BY NOW we all know that Naomi Wolf has mind-blowing orgasms. I must say globally this has been a concern. Was this woman getting enough? Yes, oh yes, she has got a book's worth. I read Vagina: A New Biography in a bar while feasting on some very fine cuts of meat, so I am not just judging it by the extracts, ie the insane pasta party where "Alan", a supposed friend, served her "cuntini". This trauma upset her for six months. Someone give her a hotdog quick to spare us more of this existential despair.
See, my mind is already blown, but clearly not as much as super-sensitive Wolf's. I am sorry that she had a back injury which meant that a pelvic nerve was compressed. It has been sorted now and she is coming like a train in full Technicolor transcendental goddessy ecstasy. Phew! But this being Naomi Wolf, she feels this profound vagina/brain connection has been overlooked by everyone else.
My problem with Wolf is longstanding and is not about how she looks or climaxes – but it is about how she thinks, or rather doesn't. She comes in a package that is marketed as feminism but is actually breathlessly written self-help. Her oeuvre, if I can use this word, is basically memoir, in which she struggles to tell some heroic truth that many others have already told us. The great trick is to present this material as new, and to somehow speak on behalf of all women when she is infinitely privileged and sheltered.
Hence feminism becomes simply a highly mediated form of narcissism devoid of any actual brain/politics connection. What we have here is Californication, with a little trot through some basic women's studies linking female creativity with sexual awakening. Think Georgia O'Keeffe with bit of Anaïs Nin thrown in. Which is nice.
It gets dodgy when she drags in some neuroscience as evidence and appears more clueless than someone who has failed her chemistry GCSE but has two TED talks on her iPhone. She boldly goes into the clitoral v vaginal orgasm argument saying we can have it all. Call me repressed, but in between work and kids and watching this recession hit the poorest women hardest, for some time now this argument has not been uppermost in my mind. Or should I say vagina?
Still, she bangs on about dopamine and oxytocin, "the cuddle chemical", choosing studies which back up her theory that women need a lot of stroking and eye-gazing for great sex. It's all very wholesome. She follows the porn-as-desensitisation/addiction model, which is also questionable. She even goes a bit anti-dildo at one point, but who am I to say? Each to their own is my view …
Yet again we see neuroscience in the hands of the layperson being fused to very determinist ends. Thus neural pathways are formed, chemicals just do one thing, hormones rule. Actual scientists don't think so simplistically, however many rats they have tickled to orgasm.
Wolf, though, is an essentialist and therefore fundamentally conservative. Let's not forget the time she discovered the soul and started "radically" questioning abortion, or the time when, 20 years after the event, she accused Harold Bloom of sexually harassing her or that she is now an apologist for Assange.
Obviously she is right that women should be having amazing sex all the time for ever, but the big question is why women are so sexually unhappy. The answer may not lie in the holy grail of female Viagra or dopamine release. What if the problem were to be serial monogamy or, dare I say it, the unpleasant fact that not all men are tantric sex gods? Wolf does Skype a tantric guru in north London. He gives intimate "Loving Touch" massages. Or what we might call Happy Endings. Wolf doesn't have one of these as she is in a relationship. Pass the smelling salts and bring back the pioneers. At least my old mucker Germaine Greer showed us her bits and now many women, through a mixture of Wilhelm Reich, Tantra and good old mirrors, know what they are made of. My own experience of tantric sex, an affair with a Tibetan ex-monk, was not very enlightening, but it did go on for ages. Opioids were indeed flowing, but I feel they came from the actual opium we were taking.
The way of the Tao and the Tantra is intriguing as we often see the most positive representations of female genitalia in societies that treat women appallingly. When rape is used as a systemic war crime (and Wolf has visited Sierra Leone and seen those brutalised women) surely we know the answer to women's sexual unhappiness cannot be a simple exhortation to men: use dimmer lights, scented candles and do more stroking? Will men read this dumbed-down feminism anyway? Are they up for a bit of goddess welcoming?
It's like lesbianism never happened, nor class, nor vast swaths of feminist theory. The context of the vagina is the body, and bodies exist in culture. As do brains. So much of Wolf's work is utter drivel – and I say this as someone in possession of the sacred feminine "force". Which is connected to my mind. Woo! Which is why I can be this brutal (according to Wolf, nasty words about our vaginas hurt our actual brains). Now I have made that connection, thanks, I have entered a profound state of oceanic bliss. Because I am indeed an actual cunt.
This article originally appeared in the Guardianon 5/7/12.
Read all the reviews for Vagina by Naomi Wolf.