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on 12 October 2012
Naomi Wolf's new book embodies deep problems with pop science publishers and their relationship with the media: her work brings in the bucks, so Ecco Press (HarperCollins) publishes what they refer to in their marketing blurb as "rigorous science" without bothering to double-check her claims with any neuroscientists. The media largely takes Wolf's statements at face value, understandably assuming that no major publisher would gamble their reputation by putting this stuff into print without at least a cursory round of fact-checking. But the "science" in this book is largely misleading or just wrong.

To learn the details, Google for these articles:
- Neuroscientists take aim at Naomi Wolf's theory of the "conscious vagina"
- Naomi Wolf's "Vagina" is full of bad science about the brain
- Pride and Prejudice, by Zoë Heller (The New York Review of Books)
- Feminist Dopamine, Conscious Vaginas, and the Goddess Array
- Of Mice and Women: Animal Models of Desire, Dread, and Despair
- Upstairs, Downstairs; `Vagina: A New Biography,' by Naomi Wolf (The New York Times)

Wolf leapt to fame with her 1991 book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, which argued that culture's idea of female beauty is entirely socially constructed, primarily by men, in order to keep women down. Following publication, research by Devendra Singh and others confirm that both men and women from a broad spectrum of cultures (even those who don't have magazines or television) uniformly agree that they find women with a waist-to-hip ratio of between 0.6-0.8 the most attractive -- which makes sense biologically, given that a 0.7 ratio appears to indicate optimum physical health and fertility. So while Wolf makes some valid points about the cultural disenfranchisement of women, her central thesis is provably wrong. Wolf also claimed in 'Beauty Myth' that 150,000 women were dying every year from anorexia nervosa, when the real number is closer to 100. Her book gives voice to the genuine frustration many women feel at being judged primarily by their appearance, and so quickly found an appreciative readership; unfortunately the popularity of Wolf's basic message has resulted in a glossing-over of the reality that she often supports her arguments with claims that simply aren't true.

Naomi Wolf is pretty and charismatic, so she plays well on camera, but her shaky claims give the opponents of feminism a too-easy lever to trick impressionable young people into dismissing feminism and feminists entirely. I am strongly pro equal rights for women, I agree that women's sexuality has been swept under the rug (so to speak) for too long, but publishing an edifice of arguments built on a foundation of claims that simply aren't true may not be the wisest path towards a real solution.

I get that some readers find value in the basic message of this book even though many of the technical claims are misleading or incorrect, and I'm all for finding emotional sustenance where you can get it -- if reading this improves your life, great! In the future, though, I hope Wolf takes her hard-won position as a leading voice of feminism seriously enough to check her facts before committing them to print.
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on 18 November 2012
I had never heard of the 'oceanic feeling' before I read this book, but I knew, when I read it, exactly what it meant. The fact that this feeling is reported in a book that is essentially about sex, made a lightbulb turn on in my head – no wonder I had never come across it before, my vagina is the last place I would have looked for it. Naomi describes the oceanic feeling thus:

“[the woman] is in a state of a kind of perfection, in harmony with and in connection with the world……in that state of consciousness, the inner voices that say the woman is not good enough, not beautiful enough, not pleasing enough to others are stilled…..and the sense of….a universal or divine feminine can be accessed. Major creative insights, and powerful work, can emerge after an experience of transcendence of this kind.”

Naomi has written a beautiful Ode to the Vagina in this book which she started to research whilst trying to heal a blockage in her pelvic nerve, (which she had injured years before during a fall down a flight of stairs) where, she discovered there is a mass of neurons and pathways connecting the vagina to the brain. This connection is critically important to a woman’s well being and a creates an ‘oceanic feeling’ during and after (sometimes for a long time after) sex, where she experiences moments of expansion and connection to the sublime. Naomi herself, who lost that connection through her injuries and crucially regained it again after she was healed, charts exactly how systematic violence and repression (both physically and emotionally) towards the vagina can have profound effects on woman’s sexual, emotional and creative lives.

There is one section of the book dedicated exclusively to the use of derogatory terms aimed towards ‘woman’s bits’ in society today and how it can have a profound affect on a woman's life in much deeper ways than she imagines. The pathways can be physically cut through the language and symbolism popular culture uses for vaginas and we see that derogatory words although damaging, can be the least of woman’s worries; rape, torture, sexual control and mutilation have been a constant, not only in war but in private life throughout most of history. Before 1,000 years B.C.E. (and for two short periods after that in the East), women were held in esteem equal to that of Goddesses, indeed they were goddesses; the vagina was held as the centre of the Universe; men knew how to honour, respect, adore and ‘cultivate’ it to the best of their abilities; for the wellbeing of the women, of the man and of the whole intrinsically linked world. But In this modern world of ever increasing disrespect of the vagina (despite the sexual revolution) through pornography and more and more ‘threatening’ fashion editorials and advertising where women are effectively packaged and sold as merchandise, it pays to stop and give some thought to what Naomi is trying to put across in this brave and bold book. She devotes a whole section to the ancient Art of Tantra, that Eastern yogic practise – made popular today through such people as Sting and his wife – and directs us to tantric sex as root of this oceanic feeling in women. In her ‘Goddess Array’ chapter (a phrase that sums up the complex set of places on the female body which are intimately involved in sexual pleasure and which is routinely ignored by men, who have never been taught to honour the woman’s body as the centre of the Universe) is a 'guide book' on the subject, reflecting the beliefs of modern tantra practitioners in aiding the man towards his devotion of the vagina and the complete woman.

Naomi mentions the concept of the Goddess again and again throughout her book; and it remains a very appropriate definition of that oceanic feeling – that creative force all women hold within them. This definition works on many levels in the psyche, indeed it directs us into our ancient collective consciousness where women were once held as sacred and a source of inspiration but it also works on a physical level where is calms both women and men during sex and that in turn is the perfect environment for initiating the power of the vagina/brain connection. The Goddess is indeed at the heart of Tantra, which in itself is at the heart of the creative process for both women and men. When a man is devoting himself to serving the pleasure of a goddess (or The Goddess) ‘performance’ is no longer is an issue; he no longer threatens a women with his controlling forces and she is able to relax and use that amazing sex as the start of her own amazing creative journey.

Naomi concludes:

“…[the oceanic feeling] is critically linked to an experience of self love or self-respect and a sense of freedom and drive. This is why the issue of whether or not female sexuality is treated with love and respect is so very crucial”

And this is just what Naomi is trying to tell all the women who read her book; and read it we should. At last there is something available out there in mainstream culture that explicitly teaches a man about the Goddess Array and how crucial it is for a woman’s sexual and creative fire. Forget Fifty Shades of Grey, which just takes women deeper into her own private sexual fantasies, alienating her lover(s) at every turn of the page (Naomi details the effects of porn on women and men’s sexual performance), this book describes in depth why and how this sexual fire in effect, makes the world a happier place, for everyone.

My summary: every woman (and every man) should read this book, period.
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on 3 October 2012
This is a well researched, well reasoned book about the vagina. Historically and sociologically interesting, backed up by excellent medical research and interviews with experts. Naomi takes us on her personal journey where she experiences a debilitating condition which starts to affect her nervous system and hence, her sex life.
I read this book in three days flat. Eminently readable, sometimes laugh aloud funny and sometimes just so enlightening I read bits of it out to my husband. Other parts are sadly touching and others, just sad, especially the history of sexual repression against women and Naomi's theories about the use of rape in war (It's not personal, it's just a tactic). Other bits confirmed what I already knew, like why I like sniffing my husband's neck so much. :D

Do note that this book has been written from a heterosexual POV and non hetero people might find that there's not much that might apply, but I can't say that for sure. Naomi makes that clear in the opening and much of the book is based on female and male interactions with each other which are chemically driven. Saying that, I think a lot applies to female gay couples and would certainly be of interest.
This is a book that I'd hand on to my kids to read when they're old enough... late teens/early 20's. In this world of instant hook ups, porn and the fairly poor view people hold of the beauty of female sexuality, it's important to slow down, read the data and change the way we do things.

If you're an interested, vaguely intelligent woman who likes a good read and who would like to connect with your body AND your male partner more than you are, then this is for you.

If you're an interested, vaguely intelligent man who'd like to understand and connect with your female partner mentally and sexually, then this will be enlightening and life changing for you both.

Never a dry book, climaxing beautifully the end after a satisfying historical and sociological romp through the ages. Highly recommended. : )
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on 10 October 2012
Stone me! I bought this hoping to see what a real one looks like, where it is, how it can be tamed/addressed and what steps to take when you find it. I was very disappointed when it said 'Click to look inside.' I am sticking to grumbleflicks and bongo mags to assuage my shame - sometimes, literally.
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VINE VOICEon 6 November 2012
Wolfs book has a massive subject, the Vagina. She tries to cover so many bases including the power of the chemicals released by orgasm, the apparent damage not having a orgasm can do and even tells us that men need to buy flowers and romance a woman if they want her to get aroused. Ultimately there is just too much going on here and I personally feel as though some of the matters discussed were better left out. For example, I felt quite uncomfortable that Wolf includes in her book the effects (physical and mental) of sexual abuse and rape on its victims. This is because I think such a subject should be addressed very respectfully and carefully in a seperate work and not merely briefly discussed in a book of this nature.
Another negative for me is that Wolf really makes it sound as though you NEED amazing orgasms, as in you cannot live without them or if you can you will be unhappy and depressed. Aside from the fact asexuals exist i also just do not think its a helpful view. There is afterall alot more to life . Wolf believes women get more firece, more creative, more self assured if she is having great orgasms- well maybe but my view is....so what?
In terms of the research and science I pretty much relied on Wolf not to lie to me but there were times when i felt she was twisting it to her own point. I am sure other times she was just plain wrong when she said the christian fish symbol has its origins in early vulva imagery for example.
I did like some of the book, including the discussion of the effect of pornography on the male brain. Also, the whole tantric practices thing was interesting, although i cant say i believed most of it.

Overall, a hard going book full of probably misunderstood science and stating of the obvious (its harder to leave a man who is good in the sack you know) thats just not as intellectual as its wants to be.
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on 6 May 2015
 I love Wolf's fearlessness on this topic - she dares to present a radical new way of understanding the vagina, backed not only with new scientific insights, but also drawing upon more ancient traditions such as Tantra and Taoism. The historical context that she brings to the vagina is also really eye opening, and creates unique insight into the way our modern society views the vagina.
As a woman, what I find really powerful about this book is the speaking of what I have felt on a deep, innate level - that my vagina is more than just an organ. I love that Wolf, rather than taking a radical feminist perspective, also writes of the emotional, bonding and 'needy' aspects of the vagina as well - something that I feel helps to life the shame that so many women feel about wanting to be in partnership with someone else, particularly a man. And I deeply appreciate the scientific research that supports so many of her claims - from understanding the nuerochemical reactions that the vagina is linked to, to having a clearer picture of how trauma and environment can affect the vagina.
This book is brave, timely, powerful and validating. I laughed, cried and 'wooooowed'. We're recommending this to all of our clients - men AND women - in order spread the knowledge and encourage a deeper understanding, respect and reverance of the vagina. And to help women AND men everywhere to start having better, more profound and more fulfilling sex.
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on 16 October 2012
I ordered the book as part of a research for my own book on how to be friends with our feminine sexuality. The first 50 pages already had an eye-opening revelation about the pelvic nerve and the nerve connections and wirings in the pelvic area. I 100% agree with the premiss of the book, that female sexuality and a full and joyful connection with it are essential for a female to be able to fully connect and harness feminine power and energy and creativity.
However I find that the author is not quite decided on what angle she wants to approach this subject from. At parts it is highly academic, then sometimes she writes about the budding may tree blossoms and the sounds of the birds chirping. One moment it is a highly medical description, the next moment it is about an ex investment banker who massages vaginas for a living with the same credibility and conviction. I do believe in alternative medicine and am a big fan of spirituality, don't get me wrong. And I think there are good ways of blending modern science and alternative and spiritual approaches together, however I am not convinced Ms Wolf has managed to do that successfully in this book.
I still give it four stars and say it is a must-read, if you can overlook it's flaws.
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on 4 December 2014
This book is unbelievable. I have been reading it with my jaw dropping steadily. The author must be deranged, is my final opinion of this book. She relies heavily on the 'new science' of neurology, but doesn't really quite understand it which make her explanations of it askew. She goes well beyond any evidence, and even actually says so - without admitting it. "His evidence is anecdotal" she writes, not realising that anecdotes are not evidence. I got to page 135 before flinging it away in exasperation, so I did give it a fair trial.
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on 16 May 2016
An amazing book. It's not often I highly recommend a book but this is essential reading. A clear, easy to read and entertaining biography of women's sexuality written by a very intelligent woman who took the time to do the job properly and thoroughly research the topic. Naomi Wolf takes the study of neuroscience and translates it into a fascinating, accessible book that a non-scientist can read and understand and doesn't want to put down. Just read it.
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on 29 February 2016
I really liked the book, and it has many valid points that certainly deserve the care and attention Naomi gives them. Unfortunately I disliked her style of referencing and found the form tedious and disengaging. Some efforts were made to place this work in a broader and more unbiased context, but overall I felt the obvious agenda harmed the overall important message this book was supporting. Nevertheless, it is a must read for everyone.
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