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Naomi Wolf: Nipples, Armpits, and Respect.
February 5, 2013 | 9:39AM

photos by Zach Goldbaum

In 1991, Naomi Wolf published The Beauty Myth, a classic that’s helped many young women navigate between their resentment of our culture’s punishing physical ideals and their often excruciating desperation to live up to them. She argued that as women gained more social, economic, and political power, standards of beauty and grooming ratcheted up to oppressive levels, replacing earlier systems of control. This was before Brazilian bikini waxes became de rigueur, before proliferating celebrity magazines started stalking actresses who dare show makeup-free faces in public, before the boom in cosmetic labiaplasty. If anything, Wolf’s debut is even more relevant two decades later.

Now she’s back to sex and religion in Vagina: A New Biography, arguing that the key to women’s self-expression and transcendence lies between our legs. The vagina, she writes in her introduction, “is not only coextensive with the female brain but also is part of the female soul … a gateway to, and medium of, female self-knowledge and consciousness themselves.”

Mrs. Wolf sat down with BYT to talk about female pleasure in sex, pornography, turn-ons and turn-offs, feminism, 2 Girls 1 Cup, and more…

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Naomi Wolf: I guess we should talk about sex.

BYT: Alright, now let’s talk about sex. So, let’s talk about your book, Vagina. Tell me a little bit about the premise. Tell them. Tell the world.

NW: The big headline I think, for the book, is that there are fifteen years of new major discoveries about female arousal and desire and orgasm that radically reframe how we understand female sexuality. But they’re not reported widely. And so I thought it was important to report them. And they go a long way I think in explaining why forty years after the sexual revolution, even in a hyper-sexualized culture where there’s porn everywhere, and information about sex everywhere, the numbers are not good for female sexual habits.

They’re about thirty percent of women the way they want to, they define that as for them, and about thirty percent self-report low desire as a problem for them. So these two things explain each other in my view. And the other big headline to me is that there is a strong brain-vagina connection that the latest neuroscience is documenting. As a feminist, the most important thing about that is, there is a political element to pleasure. Because when women are subordinate by their culture, in being able to anticipate or think about pleasurable sex, it boosts dopamine, which is about confidence and assertiveness and motivation and drive and focus. So that to me, explained why for 5,000 years female sexuality has been targeted.

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BYT: So when you say 15 years of new research, 15 years from what?

NW: Well the last time there was a big public discussion about pleasure that included women in America, it was Masters and Johnson. And interestingly, the United States doesn’t fund studies like that anymore. Since Reagan, it’s almost impossible to get funding for research on sexual pleasure. You can find sexual behavior research, but not sexual pleasure. And let alone lesbian or homosexual sexuality.

BYT: Would you make a connection between the rise of the religious right and conservative religion with the unhappiness of women sexually?

NW: Well, I would make it maybe not as directly as you do. Because the data do not show that conservative women have less sexual pleasure than secular women. But what is definitely happening is that the religious right has blocked research so the research is stuck in the ‘70s. And so we’re laboring under misconceptions from the ‘70s that are wrong. That really negatively affect how happy women are sexually. For example, Masters and Johnson concluded that men’s and women’s arousal cycle was the same, that both of them had arousal plateau climax and resolution and that they were both similar. But in fact the latest data show that they’re not at all similar.

There are many, many differences. One major difference is, well, we all know about timing but the data actually confirm that the average male orgasm takes four minutes; the average female orgasm takes sixteen. So that’s one thing. But really major differences like the difference of pelvic wiring. Male genital innervation’s very regular, so while men are very different the things that make them happy physically are pretty standardized. Whereas female pelvic wiring is incredibly complex, much more complex than even women realize.

There’s are eight or nine different neural termini in the pelvis and the clitoris. Neural termini in the walls in the vagina, again Masters and Johnson said there’s no sensation in the walls of the vagina, it’s not true. Neural termini in the perineum, a sexual center which gets cut in American childbirth practices, neural termini in the anus. The whole pelvic region of women is a sex organ, basically, and it’s highly individuated. And so even the way we talk about the clitoris, the vagina, are really reductive compared to how we should be thinking of, you know, female sexual innervation.

BYT: So we meaning ‘America’?

NW: American women themselves. I mean, the women I interviewed, generally we know about the clitoris, we know about the vagina, we know about the cervix. But we have no visual concept of this incredibly complex pelvis innervation which yields all sort of pleasure that if you watch porn, you’re not going to know how to manipulate those levels of pleasure activation. But let me go on to the important difference.

A lot of new science shows, when I talk about the brain-vagina connection, a lot of it shows how important the role of the autonomic nervous system is, for female arousal, not so much for male arousal. What does the autonomic nervous system do? The autonomic nervous system goes to what raises one’s heart rate and sends the blood coursing through your body, making your skin more sensitive, enables your nipples to become erect, brings blood flow to the labia, and helps the clitoris become erect. All of those are about activation, and in our culture we talk about orgasm. But really for women it’s about activation that really heightened state of arousal. But then what closes down the role of the autonomic nervous system is stress. Including emotional stress. That’s why for women if a partner snaps at her at 7 o’clock in the morning, or does something she perceives as not helpful in terms of raising her stress levels, like if laundry’s an issue: Here she drops laundry, aside, the basket that isn’t a kind of manipulative relationship to her, like if she’s withholding sexually it’s not because she’s being emotionally manipulative, or deliberately withdrawing. It’s because there’s a direct physiological relationship between that stress and her arousal.

BYT: It’s an evolutionary trait that’s somehow connected to ability to procreate or something?

NW: Evolutionary biology is crazy because sometimes it seems anybody can draw any conclusion they want. Important feminist theorists of this subject, like Helen Fisher, do conclude that a baby had the most chance of surviving if there was care bonding for two years. Right? And you’re more likely to peer bond with someone who can help you create a relaxed emotional environment. But their conclusions, like everybody’s accepted the selfish gene idea. That you know men have to spread their seed widely in order to maximize their DNA surviving. And what’s exciting to me about the work of these biologists who are sort of factoring in the role of female arousal in evolution is that it explains so much.

We’re raised to think of female desire as being this sort of kind of thing that doesn’t have cultural sanction, or makes you a slut, debases you. But in fact, to see that desire and the desire’s like sanctioned by nature, you know sanctioned by evolution, is actually pretty liberating. I saw this experiment in Canada, in Montreal where Dr. Jim Pfaus took these two groups of female rats, and gave one group meloxicam, which blocked their experience of sexual pleasure, and then you could see the meloxicam group gave up interacting with the males very quickly.

I didn’t know all mammals had clitorises. But they have clitorises. And they weren’t getting any reinforcement. And the other ones were just getting more and more happy and excited, and energized. You could see it wasn’t just about sex. They were just energized, in like the rest of their environment, the rest of their interactions. But what’s so amazing is when the female rats who were on the meloxicam didn’t have meloxicam, they could feel pleasure again, they avoided and they fought with males who tried to have sex with them, who even smelled like the memory of the males that gave them bad sexual experiences.

BYT: Sounds like prison. Sorry.

NW: You could witness, like right there in real time, the role that female pleasure had in innate selection. I know, it’s incredible.

BYT: You watched this?

NW: I watched this. I have video footage, and I’ll give you the video footage. It was really powerful.

BYT: Was it gross?

NW: You know, watching rats have sex is not the most charming thing. I don’t like to think about it while I’m eating, but…

BYT: Haha, rat porn.

NW: But the rats were cute.

BYT: Naomi Wolf sent me rat porn.

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NW: I will send it to you. It raises an interesting question. Is it possible to think about sex without thinking about porn anymore? Or is it because it’s videotaped.

BYT: With animals, probably? I don’t know. Probably not with some people. I’m sure that you looked at people having sex scientifically, right? And there’s people that do that. And they must become aroused. Like for instance a gynecologist, right? Is there just a certain point that a gynecologist looks at so many vaginas that they don’t become aroused?

NW: I know that when medical professionals are being trained, at least in the ‘70s and ‘80s, some schools were using pornography to desensitize people. And I’ve got a chapter in my book about the science showing that porn desensitizes males, especially. And it causes—

BYT: Numbing?

NW: Mhmm. And actually worse than numbing. Eventual physical—delayed ejaculation, which is a euphemism for not being able to come.

BYT: But I understand that if you don’t look at porn for like a while, that kind of comes back.

NW: From what I understand, and the science is new, and a lot of it is reports from doctors, but from what I understand for the most part, after 6-8 weeks people can rehabilitate and get their sensitivity back. But over time, there can be more effects.

BYT: It’s like a drug right? I mean, it’s very…

NW: It’s exactly a drug.

BYT: Like whatever chemicals are reaching your brain. Sex addiction is just so close to–

NW: It’s the same rewards system as—

BYT: Dopamine

NW: I can tell you, because that’s what the book is about. Thank you for thinking about this that way, because it’s not a moral issue to me. It’s a health issue. I’m a free speech feminist, and I think people should have access to what they want, but to me it’s very cynical that this giant industry is exploiting a vulnerability, especially in the male brain, although women are getting desensitized, too, without disclosure. I think people should have disclosure, like cigarettes or anything with health consequences.

BYT: The models in this porn are over 18 years old and by the way, don’t watch too much of this.

NW: Or, you know, know that if you watch it, you might have delayed ejaculations, difficulty with erection, difficulty bonding with your partner—

BYT: Haha, like a medical commercial on TV. Porn causes this, this, this, this, this.

NW: Well I mean, isn’t it better to know? I have so many emails from people who, men, who—

BYT: It’s taken me a while to figure that out. But yeah.

NW: Look, I think we’re entitled to information, you know. So yeah what happens is when the dopamine system—

BYT: But when you have the information, is there any study where when people know this, do they unhook themselves from it? Or are those urges so strong…how do you unhook from that?

NW: From porn?

BYT: From long-term porn

NW: I mean, some people can’t. I know people who are much older than you so I wouldn’t worry.

BYT: Oh, we’re not talking about me, here. I don’t know what you guys are talking about.

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NW: Let’s just be very hypothetical. I know people who couldn’t ever recover their sexual function, after long term…it’s not just looking at porn that does it, it’s masturbating to porn.

BYT: Masturbating to porn. And I’m sure it becomes an increasingly…like, once you start looking at Playboy, it’s like a gateway, right? Playboy leads to…probably people start looking at increasingly shocking things to get that original high.

NW: You exactly summarized my chapter on porn. The data show that it has a habituating effect, and you’re exactly right, things that used to turn people on after a few times of exposure don’t turn them on anymore, especially men. This happens to women, too. Over time, that’s why things that seem pretty marginal sexually, 10 or 15 years ago, now are so–

BYT: Two girls one cup? Do you know what that is?

NW: No, is it gross?

BYT: Yeah. It’s the most disgusting thing ever.

Videographer: Worst thing that’s ever been on the Internet.

BYT: And my mom saw it. It was that big.

Videographer: Even the reaction videos became their own thing. People are reacting to this video because it’s so vile. Can I ask a quick question? On that same point, can’t that same trajectory happen, numbing, with just normal sex?

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NW: No. Because, well, two reasons. One is that for the male brain, novelty is very compulsive. And so if you aren’t raising the bar of novelty, in other words with the Internet, you can—you know, I have this John Mayer quote, I see three hundred vaginas before breakfast. But with a partner, it’s not—because it’s just one woman, you know? You’re not raising the—

BYT: But what about sex with multiple partners?

NW: I don’t have the data on that.

BYT: John Mayer does.

NW: And the other thing has to do with things being more and more extreme, like with the Internet, you can because the male brain habituates to whatever, the naked woman, that’s why a young woman told me about choking out, which I hadn’t heard of as a trend, because

BYT: What?

NW: She said that the last few one night stands she’s had, they choked her, they started choking her when they were having sex. And she said it was a porn thing. And then Gene confirmed it was a porn thing. I was kind of appalled, because this is an example of—

BYT: But that’s been going on for a long time. I think the Japanese invented that.

NW: Totally. But not as a one-night stand, I’ll hold the door for you, I’ll buy you dinner, I’ll choke you out. Right?

BYT: When you say out, do you mean until you pass out?

NW: That was her experience. She said…I don’t know exactly.

BYT: Clear that up, because if she’s getting choked out, she’s going to die. Eventually. That’s how Michael Hutchins died.

NW: I don’t know that it’s losing consciousness, but I was startled that it was like a casual—and also that it was normative.

BYT: That’s the thing.

NW: You always run into people with fetishes.

BYT: Do you watch porn?

NW: Well, I don’t. Because I know—

BYT: The consequences. But like I mean, there’s got to be a happy medium.

NW: I think it’s very subjective. To me, what I learned about sexual energy from this book, I kind of wanted—

BYT: Did you before?

NW: I’ve seen porn. I didn’t enjoy it recreationally because of what I know about trafficking. A lot of those people are trafficked and so you think something is really arousing, but if you know that they’re there at gunpoint, or drugs, or sexual abuse in childhood, it’s not that erotic.

BYT: They need like organic, free-range porn. Certified by—

NW: That’s not a bad idea.

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BYT: What is your favorite term for vagina?

NW: One guy said use the phrase “the force.”

BYT: Was he a Star Wars enthusiast?

NW: I don’t know.

BYT: Yeah, I’ll bet you 20,000 Republic Dataries that he was.

NW: I thought that was hilarious. I liked it.

BYT: So that’s your favorite?

NW: I think so.

BYT: I like muff. It reminds me of like when I was a kid. But I shouldn’t say that, that sounds weird. What’s your favorite?

Videographer: Someone at an improv show once gave a suggestion of a clap trap. It was not that, but people interpreted it as that. I’m not saying that’s my favorite. I think vagina is—

BYT: (Complete and utter awkward silence) Man, you just ruined this conversation. What’s the opposite of a feminist?

NW: Probably a misogynist.

BYT: I don’t mean the opposite, like…what’s the male version of a feminist…is there such thing as a masculinist? 

NW: If there is, and that’s your idea of what’s opposite a feminist, then I should define better what feminism is to me, because I don’t—

BYT: I’m just asking, I don’t—

NW: To me, my version of feminism, it’s co-extensive with human rights and democracy. It’s just part of the same fight for everyone being free, and having autonomy and dignity. It’s not pitting one gender against another, it’s not saying anything is better, it’s just clearing away injustice.

BYT: And so you are kind of the leader, a leader of the new wave of feminism?

NW: I don’t know if that’s for me to say.

BYT: Well, you’ve been referred to as that. How do you distinguish waves of feminism?

NW: It’s artificial.

BYT: It’s just semantics?

NW: Well, the media needs to tell a story. And whenever there’s a new generation, you know, with a new conversation, it’s handy to say well, these are the angry young men, these are the hippies, these are the boomers. So yeah, in the ‘90s I wrote a book called The Beauty Myth that was widely read and I wasn’t from the ‘70s generation of feminists, and I coined the phrase, other people have coined the third wave.

BYT: So you coined that?

NW: Well, we all coined that at the same time.

BYT: Would you say that Beauty Myth, 20-odd years on is—would you write it differently today?

NW: No. I don’t think writers should go back and think “would I write it differently?” I mean, that was absolutely the truth that I wanted to tell at that time and place. You know, things have evolved, but that’s what new introductions are for. I’m proud of that book. I stand by everything I’ve written.

BYT: Good. Did you study sexuality amongst the elderly for this book? Like with the rise of Viagra, and…

NW: I didn’t look at the role of Viagra, because I was really trying to look at female arousal and desire on its own terms. But I definitely have a lot of people—I wanted to say to you about the men thing, the porn thing, that half the people in my audiences are male, partly because of that and I’m learning a lot about older people’s sexuality. So I didn’t study it as a separate category for this book, but a lot of the stereotypes I had about older women especially are just falling by the wayside because they come scampering up after my talks and saying I’m having hot sex with—older women especially—you know, I’m having hot sex with a young lover.

BYT: Is it hard not to find that slightly funny? I mean, you smiled when you said it.

NW: I find it happy, you know.

BYT: But also it’s like, to imagine it, is I guess you automatically imagine your grandparents having sex.

NW: Ew, I don’t.

BYT: See? It’s—but why is that? Why is it such a weird thing for older people to have sex?

NW: Our culture is a capitalist society right? And so in order to always have the idea of the good life, means something you pay money for. Think of being outside of what you have and own, it always has to be receiving a difference. I wrote The Beauty Myth about this. That’s why everyone else is so unattainably beautiful, in all sense we’re all getting older, the ideal is we’re always going to be unattainably young, and that’s one reason that I think writing about sexuality and desire is so important, because it is a subversive force. Especially for women, but for everybody. To find freedom and happiness in each others’ arms, or you know, inside their own bodies and minds. That is a very empowering thing in a society that’s trying to control us all the time.

BYT: What did you leave out of the book that you wish you had put in? Were there things that you learned that you didn’t put in the book?

NW: Well I’ve learned a lot about weird shit on the Internet that I didn’t know about.

BYT: How? Through talking to people?

NW: Yeah, my readers. I mean, this book—people are buying it and using it and selling it and—but there is something I wish I expressed more clearly in the book, for sure. There was a paragraph where I was explaining that there wasn’t enough data on lesbian sexuality.

BYT: Mhmm.

NW: And that a lot of the studies I looked at were actually about heterosexual sex. So a lot of the book, which has to do with arousal, and what turns women on, and the role of pleasure to confidence and creativity, and so on, that’s applicable to women of all sexualities. But I was regretting there wasn’t more complete science about lesbian sexuality. And I was saying, what I’ve learned is female sexuality is so complex, that this shouldn’t be treated in a tokenistic way. That has been misread as not being inclusive of lesbians when in fact I was trying to be more inclusive. So I would phrase that differently this time around.

BYT: It’s hard to write a book about vaginas, about sexuality without drawing a lot of controversy and criticism, I would imagine, right?

NW: I guess. I thought we were further along than we seem to be. I’m surprised there isn’t more space for grown-up discussion about these really important insights.

BYT: But are you surprised?

NW: A little. I thought there would be some ridiculous giggly childishness and lots of space—I mean, it’s 40 years after, it’s not like we haven’t been here before.

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BYT: Lady Gaga? Feminist?

NW: I have not talked to her about it, but to me, if she’s motivated by a desire for women to not be discriminated against based on their gender, that’s feminist. I’ve never understood this puritanical idea that feminism has to be a cult. You know, we all have to think alike or dress alike or have a similar ideology. That’s why I think my feminism is different from the way it sometimes—

BYT: Well, I think maybe it’s because it’s a divisive word. You’re segregating the sexes between men and women, you’re automatically—not alienating, but you’re separating 52 percent of the population from 48 percent of the population.

NW: I hear what you’re saying. In that case, yeah.

BYT: Maybe it’s just semantics, right?

NW: Yeah, and people have discussed this since 1919.

BYT: It’s pretty hard to openly say you’re against the tenets of feminism.

NW: I mean, it depends on how you define them.

BYT: Right. But if it were a less dividing word, maybe it would seem less cult-y.

NW: I hear what you’re saying. At the same time, it’s like saying I’m an anti-racist, or—

BYT: Well yeah. But we can just get caught up in words, you know. Like vagina, right?

NW: Well so to me, I’m happy to call Lady Gaga a feminist if she likes freedom.

BYT: How do you feel about the term pussy? Does that come from a cat?

NW: I don’t know the actual etymology. Probably. There were a lot of really cute animal-like terms for vagina especially in the 18th century. It’s in the 19th century that things got a little negative and medicalized. You know, slut-shaming. But I think it’s one of the cuter ones. But these things are so subjective.

BYT: One woman’s cunt is another person’s…

NW: Some women love the word cunt, and it’s like queer. It’s like empowering: ladies love your cunts. And other women think that’s the most offensive word in the world. And I think context is everything, you know?

BYT: Do you use the word?

NW: I don’t actually use it. Except when I’m writing about it. But I only don’t because—I mean it has a great etymology. Chausser used it, it’s from quaint. And it used to be cute, quaint, adorable. Actually you should see my chapter on language because it’s one of the most ancient words. The root goes back to can, like the same word for cunning and like knowing. And a lot of river language, waterways. Canal. Right? These are all the same roots. It’s beautiful.

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BYT: You should have a discussion with Chomsky on the linguistics of sexuality.

NW: Yeah, it’s fascinating because our brains are plastic, and so if we grow up in a culture which the vagina is referred to like in our culture either in a very porny or degraded or medicalized way, that constructs our reality in a sense of self. And if we grew up in a culture you know like the Han dynasty of China, it wasn’t a paradise for women but they talked about the vagina as golden lotus, peony blossom, jade gate, you know.

BYT: But the same thing has happened with men’s anatomy, right, too? Like “you’re a dick.” I mean, it’s the yin and the yang of the negativization of human anatomy, right?

NW: Right, that’s a really western thing. You’re right. We have pretty degrading ideas about sexuality in the West.

BYT: Are you careful with your language on that side, too?

NW: Can I just say one thing? I don’t think we’ve got the concept in the West that male desire degrades men. Or that if men become sexually active, they become debased in some way, or slutty. Or lose status.

BYT: Do you think we’re starting to?

NW: I wonder. That’s interesting.

BYT: Like, I feel like it’s not as socially acceptable as it used to be for a guy to have a ton of partners.

NW: Really?

BYT: Oh, absolutely not.

NW: That’s so interesting.

Videographer: And also my female friends are much more open about talking about multiple partners…

BYT: Player’s a negative term or…misogynist.

Videographer: I’ve heard men referred to as sluts.

NW: Really? Wow.

Videographer: I think it’s also among a subset.

BYT: I think that’s probably with the rise of HIV and deadly sexually transmitted diseases that promiscuity….I mean, I think that the Religious Right, or some fears of promiscuity are rooted in disease and the consequences of sexual actions, right? It just didn’t rise out of nowhere. And I’m not justifying it but the history of one-sided-ness towards feminine negativity is the problem, I guess, you would say.

NW: There’s a big problem for women still and I don’t think for men, which has to do with the threat of rape, and the fear that if you have any history of desire as a woman, or promiscuity, it will give your rapist impunity and result in collective shaming, or public shaming. And I think there’s an element of—well, that’s one reason I wanted to write the book. I knew I needed to put first person in because of the nature of the medical experiments that led me to understand the brain-vagina connection, the science behind that, but I really want to kind of draw the fire that taboo.

When women name their desire, terrible things happen to them. And I hear this all the time, to me there’s this huge relationship between the young women on college campuses who say to me, well there’s so much coerced sex because young women feel like they can’t say what they want or what they don’t, they can’t voice it because among other things you’re a slut if you say well I want you to do this to me but not that. And then this one young woman that after one of my talks asked how to have a particular type of orgasm, and it was in a mixed public. And we both in that moment realized the connection between what she just did, you know, public avowal of desire, and the relationship of that with the silence of danger that happens when they’re not supported for publicly saying yes I do want this, this is in me, nature should put it there, fuck you. It’s a lot like what gay and lesbians do, which is to stop running away from having their sexuality (trails off)…

BYT: Did you hear about that girl who just killed herself–what was her name, Amanda Todd?

NW: It was brought to my attention. I’m supposed to write about it next week. I don’t know the details yet. No, it’s a huge thing. It sounds like you guys live in a very enlightened, egalitarian subculture and I’m happy about that. But I know that even in these subcultures, young women go through shit that they shouldn’t.

BYT: I mean, it’s all relative, though. Look at Africa, places like that where it’s just so ridiculously behind.

NW: It’s crazy, but nothing’s good enough yet. The fact is that we can’t even have this discussion in public, in a sane way in the United States.

BYT: So who is leading, country-wise or culture-wise, who is leading the world in openness and ability to communicate about sexual happiness about women?

NW: There are subcultures, there’s not a nation. If you look at northern Europe, they’re really good about access to contraceptives, teaching about female desire in high school, but Sweden has one of the highest rape rates in the world. So there’s no paradise, but I would say that there are subcultures. And the one thing I did find is there’s this tantric subculture here in New York, and in various places in Western Europe where those women really feel there is space for their desire, they seem more integrated, there’s respect for female sexuality.

BYT: What is a tantric subculture?

NW: It’s people who practice tantra. I don’t want to overstate it because I’m sure there are scumbags everywhere, but it seems like it’s an ideology that actually respects female desire.

BYT: It’s not scientific?

NW: It’s not scientific, but it’s being backed up by science. My last chapter looks at some basic tantra and scientific explanations for why these things work.

BYT: And the worst? On the other end? It would be like…

NW: Well. You’d have to talk about—well, I went to Sierra Leone, and you know the brain-vagina connection that I talk about and the release of dopamine and opioids and oxytocin, if you traumatize the vagina, if you female genital mutilation, I now understand better you’re traumatizing a brain. When you’re interrupting that activation of those confidence neurotransmitters that attach with neurotransmitters. People who fight genital mutilation are using my book to make people take it more seriously. So Sierra Leone. The women in the civil war who I interviewed… they were systematically not just gang-raping them and abducting teenage girls for sex slaves, they were ripping them up, they trained child soldiers to rip them up pelvically with sharp objects to traumatize, interrupt that brain-vagina connection.

BYT: So is the book a hopeful book?

NW: I think it’s a very hopeful book.

BYT: So what’s the last chapter? The tantric subcultures and…

NW: Well, the last chapter, it’s got a section called the goddess array, which kind of takes findings from what really works in tantra and these tantric sexual healers who were having some amazing outcomes with women, who are like pre-orgasmic, or had sexual trauma, mapping up the things they’re doing with neuroscience and just lifting out the things that are scientifically based that work. So for instance, like the autonomic nervous system. Women’s orgasms will quadruple in intensity if she’s in a beautiful, dimly lit room versus a brightly lit, uncomfortable room. Dancing. Slow dancing, hugging, cuddling, if she’s heterosexual, the male armpit has chemicals that lower her heart rate, lower her stress levels, regulate her menstrual cycle, boost luteinizing hormone, which is about arousal…

BYT: So I should not be wearing cologne, is what you’re saying.

NW: You should do what you want, but you should take her slow dancing for sure.

BYT: They should ban slow dancing in middle school dances.

NW: It’s catnip. Women react differently to face-to-face gazing than men do. Men are happy side by side. So yeah, men who read the book, they might not know that at the end of the day, put down the blackberry, look at her while she’s talking, is so important for her own state of feeling secure and safe and much more sexually energized. Little things like that make a huge difference scientifically. Stroking women’s bodies release oxytocin, nonsexual stroking. Men’s don’t.

BYT: So part of the book is like tips?

NW: I mean, I try never to be proscriptive. This is the one section where I’m saying if you want to make a woman happy, this maps up. This is what the tantrists do, this is what science says…

BYT: Nipples and armpits.

NW: And respect. Nipples, armpits, and respect. It’s a good headline. I really like that.
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