“The Brain-Vagina Connection”

Naomi Wolf on Vaginas and her Talk with Dr. Jim Pfaus at ConU

  • Naomi Wolf will discuss the vagina=brain connection and other aspects of her new book at her Feb. 7 Photo Michael Fleshman

“It is a very big fucking deal,” said best-selling author and cultural critic Naomi Wolf of the brain-vagina connection—the subject of her most recent book, Vagina: a New Biography, in a delayed and unenthusiastic interview with The Link.

Along with Concordia psychology professor Dr. Jim Pfaus, Wolf will present the ideas discussed in her book on Feb. 7.

André Picard, the Globe and Mail’s public health reporter and columnist, will moderate the discussion.

After losing her ability to have mental-state-altering orgasms because of a spinal injury that numbed her pelvic nerve, Wolf began to “literally bargain with the universe, as one does in times of crisis.”

She no longer could “see things in Technicolor,” as she usually had after sex. Post-rehabilitation and after regaining her ability to do so, she began to explore the science behind the brain-vagina connection.

Vagina: a New Biography has gotten predominantly negative reviews from major North-American publications, namely in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and Wired magazine.

Wolf has been criticized for making sweeping generalizations about the mysticism of female sexual response by using examples of her own experience and its effects on her creativity, alongside convenient studies to back up her argument.

The New Statesman’s Laurie Penny has even gone as far as to call her book “embarrassing”.

But Pfaus said Wolf linking her personal experience to women’s sexual experience at large doesn’t really bother him.

“I’m going to let her have that egocentrism,” he said.

Wolf has also faced some criticism for being too sensitive.

In an article for The Guardian, she writes about a dinner party when her friend Alan made her vagina-shaped pasta—“I call it cuntini,” said Alan—to celebrate her book deal.

That event offended her so deeply that it sent her over the edge and gave her writer’s block for six months.

When asked to respond to the negative reviews, she said: “Frankly what’s most important is not that a book is controversial. It’s that a book is accurate.

“I’m always happy to get constructive criticism, but if you look at the reviews, a lot of it is really oddly focused not on the substance of the book.

“If you look in the back [of the book], there’s hundreds and hundreds of footnotes and a bibliography of hundreds of books and studies documenting the brain-vagina connection,” she added.

Wolf was present during Pfaus’ study that demonstrated the role of female sexual desire in seeking out sexual intercourse and male mate selection of lab rats, an animal that has a similar brain composition to that of humans.

Two groups of female rats were observed: one group injected with pleasure-blocking chemical called noloxone and the other with saline to create a control group.

After being sexually stimulated by researchers, those that had been injected with noloxone were disinterested in the male rats while the control group was more interactive with the males and their own environment.

“The incredible insight that the book presents is that the new neuroscience shows that female sexual pleasure actually strengthens females in all kinds of ways not directly related with female sexual pleasure,” said Wolf. “It makes them specifically more assertive, focused and goal-oriented. I call dopamine a feminist neurotransmitter for that reason.”

This might be a big deal, but it’s definitely not new.

Pfaus testified to the fact that there have been numerous previous studies on the topic and that it rather signifies Wolf’s “scientific awakening” as a cultural critic rather than new and incredible findings.

“It’s kind of like reading the Bible literally,” said Pfaus in response to criticism of Wolf’s use of the term “ultimate feminist neurotransmitter” to designate dopamine, which is linked to the reward system in the brain that creates confidence and euphoria and that can also be produced by taking drugs like cocaine, eating or going shopping.

Their talk is the first in a series of four presented by Concordia and The Globe and Mail on living well, aging well and staying healthy using academic research outside the classroom to educate the public.

The monthly talks to come will be on the respective topics of obesity, mental health and exercise. They will be recorded and made available for free on Concordia and The Globe and Mail’s websites.

A conversation between Naomi Wolf and Jim Pfaus: Sexual Desire and the Effect of Neurochemicals on Behaviour will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Feb. 7 at Concordia’s D.B. Clarke Theatre (sold-out).

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