Author Naomi Wolf's new book is Vagina: A New Biography. (Associated Press)
First aired on Q (16/11/12)
The women's liberation movement and the sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s did much to advance the social, economic and political equality of women, but activist and author Naomi Wolf argues that, sexually speaking, things have "not worked out so well in some ways" for women.
"We're operating with very outdated and inaccurate ideas of what turns women on and what female sexuality is," she told Q host Jian Ghomeshi during a recent interview.
Female sexuality, and how perception of it has changed over the years, is the subject of her latest book Vagina: A New Biography
. In this work, Wolf looks to new research in the fields of neuroscience and cultural history to re-evaluate "the mind-vagina connection," and how important the female sex organs can be to health, happiness and even creativity.
In fact, she argues that modern society may be overdue for another sexual revolution: our attitudes about sex are much more relaxed than before and many women feel comfortable expressing sexuality, but our general culture still largely fails to acknowledge women's unique needs.
"Thirty per cent of women don't reach orgasm when they want to, and it's a problem," Wolf said. About one-third of American women are estimated to have hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or low libido, she added.
New research appears to confirm that women's sex organs are more complicated than previously thought. Unlike men, who share similar sexual physiology and similar reactions to the same types of stimuli, each woman has a unique network of nerve pathways in their bodies. Some women have nerve endings that terminate in the mouth of the cervix, other have pathways that end in the walls of the vagina.
"Every woman is wired differently, and so the takeaway is that every woman has to learn herself in a very attentive and subjective way, and every lover of a woman has to as well."
Neuroscience is also showing how intensely connected women's sex organs are to the brain.
In her book, Wolf explains the different ways feel-good hormones and chemicals like dopamine, opioids and oxytocin are triggered by arousal and orgasm. The positive effects of these experiences are important to a woman's sense of emotional health, confidence and focus. This mental, emotional and physiological sexual network also means that a woman's arousal can depend on her mental state. A woman who feels stressed out or unable to relax is less likely to desire sex with a partner and less likely to achieve orgasm.
"If you want a woman to enthusiastically want to make love to you, you have to be nice to her. You have to partner with her."