The “Goddess Array” in Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, pt. 2
In my last posting on Vagina: A New Biography, I closed with the virulently damaging effects of rape — physically, sensually, and emotionally — for women. As the author notes, there have not yet been any books written to study if men can suffer similar ill effects from rape — though some data seems to indicate they can; she encourages someone to do the research. She did note, however, that there is something which can disastrously affect men’s arousal, sensitivity, and sexual enjoyment, through actual rewiring of the male brain: pornography (215). The data is still coming in, but so far it shows a direct correlation between a rise in porn use and a rise in impotence issues and problems with delayed ejaculation (217). In a nutshell: “chronic masturbation to porn desensitizes men overall” (217).
Studies are showing it is not the porn which the men are addicted to, but rather the “orgasm and the predictability of the reward” (219). However, as with any addiction, increasingly strong stimuli are necessary to maintain equilibrium in the brain’s hormonal pleasure release. This leads to consumption of porn which demonstrates “an escalation of extreme images” (221), and with less and less in the way of simple sensual pleasures. Patience is also eroded as the increasingly hungry porn consumer desires a swifter payoff, leading to irritability and self-absorption when reality doesn’t match his virtual “story” (220).
In effect, the enormous proliferation of porn has surrounded women (and men) with “a sexually (and vaginally) contemptuous culture” (204) — and due to the hormonal influence of the vagina on the brain, this damagingly reductive perception of the vagina is empirically reflected in how it shapes women’s brains (206). Nor does this affect only women. With porn increasingly teaching men that vaginas are interchangeable but should be only a particular shape, color, scent, and/or size; and are useful only for penile intercourse; it is no surprise to realize men are becoming increasingly bad at actual sex. This may sound misandrist, but modern studies show that about 6% of men orgasm only rarely during intercourse — compared to 15% of women. That’s more than double the number of men suffering this problem! Worse, 29% of women never have orgasm during intercourse (265). As the author notes:
the sophistication of skill sets, and the skill level overall, taught to men, generation by generation, by their culture and by their peers, about how to please women in bed, has gone precipitously downward since the middle of the last century, when public porn became widespread, and when male sexual education went from peer stories and their own experiences with real women to the model presented in the new mass-market medium (230).
The social reduction of women to the sexual organs which men find useful has created an almost startlingly linear and goal-oriented view of sexual intercourse in our culture — the old “wham bam, thank you ma’am” idea of sex. Conventional sex within this trope can make women feel frustrated and deeply unsatisfied, even if they are having orgasms — which can be incredibly confusing as well, since society teaches them that their sexual goal should be no more than an orgasm (36). It would appear, therefore, that porn is not just incredibly bad for men — it is also precisely what women don’t need.
Why isn’t this better known? When we pause to reflect that getting all female mammals “‘in the mood’ is scientifically a more complex and more ‘mind-body’ process than is the analogue in males” (192), you’d think people would be more aware of the need for “[a] whole set of words, actions, and gestures that women cannot do without, and that I [the author] call ‘the Goddess Array,’ [which] are, in our culture, seen as mere invitations to the feast, and not as the feast itself” (35). With this data in mind, it would seem that the problem is more that women are unwittingly bored with uninspired sex, and have no idea they can expect anything more. It would also seem at least part of this issue can be directly blamed on male anxieties. Wolf is (intentionally?) hilarious when she notes:
[J]ust as anatomy began to be firmly established as a Renaissance discipline, so the clitoris as an organ began a centuries-long process — which historian Thomas Laqueur identified … — of being lost and found and lost and found by anatomists. The cultural history of Western anatomy does not reveal any parallel continual misplacement and “forgetting” of the location, role, or function of other organs on the human body. The pancreas, let alone the scrotum, once identified on the body and their function once understood, remain located and understood — indeed the understanding of other organs’ functions has only improved over the past four centuries, while the understanding of the role of the clitoris continually reeffaces and redegrades (139).
Oppression, especially through enforced ignorance, is wrong regardless of whether that ignorance is accomplished through burning the books which discuss the unmentionable taboo, or through so denigrating it socially to the extent that no scientist in search of grant money would even consider taking on the subject. What makes this truly tragic is the sheer waste of all that magnificent potential. I love how Wolf poetically describes what is possible within truly inspired sexual and sensual connection, such as Tantra states will occur when a man fulfills his “task in relation to a woman … to ‘hold her’ as a wineglass holds wine” (263) — and where a woman feels deeply safe and held and cherished by her partner regardless of their gender:
[T]here is a version of this connection with “the Sublime” — even if it, too, like Rolland’s “oceanic feeling,” is simply a neurological trick of our magically complicated human brain wiring — that women can experience during and after certain moments of heightened sexual pleasure. I maintain that this feeling is critically linked to an experience of self-love or self-respect, and a sense of freedom and drive. This is why the issue of whether or not female sexuality is treated with love and respect is so very crucial. Such moments of heightened sexual sensibility lead to a woman’s awareness that she is in a state of a kind of perfection, in harmony with and in connection with the world. In that state of consciousness, the usual inner voices that say the woman is not good enough, not beautiful enough, or not pleasing enough to others, are stilled, and a great sense of a larger set of connections — even a sense of what I will call, for lack of a better term, a Universal or Divine Feminine — can be accessed.
Major creative insights, and powerful work, can emerge after an experience of transcendence of this kind. I do believe that when women learn to identify and cultivate an awareness of “the Goddess,” defined in this way, their behavior toward themselves, and their life experiences, change for the better — because self-destructiveness, shame, and tolerance of poor treatment cannot live in harmony with this set of feelings. (10)