Inspired by her own experience with an injured pelvic nerve, noted feminist author Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth) explores the science of female sexuality in her intimate and provocative latest, Vagina: A New Biography.
Can you talk about the timing of this book? Why now?
I’ve always noticed how weird it was that at critical moments, when women’s intellectual power was about to have an impact, there would be some disparaging of their sexuality. [When I was] a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, women were invading the sacred halls of the college for the first time in hundreds of years. Day one, we sat down, opened our books, and the first thing my don said was that when Oscar Wilde had sex with a female prostitute, he compared it to cold mutton. And today, a huge amount of the energy of younger feminists still has to do with the trivializing and demeaning of their sexuality. Over and over again we have to fight the same fight. The culture is just not letting women have a positive relationship to their sexuality, to their vaginas.
Did you have any problems writing this book? Writer’s block?
I’ve never had a problem with writer’s block. But I had this experience at a party that was quite humiliating—about the temerity of addressing the vagina in public. I couldn’t write for six months. I could barely research. When I did more research, I learned that the neuroscience of creativity and the neuroscience of arousal are deeply connected in women. I can’t say for sure that this explained my writer’s block, but it led directly to my examining another phenomenon. When you understand the neuroscience of creativity and of skill and of excellence, you get why targeting the vagina is such a tried and true method of stopping women in their tracks.
Has there been controversy with your publisher about the title?
No one at my publisher’s objected. In social settings when I say the title, there’s always a bit of a double-take, usually positive, but sometimes a bit alarmed. You could write this book with all kinds of other titles, but there is something important to me about just reclaiming that word.
What would you most like readers to take away from the book?
That the vagina is misunderstood if we see it as a sex organ, reductively. That it’s much better understood as part of the female brain, an extension of the female consciousness, connected to women’s creativity, confidence, and sense of connection to the world.