OK, so Jane legit made a dream come true when she invited me to come on Jane Radio yesterday to join in the conversation with feminist icon Naomi Wolf, where I handily brought along the beautiful copy of "Vagina" Courtney Love lent me a few weeks ago.
So that happened.
Jane: I want to say that the last time I saw you was when I had that -- I call it now “My Very Bad TV Talk Show." Have I not seen you since then?
Naomi: We may not have, but I feel like I have celebrated with you in every one of your media incarnations. Every medium is fun with Jane.
Jane: Aw thanks. So I hadn't had an orgasm in a while, so I made sure to masturbate knowing that I was going to see you today and that we were going to be talking about orgasms. Here's one thing: I always thought just having a vagina that was all you needed -- was to have one. But then I had this harsh thing happen when I was in my thirties where this guy that I was dating talked about -- it was around the time that the Pam Anderson sex tape came out -- and he started talking about what a pretty vagina she had, that she had the perfect vagina. And I was, like, oh, my God, there are pretty ones and not pretty ones and mine's not as pretty as hers? That was horrible.
Naomi: Now I understand the levels at which a moment like that is not good for women. That was a really stupid thing that he said in your presence, I just want to say. And did it affect your relationship?
Naomi: Women need all these delicate processes to take place to feel really really aroused. But the No. 1 thing that will shut down or dial down that activation of that autonomic nervous system -- you know we talk about orgasm a lot in this culture -- but for women it's really about activation -- so the thing that shuts that down is stress. And it can be emotional stress; it can be intimidation, it can be fear.
Mandy: I’m just thinking about the whole Daniel Tosh rape thing. I’m listening to you, and all I’m thinking about is this perfect feminist bubble and the real world is -- it’s not like a test tube.
Naomi: Yeah, totally. Yeah, you know it’s funny, I have a whole chapter practically about rape jokes.
Mandy: Exactly, that’s what I was thinking. And I was thinking about you weeping on the boat when someone made that very -- to me -- seemingly innocuous rape joke.
Naomi: Exactly, and I would have thought it was innocuous before my journey, for sure. We live in a culture of 5,000 years of the vagina being mocked, derided, degraded, in some cultures mutilated systematically. And I didn’t understand, like, what is the problem that people have with this part of us, why are they so upset that we are sexual beings? And now I do understand it. Because one of the findings of this book is that when a woman is empowered by her culture to anticipate and think about positive sexual experience, it boosts dopamine in her brain.
Then, when she has an orgasm, it boosts opioids, which are about bliss and ecstasy, and also oxytocin, which is about connection. So it’s this powerful, powerful cocktail that women can use for other things in their lives: leadership, being better moms, or work or creativity or all kinds of empowering things it gives to them. So it’s for that reason -- pleasure makes women harder to subjugate. And it explains why cultures that fear women’s empowerment are constantly either making women either ignorant about how they can get those good things, about how they can get those good things going on in their bodies and brains, or are constantly making them feel shame and embarrassment and alienation from their vaginas.
So, now to rape jokes. We have such a high level of abuse of the vagina and of women’s sexuality generally. And it’s getting higher all the time, and I hear things like -- "Californication" was on an United Airlines flight, and a guy made a joke about watching a woman be made to drink her own urine on a Webcam. It’s a joke and it's like, there are 14 year olds watching this. So that's -- degradation is like mainstream front and center -- but Apple sensors the title of my book. It’s like a struggle over, “How are women going to be portrayed?“ and, “Who’s going to control the vagina?”
So, with rape jokes, if you’re in an environment where your vagina is being demeaned, humiliated, targeted, or at Yale, where the boys were chanting, “No means yes, and yes means anal,” or with comedians. These are strategic; they may not be conscious, but they’re strategic. Because it’s stressing out your autonomic nervous system all day long, in such a way that, over time, it dials down your well-being sexually, and it dials down your well-being in other ways; because if you want to target a woman’s brain, you target the vagina.
But after I was exposed to this, I started to feel the pain of those moments. It's not like it kills us, but it coarsens us, and it coarsens us to our own self-respect.
Mandy: So what do you think of the show "Girls," where there’s a scene in there when Lena Dunham's character has sex with a fling in her hometown, and it contrasts the kind of hardened New York fucked-up sexual sensibility she has with this sweet guy from her hometown. And she says to him at one point during sex, “Do you think I’m tight like a baby?"
Naomi: Wow. Ew. I haven’t seen "Girls." I haven’t. But that’s a shocking, shocking sentence. That’s shocking on so many levels.
Mandy: I feel like that level is pretty common with women nowadays, if you wanna roll and hang with the "Vice" crew and these extreme levels, then you are comfortable with that kind of talk. And it's like a hazing shit test.
Naomi: Can we just tease out categories? Because women can be lust-filled demons of passion just like anyone else, so the question I have is not about hot anonymous sex, which anyone can want and which I don’t have a problem with, it’s about a culture of degradation. So you’re saying that young women have to become comfortable with a level of degradation? Because I could even see a scenario in which people are role-playing consensually -- OK, we can do this today, or I’m a nurse -- that doesn’t bother me, what does bother me is the influence pornography is having on everybody, especially young people who are raised on it, masturbating to it as they learn about sexuality so that becomes their sexual script. And what happens with porn is it desensitizes users over time so that men need more and more extreme images in order to get the same level of arousal. And what happens over time is that -– especially men -- bond with the porn chemically and lose the ability to get aroused. What would have aroused them 10 or 15 years ago doesn’t anymore because they’ve become habituated to this higher and higher level of extreme imagery. Which is why you get these very extreme images now that used to be quite fetishistic or quite marginal, they’re now very mainstream.
Mandy: You mean like the fact that every single guy tries to choke you out during sex?
Mandy: Yeah, talk to any woman in her twenties or thirties.
Naomi: I don't even know what it means. What does that even mean? I know about it, but is that what's going on with porn?
Jane: It’s like an asphyxiation thing that they’ve seen a lot in porn. There are a lot of those porn-like, clichéd things that do happen pretty regularly in real life.
Naomi: What you’re saying does sound quite disturbing because 10-15 years ago, that -- choking someone -- would have been considered quite fetishistic and marginal, and now you’re saying it’s like a cliché?
Jane: Oh, definitely.
Naomi: That’s really depressing. It’s sadistic and it just goes to show how quickly a whole generation of young men -- and I’m not making a moral judgment -- but seeing this level of desensitization of just being turned on by lovemaking doesn’t do it anymore.
Can I ask, so I won’t be depressed for the rest of the afternoon -- are people in their twenties still having romantic lovemaking? So what if you don’t like being choked out? Can you say, “Take your hands off my neck, what are you doing?”
Mandy: Oh yeah, definitely. And now I want to ask you a million personal sex questions, but I don’t think there’s time so I’m just curious, if you have a No. 1 sex tip or something.
Jane: Just like a quick takeaway.
Naomi: I guess the message -- this won't be that X-rated -- but the message of my book is really sexual self-respect, and that you get more pleasure when you let yourself be allowed to ask and be entitled.
Mandy: That is awesome.
Jane: Thank you so much, Naomi.