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Wolf claims she felt inspired to investigate the complex, highly variable biology of the vagina because of a personal crisis: A compressed pelvic nerve in her body inhibited her orgasms, making them no longer “incredibly emotionally meaningful.” After surgery to have the pelvic nerve restored, she became, as she describes it, a one-woman “control” group “as one of the few women in the world — as far as I know — to have, neurobiologically speaking, both had and then not had a vagina.” She recalls the ensuing restoration to full sexual consciousness in her typically flowery, heightened prose:
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. Slowly, after orgasm, I once again saw light flowing into the world around me. I began to have, once again, a wave of sociability pass over me after lovemaking — to want to talk and laugh. Gradually, I re-experienced the sense of deep emotional connection, of postcoital creative euphoria, of joy with one’s self and with one’s lover, of confidence and volubility and the sense that all was well in some existential way that I had thought I had lost forever.
Wolf explains this seemingly mystical experience as rooted in biochemistry. She writes in great detail about recent university studies that show how orgasm in women, more than in men, ideally sets off a wide and copious variety of feel-good hormones and chemicals that put women “in, potentially, a position of greater biochemical empowerment than men.” That includes triggering high-inducing dopamine, the same substance known to give a fix to those who use recreational drugs or run long distances.
Wolf’s writing resonates when she speaks of the need for women to learn more about their biology, citing studies pointing to a high amount of sexual dissatisfaction despite our “liberated” world. Our culture’s real “original sin,” she writes, is not respecting women’s sexuality.
The double-edged remedy that Wolf supplies, though, is for men to treat women as if they were goddesses. She invokes the tradition of two cultures in particular — “the India of the Tantrists, about fifteen hundred years ago, and the Han dynasty of China about a thousand years ago,” when “women were, for a time, elevated and enjoyed relative sexual freedom. These two cultures viewed the vagina as giving and sacred, and they believed that balance and health for men depended upon treating the vagina — and women — extremely well sexually. Both cultures appear to have understood aspects of female sexual response that modern Western science is only now catching up with.”
When it comes to her own religion, Judaism, she criticizes it as patriarchal – making a conscious deviation from the goddess worshippers before it. But she does elevate it above Christianity for at least being sex positive. She explains that the Hebrew Bible contains passages that “eloquently express female sexual desire. The Song of Songs contains many subtle metaphors for female arousal and orgasm. The Hebrew tradition had not promoted a mind-body split, and sex was still sacred within the confines of marriage: Rabbinical exegesis in the post-Exilic period insisted that a devout man must satisfy his wife sexually at least weekly, depending on his profession.”
Indeed, in line with that ethic, Wolf makes men a major focus of the book. A motivation is her belief that heterosexual women need men to continually “tend the fire” of their sexuality, both in and out of bed. She promotes to men a series of nonsexual acts, which she calls “The Goddess Array” (one of her many coinages), to perform throughout the day to relax the woman: from eye gazing to hair stroking, all connected to priming the female brain for intimacies to come.