Naomi Wolf and the Sacred Vagina

Oy Naomi Wolf. Why are we all still referring to you as some sort of feminist thought leader? I am very happy for you that you are having wonderful earth-shattering shivering mystical sex. You are correct that the vagina and the brain are, in fact, part of “one whole system” — the same way that the left hand and the brain or the nose and the brain are also part of one whole system (the human body, for the slower to catch on). I even think you’re probably correct that many women (most women?) could be having better sex, and that our own cultural constructions of sex (begins with a boner, ends with ejaculation) are not only centered almost entirely on male sexual experience and desire but also thwart female sexual pleasure and understand a woman’s experience with and desire for heterosexual sex only in relation to a man’s (assumed to be neutral, standard and true) definition and understanding of sex. All of that is bad for women, in and out of the bedroom. But here, as explained by a lovely reviewer in the New York Review of Books, is where you lose me:

The problem is that conventional models of heterosexual intercourse do not serve their needs. The “linear, goal-oriented” sex that predominates in the West does not take sufficient account of women’s extreme sensitivity to the emotional conditions in which sex takes place. Both pornography and classic second-wave feminism have tended to promote sexual technique as the key to female sexual satisfaction. Feminists in particular have tried to persuade women that they can “fuck like men, or get by with a great vibrator…and be simply instrumentalist about their pleasure.” But these, Wolf argues, are damaging myths. In order to achieve high orgasm, women need to feel safe and protected. (Ideally, they will feel “uniquely valued” and “cherished.”) They need atmosphere (candlelight, attractive furnishings, dreamy gazes) and “unique preparatory tributes or gestures” (flowers, drawn baths). It also helps a lot, apparently, if their male partners address them as “Goddess.”

These are not, Wolf emphasizes, the culturally specific preferences of a high-maintenance woman, but the biologically determined requirements of all women. In prehistoric times, it was dangerous for women to enter the disinhibited trance state of high orgasm when they were copulating “in the vicinity of wild animals or aggressors from another tribe,” so choosing sexual partners who would value them enough to protect them in an emergency was paramount.

This would seem a very flimsy speculation on which to hang an entire theory about women’s hardwired need for precoital schmoozing. One of its several problems is that it fatally exaggerates the obliviousness of the orgasmic woman. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a female in the throes of more than culturally adequate passion can snap to attention with astonishing rapidity if one of her children happens to wander into her bedroom, and the response time might even be quicker if the intruder were a woolly mammoth.

There is something really sweet about Wolf’s romance novel take on what constitutes good sex, and in a porn-heavy sex culture where rougher, badder sex is better, it’s nice to see Wolf put an alternate vision of good sex on the table.* But just like using evolutionary psychology to argue that women have evolved to protect themselves from rape or that men have evolved to prefer tiny-waisted young blonde blue-eyed women with large breasts (because obviously blonde-haired blue-eyed women have always been present and desired in societies all over the world for the whole of human histery) or that suicide bombers are always Muslim (seriously, science says so!) or that black women are “objectively” unattractive, it’s intellectually lazy to start with “I really strongly believe this one thing, so I will work backwards from that thing and come up with some evolutionary reason for it.” It’s a game that people play all the time, and I understand its appeal. Recognizing that human behavior, and especially human sexual desire, is undoubtedly some incredibly complex mix of biology and sociology doesn’t lend itself easily to a 500-word essay on the essential goddess in every woman. The biological and the cultural and the socialized and the experiential aren’t even close to separable from each other (given that our interactions with other humans and our cultural backgrounds and our experiences literally shape our brain, and are capable of healing it and damaging it and creating new pathways and destroying old ones, and that our physical bodies are also shaped and grown and impacted by forces outside of ourselves and our basic genetic make-up). This truth does not offer easy answers to tough questions. The recognition of this complexity necessarily requires that we admit we don’t know everything, and we don’t understand everything about how we came to be who we are, and we may have less control than we would like to believe — or we may have more control, which is terrifying in its own way.

Point being: It’s easy to take an observable phenomenon and come up with an evolutionary explanation. It’s harder to recognize that our very understanding of evolutionary psychology is rooted in our own cultural assumptions and in our current place in the world and in our histories and in our interpretations of the very small bits of information that we have access to. “X thing that we do now is caused by early humans doing Y” is almost always wrong.

And that’s where Wolf goes off the rails. She likes a particular kind of sex, and so she decides that she must like it because it’s how the cavemen did it. It’s embedded in her DNA. It’s not a preference, perhaps shaped by romance novels and Laura Ashley bedroom sets; it’s evolutionary. It’s “real.” An evolutionary explanation allows Wolf to understand her sexual experience as authentic in a way that other sexual preferences, ostensibly materialized out of thin air by pornographers, are not, and that authenticity makes it better. “It’s evolution” is a significantly more satisfying answer than “it’s complicated.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to sexual desire and the evolution of sex and physical arousal and orgasm and the body and the mind and the intersections between love and lust and sex and reproduction, it is in fact extremely complicated.

Bad science aside — although Wolf’s book has a lot of bad science — she also relies heavily on gender essentialism and cherry-picked facts:

It would be interesting to know how Wolf explains the creativity of virgin artists like Jane Austen and Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson, or the rapturous experiences of history’s actual women mystics (whose lives tended to be short on liberating sexual relationships). Whatever moral Wolf draws from the fact that Edith Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence after experiencing orgasms for the first time is surely rather undermined by the fact that Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights after having no sexual intercourse at all. (She might have masturbated, of course, but Wolf specifically disqualifies masturbation as a method of achieving high orgasm: “A happy heterosexual vagina requires, to state the obvious, a virile man.”)

Apparently homosexual vaginas are simply constructed differently. And of course clitoral orgasms are not as evolved or mature as vaginal orgasms — Freud, as we all know, was a solid feminist.

Her writing about rape is similarly… concerning:

Naturally, physical attacks on the vagina have even more dire consequences. Rape is not merely a “sex crime,” or a form of violence, Wolf writes. It is a profound “injury to the brain,” from which a woman never fully recovers. Her experiences with female rape victims in Sierra Leone—women who spoke of themselves as “damaged goods” and in whom she saw a “unique dimming of vitality” quite distinct from that of any other war victim—have convinced her that rape destroys the female spirit in ways that other forms of cruelty, physical or mental, do not.

It is unclear how Wolf tells a uniquely dimmed vitality from the ordinarily dimmed kind. But if there is a special horror to the traumas these women have suffered, one suspects it has more to do with their sense of being intimately violated, with their gruesome internal injuries, and with the social stigma that attaches to them as rape victims, than with rape’s special ability to “hollow out” the female soul. It is odd that Wolf now sees rape in these terms, because only last year she appeared to take a very different line. When writing in the Guardian newspaper about rape charges against Julian Assange, she argued that his accusers should not be allowed to remain anonymous, on the grounds that such a dispensation mischaracterized rape as a “different” kind of crime. The convention of shielding rape accusers was, she noted, “a relic of the Victorian era…when rape was seen as ‘the fate worse than death,’ rendering women…‘damaged goods.’”

There is a strange hubris in Wolf’s claim to understand how all rape affects all women. It is the same hubris that compels her to instruct us on how all women need to be wooed, and how all women feel when they come. Wolf remarks more than once in this book that she has no wish to be “prescriptive,” but prescriptiveness, alas, is her compulsion. She won’t be able to rest easy until all of womankind has heard her gospel and has started having sex that is not just pleasurable, but worthwhile. Her refusal to acknowledge the heterogeneity of female temperament, of female sexual proclivity, of female desire, would be galling, if it were not so dotty. As it is, her willingness to position herself as a visionary sexual prophet inspires a sort of affectionate awe.

Wolf has always been willing to write prescriptive rules and then bend them for herself. And frankly if she wants to write a woo-woo book about her magic technicolor vagina, good for her. I would normally pay about as much attention to a Magic Vagina book as I would to a book about how a man’s magical penis turned him into Dorothy and took him to Oz and back — yay, good for you, but not on my reading list.

Unfortunately, Naomi Wolf is our amazing technicolor vagina. She’s still widely listed as a leading feminist scholar / voice / writer / activist. And she takes scraps of feminist ideas that might actually be good and interesting and turns them into conclusory, lazy assertions with only the most tenuous evidence backing them up. For example, her assertion that rape threats or negative comments about the female anatomy have very real (negative) sexual consequences for women is interesting and probably true; but her explanation, which invokes some simplistic science about cortisol and stress-related hormones to argue that a friend’s ill-advised choice to serve vulva-shaped “cuntini” pasta at a party in Wolf’s honor caused her to have writer’s block so bad that she couldn’t even type up her own notes for six months, is so bizarre and shoddy that your average reader is going to disregard the whole thing as feminist hogwash.

It’s also — wait for it — hysterical. Or at least easily read that way. And given Wolf’s repeated emphasis on the brain-vagina connection, and her insistence that women are their vaginas and that the Sacred Feminine is situated somewhere between the labia and the cervix, her argument that a woman’s creativity and ability spring from between her legs is troubling. Because the flip side of that is that a woman’s miserableness or insanity or shrewishness or mania or depression are also a vagina problems (such a new idea!). And while certainly sexual function and sexual history and sexual satisfaction can impact mental and physical health, it’s awfully dangerous to suggest (as Wolf does) that more vaginal orgasms in gauzy candle-scented bedrooms, and not SSRIs, are the proper treatment for depression. And it plays into some awfully antiquated, misogynist ideas about women, all under the cover of feminist inquiry.

*Not saying that porny or rough or fill-in-the-blank kind of sex is bad; saying that a wider variety of options and understandings of what’s “good” for different people is good.

132 comments for “Naomi Wolf and the Sacred Vagina

  1. Past my expiration date
    September 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Unfortunately, Naomi Wolf is our magical technicolor vagina. She’s still widely listed as a leading feminist scholar / voice / writer / activist.

    So I have to do more than just put this book at the top of this month’s To-Not-Read list? Drat.

  2. damigiana
    September 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    A happy heterosexual vagina requires, to state the obvious, a virile man.
    WTF? I mean, my mother’s Catholic-church-approved book on maternity did explain that clitoral orgasm was inferior, and True Women found vaginal preferable (vibrators weren’t mentioned), and I think Freud had similar views, but seriously?

    I’m now wondering whether she could possibly be honest, and if so how she became so deluded to think that her body was identical to every-female-one else’s.

  3. September 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Oh my. So much WTF, I don’t even know where to start.

    But, eh, I guess if the idea of gauzy candle-scented bedrooms makes a person want to barf from the sheer cheese of it all, that person is, er, simply not listening to their super sacred womanliness that evolved from tens of millennia of candles and gauze?

    Also, could someone please send Wolf the memo that not all women have vaginas and cervixes? Thx.

  4. Datdamwuf
    September 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Wolf is not a feminist, she’s a self promoting, I won’t even say it…and how far back in time do we have to go to recall that women were treated for hysteria via vaginal stimulation? Cos you know, we are our vagina, I am on a deadline and can’t type anymore

    “Toward the end of Vagina, Wolf offers two inspirational instances of the sort of “Goddess-focussed” sexual practice she wishes to promote among her readers. The first is the “sacred sexual healing” administered by Mike Lousada, a self-described “somatic therapist,” who provides massage, masturbation, and intercourse to “erotically suffering” women in his north London studio. The second is a weekend Tantra workshop in Manhattan, at which female attendees get to select the male attendees who will give them “sacred spot massage” in their midtown hotel rooms on Saturday night.”

  5. Unree
    September 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Unfortunately it hides behind the New Yorker paywall, but Ariel Levy’s review of this steaming turd of a book is worth reading.

  6. September 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I’ll just cut and paste my comment from a facebook discussion:

    Shit, I’ll review it without even reading it: “Wolf has always written exclusively about herself and generalized her experience to everyone. A strategy that first produced a classic has since then produced ever more clearly self-involved and poorly-received books until several years ago Wolf essentially stopped trying. She exists now in a sort of scrap heap of public intellectuals, alternately seeking relevance by selling out to the cause du jour, and simply trying to recapture relevance through whackiness, a sad caricature of herself and a cautionary tale about how narcissism can consume even the best intellect. In all, an author from whom a great deal more might have been expected.”

  7. samanthab
    September 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Hmm, yeah, I’m bipolar and have great sex. But no candles. It’s possible candles are the key to eliminating my bipolar disorder, but it’s not very fucking likely.

    • September 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm

      I know, right? I figure it’s worth a try, in theory, but The Boy finds flickering candles distracting. Would an LED emergency lantern do the job, or would my bipolar vagina get offended at such a half-assed attempt?

      • Rhoanna
        September 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm

        Of course it would get it offended. The heterosexual vagina prefers the natural light produced by the combustion of wax, because it evolved to prefer fire, which provided safety and security in the primeval darkness of night. It doesn’t know what to make of this strange new electrical lightning.

      • Ledasmom
        September 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm

        If, due to fire codes, you cannot use candles, you may drape your lady region in faux-candle holiday lights: only in natural candle colors; indoor-outdoor preferred; for heaven’s sake, no icicle lights. It is best in this case to separate the candle part of the evening from the bath part of the evening. We do not recommend tinsel.

      • Donna L
        September 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm

        Why not? It’s not that big a step from vajazzling with jewelry to vadazzling with Christmas lights. And perhaps with speakers, to play inspiring music.

  8. Amelia the lurker
    September 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I’m dying to read Natalie Angier’s take(down) on this.

  9. September 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    They need atmosphere (candlelight, attractive furnishings, dreamy gazes) and “unique preparatory tributes or gestures” (flowers, drawn baths). It also helps a lot, apparently, if their male partners address them as “Goddess.”

    Ummm… no. I actually can’t think of something that would put me less in the mood. While any one of those things can be nice once in a while (except calling me “Goddess” *shudders*) they make too much of an event out of sex instead of something that while wonderful way to spend an hour or so isn’t a special occasion. I’m not terribly fond of soft and romantic anyway.

    What is it with people not grasping that because they like something that it must be universal? If you like that sort of sweet, soft, slow romantic sex then that’s great. All women should be empowered to seek out the sex they want and not feel guilty about it.

    I won’t even go into what she says about rape. It’s pretty appalling and reinforces the idea that victims can never heal and are permanently damaged by rape. Some people are, and probably would be regardless because it’s a violent and violating crime, but by treating rape as something that can’t be recovered from you ensure that many people don’t. It should be treated like other traumatic events, we aren’t surprised that two people can react to the death of a spouse or being robbed differently so why should we expect all rape victims to feel the same way?

    • September 16, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      Well stated. It’s rather appalling that a “feminist” thinks we are all operating on one central brain and need the same thing. Isn’t that the….opposite…of true feminism? Is her message that one-dimensional?

      Also, if my husband, (who ROCKS my sexual world) called me a goddess during intercourse, I would break out into hysterical laughter. And forget about candles (unless melted wax is being put to proper use).

  10. September 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Sorry I guess I did go into that, I just couldn’t let it pass.

    • cherrybomb
      September 14, 2012 at 6:05 pm

      Glad you did, they were excellent points. I shudder to think what she might say about women who feel pretty-fucking-over their rapes. Probably assert that women who feel recovered weren’t really raped at all?

  11. Brian
    September 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    For a different take on the subject,
    watch “It’s Not You…It’s Sex.”

  12. SamLL
    September 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I’m going to be honest, I half-expected the footnote to be an “on the table” joke.

    Good post, thanks Jill.

    • September 12, 2012 at 1:32 am

      Hahaha. Ditto.

  13. im
    September 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I would not be surprised if ‘rape does permanent and massive psych damage’ narrative is a little bit self fulfilling.

    This is just completely absurd that I wonder what she thinks of male sexuality.

    Goddess? BWAahahahhahaha. So can atheists not have good sex then? Or can they provided they bow to a quasi-secular ‘spirituality’ devoid of rationality’s light?

    I kind of hope I that when I have a lover I would call them ‘my love’ or their name coupled with complements. Goddess is a bit absurd, and would separate the partners: it perhaps befits some sexual practices but to me seems blatantly unsuitable for lovers or husbands and wives. I believe you call this othering, and it can be bad even if ‘goddess’ is complimentary?

    Are female orgasms really that overpowering? I know that my male orgasms are hardly an unaware state although who knows what the biological differences are.

    Is Naomi Wolf European (By race and culture, even if living in Australia or America)? Has she read and misunderstood or whatever stuff about India or something?

    Not to mention that I wonder what she thinks of people like me. – and the fate of heterosexual women is bound to ours. At the risk of derailing I will say that the cure to this absurd self-exoticization might be a recognition of the complexity and sensuality of a more introspective male sexuality. I believe NSWATM blogged about something called ‘Cock Tales’, intended to be a counterpart to the Vagina Monolouges. Perhaps then this dichotomous thinking would be less seductive.

    • September 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      Has she read and misunderstood or whatever stuff about India or something?

      This thought, it is horrifyingly plausible. And definitely horrifying.

    • im
      September 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      Yeah. I am in an Indian Art History class and the female, mostly-naked dancing yakshi have come up. Very confusing discussions about exoticization, (of both women and boys) and power have come up. As usual, I don’t as much into things as the professor expects. (

      • September 10, 2012 at 4:06 pm

        I’m pretty intrigued! Confusing as in the class was horrible about it, or were the discussions themselves confusing?

        (BTW I’d love to take an Indian art history class, but I’m kind of terrified to)

      • im
        September 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm

        Complicated. I think that the professor was Indian though I don’t actually know. And nothing was horrible. However, everybody was reading things into stuff and the professor was not good at making people think outside the box IMO. Class has been extremely interesting.

        One example was this yakshi sculpture (Pre-Aryan goddess, in this case a goddess of fertility) that was part of the carvings on a stupa (for those who don’t know, its a big hemispherical stone structure containing Buddhist holy relics. You worship by walking around the stupa, surrounded by an ornate fence.) There were several examples, all mostly naked, some totally so. Those that were not naked were pointing at their genitals with one hand (fertility!) and dancing, and were… capable of turning me on.

        There was lots of vague, not very creative talk about whether or not they were in any way erotic to the Indians 2000+ years ago and whether they were powerful or suggested agency or not (notable because the Buddha himself was misogynistic, saying that letting women into the ascetic orders would halve the life of Buddhism, and very sex-negative)

        Later we see that one of those totally cool ‘cave’ temples (actually a completely artificial underground temple and monastery with incredibly ornate carving, all cut out of a mountainside) had lots of carvings of ‘Amorous Couples’ on it. I felt I was the only one being very creative with coming up with explanations for this seeming departure from asceticism Not saying that the class was just going all non-self-aware exoticism, (a LOT of the students look Indian, I am lily-white) but rather the students would robotically criticize the Western interpretations of India that the professor showed us and then not really put much intellectual work into analyzing ancient Indian art

        But I don’t htink anything was ‘horrible’. (I AM at an extremely famous, super-liberal/leftist university with truly gigantic Indian and East Asian/Pacific Islander populations in both faculty and students)

  14. Ledasmom
    September 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Personally, I have kind of a short attention span, and would be entirely out of the mood for sex by the time the bath was drawn. Really, we did not need Naomi Wolf to encourage thousands of carbon-copy sexual overtures.

    • September 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      “What do you mean your favourite kind of sex involves giggly wrestling while Babylon 5 runs in the background, preferably with some light bondage mixed in? That’s not a woman thing to like. And now you’ll get in that damn bath with the floating candles and you’ll like it, or I’ll take away your girl card, and then where will you be? Cheering at a roller derby event. The horror!”

      • Ledasmom
        September 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

        It’s all fun and games until someone sets their pubic hair alight with the scented massage oil and the floating candles. Then it’s an entirely different kind of fun and games.
        Also, I need the girl card. Without it I can’t take out girl books at the girl library.

      • September 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm

        You’re taking books out of the library? What the fuck for? Don’t you know that all the wisdom in the world can be gleaned by looking up your vagina? I mean, Wolf clearly thinks the brain’s lodged up there somehow, so that must be the way….

      • samanthab
        September 11, 2012 at 7:06 am

        Probably it gets you ten percent off at candle shops?

  15. Nimue
    September 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Ick. As an asexual woman, literally nothing Wolf described sounds appealing.

    • Victoria
      September 10, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      As a highly sexual man-lovin’ woman, literally nothing Wolf described sounds appealing either.

      • Datdamwuf
        September 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

        Agree totally

      • Datdamwuf
        September 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

        Agree totally

  16. shfree
    September 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I really resent the whole of my lady bits being reduced to one tube-shaped part, and I really don’t need anyone telling me what sort of sex I should be having. But it all sounds like some serious navel-gazing (vagina-gazing, maybe?) on Wolf’s part IMHO, and I wish more writers would just own up to that shit.

  17. Donna L
    September 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Another review worth reading:

    One paragraph:

    Wolf is adamant that if the vagina is “neglected” by women and their men, a life of depression will follow. Just get to know your vagina on a more intimate level and you will live a happy life, she suggests. Unfortunately, Wolf ignores the cultural and political circumstances that might affect a woman’s quality of life and instead tells the tale of a white, straight, middle-class and able-bodied woman’s vagina. This woman hasn’t had to struggle with the disparaging and hyper-sexualized images that women of color negotiate, nor has this woman had to struggle with the de-sexualized images of the disabled female body. Further, Wolf utterly neglects transsexual and transgender individuals. If the vagina is the key to a woman’s wholeness, creativity and liberation, where do these women stand?

    Separately, I could be wrong, but I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere that to the extent such things can be analyzed or measured physiologically, “male” and “female” orgasms can be more similar than one might believe.

    • September 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      Oh, okay, I wasn’t the only one whose brain leapt straight to “transphobic as all fuck” while reading that, then. I’m glad.

    • samanthab
      September 11, 2012 at 7:03 am

      Well, at least she’s getting very eloquent and insightful takedowns. I think that’s the only plus side here.

  18. Henry
    September 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    It also helps a lot, apparently, if their male partners address them as “Goddess.”

    I’ll be writing a book about how we should refer to each other as snuukems and snuugems in order to achieve better sex.

    • September 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm

      You realise that’s only effective if you can scream I WUBS OOOOO! during climax, right?

      • Gunilla
        September 11, 2012 at 8:31 am

        A guy used to address me as goddess in bed. He spent a lot of time on his knees, so this made sense.

      • Bagelsan
        September 12, 2012 at 12:09 am

        He had time to talk?

      • Henry
        September 12, 2012 at 1:41 am

        Naomi reminds me of the Catholic Church. She’s positioned her way to have relations fuck as the correct and proper way to do so. Those of us who fail to follow the teachings of Wolf, shall be doomed to a life of misery, much in the same way as those who fail to procreate fuck in the Catholic approved missionary position are doomed to purgatory or a lot of hail mary’s…

  19. September 10, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Wolf’s theory of rape trauma isn’t measurably different than Todd Akin’s. She’s already floated the argument that the lack of injury in the Julian Assange situation means it couldn’t be legitimate rape, to quote the popular term.

  20. TMK
    September 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Huh. I thought Naomi Wolf commited feminist suicide a year or two ago when she wrote that fails defending Assange. Apparently not everyone got the memo, if she’s still considered feminist.

  21. September 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Great. More vagina-centric bullshit. Make us women who aren’t interested in penetrative sex (oh, we exist, by the way! Hi! Also up yours!) feel even shittier because we’re not Doing Sex Right. That isn’t a sentiment we’ve had reinforced by The Patriarchy about sixteen times a day, or anything.

    Oh, by the way, Naomi Wolf? If you can actually drag your brain out of your reproductive tract, where you erroneously believe it must be lodged, I’d like you to take a look at the fact that I have really awesome sex which doesn’t involve sweet mushy romantic tropes, OR vaginal play, on a regular basis. Thanks.

    …..okay, fine, so there was that time I yelled out YOUR RESISTANCE ONLY MAKES MY PENIS HARDER while we were engaging in consent play, and my wife and I cracked the fuck up so hard we had to stop for fifteen minutes until our backs weren’t hurting and my hiccups stopped, but I don’t think that really counts as being fuzzy/romantic in any traditional way, as much as I cuddle that memory and will always beam helplessly when thinking of it.

    • Chataya
      September 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      Bonus points if you said that during pony play.

      • September 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm

        Alas, no! *sadface*

      • Bagelsan
        September 11, 2012 at 10:22 am

        Was it an anime quote? It sounds like an anime quote… :D

      • September 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm

        *lol* Here’s context:

        And I’m not sure if it’s anime! (Though I do watch a fair amount.)

      • Chataya
        September 12, 2012 at 11:36 am

        It’s from a hentai called Wordsworth. It’s the only good scene, so don’t bother.

  22. Mztress
    September 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    “In order to achieve high orgasm, women need to feel safe and protected.”

    Well, duh. No one is going to willingly fuck during a situation where there’s any real danger of physical or emotional harm.

    Another thing: who the hell can you feel more safe with than yourself, anyway? Oh yeah; the big, powerful protectors with their penises.

    • September 10, 2012 at 3:12 pm

      Well, duh. No one is going to willingly fuck during a situation where there’s any real danger of physical or emotional harm.

      I dunno. I personally enjoy sex best when there’s a wooly mammoth rapidly approaching.

      • Kristen from MA
        September 10, 2012 at 3:44 pm


      • September 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm

        Now that’s a serious kink. That’s niche enough that there isn’t even a Fetlife listing for it.

      • suspect class
        September 10, 2012 at 11:39 pm

        I tried to debunk this with google, causing my husband to wonder what the hell I was doing with the internet when we were supposedly watching star trek.

      • im
        September 10, 2012 at 9:33 pm

        This is male sexuality, but there IS that study where men tended to react sexually to the cute psychology researcher on the other side of the incredibly rickety rope bridge compared to the modern bridge. I would not be suprised if there is a distaff counterpart to that. (although it wasn’t actually having sex of course.)

      • amblingalong
        September 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm

        I can definitely attest to the fact that groups of people who just experienced a massive adrenaline dump (cops, soldiers, political operatives post-election night) tend to have a lot of sex immediately afterwards.

    • cherrybomb
      September 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm

      “Well, duh. No one is going to willingly fuck during a situation where there’s any real danger of physical or emotional harm. ”

      I didn’t get that memo when I was 18 and fucking while driving. I nearly drove through a fence. Granted, the danger wasn’t really present prior to the start of sex, but neither were the “wild animals” in Woolf’s scenario.

      • cherrybomb
        September 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm

        grr… bad bad typo. “Wolf,” obviously, not “Woolf.”

  23. Kristen from MA
    September 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    The hell happened to her? I mean, what…augh! I can’t even…

  24. LotusBecca
    September 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    This sounds like a really terrible book. I don’t even want to make fun of Ms. Wolf. . .I just feel awkward and embarrassed for her. She’s becoming a non-frat-guy variant of a Will Ferrell character.

  25. Ledasmom
    September 10, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Also, I do not understand “high orgasm”. I guess I will have to keep having low and medium orgasms and like it.

    • Lolagirl
      September 10, 2012 at 4:50 pm

      I think it’s something like high meat. That is, a steaming pile of rot.

    • Bagelsan
      September 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      Maybe a “high” orgasm is where you get kind of hungry and crave cheetos, and you start telling people there’s like, this song they really need to listen to…

      • September 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm

        I believe it means that the term is most appropriately situated in the High Middle Ages, culturally speaking.

      • Donna L
        September 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm

        I think a High Orgasm has to take place inside an Anglican Church, during services.

      • IrishUp
        September 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm

        Well, THAT adds a WHOLE new dimension to “Bells and Smells”!

      • Ledasmom
        September 10, 2012 at 7:58 pm

        (sings) “Bring me my arrows of desire -“

    • September 10, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      High orgasm is conducted in Latin with incense and candles.

  26. Bagelsan
    September 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Also, this whole “sacred vagina” thing just screams Regretsy to me. Vag-woo (yoni-woo?) is one of the saddest woos. :p

    • im
      September 11, 2012 at 1:56 am

      It is probably better than views of sex that assume there’s nothing but PIV, but it befits neither an Atheist nor a Skeptic, nor a Bayesian, and I think it is also culturally appropriative when I believe that Europe has a non-horrible sensual tradition to use. Or time to create one! Yay! I like creating stuff!

    • Kaija24
      September 11, 2012 at 5:52 am

      Vag-woo (yoni-woo?) is one of the saddest woos. :p

      Word. I have zero woo in that area….I guess I am a Bad Woman.

      Seriously, this sounds like more of the same narrowly defined “how to be properly feminine/here’s how your lady parts work, dear” BS that we’ve heard before but from Wolf? She has reached bottom and is beginning to dig.

  27. DouglasG
    September 10, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    If that’s what sacred, I think I’ll be glad that my ticket is already booked for downstairs.

    And forget what she’d make of Miss Austen; I’d like to see her confounded by Mrs Woolf.

  28. Dominique
    September 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    <blockquote. The second is a weekend Tantra workshop in Manhattan, at which female attendees get to select the male attendees who will give them “sacred spot massage” in their midtown hotel rooms on Saturday night.”

    Omfg…. This is the exact plot line of the science fiction stories I wrote 25 years ago, called Palace Athena

  29. Chataya
    September 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    She sounds painfully transphobic and heterosexist.

    All of the goddess talk reminded me of this. NSFW: language, sexual content

    • Datdamwuf
      September 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm

      OMG, apparently Naomi needs to meet that guy. I’m so grossed out by her whole goddess BS I can’t post straight (pun intended).

  30. number9
    September 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    That’s just transphobic as all get out. And oh, the essentialism! And did she seriously use the phrase “the happy heterosexual vagina”?! This High Orgasm deal sounds unappetizing and dangerous. What if there’s a zombie outbreak and I miss it due to high orgasm-induced loss of awareness? No, my happy heterosexual clit and I are going to stick to our low orgasms, thank you very much.

    • Donna L
      September 10, 2012 at 6:27 pm

      That’s just transphobic as all get out.

      Definitely. The vagina is “part of the female soul”? Even for those of us who do have that allegedly essential body part, it seems it’s not quite enough, given that she would undoubtedly say that we lack the requisite “elaborate net of neural pathways that send impulses from the vagina to the spinal cord and up to the brain,” and, especially, the apparently inherent superiority of vaginal orgasms involving “uterine upsuck.” To which, sadly, I can never aspire.

      • Chataya
        September 10, 2012 at 7:27 pm

        My “female soul” is ambivalent towards my vagina and hostile towards my uterus. And uterine upsuck is overrated.

        elaborate net of neural pathways that send impulses from the vagina to the spinal cord and up to the brain

        She writes this like it’s some mystical property of the vagina…but that’s just how nerves work. Am I missing something mind blowing about this?

      • FashionablyEvil
        September 10, 2012 at 9:11 pm

        Wolf needs to get herself a copy of Mary Roach’s Bonk.* There’s an entire chapter called The Upsuck Chronicles in which she examines the evidence for such a phenomenon. (Apparently it actually happens in pigs, but not in humans.)

        *Actually, everyone should get themselves a copy of Bonk.

      • Kaija24
        September 11, 2012 at 5:54 am

        Amen…fascinating read and based on Actual Science/Research. :)

      • im
        September 11, 2012 at 2:00 am

        Yes, and also how penises work. And other erogenous zones. And everything else.

        She sounds like the kind of person who can marvel at a computer or an automobile, but cannot even imagine that an engineer truly understands it and can create it.

        I, on the other hand, think that some experimentation on myself with a sufficiently advanced genetics and cybernetics kit could be much more interesting than this mystical dreck.

  31. lt
    September 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Wow, it really has been “let’s live in Mad Men” season hasn’t it? First the GOP comes for our birth control and now in 20 fucking 12 are we really back to Freud’s immature orgasms.

  32. Taylor
    September 10, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Is she writing this with a checklist of ‘isms to hit upon?

    I’m almost tempted to read it just to see how bad it really is. I still can’t get over the cissexism and heterosexism in those excerpts I’ve read so far. (Seriously, the “heterosexual vagina”? Not to mention the constant equating of a vagina = woman. How gross!)

    • im
      September 11, 2012 at 2:01 am

      I think (*think*) that I can smell orientalsim or cultural appropriation as well…

      • Taylor
        September 12, 2012 at 6:43 am

        Wouldn’t surprise me, whenever I hear “Goddess” in relation to women, it’s either that or a nod to pagan stuff.

  33. EG
    September 10, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    I’m going to write a book about how my mind is linked with my stomach. I have a lot more evidence:

    1) I become cranky and petulant and weepy when hungry.
    2) There are more serotonin receptors in your gut than your brain, which is why, when I missed a day on my SSRIs, I would throw up. Obviously my stomach was depressed.
    3) Going without food is far more detrimental to one’s consciousness than going without vaginal orgasms.

    Surely I will snag a publishing contract and make big money, right?

    • September 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      4) I feel most fully sated when shirtless, oiled men serve me food and drink and call me the Goddess of Wine.

    • Past my expiration date
      September 11, 2012 at 7:17 am

      But seriously, how come Naomi Wolf gets a book contract, for this hooha*, and EG and Caperton don’t get book contracts? (Would anybody else also like a book contract?)

      *Is this problematic?

  34. EG
    September 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Seriously, though, this is all very disheartening–no, sorry, dis-stomaching–to me. The Beauty Myth was revelatory to me when I was a teenager. I read it and gave up dieting that day.

  35. Chris
    September 10, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    I would just like to say that “uterine upsuck” is quite possibly the least sensual phrase I have ever read, and in hot contention for worst juxtaposition of two words I’ve ever encountered, ever. I and my vagina (have to consult both, as the vagina is apparently the very see of the feminine soul now, you understand) do not approve.

    • September 10, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      Good name for a punk band though.

    • September 11, 2012 at 10:54 am

      You know, I agree with you, but I feel like I should give this a game try before I abandon the phrase entirely.

      “Uterine upsuck me off!”

      “Oh, I’m going to uterine upsuck, oh yeah, that’s it…give me the upsuck, give it to me now…”

      …yeah, no, I don’t think it’s doable.

  36. Athenia
    September 10, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Folks, I just want to say that reading these comments totally made my day! You guys are hilarious.

  37. Datdamwuf
    September 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    If the vagina is “part of the female soul” then apparently my soul is gone since I’ve not had sex in more than 5 years, not that I haven’t wanted to…I’d ask Naomi to help me out but hey she tells me I need male penetration to get my soul back, think she will loan me her guy? You know in the spirit of sisterhood and all.

    • im
      September 11, 2012 at 2:04 am

      I’m not sure whether to hope that she thinks male souls are in the penis, for the sake of equality and nonessentialism, or that she thinks they are not, for the sake of self-respect.

      Seriously, though, there is no such thing as a soul, except as a kind of emergent pattern of data.

      • Bagelsan
        September 11, 2012 at 10:28 am

        Male souls *are* in the penis, and uterine upsuck *will* steal your soul. Run! RUN!

        …I feel like this myth need vagina dentata somewhere, too.

      • Ledasmom
        September 11, 2012 at 11:01 am

        But it’s all right, because men regenerate soul constantly, whereas women are born with all the soul they’ll ever have and it wastes away slowly month by month. Unless, of course, a man calls you “Goddess” while running you a bath filled with floating candles and rose petals and fluffy kittens (Note: Fluffy kittens and water do not mix. Neither do fluffy kittens and candles. Actually, I don’t know how the kittens got in here at all. Please disregard kittens. As if you could).

      • Bagelsan
        September 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm

        Fluffy kittens and baths don’t mix? What do you use for a loofah?

      • Ledasmom
        September 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm

        We women with happy vaginas do not use loofahs. We are naturally exfoliating, perhaps with the slightest assist from the callused hand of a virile male.

      • im
        September 12, 2012 at 8:50 pm

        Don’t tell the MRAs!

        Somehow she managed to describe the kind of sex that I (expect) I would like and make it sound repulsive.

  38. Tracey
    September 10, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    1. Doesn’t this whole narrative tie into the notion of sex from women as something that is worked for and won by men? Also, doesn’t it tie into the notion that there is one narrative of romance and women who do not ascribe to that romantic narrative and/or want it as part of every or most sexual encounters are delusional/damaged?

    2. How the hell do candles, baths, and safety go together?

    3. Exactly what kind of sex, and where, was homo-neanderthalis having?

    4. Torchwood has taught me that being in a dangerous situation heightens desire for sex in some people. Am I suppose to believe Torchwood or Naomi Wolf? (Torchwood obciously).

    • librarygoose
      September 11, 2012 at 12:13 am

      If everything said by John Barrowman in and out of character isn’t sacred in this world, what is? (Besides my vagina, obviously)

  39. Becky
    September 10, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    This is the part that gets me:

    Wolf had never heard of her pelvic nerve before, but now, as she learned about the elaborate net of neural pathways that send impulses from the vagina to the spinal cord and up to the brain, she began to suspect “a profound brain-vagina connection”—that is, a causal relationship between vaginal function and general emotional well-being.

    There’s an elaborate net of neural pathways that send impulses from all our body parts to the brain. That’s… just how the central nervous system works.

    • Donna L
      September 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      But these are express lanes specially designated for that special relationship between vagina and brain.

      • im
        September 11, 2012 at 2:07 am

        that actually might be somewhat true. (both male and female). The hands and the erogenous zones get massive amounts of extra nerves and spinal cord hookups.

      • DouglasG
        September 11, 2012 at 6:34 am

        Aren’t those express lanes usually High Occupancy?

    • Bagelsan
      September 11, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      I sympathize with the nerves-are-the-best thing, because as a total biology nerd I basically nerdgasm when I think about how cool the nervous system is sometimes. It does all the things! OMG!

      …But it’s not restricted to the vagina. Maybe Naomi should have stayed for the second day of biology class, too.

    • Henry
      September 12, 2012 at 1:55 am

      This is what happens when people do not learn in school. There’s been so much biology fail lately amongst our “thought leaders” I want to send them all back to high school biology. If you can write a book you can read one too.

    • im
      September 12, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      Not to mention send them back to high school physics, sometimes, and make them work out something themselves instead of just doing math.

      Nervous system is pretty cool but in my opinion it is nowhere near as cool as recently designed electrical systems.

  40. norbizness
    September 11, 2012 at 7:41 am

    “We all”?

  41. Gunilla
    September 11, 2012 at 8:44 am

    All in all, this is pretty sad and embarassing. Si tacuisses.

  42. Stella
    September 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    “A happy heterosexual vagina requires, to state the obvious, a virile man.”

    Ugh. And since vagina=brain, how is this different from “you’ll never be happy and complete without a MAN?” How is this feminist?

    In other news, Naomi Klein, the awesome author of The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, gets frequently and unfortunately confused with Naomi Wolf by media types who can’t seem to deal with keeping more than one Naomi straight. But yesterday she tweeted this:

    Still confused? I am the Naomi who did NOT write a book about her vagina.

    • LotusBecca
      September 12, 2012 at 2:41 am

      LOL. I love Naomi Klein.

    • September 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      hah! I actually got Naomi Klein mixed up with Naomi Wolf when I first read this and was like “weird… this sounds way different than No Logo…”

  43. Spencer
    September 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    yes yes, this is all marvelous and hilarious, but “histery”? please correct this, drives me nuts.

    • Spencer
      September 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      esp cuz it’s spelled correctly elsewhere – but I love the writing style.

  44. rox
    September 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Jill thanks for writing this. Naomi’s writing makes me want to barf. I personally think rape is like car accidents. Meaning the type of injury sustained is unique to the person. If you lose your legs in a car accident it would not make sense to say that it’s degrading to state you were permantly damaged or altered by the car accident. For some women rape DOES feel like a permanent alteration. One that you can work around and live with if you have the right support, but for specific women might be an impact that profoundly damages the ability to function or feel healthy. Many people might recover from accidents completely and totally. Many people don’t. I think people who recover from rape- and people who have never experienced, can often feel justified in blaming,shaming, or ostracizing women who struggly deeply for years after sexual abuse, rape and trauma. I believe this is wrong. But I also think that being altered in functioning or experience of life after rape is not the same thing as a damaged “soul” which is a mythical/spiritual entity that can’t be measured or proven in any way with science. A person can be in pain, and still be a beautiful and wonderful human being. And for most human beings there is not some on or off switch wherin we are either walking around it utter anguish or plastered with smiles as a state of being. Even those of us with severe impairment and pain from trauma can play and feel joy. And it’s a lot easier to do when the world has hands held out to you, rather than shutting you out as punishment for being in a lot of pain sometimes, or functioning differently than normal people.

  45. rox
    September 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Also I really hope that the general public will wise up to how silly evpsych is in general and anyone who claims to be educated completely cease using evpsych to explain things. I think talking evpsych is fun, as is theology and philosophy. So when I’m in a coffee shop shooting the shit, it’s cool to be like, “how did cave men fuck? Maybe that’s why I want to be fucked my machines in Shera’s castle.”

    But using such evpsych to support claims should merrit immediate removal of credibility from authors claiming to be offering an educated opinion based on their authority of the subject matter. What’s hilarious is when people use evpsych without even studying evpsych… meaning not only are they using a very subjective philosophically based “science” as the base of the claim, but they don’t even understand the field their abusing to “prove” a point. There’s nothing wrong with anthropology or cultural studies and combining these fields with psychology and evolutionary theory. It’s just mostly hypothesis, constantly changing, and should not be used as basis of solid argument.

  46. Radiant Sophia
    September 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I, for one, do NOT need a virile man to achieve happiness. For that matter, I don’t need anyone to achieve happiness. I’m sorry if I’m doing it wrong, and succumbing to ”damaging myths”, but my ”biologically determined requirements” appear to be different from yours.

  47. September 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    “Wolf claims to find strong evidence in the biographies of women writers and artists (Georgia O”Keefe, Emma Goldman, Edith Wharton) that women often “create best after a sexual awakening or a particularly liberating sexual relationship.”

    … Modern women who complain of depression need better sex and more dopamine, but patriarchal societies, fearful of sexually empowered women, prefer to fob them off with antidepressants. “Serotonin,” Wolf writes, “literally subdues the female voice, and dopamine literally raises it.””

    What… did I just read?

    As an asexual woman who writes creatively, and also has depression, this is pretty offensive.

    What appears from the review to be Wolf’s insubstantial caveat that she’s only talking about heterosexual women doesn’t make it better, either, since heterosexual cis women, and cis lesbians, and cis bi/pansexual women, and cis asexual women, have basically the same vagina-brain wiring. (And of course she doesn’t even specify that she’s only talking about cis women.)

    • im
      September 12, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      Serotonin and dopamine… I don;t think that they work that way. And are not gendered that way, IIRC.

    • Donna L
      September 12, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      since heterosexual cis women, and cis lesbians, and cis bi/pansexual women, and cis asexual women, have basically the same vagina-brain wiring. (And of course she doesn’t even specify that she’s only talking about cis women.)

      I know you didn’t intend the implicit cissexism, but, believe it or not, trans women who have vaginas also have their share of genital-brain wiring. The primary goal of a good GRS surgeon is not just to make one’s genitals look a particular way, you know; it’s to make sure that all the existing neural connections remain intact, and move them around as necessary. (Which is why for the first few months after surgery, until the brain properly remaps things, it’s very difficult to find the exact spot where a particular sensation, whether an itch or a pain or anything else, originates; it can actually be nowhere near where you think it is. Very disconcerting!) So, the kind of transphobes who like to describe the vaginas of women like me as “f**kholes” and “second a**holes” — I don’t think it’s necessary to identify them further — are not only disgusting bigots, but have no idea what they’re talking about.

      The fact that my own surgery three years ago didn’t work out that well for me physically — I’d still do it over again in an instant, for other reasons — is really no reflection on my surgeon’s skills and isn’t indicative of how things turn out for most people. It was all the post-surgical complications, requiring me to be hospitalized on an emergency basis at a place that had no experience whatsoever with people like me, that prevented everything from being taken care of or healing the way it was supposed to. Most other trans women I know have had no issues in that regard. And besides, I’ve actually noticed some sensations in the last few months that make me think that perhaps that part of my life might not be over after all.

      • September 13, 2012 at 7:23 am

        You’re right, I didn’t mean to be cissexist, but I apologize for that.

        I keep trying to type out what I meant, but it’s this long confused paragraph, so basically– I didn’t make my statement out of assuming that trans* women don’t have any genital-brain connections, but rather knowing that not all trans* women have vaginas, which seems like it would result in a greater diversity of genital-brain wiring.

        However, as I write this I realize I know very little about neurology, so maybe the wiring is a lot more similar between, for example, people with vaginas and people with penises, than I thought, which would make it a moot point.

      • DonnaL
        September 13, 2012 at 8:07 am

        I realize I know very little about neurology, so maybe the wiring is a lot more similar between, for example, people with vaginas and people with penises, than I thought, which would make it a moot point.

        I probably know even less, but I strongly suspect that this is correct. I know I’ve read that to the extent it’s possible to measure the physiological mechanism and process of an orgasm, they’re really not as different as most people think. So I don’t think there’s any special involvement of the “Divine Feminine Principle” in cis women’s orgasms that makes them so qualitatively different from (and implicitly superior to) anybody else’s. The claims of Tiresias notwithstanding!

  48. September 15, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    And while certainly sexual function and sexual history and sexual satisfaction can impact mental and physical health, it’s awfully dangerous to suggest (as Wolf does) that more vaginal orgasms in gauzy candle-scented bedrooms, and not SSRIs, are the proper treatment for depression.

    Actually, SSRI’s have not helped my depression, while living with someone who I have an intimate relationship with has. Unfortunately for Naomi Wolf’s theory, the 2 most recent examples of this were:

    1) A very kinky switch relationship with a guy where we role-played kidnapping and raping each other–pretty much the opposite of feeling “safe and protected”.

    2) A completely non-sexual friendship with a woman. We spent most of our time watching and discussing political movies.

    Conclusion: our lives (and sex lives!) will be better if we have strong social bonds, people who mean something to us and love us, not just strangers and vibrators. That could mean sex in candlelit bathrooms…or in dank basements that look like something out of a horror movie…or laughing together with people you’d never fuck in a million years. And I think most men would agree with this…they’re not robots after all.

Comments are closed.