice regarding whom one sleeps with. Some of the reviews I read took Wolf to task regarding the quality of her research. I suppose one could ask to what standard does one hold such a book? It is what I would consider a popularization, not a scientific document. She provides extensive footnotes and to be honest I saw very little that would give me pause, although bear in mind, I am a hobbyist, not an expert. She did rely a good bit on anecdotal evidence but I also believe that she adequately identified what was valid research and what was anecdotal. That said, there was one area of concern for me regarding research that cast a wider shadow on the entire enterprise. She quotes Marnia Robinson in several places and calls her a “dopamine researcher”. Marnia Robinson is an author not a scientist. She promotes a type of non-orgasmic sex called karezza, and in my opinion gets a bit hysterical about orgasms. Yes, I am not a fan of Robinson, although I think she means well. What Wolf quoted about dopamine was not out of context, but still quoting Robinson in an extremely pro-orgasmic book struck me like having Rush Limbaugh deliver the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. Robinson, the last I knew, was not about to say anything good about an orgasm, so her appearance in Wolf’s book was a bit curious and would suggest a hurried effort at research. I did a quick internet search and found nothing from Robinson refuting Wolf’s book. It sort of struck me that a pissing contest is being avoided. Although I will emphasize, it was a quick search. Another area of concern, I think Wolf seemed to go a bit overboard with her reactions to negative references to the vagina. I agree entirely that women should not be subjected to obscene language and that men should not only refrain from using such terms, but to not think of women in such terms. However as we all know such terminology exists and is widely used by the Neanderthals among us. So how does one handle it? During my working life, I had been called various things of the four lettered persuasions some involving maternal sex and fellatio. (the first technically true, the latter not). If I were to take such things to heart I would have had to quit working at a very tender age. So I regarded Wolf’s claim of six months of writer’s blocks over an ignorant reference to pasta vulvas a bit over the top. It brought to mind something my mother said about the histrionics my cousin inflicted on the world when she was in high school. “A good six inches of hard manhood delivered fast and furiously would straighten that girl right out.” Hmmm, what to do? Naomi was already having technicolored orgasms with her man so what the hell does one do now regarding such histrionics? Unfortunately my late mother is no longer available for comment. I will say though that Wolf’s point should be taken and understood by men. This woman is the love of your life, don’t treat her or her vagina with disrespect and expect her to fly off to Oz in your arms. If men spent as much time polishing their relationships with the women they love, as polishing the fenders of their Dodge Ram pickups, the world would be a far better place. Like I say, I immensely enjoyed this book and found myself in agreement with most of what she said. I do think that Wolf tended to overstate her case. Does the vagina affect a woman’s thoughts and is it affected by thoughts? I think so. I believe that there is a definite brain-genital connection in both women and men, just like there is a definite brain-gut connection. Ever get butterflies in your stomach before giving a speech? Has a dose of intestinal flu affected your thoughts? Does this mean that women are incapable of being a CEO because their vaginas might take offense to a certain product line or corporate deal? Absolutely not. Can women experience the world in technicolor after having the right type of orgasm? Well let me put it to you this way, my own orgasms are paltry affairs...putt, putt, putt and I am done. Yeah it feels good but I can’t say that I am particularly changed by the event. But when my wife has an orgasm she flies off and circles the rings Saturn, and she carries me along with her. I see technicolor after one of my wife’s orgasms, so if it affects me like that I can only guess what it does for her! So no I don’t think Wolf is exaggerating. I am being entirely honest here, my wife’s orgasms are far more enjoyable for me than mine are. So yep, I think a woman can ride down the yellow brick road on the back of a magical unicorn named Orgasm and head off to Oz, while pink and purple stardust emanates from her yoni that will take her man to the far reaches of the finite universe and give him a glimpse of the Infinite. Are women goddesses? Indeed, but it is that flakey part of me that has been off to Oz with my wife that believes that. I have to admit, I would have been happier if Wolf could have found some less moonbeamish language to describe this phenomenon. But I also have to admit having been there with my wife...she is indeed a goddess. So is this a silly book? Not for me, I have experienced some of the things that Wolf claims. Human beings have a remarkable capacity for intellect. However, we are the total sums of our evolution. Our intellect has been created in an evolutionary blink of the eye compared to our sexuality. When we try to intellectualize our sexuality we run into some powerful forces. I think what Wolf was getting in this book was that we are still subject to the animal forces of our genes and we ignore them at our peril. Here are two reviews that sum up the problems and the strengths of the book: Huffington Post, “Naomi Wolf's 'Vagina' Gets More Public Criticism And Faint Praise Than Any Vagina We Know Of”, by Nina Bahadur http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09... Huffington Post, “Who's Afraid of the Vagina-Brain Connection?” by James G. Pfaus http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-g... EDIT 1-4-2013 Re-reading this review with a little passage of time I realized I forgot to mention that another thing that I really liked about this book was the chapter on how to appeal to a woman's "goddess array." Chapter 14 Radical Pleasure, Radical Awakening: The Vagina as a Liberator. Again I find the moonbeam terminology unfortunate, but the pearls of wisdom she provides should be a mandatory class in high school for all males with refresher courses offered periodically. In essence the chapter states don't take your woman for granted, treat her like you did when you were trying to impress her, respect her, help her and love her. All seems to be common sense, yet look at how many men treat their wives like an appliance, a dinner machine and a sex machine. We can do better guys, and Wolf tells you how in one chapter. Yeah, be a wussie and buy her flowers and take her to dinner. Gaze in her eyes, spend time with her, touch her and treat her like you love her and hang on to your hat the next time you jump into bed. Ladies, if you have a inattentive partner, cast pearls before swine. Make him read chapter 14. The other thing I like about this chapter was that she went into a bit of the bio-chemistry of sex. We try to rationalize sex with our advanced cerebral cortex, but sex operates at far deeper and older sections of our minds. Why are condoms so unsatisfying for an committed long term monogamous relationship? Could it be that by using a condom, the biochemical communications is blocked, the only part of our brains that realize that we had sex is on cerebral cortex? The older, down in the swamp sections, of our brains saw no chemical messages absorbed by the genitals from the partner, so was there any sex? If you are in love and you are monogamous with absolute fidelity, in my mind condoms are destructive to your relationship. (Note the strong emphasis on monogamous fidelity--you are a complete idiot to not use condoms and dental dams in a non-monogamous relationships). Wolf hints at some of this complexity in this chapter but she only speaks in terms of female receptivity to male chemistry. I think it is very much a two way street, males are chemically receptive to female chemistry and genitally and orally absorb female biochemistry from vaginal fluids. In my mind this is the real communication during sex, and the reason that I fly off to Oz with my wife's orgasms. Loving monogamous couples should not block it with a layer of latex. I also think it is good reason for men to take their time and stick around. No need to hurry off. You can only absorb this good stuff when you are in contact with it. The biochemical communication during sex and its impact on love is an area that I think requires a lot more research. Wolf gives it honorable mention, but I think as a society we know very little. Sex is a chemical wonder. It is the attractant that get us together, the adhesive the holds us together, and the oil that lubricates a good working relationship or marriage. Don't we as a society owe it to ourselves and our children to understand this process as much as possible?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    EDITED/I CHANGED MY MIND: Naomi Wolf in general and this book in particular have been mired in controversy and showered with praise alternately. I find myself somewhere in the middle; I see its limitations and problems, but don't think its entirely harmful and Wolf herself does try to acknowledge any flaws or biases her and her book may have. Overall, I learned some things I'm shocked aren't routinely taught to both men and women, and am confirmed in my suspicious that the Western mode of thinkin EDITED/I CHANGED MY MIND: Naomi Wolf in general and this book in particular have been mired in controversy and showered with praise alternately. I find myself somewhere in the middle; I see its limitations and problems, but don't think its entirely harmful and Wolf herself does try to acknowledge any flaws or biases her and her book may have. Overall, I learned some things I'm shocked aren't routinely taught to both men and women, and am confirmed in my suspicious that the Western mode of thinking and talking about female sexuality, biology, and chemistry is incredibly limited and often archaic in all the wrong ways. However, I am disturbed by Wolf's assertion that great sex is the key to a woman's creativity, intelligence, and sense of self; not to diminish the importance of one's sexuality, but the idea that if you aren't getting some (and not just any "some," but mind-blowing orgasms "some") then you aren't a fully-realised woman, obviously raises a lot of eyebrows and questions and problems. I just wish it was couched more as Wolf's own experience and exploration, rather than as if it's devulging some (if not universal than at least American heterosexual) feminist truth. Wolf has understood her body and found sexual fulfillment, and that's great for her. But it might not apply to all bodies; it's a biography of her vagina and a little bit of science on what the average vagina might be. But to extend it further than that seems dangerous to me; in line with the same sort of narrow thinking that produced Freudian psychoanalysis and female hysteria. So now I've talked myself out of liking it at all.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Yeah, that's right. I read a book called "Vagina." Naomi Wolf and I have a complicated relationship. "The Beauty Myth" changed my life when I read it as a teenager. But then she broke my political heart when she became pro-life after being pregnant. Still, I feel compelled to read her books based on that early and powerful influence. But this one was a dud. She gets two stars instead of one because she's Naomi Wolf, but, I really didn't think this was a very good book. Essentially, I felt like she Yeah, that's right. I read a book called "Vagina." Naomi Wolf and I have a complicated relationship. "The Beauty Myth" changed my life when I read it as a teenager. But then she broke my political heart when she became pro-life after being pregnant. Still, I feel compelled to read her books based on that early and powerful influence. But this one was a dud. She gets two stars instead of one because she's Naomi Wolf, but, I really didn't think this was a very good book. Essentially, I felt like she couldn't decide between trying to be scientific, or trying to be philosophical about the vagina. She would start many chapters or themes with scientific studies, and then branch off from there, cite some anecdotal evidence, and then say something like "it is too far-fetched then, to extrapolate XYZ and ABC about the vagina?" and then it would devolve into what I often thought was mumbo-jumbo. She would use science as a launching point for her own wild theories. Not that all of them were wrong, necessarily, it just felt like she was using hard science to try and support mental meandering.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brett Axel

    Of All the books I brought back from BookExpo, this is the one I've started reading first. For such a common thing, there are litterally billions of them out there, in fact, half of the people I know own one, and yet I know so little about them. Of all of the people that could be the author of such a book I am so glad it is Naomi Wolf. I'm also glad it is set up as a biography. I love biographies and I think the style works for the subject matter. I'm 20 pages in and so far it is as good a read Of All the books I brought back from BookExpo, this is the one I've started reading first. For such a common thing, there are litterally billions of them out there, in fact, half of the people I know own one, and yet I know so little about them. Of all of the people that could be the author of such a book I am so glad it is Naomi Wolf. I'm also glad it is set up as a biography. I love biographies and I think the style works for the subject matter. I'm 20 pages in and so far it is as good a read as one would expect of this author.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Vikki VanSickle

    Naomi Wolf is one of my favourite people. I have read everything she has ever written and credit her for my interest in women's issues. I have loved her since stumbling upon an excerpt of Promiscuities in a women's fashion magazine (something like Marie Claire or Glamour) when I was thirteen years old. It was the first time I had ever read anything feminist and it opened a whole new world for me.I include Wolf on my list of smart, interesting female pop-cultural role models such as Nora Ephron a Naomi Wolf is one of my favourite people. I have read everything she has ever written and credit her for my interest in women's issues. I have loved her since stumbling upon an excerpt of Promiscuities in a women's fashion magazine (something like Marie Claire or Glamour) when I was thirteen years old. It was the first time I had ever read anything feminist and it opened a whole new world for me.I include Wolf on my list of smart, interesting female pop-cultural role models such as Nora Ephron and Tina Fey. This books is divided into three major areas: the science behind sexuality and specifically female orgasm, a brief history of how western civilizations have perceived of women's sexuality, and a discussion on how sexuality and creativity are linked. Wolf's style is open, kind, and inviting, even to people who are leery of reading anything "feminist." At no point do you feel talked down to or do you get lost in technical jargon. I worried that things might get a little too earth-mother-goddess-worship for my taste, but though there are elements of this kind of philosophy, it by no means dominates the narrative.This isn't a guide to better sex, though it definitely has tips and things that men and women can learn from. It made me wish we talked more openly about sex as a part of relationships in our culture and I hope that this book (or parts of it) become required reading for sex ed courses.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lena Lang

    I really enjoyed reading this book. I was dissapointed to hear it tirn to shreds on my NEW YORKER podcast for it's lack of appreciation for rational scientific discourse and it's endoresement of psuedoscientific terminology. It was said that Wolf distorted the scientific data that she discussed. While this may have been true in several areas ( though I didn't personally look into it), I think the overall message of the book was a powerful one that needed to be vocalized. I think it was very str I really enjoyed reading this book. I was dissapointed to hear it tirn to shreds on my NEW YORKER podcast for it's lack of appreciation for rational scientific discourse and it's endoresement of psuedoscientific terminology. It was said that Wolf distorted the scientific data that she discussed. While this may have been true in several areas ( though I didn't personally look into it), I think the overall message of the book was a powerful one that needed to be vocalized. I think it was very strange that the ladies at the New Yorker blamed Wolf for imposing yet another requirement on women who already face many barriers and stresses: the requirement of having a happy vagina. I personally do not think that this was what Wolf had in mind. Though she failed to mention all the work done by nuns, single women and women who did not have fulfilling sexual lives, I don't think she meant to say that those women do not count and that their contributions are not significant. She merely stresses that there is a connection between sexual well being and feeling empowered and ready to take on the world. I think this is a pretty bold statement in a culture that is as sex negative and puritannicaal when it comes to questions of women's sexuality.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Warnock

    This is a difficult review to write. I absolutely LOVE reading about sexuality, neuroscience, tantric practices, and perceptions about orgasmic pleasure, these are incredibly important topics. We carry such burdensome beliefs concerning human sexuality, barbaric beliefs that cloud our minds from what is otherwise life affirming bliss-- we are born judgment free and open, unburdened by the labels and divisiveness that so many of us learn throughout life-- we learn dogma and ego and certainty, sha This is a difficult review to write. I absolutely LOVE reading about sexuality, neuroscience, tantric practices, and perceptions about orgasmic pleasure, these are incredibly important topics. We carry such burdensome beliefs concerning human sexuality, barbaric beliefs that cloud our minds from what is otherwise life affirming bliss-- we are born judgment free and open, unburdened by the labels and divisiveness that so many of us learn throughout life-- we learn dogma and ego and certainty, shallow ideas that prevent us from experiencing the divine in our every breath. I should have loved this book, it should be amazing. These are wonderful topics, I love where her heart is in wanting to write this book, a richer and deeper understanding of both the scientific and spiritual aspects of sexuality, so perhaps that's why I felt so disappointed reading this -- this disappointment climaxed during her visit to the sacred spot massage workshop, where she writes: "I was skeptical still that a night in the hands of a stranger could be so life-changing--I couldn't imagine doing it myself" And then she went home-- really, she went home. Could she seriously not imagine? Did she actually lack even the imagination to do what every woman in the room was doing? She then heaped condescending praise on those women, somehow oblivious to the fact that every person in that room has a better story to tell than Naomi Wolf, but in this book you're trapped in Naomi Wolf's judgmental ego, and those beautiful stories of those nameless goddesses, perhaps they went to discover transcendent pleasure and bliss, those stories are completely ignored-- left to be told by braver and less judgmental writers. She later makes an appointment with a sexual healer, and then systematically refuses to do anything sexual. She wants to learn, but apparently not at the expense of challenging her cruel judgmental world view. Why write a book about what you refuse to learn, about what you refuse to do? Imagine writing a book about cooking while refusing to cook or even eat the foods you write about... She then refers to this same "sexual healer" as a whore, but you know, the good kind, like Pretty Woman in reverse. She directly invokes the "whore with a heart of gold" stereotype, and seemed cynically skeptical at his audacious and far reaching claims. Ironically, she remained ignorant of her own far reaching claims. If you're at all open minded about sexuality or gender roles -- it's hard not to be continuously insulted while reading this book. Many reviewers have pointed out the problems with her scientific understanding, although annoyingly it seems she has the right science, but she goes about it with haphazard assumptions and makes a mess of it-- she stumbles and plods through research papers doing mostly guesswork and badly misrepresenting every aspect of science. For example, she clearly has no understanding of what a "control group" is but continuously refers to "control group" where there are no obvious controls (or where there wasn't even an experiment). Naomi, you are not a control group, a single person can not be a control group, that's not what a control group is... Those "dakinis" you interviewed were not a control group, those were human beings you were interviewing. In her conclusion she tells the story of seeing a forest fire near Petra (while vacationing in Greece). While watching the fire she realized that "the original sin did not, as the Judeo-Christian tradition has it, originate in human sexuality. Our species' original sin was in deviating from our earliest tradition of reverence for the feminine and for female sexuality". Perhaps because I was not raised with such silly mythology, I don't think of the original sin when I see a forest fire. I don't think seriously of original sin. Consider our understanding of ourselves, this earth, this universe-- there is knowledge in this world (much of it available for free on wikipedia) that far transcends such archaic and cruel notions of original sin. But to Naomi Wolf, there IS an original sin, and it will burn down cities in Greece and kill innocents-- all because we deviated from our reverence for the feminine. I'll agree hers is slightly less barbaric than the original sin described in the bible, but it's an awful and hateful belief to carry around in ones mind. This is where the reader also has an epiphany, that Naomi Wolf is so steeped in her own Judeo-Christian social constructs that she really cannot imagine allowing herself a sacred spot massage or experiencing first hand transcendent orgasmic bliss -- instead she holds in her mind that humans are suffering under an original sin. Now sure, she claims that "our original sin lies in five thousand years of shaming it" (I thnk she means the vagina) -- but when she describes "ancient tantric" practices, yoni worship, and The Goddess Array, I guess those didn't exist in the last five thousand years, or does she just mean this is a "western" original sin? Or does she just mean this is a silly idea in her head that has no relevance to the beautiful myriad of human sexual experience? Occasionally, she makes strong assertions without any reference, which are completely false. For example: "the porn industry is now larger than conventional film, records, books, and video combined." You can Google this, the porn industry is smaller than each of those industries. Porn brings in about 14 billion per year, whereas conventional film, records, and books bring in 40 billion, 15 billion, and 28 billion respectively. I'm not sure what she means by "video", I certainly hope she's not referring to the 90 billion cable television industry or the 20 billion local television industry. Porn may be big business, but it's smaller than each of her examples, and obviously much smaller than the combined revenue of those industries. Other times she makes inarticulate statements that don't seem to relate to her topic, and somehow still gets things wrong, here's a fun example where I bet no one else will call her on: "In Manhattan, the Private Eyes Gentlemen's Club advertises with sings on top of taxicabs. A few years ago, the women's faces in such ads simply looked fetching and seductive. About a year ago, the women began to gaze into the camera with an expression that was slightly frightened or angry, ... Recently, I noticed, faintly but unmistakable, on a sign for the Private Eyes strip club-- that on the upper cheekbone of a lovely model advertising the club, there was now a single drop. Was it a tear?" I don't particularly care about strip clubs -- but Private Eyes sits right between the Broadway Dance Center and the Al Hirschfeld Theatre-- and my apartment. It's literally just two buildings down from where I live. On the same block there's also several restaurants, a homeless shelter, luxury condominiums, and, well, it's New York. "Private Eyes" is just a strip club. They have a simple logo of drawn COMIC BOOK eyes staring over the words "private eyes". I pass by it every day as I walk to work, there's no tear, there's no anger, it's not even a photo-- Google "private eyes nyc" and you can see for yourself. All that said, I did quite like her artful descriptions of her own orgasms-- I could read an entire book of Naomi Wolf describing her post coital, seemingly synesthetic, joy-- the singing dancing colors-- oh Naomi, don't stop!! But unfortunately, that's not the book she wrote. Instead she plods through topics of science and spirituality with haphazard guesswork, doing no justice to any of the very fascinating topics she references. tl;dr -- go find a beautiful lover that thinks you're wonderful, and don't read this book

  14. 4 out of 5

    cat

    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 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.”

  15. 5 out of 5

    Clay

    Let me start by saying that I liked the book, I learned a lot, and I find Wolf's perspective fascinating at times. Having said that, I feel like a more appropriate title would be, "Vagina: An Anecdotal Journey Peppered with a Bit of Science." I wish that her documentation was more robust and I wish that her ties between scientific research and less recognized philosophies were less tenuous. But in the end, the book made me think and that is what I appreciate in a book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anastasia

    Quite repetitive, tiresome and stating the obvious in many cases. I have to admit I skipped many parts while reading due to long recurring themes. At points I thought she was drawing personal only conclusions presenting them as universal. Overall, disappointing. Don't read it unless you want to find yourself in detailed explanation of anatomy and connection between mind and body...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Having read The Beauty Myth I was expecting a lot from this but sadly I was left largely disappointed, confused and generally peeved. To start with Wolf (by her own admission) only looks at the vagina from a heterosexual point of view, more to the point a white middle/upper class heterosexual point of view, which excludes far more than it includes but this is who she is, so we'll move on. Then she goes through the history of the vagina and being female generally which was really interesting and Having read The Beauty Myth I was expecting a lot from this but sadly I was left largely disappointed, confused and generally peeved. To start with Wolf (by her own admission) only looks at the vagina from a heterosexual point of view, more to the point a white middle/upper class heterosexual point of view, which excludes far more than it includes but this is who she is, so we'll move on. Then she goes through the history of the vagina and being female generally which was really interesting and good to see acknowledgement of how past cultures and religions valued the female form as much as it did the male form, some even more so thanks to the life giving aspects of being female (the most obvious being our dear Mother Earth). Then we get to the problematic bit. The bit where Wolf finds herself not enjoying sex as much as she once did which sends her into a panic spiral of epic proportions until she remembers that doctors can help with such things. However, on this journey she begins to look into the joys of sex and how feminism may or may not have changed this over the years. She touches upon the fact that Western women are not as sexually satisfied as they once were or should be given the freedoms that have been won. Sadly Wolf puts this down to the fact that women do indeed need men to be sexually satisfied. I don't know about you but I am more than capable of achieving that satisfaction without a man, thank-you very much. Wolf seems to miss that the point that real satisfaction comes from being with someone (male, female or other) that you love and being able to show and feel that love physically, losing yourself in them and them in you. Instead she spends the rest of the book researching all the various sexual options to improve and increase this satisfaction without addressing this point. In the course of this we are subjected to an odd mix of science, pseudo-science, mythology and spirituality, which just made me (and my vagina) angry as it constantly reinforced the happy vagina, happy woman mantra that Wolf seemed to be going for (personally I think its the other way around but there you go). This is an interesting read but seems to forget that women are in fact more than just their vaginas, and men-folk are not a necessity to happy vaginas, emotional, mental and physical joy and pleasure is.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Philip Cherny

    A while ago, I added this book to my ever-expanding “to-read” list after watching Naomi Wolf’s promotional interview on The Colbert Report. While sympathetic to the core women’s rights causes addressed by feminism on the whole, I occasionally have misgivings about the fragmentary factions of particular issues addressed by feminist voices, especially among those who assert a narrow ideology of how all women ideally should liberate themselves from the oppression of the patriarchy. Of course, this A while ago, I added this book to my ever-expanding “to-read” list after watching Naomi Wolf’s promotional interview on The Colbert Report. While sympathetic to the core women’s rights causes addressed by feminism on the whole, I occasionally have misgivings about the fragmentary factions of particular issues addressed by feminist voices, especially among those who assert a narrow ideology of how all women ideally should liberate themselves from the oppression of the patriarchy. Of course, this is not just an issue with feminism, but the inevitable, fundamental pitfall of any “-ism”—any ideology that attempts to assert universal application—and the fact that I’m only giving voice to the straw man example that I might characterize as “poor” or exclusionary feminism (e.g. “All women should eschew marriage!”) demonstrates my ignorance of the subject. Given my lack of decent feminist material to draw from, I was excited to get on board with an under-discussed cause that Wolf addressed in her interview: namely, the reported decline in women’s satisfaction with their sex lives, including but not limited to sexual pleasure from orgasm. As a heterosexual male, I feel in part responsible for this decline, and it is my obligation to try to mitigate it. Reading the book, I was pleased to find that she does at least sketch out this social issue in detail, but I found her solutions somewhat lacking. I personally found the first 40% or so of this book engaging and in some instances even edifying. I would even consider it a decent alternative to the inadequate sex ed (if any at all) we provide in most US public schools, where adults are understandably too uncomfortable to breach the subject, leaving most adolescents to incorrectly “learn” about sexuality from pornography. Wolf’s insights gleaned from scientific research gave me more appreciation for the incomprehensible complexity of women’s sexuality. While her use of science to support her claims is not without fault (I will address this critique later), it is refreshing to see social issues addressed in feminism informed by scientific research. [I should caveat here that I’m not sure if the author would identify this book as a strictly feminist text, but I think it’s safe to argue that she is voicing concerns often addressed in feminist discourse.] I find myself particularly intrigued by the central question or theory raised in this book: Wolf espouses that the vagina is integrally connected with a woman’s psychophysical and spiritual inner being. She sometimes refers to this conception of the vagina, which appears more holistic than the conventional view as a mere sexual organ, as the “vagina-brain connection.” Although she seems to express little regard for Freud’s contributions, I cannot help but notice the connection between her theory of the vagina and Freud’s opinion that sexuality is suffused in all human activities even during its latency, just the same human sexuality isn’t strictly sexual (not strictly coital at any rate.) The only marked difference I notice is her insistence that this phenomenon is somehow unique to women and her dismissal of the complex interplay between life and sex in men. As James G. Pfaus has pointed out, however, there’s no reason we might not just as reasonably make a case for a profound "penis-brain connection" in men. I’m jumping ahead of myself. I shall list my critiques of Wolf’s vagina project: 1. Heteronormativity: This book is extremely heteronormative! I don’t expect a heterosexual author to necessarily know everything about lesbian sexuality, but she seems to dismiss it as inferior to heterosexual love. Frequently she suggests that all women need loving men for their health and spiritual wellbeing. To me this implies that all single and lesbian women are doomed to a life deprived of self-actualization. Even if she acknowledges the existence of comfortably single or content lesbian women, her overall tone feels smug and superior to these often overlooked but substantial groups. 2. Gender essentialism: I find myself skeptical of Wolf’s numerous gender essentialist claims and sweeping generalizations that reassert the conventional status quo about myths of essential gender differences (apparently, the author is already aware of this critique). She may support many of these claims with scientific findings, but I think she did not express enough the limitations of these findings or the degree of deviation from the norm (I’m being generous here, but more on this issue later). Of the countless gender essentialist assertions I encountered (women like to be caressed while men do not care about this kind of affection; women tend to process things verbally while men tend to be laconic; women care more about sensual things such as atmosphere, while men couldn’t care less about aesthetics; the list goes on…), nearly none of them personally held true for me or any of my relationships. In fact, the opposite was more often the case. She characterizes men with little depth or complexity. As I tried to indicate earlier when I mentioned Dr. Pfaus’s article, it’s clear that in many of these cases she only examined research on women and not on men, leaving her to make assumptions like her notion that women’s orgasms manifest as transcendent, mystical, oceanic, out-of-body experiences, while men are only capable of experiencing orgasms as a quick release of dopamine in the brain. I’m just not convinced. 3. Myopic perspective: my previous two critiques were examples some major ways in which Wolf presents a myopic perspective of how sexuality ideally should operate for everyone, but they certainly aren’t the only ways. While I do not take issue with establishing standards for ideal sex practices (e.g. rape is never acceptable, etc.), her narrow perspective leaves much to be desired in this sexually pluralistic (albeit often murky and confusing because of this pluralism) society of today. I’m sure Ms. Wolf has an excellent sex life, likely healthier than most individuals, but I think it would be wrong to assume her way is the only way. To begin with, if lower lumbar and sacral nerve blockage serves as her greatest moment of sexual crisis, then she preaches from the privileged viewpoint of an individual blessed with a healthy sex life. Given my experience with so many individuals afflicted with problems barring them from a healthy sex life (i.e. serious psychological issues such as pedophilia, etc.), I find myself doubtful that the transgressive power of the libido esteemed by so many “sex-positive” feminists can liberate most individuals. Label me a pessimist. Secondly, Wolf presents a view that privileges monogamous relationships. I certainly see benefits of a secure, monogamous relationship, but I don’t necessarily view this as the best option for all individuals. Third, especially towards the end of the book, when she starts listing all the conventional ways to romance your lover by buying her flowers and such, it feels as if she’s writing to her own generation and has no grasp of the ways in which people of my generation (so-called “millennials”) tend to view these romantic gestures as hackneyed clichés, and are more apt to call traditional relationships or gender roles into question. Fourth, she prefers to play the prosaic sex advice columnist and stick within the interpersonal realm of relationships rather than addressing the broader societal/systemic issues. Lastly, her sexual utopia does not account for, say, two consenting adults who prefer to engage in violent BDSM (personally not my thing but it can supposedly be therapeutic for some—look at Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose). 4. Quasi-New Age cheesiness: as a mushy Humanities major and xenophile, I’m probably just as guilty of revering all things Other, but I find myself disgusted with Wolf’s naive, atavistic idealism towards non-Western attitudes or conceptions of femininity. She neglects to mention that women still have a lot to overcome in many of these cultures that revere women as “goddesses”—India and Sri Lanka have among the highest rape rates in the world; Mexico has a long way to go despite the cultural prominence of the cult of Mary, and a long tradition of matriarchy, albeit bound to familial roles. In her essay, “Women in Frames: the Gaze, the Eye, the Profile in Renaissance Portraiture,” Patricia Simons makes a compelling case for how neoplatonic reverence of women did not necessarily contribute to their wellbeing. Towards the latter half of the book, it felt as if the author began to run out of substantial material to write about, and simply cited passages from historical figures such as George Eliot and Georgia O’Keefe. Her extensive examples grew tiresome once they continued to elaborate points that she had already clearly illustrated. Lastly, we arrive at the unavoidable clichés of corny, mushy sentiment expressed in her “goddess array” concept. As much as I understand the appeal of tantra, for general audiences this esoteric pursuit is inevitably going to marginalize her book as hippie hogwash. I’m also sympathetic to Wolf’s defense of the sacred in sexuality, but (again, to reiterate my case for sexual pluralism) I’m not sure I share her exclusivity. There’s a place in culture for the irreverent to figure in contrast with the sacred; otherwise the reverential appears boring at best, oppressive at worst. If we didn’t have silly, sophomoric terms for the vagina like “furburger” (121) or “schlong” for penis, then I don’t think the more serious poetic terms would have the same effect. Why can’t one experience sex as sacred expression of love at times and other times a silly and dumb pastime? Why can’t it be both sacred and profane? 5. Misuse of scientific data: while much of Wolf’s supporting evidence is strictly anecdotal or cultural, her use of scientific data remains a key component of her thesis. Her dubious assessment of scientific research stands as arguably the most contentious issue among critics of her book. It’s not difficult to find articles debunking her interpretation of the data (here is just one example.) I mentioned earlier that Wolf primarily confines her research to that of the female sex, and that she does not go far enough in expressing the limitations of these studies. These omissions serve as examples of how the author only cites scientific findings that confirm her preconceived notions—an error we call confirmation bias. Moreover, she does so in a facile manner that lacks nuance. In truth, most scientific studies are limited in scope, and don’t easily give rise to generalization. For example, I kept asking myself questions while reading her section on the woes of pornography: does pornography desensitize all individuals equally, or could one chart this on a statistical bell curve? Same with the issue of addiction. What about the age of exposure? What about the way in which one consumes the media? What is the onset age for erectile dysfunction and how are we correlating it to pornography use (what methods are we using to measure it)? In reducing the takeaway of all these studies to “pornography is bad, bar none!” her research raised more questions than it answered. I even recall evidence from other scientific studies that appear to conflict with some of these studies she relies upon (not by any means an uncommon occurrence in the murky field of science), such as Dr. John Gottman’s finding that “the male cardiovascular system remains more reactive than the female and slower to recover from stress.” (171) I recall Robert Sapolsky making a contrary claim that it takes longer for women’s “fight-or-flight” response triggered in the autonomic nervous system (the system which causes the heart to palpitate, stomach to clench, etc.) to settle back down to its normal, unstressed state (source: Radiolab, "Phantom Limbs" about 11-12 mins in.) As an ignorant layman, I can’t confidently say who’s finding is more correct.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Beth-ann

    I enjoyed the facts but felt the delivery was a bit off.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Brugger

    Overview: Ms. Wolf had a unique experience that could have been an extremely useful contribution to our understanding of the mind-body connection. Unfortunately she misinterpreted it due to her feminist biases and made this experience all about women. A few years ago Ms. Wolf began to notice that after having sex she didn’t feel the deep sense of well-being she had always enjoyed post-coitus. Slowly she stopped feeling joy, confidence, or creativity in her everyday life, and instead experienced i Overview: Ms. Wolf had a unique experience that could have been an extremely useful contribution to our understanding of the mind-body connection. Unfortunately she misinterpreted it due to her feminist biases and made this experience all about women. A few years ago Ms. Wolf began to notice that after having sex she didn’t feel the deep sense of well-being she had always enjoyed post-coitus. Slowly she stopped feeling joy, confidence, or creativity in her everyday life, and instead experienced increasing depression and despair. She went to her gynecologist, who suggested this was caused by compression of her pelvic nerve. It turned out that Ms. Wolf’s vertebrae were degenerating, her condition was so advanced the doctors were incredulous that she didn’t have any pain. A surgeon inserted a 14-inch hinged steel plate in her back, which cured the nerve compression. When she was eventually allowed to have sex again, her sense of well-being returned. I admire her for having the courage and honesty to talk to her doctors about a problem that centered on sex. Her conclusion from this experience was that input from her pelvis was vital to her mental health; without it she grew depressed. With it she felt well and creative. But instead of seeing this as a new dimension to the understanding of the mind-body connection, one that would be incredible useful to so many people—our sexuality is a vital part of our mental health—she seems to have concluded that women’s minds are in their vagina. She says things like, “women are more like animals.” To be honest, her thinking seemed so odd I skimmed much of the book. I heard of this book in an article about how some authors have been misconstruing the latest findings of neurobiology. She has been skewered for her science by many different reviewers. I think it’s a shame that she didn’t stick to her experience and discuss some of the things she learned along the way. For example, one of the doctors who specialized in nerves told her that all women are wired differently—some have more nerve connections going to the clitoris, some more to the perineum, others to the vagina, etc. This explains why women differ in their sexual response, and it seemed to me that many women could find this information liberating (I did.) Men are much more similar in their wiring, which is somewhat simpler than the female branching. You can see exquisite diagrams of the nervous system at: www.netterimages.com/image/5101.htm, Female: 5101 and 2992, male: 2910.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bloodorange

    Everything is a vagina: I picked up this book on recommendation of a charming youtuber, and boy, what an entertaining, absurd, fascinating, guilty-pleasure read it was! Firstly, this is Naomi Wolf - a privileged conspiracy theorist, New Yorker, Jewish princess, and former political advisor to presidents. Just google her pictures and remember this very woman who wrote a book on beauty being a cultural construct. Part of this book hilariousness results from the references to stories involving people Everything is a vagina: I picked up this book on recommendation of a charming youtuber, and boy, what an entertaining, absurd, fascinating, guilty-pleasure read it was! Firstly, this is Naomi Wolf - a privileged conspiracy theorist, New Yorker, Jewish princess, and former political advisor to presidents. Just google her pictures and remember this very woman who wrote a book on beauty being a cultural construct. Part of this book hilariousness results from the references to stories involving people she met yachting or attending movie premieres, or sudden reality checks of the "I cannot allow this man to massage my vagina, I'm a good Jewish girl" variety. Then it is tragic. I read the section on rape victims and the way rape affects female nervous system with bated breath. I seriously read this book walking, eating and missing my tram stops; Wolf claims that rape is a form of brain damage, aimed at subjecting women not through wrecking their genitalia, but rather their brains and nervous systems. (Disclaimer: I haven't caught her red-handed, but I'm not convinced she never twists any of her history or neurology.) I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know much about the British Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, aiming at protecting soldiers from STDs, which - instead of subjecting men to a humiliating 'dangle-parade' - allowed the police to arrest women suspected of being prostitutes, to be subjected to compulsory checks for venereal disease; if found infected, "they could be interned in locked hospitals for up to three months, a period gradually extended to one year." (Wikipedia) A wonderfully effective form of social control, since every flirtatious behaviour could be misinterpreted. The section on how porn affects our sex life... well. Naomi Wolf's vagina surely is emotionally fragile (vaginas, if we are to believe her, generally are). Also, isn't that a way of blaming the world at large for the state of one's sex life? My sex life sucks because people around me swear, watch porn, and tell sexist jokes? Just thinking aloud, because it does resonate on some level. All in all, an enjoyable read, which gave me inspiring ideas (although I'm probably not likely to explain her views on romance heroes to my students again). (By the way, a Christian fish is a mandorla, too.)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Liss Capello

    Wow, this book made me angry. I don't even know how to rate it, I'm so conflicted in my feelings about it. The list of things wrong with Wolf's prolonged study of the vagina is long, but at risk of becoming irrationally ranty I will try to keep this brief: - Wolf's approach to scientific inquiry is to find an idea or an insight or a piece of new information, latch onto it, and run laps searching out evidence to support her claim. There is a lot of real science invoked here, and much of it is inte Wow, this book made me angry. I don't even know how to rate it, I'm so conflicted in my feelings about it. The list of things wrong with Wolf's prolonged study of the vagina is long, but at risk of becoming irrationally ranty I will try to keep this brief: - Wolf's approach to scientific inquiry is to find an idea or an insight or a piece of new information, latch onto it, and run laps searching out evidence to support her claim. There is a lot of real science invoked here, and much of it is interesting in and of itself. What is tenuous at best are the conclusions she draws, which she never really questions throughout the entire work. Based on A, she concludes, J must follow, where J is conveniently the idea she began with and was aiming at the whole time. One assumes there must be a body of work which did not lead to J which was ignored or sidestepped in order to ensure her theory maintains its primacy unchallenged. This in addition to the fact that quite often the conclusions she draws are only one possible interpretation of a set of presented data. She bills herself as hard science but really this is an opinion piece with lots of justification. Additionally, using evolution as the justification for things you already wanted to believe is sloppy and stupid. - This book, and Wolf's approach to the vagina, is all about the experiences of heterosexual ciswomen. Mostly white women. Mostly women exactly like her. Despite giving lip service to ideas like 'every woman's sexual response is different,' she makes broad sweeping claims about the way in which the vagina interfaces with the brain and the way to optimize female experiences of sexuality and romantic/sexual relationships that completely ignore transwomen, lesbian or bisexual women, even unpartnered heterosexual women. If your theory falls apart when considered from any other lens, it's either nonsense or extremely limited in usefulness, and you should stop peddling it as transformative. - Despite her assertion that she wants to base her claims on biology and hard science, it is impressive how many times Wolf segues into a passage in which she finds her theories corroborated by her own friends over tea, or relates some supporting anecdote from her own experience, or cites the letters and fictional writing of certain female authors to prop up her argument. She also has a fondness for weird mystical language and romanticizing ancient and eastern cultures in regards to their approaches to the female body and person, which is frustrating as these cultures are in no way homogenous nor uniformly positive in their views. - Sexual violence is a real and serious problem, and I found the descriptions of sexual violence survivors offensive at times, because of how sincerely Wolf believes her premise that the connection between the vagina and the brain is so profound that damaging the vagina (specifically) is a shorthand way of subjugating and disempowering women. This narrative doesn't leave a lot of room for healing or overcoming wounds left by sexual violence, instead creating a dynamic that leaves sexually assault victims hamstringed by their victimization. - The asserted link between sexual satisfaction in women and creative/mental awakening is paternalistic in the extreme, especially when posited in a deterministic 'you must have X to experience Y' way. Wolf conveniently ignores anyone who had a great artistic or transcendant mystical experience that did not involve getting laid, which must be a big disappointment for the purposefully celibate, the lesbian, and all men everywhere. Sorry, dudes, you can't be creative geniuses in the same way as sexually satisfied women, not ever. Underneath all of this disgust (and no kidding, I had lots!) are some ideas which resonated for me, and which are worth discussion. This is the reason I'm conflicted about this book: although Wolf gets lots wrong, and overgeneralizes to the point of laughability, she brushes up on ideas that are interesting. - This idea of the brain-vagina connection is an interesting one, although Wolf makes it sound like a very simple and also very direct link. Conflating the personhood of ciswomen to their genitals is obviously a wildly problematic idea, but the link between pleasure and various hormone levels and activation in various areas of the brain is probably not sufficiently understood. - The section about the etymology of words relating to the female genitals was interesting to me, of course. And it probably goes without saying (though Wolf is happy to provide plenty of scientifically-based evidence) that women can be pretty sensitive to descriptors/attitudes adopted towards this piece of their anatomy, and that psychologically it is not great for women to have the vagina derided, mocked, or shamed, whether personally or in general on a cultural level. I could probably have used this section skipping the sad tale of how some generalized vaginal mockery gave Wolf a six-month bout of writer's block, though. - There is a great deal of sexual dissatisfaction in the western world, among both women and men. From a sociological standpoint it seems worthwhile to try to discern why that might be, and how it might be addressed. Rolling back the clock to a magical time a hundred years ago when everybody had much better sex probably isn't it, not least because I see no reason to think they did. But this is fruitful ground for exploration as it likely is linked to systemic societal trends, rather than a biologic problem. - Honestly, the last section of the book, which read effectively like scientifically-justified Cosmo advice for male heterosexual lovers, was maybe the most promising. Was it cliched and one-size-fits-all advice that will vary in effectiveness when applied to actual specific women? Totally. Did some of it sound accurate to me, a heterosexual cisgender woman with Opinions on how I would like to be treated by a man? Yep. That chapter would be interesting reading to share with a male relationship partner, although various relationship self-help books have likely covered the same ground with more or less success. In conclusion? Aaaaahhhh. This is what I get for picking random Naomi Wolf off the library shelf in a library-request-lull.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    It definitely enlightens you about what it is that makes women's sexuality so different from their male counterparts' and how the physical gets to influence the mental - how the vagina is all wired up to trigger phychological responses not only regarding the automatic and obvious realm of sensations but also regarding emotions.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    "Mind-vagina connection"? I think that I would not be impressed by the neurology here, especially soon after reading Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference.

  25. 4 out of 5

    VeganMedusa

    Science-wise, I think it was a mess. She makes some good points that I think deserve proper exploration, but this book doesn't do it. She loves anecdotes and musing and rat-studies, and we're supposed to be convinced. Plus, I think this book should be more properly called a biography of the heterosexual vagina.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    (3.0) See a lot of the criticism this book has received, but there are some redeeming observations. Her whole thesis is that there is a strong vagina-mind connection that we're all missing out on that has profound implications. She claims to have found evidence that women's creativity and assertiveness all come from how well their vaginas are treated and how well they perceive them. So there's a lot of nonsense science going on here that is hard to wade through. In the end though, she does share w (3.0) See a lot of the criticism this book has received, but there are some redeeming observations. Her whole thesis is that there is a strong vagina-mind connection that we're all missing out on that has profound implications. She claims to have found evidence that women's creativity and assertiveness all come from how well their vaginas are treated and how well they perceive them. So there's a lot of nonsense science going on here that is hard to wade through. In the end though, she does share what has worked for her and (at least anecdotally on a decently large scale) other women to achieve more meaningful sex, including and beyond more meaningful orgasm, which can leave them feeling stronger, more confident and more creative. In the end this may be a more meaningful book for people who love women than for the women themselves (indeed, some of the biggest fans I've seen in Goodreads reviews of the book are hetero men). Two (very different) areas of particular interest perhaps: 1. The nerve network in female genitalia is complex and highly variable, so women will respond better to different stimulation. Exploration and experimentation with feedback to their partners is important. Not sure this is earth shattering to anyone, but she does point out that there is far too narrow a focus on the clitoris as source of pleasure. So perhaps at least a reminder is in order. 2. She also makes an argument that because of the strong vagina-mind connection, trauma/shame to the vagina carries far more weight than other forms of abuse/mistreatment. She tries to explain the prevalence of rape in war along these lines, as well as suppression/shaming of the vagina is a tool to keep women compliant. There may be something meaningful here, though she comes at it from very weak justification. I wonder if others have been more responsible in their research/science and can shed light? Don't trust the science and the why, but try out a lot of the what and see if it works for you/your partner.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chloé Stuff

    An emotional read I came across this book as I was researching the negative affect of LEEP procedures online. I haven’t talked about it publicly before but I underwent a LEEP procedure in the early 2010’s and afterwards felt a profound disconnection to my sexuality. After being laughed at by doctors I decided to see if maybe other women had experienced this disconnection after this kind of surgery. This book made me cry, it also helped me to reconnect with sexuality. It was so profound to discove An emotional read I came across this book as I was researching the negative affect of LEEP procedures online. I haven’t talked about it publicly before but I underwent a LEEP procedure in the early 2010’s and afterwards felt a profound disconnection to my sexuality. After being laughed at by doctors I decided to see if maybe other women had experienced this disconnection after this kind of surgery. This book made me cry, it also helped me to reconnect with sexuality. It was so profound to discover that I am not the only woman who has had the experience of loss of sexuality and encouraging to know that there is research that backs up my experience as well as a path to healing. Thanks Naomi for writing this book, it changed my life.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Flaneurette

    A Naomi is not a Naomi is not a Naomi Confessions: 1) I started reading this book because I heard rumours way back when that Naomi Klein was to write about about the vagina. I never even glanced at the name on the cover. Had I been aware it was Naomi Wolf, I would have been annoyed and never got the book in the first place. I never read any reviews, so when this book was slaughtered by all respectable critics, I noticed nil. 2) I continued reading and finished it only because it is my New Year's A Naomi is not a Naomi is not a Naomi Confessions: 1) I started reading this book because I heard rumours way back when that Naomi Klein was to write about about the vagina. I never even glanced at the name on the cover. Had I been aware it was Naomi Wolf, I would have been annoyed and never got the book in the first place. I never read any reviews, so when this book was slaughtered by all respectable critics, I noticed nil. 2) I continued reading and finished it only because it is my New Year's Resolution to finish the books I start reading. I can strongly recommend Zoë Heller's from the New Yorker: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi... As for myself, I could have written chapters and verses about everything that is wrong with this book. I just wish someone savvy had written an essay about the vagina instead because this should have been an important book. I think some of the facts presented could have been quite acceptable and even enlightening to a wider audience if it hadn't been for Ms Wolf's lack of scientific understanding of basic concepts such as correlation vs cause, control group etc., which is, actually unforgivable when she attempts to carve out an understanding of a certain goddess-esque reality based on "science". Not only does her lack of understanding dilute her own scientific approach, poor editing and tedious descriptions of scientists' and doctors' looks, ages and sailboats bring the level of crap in this book to unimaginable heights. Even if the main message is quite ok, the no-brainer of an insight that all women are differently wired and one should love and respect their vaginas, which btw. Ms Wolf over 400 pages fails to clearly define what is, she makes such a mess out of it all. What makes matters worse is the blatantly obvious self-absorbation and dilettantism culminating in a visit to "the nicest former banker turned tantric healer". As much as it infuriates me that one cannot even say the v-word in the U.S. of A., that "cunt" is rarely used in a loving context, that rape is a horrible crime affecting more than just the victim's genitals etc., it really pisses me off that Ms Wolf presents a 3 hrs a £120/hour session full of mumbo jumbo and silly rituals as THE path to the vagina's liberation and the woman's happiness and creativity. The vagina whisperer's "Welcome, Goddess"-greeting and subsequent gazing and religious stroking gave the good monogamous Jewish author her technicolour vision back and un-blocked her pasta-induced (sic!) writer's block. I have never heard a poorer excuse for underperformance. "Vagina" is, sadly, right up there with books accounting for "journeys" women all seem to go on nowadays or depicting 50 painful positions to assume and rope knots to tie in your quest to gain personal freedom. This is just another piece of sh*** which in its last instance brings the world further away from understanding and respecting female sexuality. Seasoned with spiritual fanny-rubs, this is nothing but a wordy quasi-feminist regurgitation of extremely biased interviews and "research" made by Ms Wolf after her spine snapped. Good for her, she got her all-inclusive orgasms back even though she cannot play tennis and dance anymore. I wish she hadn't written this book though, but it was, reportedly, part of her pact with the devil/God/tantric guru. Now that gives her authority, right?

  29. 5 out of 5

    David

    Naomi Wolf's earlier books, The Beauty Myth and The End of America, are two of my favorite books, so I was eagerly looking forward to reading her latest. But reading it was deeply disappointing. In addition to credulously repeating the unproven claims of pseudo-science practitioners, she also engages in wild speculation--not just about implausible scientific hypotheses, but also about the motives of men who disrespect women. I mean, obviously, I hope we're all against men disrespecting women, bu Naomi Wolf's earlier books, The Beauty Myth and The End of America, are two of my favorite books, so I was eagerly looking forward to reading her latest. But reading it was deeply disappointing. In addition to credulously repeating the unproven claims of pseudo-science practitioners, she also engages in wild speculation--not just about implausible scientific hypotheses, but also about the motives of men who disrespect women. I mean, obviously, I hope we're all against men disrespecting women, but supposing some absurd-on-its face theory about, say, how a man saying mean things about a woman's vagina causes irreparable physiological trauma to that organ is hard enough to accept. But supposing (as Wolf does) that men engage in such speech precisely because they are aware of Wolf's made-up theory, and intend that result, is absolutely preposterous. But my real problem with the book is this. I believe that women are as capable and as resilient as men are. Wolf's theory that women are highly delicate, fragile creatures who suffer serious harm from a single insensitive offhand remark is not feminism, and it is not post-feminism. Describing women as being weak in this way is just unreconstructed sexism. This truly crosses the line for me when Wolf repeats (seemingly with approval) the extremist view that "All heterosexual sex is rape." How is the idea that women are incapable of consenting to sex any less sexist than the sexist idea of a hundred or so years ago that women were incapable of consenting to a contract? Indeed, how is that different from the way in which we think, still today, that children are incapable of legally consenting either to sex or to a contract? And still worse--doesn't calling all heterosexual sex rape disrespect the experiences of women who actually are the victims of illegal rape? Is Wolf saying that what happens to those women is no worse than what happens to women who have sex with a man they love and wind up marrying? Surely, these conclusions that would seem to follow from Wolf's positions are not ideas that she intended to espouse or to which she would ascent, and, of course, I know that Naomi Wolf is not a sexist. But I think it does demonstrate the extent to which her ideas were not really thought through very well before she wrote them down and published them. My hope is that people with their own evil agendas will not use this poorly-conceived book as an excuse to dismiss the much more compelling and better-researched ideas that she expressed so convincingly in The Beauty Myth and The End of America.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Fred

    Okay, I gave it three stars (liked it) even though I wanted to give it two (it was ok) - and as best I can make out it is not so much because I "liked" it, as that I felt like reading critical/mocking reviews of this book beforehand colored my perception from the beginning. I tried to shake that throughout, but I'm not sure I was able to - so I gave it the extra star just in case I'm not being wholly fair. Make any sense? No? Anyway - the bad: 1. This is one of those weird "The New Science I have Okay, I gave it three stars (liked it) even though I wanted to give it two (it was ok) - and as best I can make out it is not so much because I "liked" it, as that I felt like reading critical/mocking reviews of this book beforehand colored my perception from the beginning. I tried to shake that throughout, but I'm not sure I was able to - so I gave it the extra star just in case I'm not being wholly fair. Make any sense? No? Anyway - the bad: 1. This is one of those weird "The New Science I have cherry picked suggests that..." books. 2. It is a paean to the magical vagina that would be seen as embarrassing if it was a paean to the awesome complexity (or simplicity) of the penis. 3. Although she tries to make it personal, it seems like she holds back in a way that makes her seem weirdly prudish to me. Yes, damned if you do damned if you don't - had she gone the other way people would have been attacking her for tmi, as they already did - she does offer plenty of i - only she seems, as I said, to have held back much. So I read what I read. 4. She resurrects the women's-souls-need-flowers kind of thing which, while may be true, just confuses the heck out of men since they knew that anyway. It almost seems like she's trolling them. 5. Her easy mythology that other cultures in other times and places that have a few intriguing or delicious words must have had a radically different attitude toward women, in practice, is way too incredulous to me. While you should take the good wherever you can find it, the same Chinese culture which had texts that wrote so dreamily about women's vaginas, was also breaking little girl's feet and binding them. 6. Hate the word "yoni." Probably because it's a diminutive for a Hebrew name that always grated on my ears (sorry, Yonis). Also, it's unclear why men who charge women hundreds of dollars for masturbating them while calling them Goddess = good, but diff'rent strokes and all. The good: 1. She quotes copiously from other works. And she selected some great ones. As a source book, it was really good. 2. Despite the heavenly magical genitalia trope, at a basic level, it's a book which is promoting pleasure, positive self-image and really great orgasms. And relationships too. 3. As a popular work, it does raise awareness of many issues worth considering, which many readers may not have known much about, such as the history of the medicalization of the yoni in the 19th century and on. Slicing perinea to make life easier for doctors is not a good thing. And... . that's about it.

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