Sounds crazy, but Naomi Wolf, famous for her book The Beauty Myth, suggests that’s what is happening.
The premise, laid out in her latest book, Vagina: A New Biography, has met mixed reviews from both scientists and the literati. But I found her thoughts interesting enough to give them some space here.
Wolf’s notion was sparked, oddly enough, when her spinal cord was repaired. Before surgery she had lost both her sex drive and her creativity. After surgery both returned. Curious, she began exploring how women’s sexuality might be connected to their broader empowerment and passion for life.
She began her journey by exploring more conventional notions of how society and power structures affect desire. But something was missing. So she moved on to biology, learning how the vagina, clitoris and cervix are connected to the brain. She found out that when neurotransmitters related to sexuality are blocked, an “anhedonic state” akin to depression can arise.
The science comes largely from Dr. Jim Pfaus, a researcher and psychology professor at Concordia University — and a defender of her book.
Next, Wolf suggests that extremists try to repress women’s sexual selves because sexuality allows women fuller, more productive and empowered lives. As she explains in the Huffington Post:
The data is sound elucidating the brain-vagina connection that many critics are struggling with. Dopamine builds confidence and motivation, oxytocin is about bonding and intimacy, and opioids are about bliss and ecstasy. If you know really what that cocktail [activated during sex] does [in the female brain], then it makes sense why patriarchy always targets female sexuality, always targets the vagina, with female genital mutilation, rape, and war, you know, derision, mockery. If you get that female desire and the vagina can be a medium for women of positive mindspeak unrelated to sex, it makes sense that the vagina is continually being targeted. The whole takeaway of the book is that the vagina is not just a sex organ. If you want to demean women, you demean the vagina.
I don’t know whether Wolf is right. (Are fanatics really that bright?) But interesting that sexuality seems so related to living a full-fledged, empowering life.
Naomi Wolf wants women to have better sex lives, and more empowered lives generally. Vagina: A New Biography seeks to light the way.
Wolf began researching this book after she regained her sexual desire, creativity and passion for life — much to her surprise — when her spinal cord was repaired.
I’ll discuss the larger life issues later. For now, let’s look at how her somewhat controversial book might benefit women with low libido, and the partners who love them.
Something she calls “the Goddess Array” consists of “a set of behaviors that activate the autonomic nervous system in women” and turns them on. She describes these as “the-things-that-women-need-that-men-don’t-need,” quoting sex educator Liz Topp, who coined the obese phrase.
So, women need certain things to spark desire that men don’t. And these behaviors actually have biological effects.
As she explained to the Huffington Post, women need to be relaxed and free from bad stress so that heart rate and respiration can increase, engorging what needs to be engorged and lubricating what needs to be lubricated. These processes are heightened when women lie in their lover’s arms and when they are romanced. In fact, dancing is actually seductive, she says.
On the other hand, these arousing physical processes can be interrupted if her lover snaps at her or flirts with someone else.
So foreplay begins way before bed. But we all know that, right?
True, she says, but what’s new is that science actually backs this up.
Plus, she points out that porn — so prevalent today — leads us away from this knowledge. Porn is a sex educator (a poor one) — even if neither men nor pornographers look at it that way. Men go there to get turned on, but then believe what they see: women see a huge penis, quickly get aroused and climax after a very few minutes of friction. Context doesn’t matter.
Even Masters and Johnson can throw us off. Wolf adds,
We’ve got this model from Masters and Johnson that male and female sexual response is kind of the same — there’s arousal, plateau, climax and resolution — and the Cosmo model is that everyone should be racing to the goal together, trying to get there together. This as a model of sexual response (for women) is not true.
And for women and men who do know better, we too often forget or don’t take the time to nurture the good energy that women need for arousal.
This is especially important in long-term relationships. When love is new, “feel-good” oxytocin levels skyrocket. But then they drop. Women also get turned on by feeling chosen, but after being married awhile a woman may feel less like she’s chosen and more like her partner simply has no other choice but her. Wolf continues:
Once you’re in a relationship, you don’t have to woo her, you don’t have to bring her flowers, you don’t have to take her dancing, you don’t have to tell her she’s beautiful, you just cut to the chase. That is a killer for passion for women in long-term relationships, and it’s not a psychological thing, it’s physiological, and a mind-body connection.
Marta Meana, a UNLV psychology professor, would seem to agree. She says women have a lower sex drive (culturally influenced) and need a bigger jolt to spark their libido. As she told a New York Times reporter,
If I don’t love cake as much as you, my cake better be kick-butt to get me excited to eat it.
Turning on the sex goddess, the gospel according to Naomi Wolf. It may be worth a read.