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Naomi Wolf writes from experience about ‘brain-vagina connection’

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Updated: November 3, 2012 6:03AM



Feminist writer Naomi Wolf says we’re seeing vaginas 24/7, and she’s not just talking about her latest book, “Vagina, A New Biography.”

There’s the Russian punk-rock band with a bawdy label in its name, sentenced to two years in jail for an unauthorized performance in a cathedral. And Lisa Brown, a Michigan state representative who was banned from speaking on the house floor the day after saying “vagina” during a debate on abortion legislation. Todd Akin, a U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri, claimed that “legitimate rape” victims couldn’t get pregnant, and some women in last year’s Tahrir Square protests in Cairo were subjected to virginity tests.

Vagina — her book, the word, the body part — is about more than biology, Wolf said.

“It’s not about a sex organ, it’s about who owns women,” Wolf said. “When sexuality is commodified it’s not considered obscene. What’s considered obscene is women taking over.”

In a phone interview from her New York City home, midway through her national book tour, the bestselling author of “The Beauty Myth” describes her latest venture in orgasmic terms, as a book filled with information that is “mind-blowing and startling.”

“This will change our understanding of how female sexuality works in some ways,” she said. “It goes to helping women understand their bodies better, to helping people who love women help understand their bodies better.”

In “Vagina,” Wolf writes about personal experiences, scientific research and cultural history that led her to conclude there is a “profound brain-vagina connection.” She writes that the vagina, which she calls “the goddess,” is “part of the female soul.”

For Wolf, the book grew, in part, out of a compressed pelvic nerve that caused what appears to be a fantastically satisfying sex life to be somewhat less so. After surgery for the nerve issue, “sex became emotional for me again,” Wolf writes. “Sexual recovery for me was like that transition in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in which Dorothy goes from black-and-white Kansas to colorful, magical Oz.”

While the book may have originated with Wolf’s troubled pelvic nerve, the subject has struck a nerve with book critics, many of whom Wolf deemed “hostile.”

“I doubt the most brilliant novelist in the world could have created a more skewering satire of Naomi Wolf’s career than her latest book,” writes Katie Roiphe in Slate magazine. The Los Angeles Times’ Meghan Daum said that “Vagina” is “kind of bad news for everybody who has one.”

Zoe Heller, in the New York Review of Books, writes that “Wolf literally does not understand the meaning of ‘literally,’ and her grasp of the scientific research she has read is pretty shaky too.”

“Vagina,” Wolf said, is “five pages of personal experience and 400 pages of science and history and hundreds and hundreds of footnotes.”

When men write about their sexual experiences, she said, it’s hailed as highbrow literature.

“I have a sentence and a half about my own experience, and it’s the most shocking thing imaginable,” she said. “It’s such a double standard. Look, I knew I was breaking a taboo, and that’s partly why I did it.”

She said she knew her readers would want to know her experiences.

“I never lie to my readers,” she said. “I bit the bullet and put this in. ... As a journalist I cannot diminish the value of eyewitness experience. From this injury I knew that there was a brain-vagina connection, if you will.”

One of the most gratifying parts of her book tour, she said, has been meeting people who were touched by her book, like a woman in Los Angeles whose husband suffered a brain injury, preventing the couple from sharing a typical sex life. “Vagina” allowed the woman to experience her sexuality while remaining faithful to her spouse, Wolf said.

“It was very moving to me that she accessed this part of herself,” Wolf said.

Wolf is anticipating a warm welcome in Chicago, a city where she said audiences tend to be “less provincial and more sophisticated, more open.”

Wolf called Andersonville’s Women and Children First bookstore, where she is speaking at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, “an amazing community resource.” She is also scheduled to appear at noon Wednesday at the Lake Forest Bookstore and at 4 p.m. the same day at the Evanston library.

“Chicago audiences are interested in evidence,” she said. “I’ve always had a wonderful reception from Chicago audiences.”



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