Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: Vagina, A Cultural History by Naomi Wolf

Vagina: A New BiographyVagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Naomi Wolf’s new book, Vagina: A New Biography.  Of course I would, I am a heterosexual, male, monogamist and a first class flake, so I was like a kitten with a bowl of warm milk.  It puts me in mind of that song from The Sound of Music, These Are A Few of My Favorite Things.  In a way, I wish some one else beside Wolf had wrote the book, then I would not be forced to acknowledge that much of the world thinks this is a silly book and most of the people who think that are women.

I really like the idea that a woman’s vagina and brain are one.  We men have been accused of thinking with our little heads for centuries, so it refreshing to see a feminist make such a claim for women and their vaginas.  I also like the idea that my wife is a goddess and her yoni is sacred and by appealing to her goddess array and engaging in deeply penetrative coitus I can send her galloping off on a magical unicorn of orgasm across a technicolor rainbow of pheromones from my arm pits and a love potion number 9 of feel good hormones and neurotransmitters absorbed from my semen.  This is all good stuff and I loved reading about it, and yes I am exaggerating, but only slightly, what Wolf has said in the book.  

But I can also understand where many women may not quite like the idea that their thinking is so strongly colored by their vaginas or that they need a man to help them see in technicolor.  I also think the Wolf is getting worked over with some past due karmic debts from some feminists...I saw numerous references to Julian Assange in many negative reviews.  While I consider myself a pro-feminist supporter, I am in no way familiar with the nuances and politics within the movement, but I definitely get the feeling that Wolf has stepped on a few toes in the past and her book is something of a pair of combat boots in a ballet.

Much of what I read in Vagina, I already knew, I have an interest in sex like some people have in astronomy.  However there was for me one piece of valuable information that I never realized before  The female pelvic innervation is not only far more complex than I understood, but also subject to a lot of variation from woman to woman.  This explains the mystery of vaginal orgasms verses clitoral orgasms.  As I have long suspected Freud’s claims of a woman’s maturity determining the type of orgasm she experiences is bullshit.  If a woman lacks the nerve connections for deep vaginal orgasms then she will experience clitoral orgasm--maturity has nothing to do with it.  For me this was worth the price of the book.  Another fascinating bit of knowledge for me was that, although I knew nipple stimulation causes oxytocin to be released, I did not know that nipple stimulation is actually used in natural child birth procedures to initiate labor contractions.  It amazes me that nipple stimulation would have this kind of power.  Wolf provides some cautions that a woman may want to be choosy about whom she gives access to her bra (especially near the end of her pregnancy).  Oxytocin is a bonding hormone.  Helen Fisher has offered much the same advice regarding with whom one sleeps.

Some of the reviews I read took Wolf to task regarding the quality of her research.  I suppose one could ask to what standard does one hold such a book?  It is what I would consider a popularization, not a scientific document.  She provides extensive footnotes and to be honest I saw very little that would give me pause, although bear in mind, I am a hobbyist, not an expert.  She did rely a good bit on anecdotal evidence but I also believe that she adequately identified what was valid research and what was anecdotal.

That said, there was one area of concern for me regarding research that cast a wider shadow on the entire enterprise.  She quotes Marnia Robinson in several places and calls her a “dopamine researcher”.  Marnia Robinson is an author not a scientist.  She promotes a type of non-orgasmic sex called karezza, and in my opinion gets a bit hysterical about orgasms.  Yes, I am not a fan of Robinson, although I think she means well.  What Wolf quoted about dopamine was not out of context, but still quoting Robinson in an extremely pro-orgasmic book struck me like having Rush Limbaugh deliver the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.  Robinson, the last I knew, was not about to say anything good about an orgasm, so her appearance in Wolf’s book was a bit curious and would suggest a hurried effort at research.  I did a quick internet search and found nothing from Robinson refuting Wolf’s book.  It sort of struck me that a pissing contest is being avoided.  Although I will emphasize, it was a quick search.

Another area of concern, I think Wolf seemed to go a bit overboard with her reactions to negative references to the vagina.  I agree entirely that women should not be subjected to obscene language and that men should not only refrain from using such terms, but to not think of women in such terms.  However as we all know such terminology exists and is widely used by the Neanderthals among us.  So how does one handle it?  During my working life, I had been called various things of the four lettered persuasions some involving maternal sex and fellatio. (the first technically true, the latter not).    If I were to take such things to heart I would have had to quit working at a very tender age.  So I regarded Wolf’s claim of six months of writer’s blocks over an ignorant reference to pasta vulvas a bit over the top.  It brought to mind something my mother said about the histrionics my cousin inflicted on the world when she was in high school.  “A good six inches of hard manhood delivered fast and furiously would straighten that girl right out.”  Hmmm, what to do?  Naomi was already having technicolored orgasms with her man so what the hell does one do now regarding such histrionics?   Unfortunately my late mother is no longer available for comment.  I will say though that Wolf’s point should be taken and understood by men.  This woman is the love of your life, don’t treat her or her vagina with disrespect and expect her to fly off to Oz in your arms.  If men spent as much time polishing their relationships with the women they love, as polishing the fenders of their Dodge Ram pickups, the world would be a far better place.

Like I say, I immensely enjoyed this book and found myself in agreement with most of what she said.  I do think that Wolf tended to overstate her case.  Does the vagina affect a woman’s thoughts and is it affected by thoughts?  I think so.  I believe that there is a definite brain-genital connection in both women and men just like there is a definite brain-gut connection.   Ever get butterflies in your stomach before giving a speech?  Has a dose of intestinal flu affected your thoughts?  Does this mean that women are incapable of being a CEO because their vaginas might take offense to a certain product line or corporate deal?  Absolutely not.

Can women experience the world in technicolor after having the right type of orgasm?  Well let me put it to you this way, my own orgasms are paltry affairs...putt, putt, putt and I am done.  Yeah it feels good but I can’t say that I am particularly changed by the event.  But when my wife has an orgasm she flies off and circles the rings Saturn, and she carries me along with her.  I see technicolor after one of my wife’s orgasms, so if it affects me like that I can only guess what it does for her!   So no I don’t think Wolf is exaggerating.  I am being entirely honest here, my wife’s orgasms are far more enjoyable for me than mine are.  So yep, I think a woman can ride down the yellow brick road on the back of a magical unicorn named Orgasm and head off to Oz, while pink and purple stardust emanates from her yoni that will take her man to the far reaches of the finite universe and give him a glimpse of the Infinite.

Are women goddesses? Indeed, but it is that flakey part of me that has been off to Oz with my wife that believes that.  I have to admit, I would have been happier if Wolf could have found some less moonbeamish language to describe this phenomenon. But I also have to admit having been there with my wife...she is indeed a goddess.  So is this a silly book?  Not for me, I have experienced some of the things that Wolf claims.    

Human beings have a remarkable capacity for intellect.  However, we are the total sums of our evolution.   Our intellect has been created in an evolutionary blink of the eye compared to our sexuality.  When we try to intellectualize our sexuality we run into some powerful forces.  I think what Wolf was getting in this book was that we are still subject to the animal forces of our genes and we ignore them at our peril.

Here are two reviews that sum up the problems and the strengths of the book:

Huffington Post, “Naomi Wolf's 'Vagina' Gets More Public Criticism And Faint Praise Than Any Vagina We Know Of”, by Nina Bahadur

Huffington Post, “Who's Afraid of the Vagina-Brain Connection?” by James G. Pfaus

View all my reviews

Note: the Kindle edition seems to have a slightly different title (A Cultural History) than the hardback (A New Biography).  

EDIT 1-4-2013:  Re-reading this review with a little passage of time I realized I forgot to mention that another thing that I really liked about this book was the chapter on how to appeal to a woman's "goddess array." Chapter 14 Radical Pleasure, Radical Awakening: The Vagina as a Liberator. Again I find the moonbeam terminology unfortunate, but the pearls of wisdom she provides should be a mandatory class in high school for all males with refresher courses offered periodically. In essence the chapter states don't take your woman for granted, treat her like you did when you were trying to impress her, respect her, help her and love her. All seems to be common sense, yet look at how many men treat their wives like an appliance, a dinner machine and a sex machine. We can do better guys, and Wolf tells you how in one chapter. Yeah, be a wussie and buy her flowers and take her to dinner. Gaze in her eyes, spend time with her, touch her and treat her like you love her and hang on to your hat the next time you jump into bed. Ladies, if you have a inattentive partner, cast pearls before swine. Make him read chapter 14. 

The other thing I like about this chapter was that she went into a bit of the bio-chemistry of sex. We try to rationalize sex with our advanced cerebral cortex, but sex operates at far deeper and older sections of our minds. Why are condoms so unsatisfying for an committed long term monogamous relationship? Could it be that by using a condom, the biochemical communications is blocked, the only part of our brains that realize that we had sex is on cerebral cortex? The older, down in the swamp sections, of our brains saw no chemical messages absorbed by the genitals from the partner, so was there any sex? If you are in love and you are monogamous with absolute fidelity, in my mind condoms are destructive to your relationship. (Note the strong emphasis on monogamous fidelity--you are a complete idiot to not use condoms and dental dams in a non-monogamous relationships). Wolf hints at some of this complexity in this chapter but she only speaks in terms of female receptivity to male chemistry. I think it is very much a two way street, males are chemically receptive to female chemistry and genitally and orally absorb female biochemistry from vaginal fluids. In my mind this is the real communication during sex, and the reason that I fly off to Oz with my wife's orgasms.  Loving monogamous couples should not block it with a layer of latex. I also think it is good reason for men to take their time and stick around. No need to hurry off. You can only absorb this good stuff when you are in contact with it. The biochemical communication during sex and its impact on love is an area that I think requires a lot more research. Wolf gives it honorable mention, but I think as a society we know very little. Sex is a chemical wonder. It is the attractant that get us together, the adhesive the holds us together, and the oil that lubricates a good working relationship or marriage. Don't we as a society owe it to ourselves and our children to understand this process as much as possible?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Sweetest

About two months ago I was walking through a grocery store when all of a sudden I got this huge mental flash of undefined recognition that went off in my head like a flash bulb on a camera.  I was moving right along when it happened and it took me about 20 feet until I got stopped and thought to myself, what just happened?  I actually had to think about it for a moment.  It was like one of those subliminal commercials.  I saw something and it was troubling me, but what was it?  It then occurred to me.  I just saw an image of my wife and I.  

What!  How the hell could I have just seen an image of my wife and I in a food store?  I must be loosing my mind.  I shook my head and almost left but there was something really bothering me about this.  I was sure that I just saw a picture of us.  How under the sun could that possibly be?    

So I back tracked to the last thing I bought and repeated my steps.  Nothing.  I did not see any kind of image.  This was crazy, I should have left.   Still this was really troubling me.  How could I have seen a picture of us?  So I backtracked again, slower this time, and paying close attention to everything that I was passing.

Greeting cards. Ahaa!  I stopped and began to scan the shelves.  


© Hallmark Cards Inc.

There it was, a photograph of my wife and I when we were young before we were married.  Damn how can that be?  I can even tell you when and where the photograph was taken.  Pittsburgh, June of 1975, Three Rivers Arts Festival.  It had to be then because we were walking down a cobblestone street.  I can't think of anyplace else that we would have been on such a street.  

We had been going together for four months.  We were head over heels in love with each other.  Wow!  There she is in one of her pink tops, lovely dark brown hair with red highlights, and that cute ass framed so lovingly in her jeans.  Oh my!  How I dreamed of her behind in those days! (OK, I will admit it, I still do!)   

And there I am slobbing along as usual, dark tee shirt not tucked in, hunched over so that we could awkwardly hold hands.  It's us!  It has be!  Looking at it, I could not find a single aspect that would prove other wise.  It has to be us.  Oh c'mon how could it be?   

 So I bought the card and gave it to my wife.  She looked at it for a few seconds and said, 

"Wow that really looked like us when we were going together except the girl's hair is not long enough.  My hair went to my waist back then."

Damn, it is not us!  OK I knew it could not really be us, but still....  

Here is the message in the card.

Take my hand 
and walk with me
From where we are
to where we'll be.
Love is a mystery. 

We'll learn more of life
as we go---
No map, no answers.
All I know
is this:  I love you so.

All my love 
on Sweetest Day
and Every Day

There is something about this card that really tugs my heart strings.  

It's bittersweet nostalgia I guess.  Lost youth?  

There we are...young, carefree, innocent.  Almost child like.

"No map, no answers."  Not a nickel to our names, no decent job,  a very grim economy. 

How the hell could we be so happy?  

Yet we were.  

How could we have such courage for the map, no answers? 

Yet we did. 

How could I feel for the first time in my life like a completed human being? 

Yet I did.  She completed me.  She made me whole.  

Where in the hell did all that time go? 

I don't know, but it did.    

 "From where we are
    to where we'll be."

"Where we'll be"... for now is today, right here, still together, still in love.  No longer innocent. Perhaps two thirds of a map drawn but not completed.  Some of the answers are in hand but not all of them.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
One answer I am certain of, if it were not for you, my loving wife, taking my hand and walking with me...I would not, alive, and still head over heels in love.  

So my Sweetest...take my hand and walk with me... 

We have yet another third of a map to draw, my love, you and I, through the terra incognita of the "golden years".  We have many answers yet to find.  Adventure still awaits us.  They say getting old is not for sissies.  Do we still have the courage?  I can do it as long as I have your hand in mine. 

So indeed my love...

Take my hand 

   and walk with me

From where we are 
                      to eternity.


Card Photo and Message:  Card # SD 278-9  © Hallmark Cards Inc. Kansas City MO, 64141

Map: Wikipedia, Terra Incognita  

Note on Sweetest Day from the back of the card: 

Sweetest Day was established in the 1920s by a Cleveland candy company employee who wanted to bring happiness to shut-ins, orphans, and other individuals, who were often forgotten.  Sweetest Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in October and has become a day for remembering loved ones and friends who enrich our lives with their thoughtfulness.

© Hallmark Cards Inc 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Spam Or Captchas? Which is the bigger PIA?

Big PIA but I will not tolerate spam. 

For months now I have been getting almost daily email notifications of comments made in my blog from "Anonymous" that sounded like a real comment but always ends with a link to another site.  Spam.   

So I would dutifully check my blog, and the comment was always blocked by Blogger's spam filters.  Well yesterday and today I received the same type of comments with links to porn sites and they were published in my blog. 

I have long resisted using the word verification especially since Blogger went to the Captchas because it is a royal pain in the ass. Its not uncommon for me to have to make several attempts at them before I succeed.  However now that the spam is actually making it into my blog with links to porn, I am forced to use the word verification to block it.  If that does not work, I will invoke comment approval.  I apologize to my readers, yes the Captchas are a pain in the ass...but I refuse to become a free Craig's List for spammers.    

UPDATE 1-30-13  I read some bitter complaints in other blogs about the captchas.  So I turned them off on my blog.   Hourly spam.  Every time I logged on to the computer I had 2 to 4 comments from Anonymous with a link.  The other thing I noticed that may or may not be related was that my hit count went down.  Does Google lower your priority if they detect you are being spammed?  Probably unrelated.  

I do have several valid readers who comment under Anonymous so I do not want to block them, sorry gang I turned the captchas back on.