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This focus on men does not contradict her feminism, she writes; rather, it recognizes how women live in the real world: “Feminism has evaded the far more difficult question of how to be a liberated heterosexual woman and how to acknowledge deep physical needs for a connection with men.”
Wolf’s mission becomes more questionable as her investigation continues, and she enthusiastically promotes the work of some overly confident New Age healers practicing for large hourly sums. She is inspired by a workshop run in a shabby Manhattan hotel by a divorced couple serving as therapists; their mission is to teach men how to give 90-minute sexual massages to women’s “sacred spot” (recognized in modern times as the G-spot).
She relies most heavily on the teachings of a London practitioner, who holds private hands-on sessions with women around said spot, or does “yoni tapping.” That is, it’s mostly hands on; Wolf asks him if he ever has intercourse with his patients, and he answers that he does so only if it “is extremely therapeutic.” After reading about his boundary crossing, I found myself thinking that he would be the last person I’d ever want to touch my “yoni.”
In the end, Wolf puts women on a pedestal that can be costly to maintain. When she characterizes the vagina and cervix as inherently “other oriented,” she takes “essentializing” liberties that other feminist writers on female biology, notably Natalie Angier, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Woman: An Intimate Geography,” have taken pains to avoid.
Wolf also glosses over the negative sides to the traits that she defines — and often overstates — as differences of “the female brain,” such as when she characterizes women as being more chemically “addicted” to sexual highs than men are, and as a result being naturally more obsessed with and intoxicated by relationships. For some that might mean a passionate brain; to others, it could indicate one of neediness and instability, requiring much use of Caller ID.
But still, Wolf’s overall underlying quest for respect for women’s sexuality somewhat redeems her book for me — although I know that for others, this won’t be enough. In contrast to certain Missouri Republicans, at least Wolf is trying to expand, rather than limit, women’s sexual experiences. And it’s refreshing to witness a high-profile, bold, absolutely unapologetic celebration of the spiritual side of sex in an otherwise porn-saturated, quick-fix culture.
“A culture that does not respect women tends to deride and mock women’s preoccupation with love and Eros,” Wolf writes. “But often we are preoccupied with the beloved not because we have no selves of our own, but because the beloved has physiologically awakened aspects of our own selves. Should we not, rather, be proud of who we are?”
Paula Kamen is the author of four books, including “Her Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution” and, most recently, “Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind.”