By Kristin Kemp
The word vagina comes up a lot in our house. My kids, ages 5 and 6, learned it as soon as they could speak. I try to be a liberated mom--unlike my own mother who still can't bring herself to say vagina out loud. In all the years I've written about sex for women's magazines, experts have advised me over and over to teach my children proper terms for their body parts.
At the very least, young girls need to know how to keep their vaginas clean and how to protect them from danger. If a horrible person ever touches my kids in their private parts, they are armed with the words and the self-confidence to speak up. Hopefully, as they grow, they will feel comfortable talking sex with me because I've tried to normalize the subject and take away taboos.
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Naomi Wolf's new book Vagina shares my mission. She told me, "Parents should read the book so they can understand the latest discoveries about female sexual happiness and communicate in an informed way." With her signature style and aplomb, Wolf explains in great detail how orgasms work from a scientific perspective.
Did you know that all orgasms are not created equal? I did not. It all has to do with our genetic makeup-and not our frigidity or inhibition. This information is worth the price of the book alone ($14.99). According to the doctors Wolf interviewed, our nerve centers vary greatly. "For some women, a lot of neural pathways originate in the clitoris," Wolf writes.
These women will get the most pleasure out of clitoral stimulation. Others have more innervation in their vaginas and will climax from penetration alone. Different women may have nerve clusters in their perineal or anal areas. "Culture and upbringing definitely have a role in how you climax…but that is not all there is to it," Wolf writes. "Preferences may just be due to your physical wiring." Wow.
Wolf, who I first came to admire when I read The Beauty Myth in college, was inspired to write about vaginas when her own orgasms lost their luster. Turns out, she had an injured pelvic nerve. She underwent surgery-getting a 17-inch metal plate inserted into her back-and her sublime climaxes returned.
Wolf doesn't just talk anatomy in this fast-paced read. She also goes into the vagina's cultural history and cultural norms today. For example, did you know that just about all the slang terms for our vaginas are derogatory? I can't type Wolf's amusingly awful list of words here. She goes on to write a heartbreaking chapter on the devastating effects of disrespect and rape on women physically and psychologically. On a more light-hearted note, I love the connections Wolf makes between the vagina and women's overall creativity and happiness. It's so true: A good sex life can make a a girl feel more inspired and innovative.
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Wolf ends the book on a New Age note. She takes the reader on an inside look at tantric techniques and workshops in New York City. (Spending more time cuddling and prolonging sex sounds great in theory-but parents of young children may have to wait a few years until the kids stop banging on our bedroom doors.) Wolf evens visits a vaginal masseuse in London who charges more than $100 per hour to give women pleasure. Supposedly, his technique works wonders for his clients' self-confidence and sex lives.
I'm a book nut, so yes, I read the judgmental reviews of Vagina in the New York Times and elsewhere. I have two thoughts for Wolf's naysayers. First, I really think the testiest critics, mostly authors, are invidious of Wolf's international success (Vagina is already number one in the gender studies category on Amazon). Second, I think they missed the whole point of this book: Vagina is a positive look at women's sexuality. There aren't many writers promoting the vagina right now. Wolf has the balls to do the job-and what could be so wrong with that?
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