by Meg Van Brocklin
You could say vaginas are on my mind. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity of being part of the production of the Vagina Monologues here at the University of Puget Sound. Several months ago during a podcast binge my friend recommended a podcast by Naomi Wolf to me, which while released back in 2012. It has had a profound effect on my thoughts surrounding vaginas, and more importantly, women’s happiness. In Wolf’s JCCSF podcast, she discusses her book that had just been published called Vagina: A New Biography, and the supplemental research that coincided with the writing of the book. With notable grace, Wolf meditatively interweaves both her personal experiences with tried-and-true scientific research that confronts and answers questions concerning women’s desire. Three highlights of mine from Wolf’s podcast include her musings on women’s sexual happiness, the vaginal pulse, and the dichotomy between the Western porn industry and Eastern tantric sex practices.
Wolf spends a majority of her podcast exploring the attainment of sexual happiness for women, and the inherent differences that are required by women and men both physically and mentally during sex. The root of her research was derived from a study curated forty years ago that said 30% of women couldn’t reach orgasm when they wanted to during sexual intercourse. Following this was the “sexual revolution,” which strived to improve these numbers with the accessibility of pornography. As it turns out, the brain and the vagina are a single system. First of all, the way women and men are wired internally describes the way they view sex. While the male reproductive system is simple, straightforward, like a grid, women’s systems are rather complex, like an entanglement of Christmas lights she says. After “hundreds of years of patriarchy targeting the vagina and female sexuality,” she calls for ways women can strategize for more rewarding sex. This includes training the autonomic nervous system to be fully relaxed. Once this is achieved, dopamine is released to a woman’s brain. Wolf labels dopamine as the “feminine neurotransmitter.” This creates a feeling of euphoria. The ingredients of rewarding sex are blood flow caused by total relaxation, feeling safe with your partner, and a goal of activation not orgasm, therefore the time spent towards seducing a woman’s vagina.
Second is the vaginal pulse. Wolf characterizes the pulse as something omnipresent in a woman; if she really concentrates she will feel it. This pulse can be felt as a sexual or non-sexual response. With the women Wolf talked to, they reported feeling the pulse during “aesthetically beautiful situations,” such as going on a hike through the woods or watching a sunset. This goes back to Wolf’s claim that the “vagina is a barometer for a woman’s wellbeing.”
Lastly, Wolf draws from two cultural practices: the Western porn industry and Eastern tantric sex. She introduces this current generation’s pornography by describing it as the “sexual script that young people are growing up with.” Not only that, but she says that we are growing up with the sped up script, where both parties are trying to get to the finish line, that being orgasm. She points a finger at pornography for the issue of desensitization in both men and women when exposed to porn, as well as the number of health issues that arise in males from frequency and the expectations that arise when real sex occurs. Then, she delves into the practices of tantric sex in the East where there are exercises where men seduce women for an hour and a half with baths and flowers. She concludes this by saying that layers of emotion travel to the woman after they experience such intimate, giving practices.
Believe it or not, this is just a brief overview of everything that is discussed in Naomi Wolf’s remarkable podcast. My only criticism of the podcast is its lack of information for queer, trans, bisexual, gay, and lesbian couples. She mentions this a couple times—that the science she is supplying applies to people of all orientations. My guess is since most of her information is science-oriented, it is therefore essentialist and purely biological. If you have time, I highly recommend this hour-long podcast. Just perhaps you’ll leave feeling as enlightened as I was.