“VAGINA” – A Review

I’m here to talk about nerves.

It’s a topic I haven’t given much thought to since A Level Biology. I vaguely remember being taught how the body and the brain use a network of nerves to communicate with one another. So, for example, if you hurt your finger, it’s nerves which tell your brain that it’s hurting.

So far, so boring.

But there are some special nerves that send good – even pleasurable – messages back up to the brain and that’s where they get really interesting, in my mind at least.

I’ll backtrack ever so slightly. My newfound fascination with nerves comes after reading Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf. Aside from being fantastic to read in public (hello, weird looks on the train), it’s a book that provides a pioneering, deep-dive exploration into female sexuality and orgasms. In fact, this very book prompted my own journey to learn and understand more about sexual pleasure, and specifically my own relationship with it.

I couldn’t possibly do the book justice in one blog post, but in short, Vagina begins when Wolf is compelled to research and write about female sexuality after she loses touch with her emotional connection with sex. She no longer feels uplifted, creative or vitalised after climaxing, although her orgasms still physically feel the same way they always had. She later finds that this is the result of a spinal injury which damaged her pelvic nerve – a crucial component, we discover, in connecting her vagina to her brain.

This experience compels her to uncover more about the brain-vagina connection, with nerves being the physical ‘connecting’ element. Indeed, it’s these very nerves that Wolf uses to illustrate how women’s sexual responses are different to men’s.

Before I explain more, have a Google of ‘female reproductive organs and nerves’, I dare you. What you’ll see is a complex system of nerves concentrated in the different reproductive areas – the clitoris, the vagina, the anus and even the cervix. There are also a huge number of nerves, did you know that the clitoris alone has 8,000 nerve endings?? 8,000!! That’s VAST AMOUNTS of pleasure potential. In comparison, the nerve systems found in the male reproductive organs are simpler, less numerous and revolve only around the penis.

One vital revelation in Wolf’s book is that each women’s nerve network is different. One woman may have more nerves concentrated in her cervix, whilst another may have a more dense nerve system located in her vagina. Women are all wired differently down there!

If you think about it, this difference in wiring means each woman needs different stimulation in order to best reach orgasm. In contrast, Wolf uses ‘nerve maps’ to demonstrate how the male nerve system tends to be much more uniform, and therefore (at the risk of generalising), sexual stimulation is more likely to follow a more consistent pattern, man to man.

Female friends of mine have shared their anxieties that something might be wrong with them because they can’t get an orgasm from P in V sex. There are of course several factors that may have an influence here (Wolf mentions the influence of culture, past experience and upbringing, as well as the need for women to feel safe to reach full orgasmic potential), but perhaps these friends are just wired differently and therefore can’t achieve orgasm in this way. That, put simply, they don’t possess many nerve networks in or around the vagina to actually be stimulated through P in V sex! And perhaps these friends haven’t yet worked out the best way to stimulate themselves, specifically the way which suits their unique wiring and that is, therefore, most conducive for experiencing sexual pleasure.

Imagine all the worry and confusion which could be saved if young women actually understood their bodies. Nerves are basic biology, after all.

We know there are huge misconceptions and misunderstandings about the female body and female sexuality (take for instance the now much-discussed vulva vs. vagina confusion). Pleasure is still not a topic widely discussed in sex education at school and this vacuum of knowledge is often filled by viewing images of women in porn, who have mind-bending orgasms from nothing more than a few penetrative thrusts. In the mainstream, female sexuality remains taboo. For example, when I was at school there was a distinct difference between discussions of female and male masturbation. ‘Boys wanking’ was thrown around openly, but no one talked about girls doing it too. It felt like a dirty secret and because of this, I missed out on exploring my body and pleasure for a very long time.

The social and cultural issues surrounding female sexuality are incredibly complex and cannot be explained or solved by a simple discussion of nerve networks. However, I do find it useful to strip back the female sexual response to this very basic biology. This knowledge shouldn’t only be for those who are interested enough to seek it out, it should be far-reaching and universal. If people were better educated about the female body and sexual response, couldn’t this be a building block for more open communication within sexual relationships and maybe even better sex?

‘Vagina: A New Biography’ by Naomi Wolf uses the brain-vagina connection to explore female sexuality’s place in society. Wolf references scientific studies, cultural texts and personal anecdotes when discussing the subjugation of female sexual pleasure and suggesting how it can be reclaimed. It’s an illuminating read for all people and I couldn’t recommend it enough!

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