Fearlessly tackling a taboo
Don’t censure the messenger; I can’t review Naomi Wolf’s latest book without mentioning the title, Vagina: A New Biography. It’s a poetic, scientific and completely fresh take on female sexuality and selfhood, and an absolute must-read.
Wolf’s interest in the topic was spurred by a personal medical crisis that raised a provocative question: Could there be a connection between the vagina and the brain, a link between sexual health and overall happiness, as well as creativity? To find answers, Wolf taps into neurobiology and explores the role of the vagina in literature and history. In many cases, notions that were only understood anecdotally, like the link between female orgasm and self-confidence, turn out to be supported by science. After making a strong case linking mental health to sexual security, Wolf offers a particularly frightening look at the use of rape in wartime.
While there’s much to grieve in any culture that denigrates women’s bodies, Vagina finds hope behind each instance of despair. Wolf, author of the groundbreaking bestseller The Beauty Myth, talks to healers whose dedication to reversing the effects of sexual trauma make a lasting difference in the lives of women. And she notes the evidence linking frequent female orgasms to increased libido and power with glee: “So the fear that patriarchy always had—that if you let women have sex and know how to like it, it will make them both increasingly libidinous and increasingly ungovernable—is actually biologically true!”
This book confines its focus to heterosexual women, meaning there’s more work to be done to assess the full spectrum of female sexuality, but what an opening salvo. Wolf is to be commended for following her curiosity where it led her and finding a cohesive tale to weave from the disparate details.